a suspended moment of public engagement…
Although there are many insightful readings in this week’s topic of Gender, Difference and Networked Media, the keyword (I know, it’s actually a phrase) that I found to be the most poignant was from Gray (2007): “use of Internet technologies can register as both a private experience and a suspended moment of public engagement”.
At first, this sounds like an accidental poetic turn of phrase. Regardless of Gray’s intention, I found that the phrase stuck with me long after I read it. The context provides a clue as to why the phrase resonates. Gray is describing queer identity networks and how they create “boundary publics” in rural locations. More specifically, she is discussing the story of AJ, a transgender youth from a town of 6,000 people in rural Kentucky. AJ is undergoing a female-to-male gender reassignment and documenting the progress on the Internet. AJ is sharing a deeply personal journey in a public space. His action is even more meaningful when you consider his deeply rural surrounding and its conservative approach to LGBT issues. We have all read the news stories and (maybe even experienced first-hand) the bullying and intolerance that “queers” can experience in defining their sexual and gender identities online. AJ’s actions are public and thereby they empower him. However, the deeply private nature of his choices when made public is what empowers others who identify themselves as transgender. AJ enables them to identify with him and be encouraged by his actions.
However, this phrase resonates on an even deeper level and reveals the power of the Internet. All our creative activities on the Internet (including this post and your comments) are suspended moments of public engagement. As producers on the Internet we are always bringing a privately held belief, opinion, observation or personal information into the public sphere. This empowers all of us – the producers and consumers of this suspended moment where a disembodied medium is entrusted to hold valuable secrets and also enables us to reveal them and make peace with them.
There is a great moment in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love where the protagonist visits Angkor Wat to whisper a secret into a hollow in a ruined wall because the secret is too personal and valuable to share with anybody else. We share our most cherished secrets only in the most sanctified sanctuaries of our culture where they are mystically disseminated into the universe and we are released from their burden. For AJ, and I believe for many other marginalized individuals and groups, the Internet is the sanctum sanctorum that enables release and empowerment. And all this time I’ve been using it just to watch cat videos…
Gray, M. 2007. From Websites to Wal-Mart: Youth, Identity Work, and the Queering of Boundary Publics in Small Town, USA. American Studies International 48(2) p. 5-30.
Nakamura, L. 2012. Queer female of color: The highest difficulty setting there is? Gaming rhetoric as gender capital. Ada: Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. DOI: 10.7264/N37P8W9V