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Towards a pragmatics of digital encounters & sexual networking: experimental directions

This is where I’m at right now:

I wrote a paper for the Selfies & Subjectivities Symposium organised by Kath Albury from Swinburne and Anne Harris from RMIT in Melbourne this month, which I later developed into this short contribution to a special issue of Sexualities celebrating 30 years of the journal

Here is an abstract I put together for it:

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In the era of smartphones and hookup apps, pornography can no longer be confined to the straightforward production of sexual arousal through representational practices(though this objective certainly remains significant). Rather, digital pictures have accrued additional functions in the interpersonal exchanges and self-projecting activities that characterise interaction and communicative relations on these media. So often, the ‘selfie’ of self-pornography operates as part of the grammar of sexual arrangements, whether these arrangements involve online or offline interactivity, or both. This paper seeks to contribute to pragmatist conceptions of sexual media, selfie studies and digital pornography by situating the communication that takes place on  these media, not as mere representations of ‘actual’ sexual practices or the ‘authentic’ sexual self, but rather forms of practical action that propel some version of the self into one or more of the variously formatted and networked arenas of digital culture. They can be situated in this respect as technical constituents of erotic digital assemblages that seek to solicit, collect, process, store, publicise and convey certain kinds of information according to the affordances perceived in their interactive modes, enabling communicants to recalibrate their activities and respond on the basis of specific feelings, attachments and calculations. Once the grammar of digital sex is grasped in pragmatic terms as a performative element in specifically assembled, multi-dimensional platforms, then all sorts of material objects and technical processes can be understood to enter into the labour of sexual self-formation (see Race, 2018). What once might have been read as a two-dimensional form of visual representation elevated to the status of detached self-portraiture can now be grasped as a vehicle for self-articulation, a form of self-experimentation that seeks to participate in the creation of new attachments, and a potential source of practical (self)-transformation.

 

About a week later I read Meaghan Morris’s fabulous piece Sustaining the Festive Principle: Between Realism and Fantasy which resonated in unexpected ways with work I’ve done on gay partying, it’s significance for queer communal wellbeing, the health of countercultural movements, and institution-building. My primary concern in this work (the last chapter of my new book  The Gay Science) is how to adapt and extend the generative energy  of cultural festivity – those playful encounters that make us something else – in-to the present transitional context (which involves, in my hometown at least, invasive policing, nightlife lockouts through licensing restriction, hyper-gentrification and incessant redevelopment, social exclusion from urban spaces, homelessness, insurgent homo-moralism, the Heroization of ‘Clean Living’, etc….

Then on Friday night I read Noortje Marres’ excellent chapter on ‘experiments in living’ in her 2012 book Material Participation which contains a concise and really informative analysis of the different ways that experimental practices and demonstrative activities have been conceived and approached by people who study them as a sociomaterial, world-making activityies  Marres is mainly talking about public experiments, but I’m interested in the sorts of self-experiments that normative morality deems illicit: for example, how publics and infrastructures of disclosure and support get assembled in contexts of prohibition and disciplinary enforcement, in which any attempt to create a public context for one’s self-experiments is quickly quashed, isolated, quarantined, eradicated, denigrated, privatised or shamed.

The concept of intimate experimentation is something we’ve been grappling with in the ARC Discovery Project I’m conducting with my colleagues Dean Murphy, Kiran Pienaar and Toby LeaChemical Practices: Enhancement & Experimentation.  In this work and thinking, I’m especially interested in how the diversely theorised concept of experimentation might be put to work to activate new approaches to chem-consumption and bring out new dimensions of the activities and self-transformations associated with the consumption of  drugs and medications among queer and gender-diverse communities .

This weekend I’ve mainly just been fucking around on Instagram, a medium which I’ve found makes me enjoy and look for beauty and creativity  all around in all sorts of everyday situations and odd places – some kind of f #instaaesthetics of experience

My ongoing enjoyment of this app and how it leads me to engage with the world around me makes me think about how its affordances can be used creatively to bring out startling or hitherto unrecognisable qualities in ordinary things/spaces/people/ everyday scenes through the specific possibilities the app/phone/flaneur assemblage affords: filtering, the possibilities of adopting all sorts of techniques and angles  to frame and mediate and make strange or new those things that capture your attention or suddenly strike you as an opportunity for aestheticism ….

