Technology and the queer community were the topics of conversation at the Museum of Contemporary Art ( MCA ) Chicago's "Queer Narratives with Zach Stafford and Jack Halberstam" program on July 15.
Stafford is the editor-in-chief of Grindr and its media outlet INTO, a digital LGBTQ magazine, which launched in 2017. Previously, he was the editor-at-large for OUT Magazine and an award-winning journalist at The Guardian. Halberstam, Ph.D., is a professor of gender studies and English at Columbia University, as well as the author of six books, including Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters ( Duke UP, 1995 ), Female Masculinity ( Duke UP, 1998 ), Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal ( Beacon Press, 2012 ), and, most recently, Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability ( University of California Press, 2018 ). They are currently working on several new project,s including a book titled Wild Thing: Queer Theory After Nature.
"Queer Narratives with Zach Stafford and Jack Halberstam" was part of a set of programs inspired by MCA's exhibition "I Was Raised on the Internet," running through Oct. 14. Together, Stafford and Halberstam dissected the role that technology plays within the queer community.
"For me as a queer person, I've always wanted to see things like this exist," said Stafford of the program and his participation. "They were conversations in my brain and they weren't happening. Now I see them happening. For me to be a part of them, is more than I ever would've thought. I would've just been happy sitting in the crowd, so it's very overwhelming sitting in this seat."
"We integrate voices of all different people in Chicago," said MCA Chicago Curator of Public Programs January Parkos Arnall. "The nature of the internet in its first 30 years has been somewhat exclusive to a white male perspective and it was really important to us with the programming of the exhibition, programming around the exhibition, to include a diversity of experiences and voices."
Parkos Arnall moderated the conversation between Halberstam and Stafford, covering topics such as the history and current state of cruising, social-justice intentions and ramifications of technology aimed toward the queer community, and the role that technology plays in collecting and communicating queer narratives.
"For me, I think the most important thing I brought to the conversation or try to bring to conversations like this is that Grindr has so much history and cache and I have so many feelings about it as an app and I do have a lot of feelings about what I'm doing as a journalist, like: Why are you creating journalism within this app? What does it mean to export queer journalism? Is that problematic?" Stafford explained. "I think I wanted to show people that we're being thoughtful right now. Right now, we're at this moment where there is so much happening that a lot of us started in these positions of power, whether it's at Columbia, an academic institution, or with a tech company, that we're really thinking about the past a lot and how we're moving forward and we're trying to be as good as we can be, though we always make a lot of mistakes on the way and the purpose of it now is to talk about it and have open conversation."
Stafford added that intersectional, queer conversations are not just for Twitter or blogs. The MCA, he said, has become a space for the whole city to come together to have these types of conversations.
Within the prepared topics, the speakers were candid. Parkos Arnall detailed the conversation as taking on direction toward queer community and how it is built online and in real life; Halberstam's sense of time and spacea queer time and spacethat works against and alongside heteronormative time and space and reflecting on that concept in today's digital world; and the commercialization of queerness as well as the promise of social justice within technology, specifically platforms like Grindr.
"I thought they were both incredible," said Parkos Arnall of the speakers. "They bring a range of perspectives within each of their work. They represented different generational perspectives, different fields of practice, and their chemistry together, I thought, was really delightful."
"I think what I was really impressed with and I knew Chicago would do this, is that Chicago shows up for queer things, and it's amazing, and they also ask amazing questions and questions that you don't always have the right answer to," said Stafford, a DePaul University graduate.
"I think it's good that Chicago creates a space to reference Jack's work a failure and learning from failure and using that as a space to learn more and create more. I've always felt so comfortable in Chicago, coming in, just being very unedited, existing and saying what I say because I learned it here, so I love that the MCA created a space with someone I learned so much from, to have a complicated, fun and sometimes tough conversation about what it means to be a queer person today."
For more information on MCA Chicago and its programming, visit MCAChicago.org .