Queer Voices, Queer Histories, and Archiving

Queer histories and the recording and/or recovery of them is a subject that is deeply important to me. That’s why, even though we’re a literary magazine, you’ll see us write about history. One, because history and literature go hand-in-hand, though sometimes they make for raucous bedfellows. And two, because I feel I too often run into people—both straight and queer—who don’t know queer history. For several years, I thought the phrase “in the family” was just something a particular group of friends had made up. I didn’t know it had a history behind it. And when I asked others where it came from, they didn’t know either. They said it came from “the before times,” the dark ages when being queer was on par with leprosy.  We don’t know our own history—and it’s no accident. It’s not something that is easily Googled.  It isn’t taught (in the US) and it isn’t recorded in anything more than a footnote or in “special” queer studies editions, if it’s recorded at all. It was not uncommon for past historians to “straighten” the record, for “the sake of the living family.” It takes work to find our own history, as it does for all minorities. And this is why visibility, representation, and recording our own stories is important. We have to rely on each other for our histories, and to record them for future generations of queer kids.

I read Becoming a Londoner: A Diary a while ago, but it’s stuck with me as an important example of keeping queer history. Becoming a Londoner is an interesting memoir of sorts. Patchworked from David Plante’s diaries in the first twenty years of his living in London, it’s much more an epistolary work than a memoir in the modern sense of the word, which is where it’s value lays for me. To me, it read very much like digging through an archive. It is this act of archiving and publishing his experiences of living as an open homosexual among the artistic elite of London in the sixties that makes this work important. Not only is Plante recording his own queer experience, but his interactions among others within both the artistic and oftentimes overlapping queer community. The documentation of queer and homosexual lives of the past is a step toward visibility, and also as importantly, a step away from erasure. In the very act of publishing for wide public distribution and consumption, Becoming a Londoner becomes a permanent record of queer history.

This idea of “archiving” queer experience appeals to me. Of course, Becoming a Londoner, is a print book, but I’ve been thinking of online and digital humanities because of Martha Neill Smith and her work as a digital archivist.  In her article, “Software of the Highest Order,” (JSTOR) Smith takes an aside to talk about how some scholars may feel that online and digital humanities are somehow above the dirty issues of class, gender, race, and sexuality. It’s just numbers and codes, right? Smith argues that it isn’t. It seems to me, digitation and online forum can create access to a wider breadth of voices.  Anyone and everyone can make a blog, a tumblr, a Facebook page, and begin to publish their ideas and world view for free or very cheaply.

Blogs have quite figuratively exploded and enveloped any and all purposes for writing, but one of the most important avenues of blogging, is not only to give a “social forum for issues of experience,” but to provide that forum to voices that have historically been silenced or shut out of traditional modes of expression (ie print publication) such as the queer community. Though entertaining and legitimate in their own right, I’m not necessarily talking about “diary” blogs, but the blogs I find most productive and the posts I most enjoy reading are those where the writer grapples with their personal experience in juxtaposition to society or something larger than themselves in order to create meaning.  When it comes right down to it, that’s the aim of all literature, to take the personal and make it universal, and it’s something that some blogs and bloggers are showing an incredible talent for. Which is awesome.

Blogging isn’t without its drawbacks. Even in this digital age, it is possible for one to stay insular in their consumption of media. Human tendency seems to follow the path of least resistance, which means at least in this context, following blogs with similar opinions, liking and reblogging similar posts, ect. So, unless you go out of your way to find dissenting or different opinions, it’s likely you’ll end up “preaching to the choir” so to speak.

The other issue is the general stigma against blogs and online publishing. Publishing or writing online is the new vanity press, supposedly for the reason given above, that it costs little to no money. The argument is there is no “gatekeeper of valuable knowledge.” Which (1) is shit. It’s a shitty excuse to keep the current balance of hetero cis white males in power. They are the gatekeepers that are trying to keep their power by saying that “not all, but most” content on the internet isn’t valuable. They may not say exactly that (or they might), but that’s what they’re saying when they look down their noses at internet articles, or content writers, or sources only found online.  By looking down at it, by convincing everyone the internet isn’t a “credible” source, they’re trying to silence competing voices.

Which, for me, makes the idea of digital archival research and publication of diverse voices even more important. In a sense, then, the entirety of the internet is one huge archive, where access and editorial rights are given to everyone with access. During her lecture, Martha Neill Smith said that archivists were “stewards of human records,” and archives “what’s left of what was.”  Which is what makes the archival, recovery, and preservation of queer figures, authors, and voices so important. When these voices aren’t achieved or published, even “informally” online through blogs, webpages, and forums, they risk being lost forever.


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