Meanwhile other affordances like hashtags can be used to create associations, attachments, and explore various other self-images, accounts and pages:  activities which often entail encounters with all sorts of people, depictions of their lives selves-in-differing-situ hat you never expected developing any interest in or becoming captivated by ….

I’ve been thinking all these thoughts …rather manically and rhitzomatically… on the run, so naturally I’ve had to work with the platform closest at hand …(Instagram of course).  Basically I’ve been taking a whole bunch of phatic selfies….  < lol>

I’ve accompanied this visual work with streams of lateral thought-association which I’ve articulated as best I can using hashtags that mean particular things for me  (usually connected to my idle thoughts and ongoing work) .. which every so often also generate unexpected associations, new attachments, novel modes of appreciation and interest and engagement, and encounters across all sorts of social, material and mediated differences that can result in surprisingly intimate connections or forms of relation

‘in his 2005 intro to ANT, Reassembling the Social, Latour promotes a method he calls associology, that entails tracing the associations and networks that serve to consolidate particular realities which end up producing certain experts and authorities, conferring as well as shaping specific forms of agency: agencements.

But when I read some of the early work from the  Actor-Network Theory crew, I’m often left with the sense of an heroically masterful (or tragically unsuccessful) Manager of Associations, the clever scientist who is smart enough to put in place relations strategic assurance, skilled in picking the associations that best consolidate the version of reality they have encountered through their specific experiments.

A much queerer approach would be less invested in the strategic enterprise making and tracing associations to formulate predefined structures according to fixed objectives, and much more curious about the modes of pleasure entailed in noticing and tracing the chance events that end up affecting or transforming us  (persons and things) when those things  make themselves available to the encounter. As I discuss a fair bit in the  The Gay Science,  I have in mind the happy, unexpected chance encounters that have the power to take us off into multiple new directions (however subtle, trivial, substantial or world-moving they may at first seem or end up becoming): that produce transformations, the possibilities of which we may want to experiment with

Which leaves me thinking, if we want to experience more eventful, enjoyable, energising worlds and realities, maybe we need to embrace and affirm these moments of random connection, expand our appreciation of the many differences available to us in terms of how we  encounter difference and find things to share with whatever is unfamiliar or strange to us; and most of all how different manners of encountering others generate different realities of material consequence.

What we need, in other words – against or alongside Latour’s associology – is another approach which I’m thinking of right now under the working title: encounterology ….. Encounterology is the enjoyable activity of attending to whatever eventuates from unexpected  encounters and queer or improbable relations…

Let’s extend our festive activities by bringing them into new situations to multiply our capacities of feeling, to create situations and events that are enjoyable enough to sustain entire movements and counter-institutions.  

Keep Partying, Keep Playing!   

 

Kane Race, April, 2018

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A Question this Gay Christmas…

and a recommendation …

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This piece was written by the smart and switched-on Australian journalist Julia Baird, sister of former NSW Premier Mike Baird, the bloke who presided over intensified police drug dog operations that made us hate and fear the cops again, the one who went on with his cronies to become such fierce and thick upholders of the NSW lockout laws, which effectively obliterated social life in general and Sydney’s gay party culture in particular as we knew it…

Remember that guy?

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Me neither.

Anyway, back to the good bit, Julia wrote this piece in 2004 ~ more than a decade before her brother Mike became Premier of NSW  (the same year, it turns out, that internet sites  for the first time became the most common way men looked for each other for sex; a circumstance strangely absent from the accounts the article engages with to work out what was changing, how, and why …but I say this in hindsight, more a retrospective thought to inform present activities/ activisms.

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In Chemical Palace, Fiona McGregor articulates that sense in the late 90s that things were splintering, but what were the mechanisms of that splintering? It splintered in so many ways: including all those she names, for sure, and more ..

For guys especially, I think, one important source of this splintering was the new pleasures and possibilities and problems of digital cruising ..(I explore the impacts of digital culture on queer sexual sociability in my new book, The Gay Science (Routledge, 2017).

One thing I wonder about, re-reading this piece today, at any rate, is whether Mike ever read his sister’s piece, and if the did, what he thought of it? could he relate? how did it affect him? Could he even be bothered trying to get a sense of what it’s feeling out for, its significance, its meaning?

