- Becoming Digital, Becoming Queer
The Grit and Glamour of Queer LA Subculture
One of the recent developments from the open-ended call for a "critical turn" in the digital humanities has been the noticeable decline of both utopic and dystopic predictions about the "future of the book," or the "future of the humanities" writ large. In place of those prognostications, state-of-the-field discussions have attended to alternate genealogies and origins of computational and/or digitally mediated forms of scholarship. The preponderance of essays from scholars in black studies as well as feminist and queer theory in the "Histories and the Futures of DH" section of the latest edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities reveals more than mere growing diversity of DH scholars and projects.1 More importantly, it perhaps signals the shared investment by DH and minoritarian modes critique in imagining alternative critical genealogies and speculative futures. Specifically, the striking decline of the 1990s term cyberqueer suggests that it may be time to reconsider how the "digital" and the "queer" have always shared both a mutual critique of traditional research methodology and brick-and-mortar containments of culture and history and a necessary investment in utopian modalities of "becoming."2
Informed by these various invocations of "becoming" in the DH and queer theory, David J. Kim and H. N. Lukes started as co-instructors of an undergraduate course on queer LA offered in the Critical Theory and Social Justice Department at Occidental College in Spring Semester 2016.3 Lasting a semester, this queer digital humanities and community-based learning course resulted in the beginnings of a continuing Scalar book/archive/exhibit called The Grit and Glamour of Queer LA Subculture.4 The project explores the possibilities of DH's practice and ethos of "modeling" and "making" for pedagogically actualizing a certain intimacy with the concept of "world-making" central to José Esteban Muñoz's notions of "ephemera as evidence" and "utopia" that have been foundational in queer archival discourse and method.5 [End Page 625]
We decided to document queer LA less in terms of identity than through Dick Hebdige's idea of subculture as a function of "style."6 We attempted to construct chapters that reflect the overlapping communities, identities, and media of each subcultural style that our course homed in on with our local interlocutors. Scalar afforded us the opportunity to embed mapping, scanned ephemera, original photography, audio from oral histories, and original as well as archival video alongside descriptive and analytic writing collaboratively produced by the instructors and students.
While this course started research in established institutions like the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archive, we reoriented our project midstream around smaller, "unprocessed" collections, as students were afforded the rare opportunity to interact with our community partners and take in firsthand their relationship to queer archives and subcultures in LA. We found a vast, raw collection at REACH LA, an HIV/AIDS prevention nonprofit that has been active in South LA for nearly three decades, and whose work includes organizing various "ball" events that have been a mainstay in LA's "house" and drag scene. From collecting oral histories with our collaborators in Silver Lake, we received anecdotal accounts of HIV/AIDS and gentrification, as well as a cache of physical ephemera from an underground lesbian/trans/gender-queer club. These collections are featured in our most complete chapters, "#Ovahness" and "The Swish Alps."
A less complete chapter on gay motorcycle clubs (MCs) features photographs from the Satyrs Motorcycle Club of Los Angeles, which we found in transit from local LA collectors to the ONE Archive. The beginnings of a queer LA punk chapter took up the technologies of fan culture by blending the practices of bedroom wall postering, 1990s "zining," and internet searches of favorite bands to make a gallery, whose objects speak to and for the sullen teenager's alternative forms of social communication. Our plan is to fully develop those chapters and include new chapters on other queer LA subcultures through future iterations of the course at Occidental and with faculty partners at other universities.
As more fully discussed...