Sexualities, technologies, and literacies: Metonymy and material online


by Jacqueline Rhodes

California State University, San Bernardino




The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.  It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.  For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.
Audre Lorde







This special issue presents a delightfully queer challenge to editors and writers, since a multitude of ambiguous meaning sloshes about in terms like "literacy," "technology," "writing," and of course "sexuality." While many of us tend to agree that textuality and identity intersect rather intimately, we still differ--quite strenuously at times--over this intersection, the effects of it, and the feared/desired consequences of it. Given what we think we know about identity construction through text, we have questioned in particular the different textual/identity possibilities of cyberspace. In cyberspace, does anyone know you're a dog?  Can you be a dog, a man, a woman, a bot, a borg, or something of all of these multiplicitous textual identities at once?  Well, of course. We might even agree that such shaping is usually only problematic if what we seek is a unified, coherent self, an "I am" there, even in cyberspace. And yet many times, we push the writing body to the side of the stage, perhaps even into the orchestra pit to sit and applaud our brain's star turn.


It is in this performance, at the juncture of pedagogy and erotics, that queer theory offers a more fully embodied way to look at these disunities, these slippages. Desire and technology overlap pedagogically, as discourse--especially techno-discourse--inflames a passion for an unknowable Truth, making us simultaneously crave the surety of physical reality and love the disjointed play of text. And as Barreca and Morse note:

Whether it is perceived as an instrument of dominance or a mode of revelation, the educational process involves an emotionally suffused link between human beings.  Its intimacies form a tangled web of intellectual aspiration and erotic desire.  In our culture, the idea of education is inextricably bound up with constructions of power, governance, and an erotically charged allegiance or submission to the father- (or, with increasing frequency, mother-) teacher.  (vii)

In the world of computer-enhanced or computer-mediated (or network-mediated) pedagogy, what becomes of this "emotionally suffused link" when it no longer exists between human beings, but somehow in and through them? The "tangled web" of the internet might itself be a signifier of "intellectual aspiration and erotic desire" as students and teacher move to fill up the space between people.  Perhaps.

In the spirit of the topic of the erotics of cyberspace, I will remain a suggestive queer.  What might happen when literacy, technology, and sexuality come together?  What might be immediately seen?  What might we infer or abject or cathect or queer? At the same time, I must remain the material or embodied queer, for even as we move away from identity politics and toward performative notions of gender and sexual identity, LGBT folk still face the "real world" consequences of queer identity within the academy. It is a wonderful thing to practice queer theory--even to get your first-year students to explore performativity and gender construction--but it is another thing entirely to wonder if you're going to get the shit kicked out of you for being a "queer" when you walk out to the parking lot at night.


The juncture of metonymy and material in sexuality studies is where we begin. From Gorkemli's cartographic exploration of Turkey's Legato network to Chaos's tale of "The Birth of Bitch King," from Kitchen and Larkin's trans-queer ethnography to Houle, Kimball, and McKee's exploration of (dis)locations of identity in "Boy? Girl? You decide?", each of the pieces hereexplores how technologies can simultaneously enable and repress queer subjectivities. Add to the mix Peele's "Composition Studies, Heteronormativity, and Popular Culture," which broadens the scope of our techno-exploration (where does the computer end and the television begin?) and Dorwick, Crow and Alexander's multi-authored MOO-reflection on being/performing queer online and we see that each of the pieces, through their different invocations of the material, desiring body, offers us crucial insight into the intersections of subjectivity and literacy.  And in so doing, each of the pieces encourages ambiguous and/or collaborative authorship, invokes temporary identities, and explodes the division between personal/public, self/text, male/female. In short, each of the pieces, to greater and lesser degrees, not only write about but perform queertext. 




Barreca, R., and Denenholz Morse, D. (Eds. and intro.). (1997). The Erotics of Instruction. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Lorde, A. (1984) Uses of the erotic: The erotic as power. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (pp. 53-59). Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.