Because I guess in the back of my mind I’m wondering, Mike (if I may): did you ever have the pleasure of partying at Mardi Gras? with your sister? or whoever? did you enjoy it? make new friends? smile with someone? learn new dance moves? get a jiggle in your hips? have an adventure? have a chat with ….anyone? anything?

(I just remember how my sister and I loved these parties, went to them together, or separately with our friends and others, so many times, such awesome times, all of us dancing, playing, laughing, crying, moving, joking, smiling, zoning out, searching, encountering each other, beside ourselves, together…)

And Mike if you did get the pleasure, what did you think of it? What did it do for you? How did it change you? How could it not have??

Tell us, wherever you are, Mike Baird, what did you make of it?  Do you remember? (because many of us do). What did you do to it? Where are they now?

I can’t help thinking, you see, Mike, had you actually got that pleasure …  ( & now I’m just speculating I suppose) … what would Sydney feel like today? How would it differ?  What would we be capable of? How would it feel?  What might become of that history today –  the good bits at least – & what supports do we need to build for these good bits to flourish, right now, all together, in the present?

It’s not at all a matter of wanting or thinking we can somehow just go back and live happily in some romanticised mid 1990 bubble.  I don’t think anyone really thinks or wants that, anymore.  Things have changed.  We’ve moved on.  New things are happening now, some better, some worse – including for new, previously excluded, identities and constituencies – that nobody could have imagined then.  Creativity.  Or, as Muriel Heslop’s father would say, ‘You can’t stop Progress’…   (I beg to differ)

No, it’s more a matter of thinking about what this time did for us, what bits are worth carrying forward, what bits are worth affirming and remembering, what we want to let go of, what can’t we forget? .  In other words, this isn’t a whinge, or some sort of nostalgic rant (ok maybe just a little bit of each/both to be honest), but actually meant this festive season, in the gayest of spirits as an entirely practical question:

How can we make what was nourishing and energising and important about those times, those spaces, those processes, those connections, those intimacies, those dynamisms, return/again ~ be renewed ~ newly happen?

I love Dion Kagan’s fresh new thinking on this question, by the way … he’s young and well-read and smart and lives in Melbourne and well, he definitely gets it. His book is even bathed in the inverted colours of Gay Christmas! 🖤❤️🖤

Perfect Summer Reading ☀️  Hopefully it’s out before Gay Christmas (by which I mean late February… what were you thinking??)

 

 

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Gay Science Studios

You can now follow Gay Science Studios on Facebook ~ just click on my mug

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Collective experiment

As queers our bodies are known to be particularly vulnerable: to disease, shame, violence, self-doubt and ostracization.

Indeed abuse, or the experience of abuse – both social and physical – could be considered constitutive of queer subjectivity.

For such subjects, experimentation is not some idle game but can emerge as a necessity – however steeped such experiments may be in risks and danger.

Despite such risks, testing out new ways of feeling the world can come to seem necessary if one wants to survive, if we want to make worlds and lives for ourselves that feel worth living

These experiments work better, their dangers maybe mitigated, when we find ways of conducting them safely and openly. That’s why so many work so hard to build and sustain collective arenas  of care, play, disclosure, support, curiosity, adventure and scandalous pedagogy.

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@quitgrindr : constituting wholesome, respectable gays, bit by bit, every day…

Well, I’m devastated to discover that @quitgrindr on Instagram has blocked me!
Was it something I said?? 😱 or, heaven forbid, *did*??
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Luckily I managed to screen cap a few of my personal favourites from among its many, nasty little gems:
Do visit @quitgrindr on Instagram some time if you want a good belly laugh. I can guarantee hours of hilarity 😝
And remember:
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#homonormativemuch ??

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UnDEAD!

undeadIn the abysmal UK documentary Chemsex (2015), there’s a horrible moment where one gay man describes his peers who use drugs for sex as “the walking dead.” Let’s think about this derogatory imagery for a moment. What should we make of this abject figure, the queer zombie?

The walking dead are beings whose claim on life is so tenuous and wrong and desperate they’re regarded as a monstrous affront and threat to the living order. In fact, this characterisation of drug users is a well-trodden stereotype appearing in multiple sites, from judicial discourse to popular culture.  Effectively, it demonises people who use drugs by suggesting their lives are unnatural and not worth living.  It’s a callous and demoralising insinuation that is destructive of lives and hopes for the future.

