Digital sexualities: A guide to internet resources
Article by David Gauntlett, published in Sexualities, vol. 2, no. 3, August 1999.
As quite a few million people have noticed, the world-wide web has become a very useful information resource. And it is even starting to look nice. Since there are so many million webpages in cyberspace, we should not be particularly surprised to find a certain percentage of queer ones. Nevertheless, one suspects that the gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered and other anti-gender communities were ahead of the game here. Other minorities, we can note, are not so well represented on the internet. I ordered the third edition of Jeff Dawson's book Gay and Lesbian Online: Your Indispensable Guide to Cruising the Queer Web (1998) from an internet bookshop, imagining a nice little guide book would show up in the post. The fat parcel which arrived, however, contained a 540-page tome the size and shape of a computer manual. Sensibly focusing on the well-established sites which could be relied upon to still be there by the time the book reached the shops, even this chunky volume merely scratches the surface. (Like this article, such a book is doomed to be racing into obsolescence from the moment its author thinks they've finished it).
In this short article, the first of a series, I will be even less able to provide a comprehensive review of useful resources. Instead I will cover a selection of sites, generally offering material unique to the internet, which may be of use or interest to readers of this journal. Internet directories such as Yahoo and search engines such as AltaVista offer easy access to thousands of different websites with content related to sexuality - and for the purposes of this article I am ignoring the erotic/pornographic 'sex sites', which are equally easy to find, and probably more numerous. Of course, such sites offer a certain insight into human sexuality (most often male heterosexuality) too.
As the internet gets bigger and more diverse, the generic search engines and directories are finding competition from more specialised directories which claim to be better able to cater for particular interests. PrideLinks, for example, is just one of the new meta-sites making claims to be 'the internet's premiere gay lesbian bi and trans search engine'. Divided into sections which include Arts and Culture, Education, Ethnic Groups, Forums, Government, Organizations, Publications, and Sexuality, with hundreds of links in each, it does seem a good place to start. The Other Queer Page has been around for longer, and seems more discriminating, with an emphasis on information resources. It boasts 'over 1400 sorted links [to] the best of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender resources available on the Web, ranging from coming out to getting involved in the fight for equal rights'. It is justifiably proud of its pedigree: 'The average life of a web page on the Internet is around 40 days. The Other Queer Page is beginning its Fourth Year as a service to the LGBTQ community on the net'. If a directory of categorised links still sounds too big and bewildering, For Queer Mice takes a more focused, journalistic approach. This crisply-designed and comprehensive site offers to take you on a 'journey through the queer internet to find the best gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender websites'. All of the sites mentioned above, incidentally, will provide links to yet more directories of material on sexuality (or see the useful lists here and here).
Sarah Zupko's Cultural Studies Center is a great academic resource, with an impressive and well organised collection of links to journals, articles on numerous topics and theorists, conference announcements, and links to many more cultural studies resource centres and institutions. Zupko is an intelligent compiler of material, and the site looks nice, too. The self-explanatory Black Cultural Studies Site includes bibliographical information on 'cultural workers working in such areas as Black literary criticism, Black popular culture, critical race theory and film theory', including Cheryl Dunye and Isaac Julien. Everything Postmodern, whilst perhaps not entirely living up to its ambitious name, has links to many useful postmodernist resources. A well-established resource is Voice of the Shuttle Web Page for Humanities Research, which has a frightening number of links to everything from archaeology and classics to photography and cyberculture. The 'gender studies and queer theory' section features hundreds of useful links, including more unusual links such as an extensive 'cybergender and techgender' subsection.
Lists of links, of course, would be pointless if there were no sites offering substantial content - the most enduring buzzword amongst web-builders, and rightly so. Since there is no logical place to start, amongst the hundreds of good, relevant sites which I could potentially mention, I will start with two of the most visually striking. The Queer Arts Resource and the Queer Cultural Center both boast exceedingly attractive sites with art galleries and other features - just like the 'proper' museums and galleries which you had to physically visit in the Old Days. Both sites are as smart and professional as 'real' big-city galleries, and they commission and publish art works, critical writing, and other resources. QAR notes, 'We realize that artistic identity is molded by myriad factors, an amalgam of gender, racial, ethnic and sexual, to name a few. But we also know that honest artistic expression by the queer community plays a role in combating homophobia and advancing the principles of intellectual integrity'. These sites contain interesting ruminations on the 'queering' of art; or you might just visit for the pretty pictures.
