Toronto
6 min

All blogged out

Queer confessions on the web are a new form of politics

BLOGGESS. Mimi Nguyen's weblog is at www.worsethanqueer.com. Credit: Xtra files

When I was a teenager I kept a diary. It was full of bad adolescent poetry and puerile rants, and loaded with highly crafted original sentences followed by exclamation points like: School sucks!!! My brother is retarded!!! Colin said hi to me in the cafeteria today!!! I hate Amanda!!!



It was the sort of thing you look back on and want to burn. It’s a mortifying record of the petty details of earlier life and you hope to God no one has ever read it.



Why then would anyone want to post their diary or journal entries in cyberspace for potentially everyone to see?



Plenty of queers have taken to recording their daily thoughts and activities on their websites. The majority of these weblogs, or blogs as they are more commonly known, are written by people in their teens and early twenties. While they rarely situate their experiences in terms of the wider contexts of gay rights or gay history, they are implicitly contributing to a historical record, and making the personal political in new ways.



When 19-year-old Angela at cherrybomb.pitas.com shares the highlights of her latest crushes, for instance, she’s giving us a queer read of the landscape around her at Queen’s University. Her observations, however commonplace, offer some insight into categories of desire and the fluidity of orientation.



“Cafeteria girl!” she headlines one of her entries. “H-o-t-t. I see her in the caf all the time. She has glasses and shortish dark hair. She’s mega hot stuff and I’m convinced she is somewhere on the queer spectrum.” And: “Butch economics girl! She’s probably straight, but I’m convinced she just hasn’t met the right girl yet, ie ME?! (Ha ha. Humour me, will ya?) I’m convinced she’s queer because, as a good friend said, ‘Girls who are that hot and that butch should not be allowed to be straight!'”



There are hundreds of individual weblogs like this where people spill their guts, confess their crushes, and rant, rave and reflect for some imagined audience. The content and purposes of blogs vary. The majority are made up of personal reflections – regular updates of what’s on someone’s mind in the form of diary entries, photographs, essays, news, commentary, poetry, fiction and links to other sites. The one thing they all share is their need to be promiscuous in their intellectual, emotional and artistic lives, their need to connect their lives with others, even if those connections may seem mundane, pretentious or virtual.



Although writing a diary or journal has historically been understood as a private act, people have long written their supposedly private musings with an imagined audience in mind.



Vita Sackville-West, for instance, the early 20th century writer who wrote about her passionate affairs with Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis, refers to “possible readers,” in the pages of her diary. When her son Nigel Nicholson came across her diary after she died, he was convinced she must have wanted it to be found and read.



“I believe she wrote it with eventual publication in mind,” he writes. “It assumed an audience. She knew that I would find it after her death, but did not destroy it. She wrote it as a conscious work of art, in such a way that it would be intelligible to an outsider, and her use of pseudonyms is itself an indication that she expected, even hoped that others might one day read it….”



If you post your journal on the web, are you necessarily assuming an audience? The majority of webloggers would say yes: they address that audience directly and invite feedback. But why? Is it simply narcissism, self-indulgence or a desperate desire to be heard?



In some cases, yes. Angela at cherrybomb.pitas.com calls her blog Noise Of The Self-involved.



“Journalling in a way is an ideal therapist,” writes Liquidwomyn at liquidwomyn.diaryland.com. Although she goes on to retract this, saying: “Well, maybe not. You get caught up in your patterns of thinking, finding no way out, having no one around who will force you to stop, only your own written voice mirroring your safe mantras.”



Others claim merely the right to free speech. At hometown.aol.com/puniopuer/confess.html, the unnamed author of Too Many Secrets writes, “The beauty of the Internet is that it’s an opportunity for self expression.”



But does anyone want to read these views? Absolutely. Look at the success of reality TV. We’re all looking for representations and validations of our own experiences, especially marginal communities. We want to know that we’re not alone, that our experiences and anxieties are shared by others.



Although some of the details people choose to relay are tedious and awful, chances are there is someone else on the planet who can relate.



“This page is first and foremost for me,” writes Mr Too Many Secrets. “If you get something from my musings about my life, cool… (but) this page is for me to verbalize my own angst. I’m going to lay everything out here. All the situations are true. All the real names will be used. All the emotions I felt when the incidents happened will be explored.”



It would be naïve for anyone to think that whoever visits a blog has a good reason for coming. It’s not like spotting someone you know in a gay bar, where all parties have outed themselves by coming to that venue, creating a bond of mutual trust. On the web, the visitor is not likewise implicated: a surfer can be an undetected voyeur in cyberspace, can in fact be an anonymous hate mailer if they so choose. When Mr Too Many Secrets posts his hometown and résumé, he’s taking chances.



While some of the sites contain little more than inane drivel, others are positively riveting. One of the smartest is Mimi Nguyen’s weblog www.worsethanqueer.com, which she deliberately sets up as a forum for cultural critique: what she’s thinking about, what she’s reading, what’s keeping her busy and how she’s reacting to it all. It’s a quasi-pretentious but engaging journal in which she integrates her personal experience into sexy theoretical frameworks.



Nguyen’s blog departs from the tendency toward confession in asserting a more self-conscious stance about her presence in cyberspace. She introduces herself as “a bi-queer (currently boyfriended)” 25-year-old PhD student in Comparative Ethnic Studies. The provocative title of her site, taken from a Bikini Kill song called “Suck My Left One,” suggests that she’s here and unabashedly queer and doesn’t give a shit who knows it. She says she doesn’t believe in the notion of safe spaces. Rather than hide in the corner or closet, she’d rather take up room in an unsafe world – even if it’s only the virtual world.



Chris, a charming 21-year old who records his entries at www.boylog.com, admits: “I enjoy weblogging mainly for the exhibitionist aspect of it…. I believe that most people who read my blog are interested in hearing about my day-to-day experiences with being a gay college student.”



Some of the queer weblogs are expressly political in their orientation and seek to challenge stereotypes, and explore prejudice and discrimination. Nguyen is apt to say things like: “I’m trying to work out how theories of performativity are formulated for an ahistorical white subject.”



The musings of a brainy woman with a little too much theory on her tongue are all fine and good, but a look at Rick Bébout’s website (webhome.idirect.com/~rbebout/bar/contents.htm) show what’s possible when you’ve had a real life (and you’re writing with an eye on history, rather than blurting out daily musings). Elegant and expressive, Bébout states: “I like looking at life sideways, laterally, lit from the margins.”



“This site is to let me tell stories from the life I lucked into, a life of promiscuous wonder,” he writes. “And – as necessary to defend its wonders from those too inclined to dismiss them – even to get a bit polemical.” The promiscuity metaphor can extend to blogging, which makes our ideas and feelings so accessible to others.



While Bébout’s site might attract anyone interested in politics and identity, most weblogs attract audiences primarily made up of other webloggers. They quote each other, know of, or even know each other and provide links to each other’s sites. Chris at Boylog.com says: “I’ve made several good friends through interaction between weblogs, such as Jonno at www.jonno.com. We live 1,500 miles away, but have corresponded frequently and kept up with each other’s lives.”



How honest is the communication in the world of blogging? In many cases, people conceal their identities through the use of aliases and the creation of cyber-egos. But that can give them the licence to play in ways that might not otherwise be possible in their daily lives.



“Real” or imagined, the creation of queer identities in cyberspace ensures a certain kind of visibility. But this begs the question: what does visibility actually mean in a world without borders?





Camilla Gibb won the 2000 City Of Toronto Book Award for her first novel, Mouthing The Words.