Last weekend, Unharm‘s Queer Contingent decided to bite this bullet hard, and threw an outrageous party to celebrate sexy demons, queer community, the growing movement around drug use, and killer dress-ups. Held on the weekend of the Day of the Dead, UnDEAD brazenly embraced the figure of the zombie, inhabiting it playfully and irreverently, to throw this configuration of abuse back in the faces of those who project it so vomitously. A perverse and confronting strategy, perhaps – not everyone’s cup of tea – but the sort of manoeuvre that has long been critical for queer thinking and queer survival.

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This wasn’t “just a party”, it was serious fun. UnDEAD aimed to pay homage to the role queer parties have played in promoting vital practices for wellbeing: lively communities; cultures of care; and the invention of forms of safety that respect the transformative powers of pleasure.

The gay club scene in Sydney helped build the communities that responded so effectively to HIV and which have continued to devise inventive ways of looking after each other. Queer parties have sparked initiatives encouraging the safer use of substances like MDMA and GHB and led to the development of new ways of taking care of people in party environments.

These spaces and the communities they helped forge have come under pressure lately from lockout laws and a longer history of harassment through drug detection operations. The onslaught is intensifying at a time when more and more people are beginning to realise ‘we can’t arrest our way out of’ drug-related problems, and that communities (rather than law enforcement) are the most effective way forward.

Queer communities have been breaking new ground in this domain, but bad laws and aggressive enforcement are blocking progress, and have the added effect of chipping away at the bonding possibilities that have been so significant within queer party culture and been the basis for care strategies.

UnDEAD was the brainchild of Fiona McGregor; who put the party on with the help of comrades from the Unharm Queer Contingent, their mates and supporters. Legendary Sydney queer DJs Ben Drayton, Steve Sonius, DJ Gemma and HipHopHoe electrified the dance floor with killer beats and sounds. Partygoers were also treated to deadly performances from iconic queer performers  Glitta Supernova, Willow Darling and Matthew Stegh, who brought the house down.

But most of all, UnDEAD was one of those thrilling events that demonstrates how inventive, playful, daring and caring our community can be. We were blown away by the creativity, guts and sheer nerve of all the queer souls who came out in the middle of the night to claim the dance floor and support the growing movement. Renowned photographer William Yang captured some of the magnificent creatures who graced our party – check out his pictures of the event here (further snaps from SXNews here). To summon the ghost of Oscar Wilde, let’s just say that reports of the death of Sydney queer culture are greatly exaggerated.

Unharm is a grassroots organisation that campaigns to make drug use as safe, positiveand ethical as possible. That includes changing laws, like the criminalisation of drug use, that make it harder for people to live well.

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The Unharm Queer Contingent formed in early 2016 and has gone from strength to strength this year, hosting a stall at Mardi Gras Fair Day; participating blocs in public rallies such as Reclaim the Streets and Keep Sydney Open; and convening community events such as Party safer and save our parties, Queer Chemistry, and a public screening of the documentary Rampant: How a City Stopped a Plague that brought key figures in the debate over Sydney nightlife together to discuss how to apply this local history to present controversies.

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The Unharm Queer Contingent wants to turn queer culture’s flair for wicked dance moves into something even more wicked – a dance/community generated movement. It’s happening right now, and it’s thrilling. Rise up, queer creatures of the night, and stake your claims! Let’s make a world where people aren’t criminalised for using drugs. Let’s get drug detection dogs out of our celebratory spaces, and pill testing happening at music festivals. Let’s work out better ways of looking after each other, whether friends or strangers, and put them into action.

If you want get involved, you can find out more by joining our online community discussion forum, or simply come along to our next event, to be determined.

Meanwhile, read this recently published review of some of the research literature on queer culture, drug use and sexual health to familiarise yourself with some of the facts, figures, issues and challenges that inform our work.

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Thinking with Pleasure

I’m off to Norway to give some workshops and a couple of talks about my research at the University of Oslo.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet researchers and students from the schools of public health and medical anthropology there.  I’ve organised the workshops around my work on pleasure, digital sex, HIV prevention and harm reduction – and I’ve attached the outline here: thinking-with-pleasure-norway-workshops.  It will be a great opportunity to workshop these pieces so I can pull them all together, as they’ll form the basis of the monograph I’m due to deliver by the end of the year: The Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV

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