My own site Theory.org.uk is concerned with the relationship between the mass media and gender and identity, but has a particular emphasis on queer theory and related resources, including pages of material on Judith Butler and Michel Foucault (including the illustrated tourists' guide Foucault's Paris), as well as other essays, book reviews, and an interactive quiz. Further Foucault resources can be found at Clare O'Farrell's excellent Foucault: The Legacy . Altruistic researcher Jeffrey Hearn, meanwhile, continuously compiles an exhaustive public bibliography of material by and about Foucault.
Popcorn-Q calls itself 'the ultimate online home for the queer moving image', and - although part of the major, commercial PlanetOut site - does indeed contain a lot of up-to-date information and intelligent comment of genuine value to the scholar of contemporary queer media and representation. (The fact that it is a commercial site only means you may encounter some adverts along the way; it's still free).
Transgendered people have found the internet to be a valuable source of support, identity and community. Yahoo's listing under 'transgendered' is divided into sections on resources, events, surgery, publications, directories, and more. Much the largest subsection is 'personal experience', where numerous individuals can be found telling their own stories about life between, or outside of, the conventional gender highways. The more formal resources listed include Gender as Illness, which discusses gender in relation to the classifications in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which is helpful or laughable, depending on how much respect you have for the American Psychiatric Association), and the Transgender Movie Reviews Directory. The Transsexuality site provides a good mix of general resources and personal experience, including a guide to transsexual icons in popular culture. The Transgender Forum has a selection of resources which include information, contacts, a bibliography, and yet more personal pages. The TGGuide has further resources including abstracts of transgender studies. An illustrated guide to transgender publications can be found at the CDS Bookstand.
The International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education has an elaborate site, which includes a gallery of art and photography by and about sex workers, as well as the usual information and resources. 'As the international clearinghouse for all the research, articles, art, culture and information by and about people in the sex industry, past and present from around the world,' they assert, 'we will be updating this site often'. Groups such as the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver provide practical information and legal advice, as well as details of their campaigns. The Prostitutes' Education Network includes links to prostitution organisations and debates, including a page especially to help students studying these issues.
In order to illustrate the diversity of material available on the internet, I will mention some unrelated sites on different aspects of sexualities. Brains: The Website of Egghead Sexuality is dedicated to publishing intelligent cultural essays by gay men. Mouth Organ is a well-written weekly column on issues related to sex, gender and culture. The Glam Manifesto - 'brought to you by the Glam Dyke Rescue Unit' - proposes a new way of looking at gender and sexuality, with some interesting arguments about subversive style, queered genders and empowerment. The Manifesto outlines 'The Nature of Glam' and 'The Life of the Glam Revolutionary', based on principles such as 'Glam appropriates from the oppressor. Glam is subversive. Glam is sexy... Glam can be organized but never institutionalised. Glam uses Things but is not about consumption'.
A growing number of higher education courses are requiring students to publish their work on the web. These can obviously be of variable and unpredictable quality, but some are original and valuable resources. Johanna Jacobsen's essay Women's Sexuality in WWII Concentration Camps, written for a module at the University of California, Berkeley, makes good use of oral history transcripts to highlight the ways in which women's sexuality was used by the SS to control and humiliate female prisoners, but was also paradoxically used by the women themselves as a tool for survival.
Websites are often created because an internet user has searched for web communities representing their interests and found none. Kuma is one such site: a site of black lesbian erotica. Another site born because its author had looked for particular resources and been disappointed, is Exoticize This!, a site of queer and feminist South Asian and Asian/Pacific Islander resources. Mimi Nguyen has created a stylish and detailed catalogue of internet material, as well as her own radical queer interventions, art and opinions (more of which appear at her compelling personal webzine Slantgirl). Her enthusiasm and commitment is, I find, rather moving. Another South Asian queer website which has emerged more recently is Trikone.
Two American organisations with helpful websites are the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies. Both offer lots of news, research, press releases, and web publications. The IGLSS are committed to producing 'unbiased, independent research' to counter the output of 'right-wing "think tanks" like The Heritage Foundation and The Family Research Council [which] disseminate misinformation, distortions, and blatant lies about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to policy makers, the news media, and the American public'.
As if this plethora of websites wasn't enough, the internet offers more digital delights for your modem to feed on. E-mail lists (or 'listservs') can be joined by anyone with an e-mail account; messages sent by members of the list are distributed to everyone else on the list. The one I'll recommend here is Qstudy-l, the queer theory forum established in 1994. Members of this list engage in academic discussion, and pass on practical information about relevant conferences and publications. Details of other lists catering for other areas of the study of sexuality can be found on the resources websites listed towards the start of this article. To avoid getting these listserv e-mails mixed up with personal e-mail, it is usually possible to set your membership to 'digest' mode, where messages from the list are automatically bunched together and sent to you in one neat e-mail every few days.