CONSIDERING THE INTERNET AS ENABLING QUEER PUBLICS / COUNTER PUBLICS

Introduction

From the in­ter­net’s hum­ble be­gin­nings as a hand­ful of in­ter­con­nec­ted ma­chi­nes in the 1960s to its wide dis­tri­bu­ti­on in the 1990s, noo­ne could have fo­re­se­en what it has grown into to­day – a pu­blic net­work open to all who have ac­cess to a screen with a con­nec­tion to the web.1 The di­gi­tal en­vi­ron­ment has be­co­me as much of a real space as a park, cof­fee shop, town squa­re, clo­thing store or a couch in your li­ving room. Peop­le have ac­tive­ly in­te­gra­ted their li­ves with their di­gi­tal do­ings to the point that they are be­co­m­ing di­gi­tal beings. This pa­per ser­ves to dis­cuss di­gi­tal as a space for po­li­tics to play out, in par­ti­cu­lar in re­la­ti­on to pu­blics and coun­ter pu­blics. It does so through the lens of what oc­cur­red in 2012 at Jo­han­nes­burg Pri­de2 South Af­ri­ca. To ex­plo­re les­bi­an, gay, bi­se­xu­al, trans­gen­der, in­ter­sex, ase­xu­al and queer (LGB­TIAQ) iden­ti­ties, Pri­de, pu­blics and coun­ter pu­blics through di­gi­tal spaces, this pa­per re­qui­res a theo­re­ti­cal groun­ding in queer theo­ry and in­ter­net stu­dies. It is vi­tal for the dis­cus­sion of di­gi­tal space in re­la­ti­on to queer po­li­tics and coun­ter pu­blics that a fair­ly de­tai­led con­text of what oc­cur­red at Jo­burg Pri­de 2012 is pro­vi­ded, as well as a broa­der back­ground of Jo­burg Pri­de sin­ce the in­au­gu­ral pa­ra­de was held in 1990. The dis­cus­sion then mo­ves on to un­packing iden­ti­ty and its re­la­ti­on to the in­ter­net, and the op­por­tu­nities the in­ter­net af­fords LGB­TIAQ peop­le with par­ti­cu­lar at­ten­ti­on paid to pu­blics and coun­ter pu­blics.

Context

On 6 Oc­to­ber 2012, more than 20 ac­tivists from the One in Nine Cam­pai­gn3 hal­ted the an­nu­al Jo­burg Pri­de4 pa­ra­de by sta­ging a ‘die-in’.5 The ac­tivists de­man­ded a mi­nu­te of si­lence from the pa­ra­de, and lay down in the midd­le of the road with life-size dolls that re­pre­sen­ted mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty who had been ra­ped and mur­de­red be­cau­se of their se­xu­al ori­en­ta­ti­on or gen­der iden­ti­ty. In re­s­pon­se to this ac­tion, Jo­burg Pri­de pa­ra­de par­ti­ci­pants threa­te­ned to dri­ve over the One in Nine Cam­pai­gn ac­tivists with their ve­hi­cles whi­le tel­ling the ac­tivists they “had no right to be at the pa­ra­de”6.

The 2012 Jo­burg Pri­de clash high­ligh­ted some of the ten­si­ons wi­t­hin the LGB­TIAQ7 com­mu­ni­ty8, which re­sul­ted in the con­flict at the 2012 event. Cra­ven de­scri­bes the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty as epi­to­mi­sing the di­ver­si­ty and unity of post-1994 South Af­ri­ca, as the mo­ve­ment’s his­to­ry is tied to the coun­try’s own his­to­ry of de­mo­cra­cy and pro­ject of buil­ding a united na­tio­nal iden­ti­ty. Cra­ven sug­gests that this is a do­mi­nant dis­cour­se and sen­ti­ment among the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty, and in light of this, the stu­dy pre­sup­po­ses that the de­gree of vio­lence that took place bet­ween the Jo­burg Pri­de or­ga­nisers and ac­tivists was sur­pri­sing.9 This con­flict was an in­stan­ce when an as­su­med ima­gi­ning of unity be­ca­me frag­men­ted. One space whe­re this splin­te­ring was vi­si­ble was on­line, as this is whe­re peop­le sought in­for­ma­ti­on about what had hap­pe­n­ed, wat­ched vi­de­os of the event on YouTube10 and com­men­ted on so­ci­al me­dia sites such as Face­book. The in­ter­net be­ca­me a space for the One in Nine Cam­pai­gn and the Jo­burg Pri­de or­ga­ni­sing com­mit­tee to make an­noun­ce­ments via their Face­book pa­ges. One such an­noun­ce­ment on 3 April 2013 re­sul­ted in a se­ries of off­line events which cul­mi­na­ted with the Jo­burg Pri­de or­ga­ni­sing com­mit­tee an­noun­cing their dis­so­lu­ti­on.

Once this oc­cur­red, LGB­TIAQ or­ga­ni­sa­ti­ons, mem­bers and in­di­vi­du­als held events in Jo­han­nes­burg to dis­cuss a way for­ward. Events in­clu­ded a mee­ting on 7 April 2013 at a re­stau­rant, The Me­lon, in Mel­vil­le, an event en­t­it­led “Boy­cott Gay Pri­de” in the Jo­han­nes­burg CBD at the Hou­se of Mo­ve­ments on 13 April 2013, as well as a mee­ting at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Wit­waters­rand. Fol­low up mee­tings saw the emer­gence of ad­di­tio­nal groups such as Jo­han­nes­burg Pri­de and Peop­le’s Pri­de who would go on to or­ga­ni­se the Jo­burg Pri­de events of 201311. What was si­gni­fi­cant about the­se mee­tings was the way in which they were pre­do­mi­nant­ly or­ga­nis­ed on­line through Face­book. Face­book was not only em­ploy­ed to crea­te ‘events’ (such as mee­tings and the ac­tu­al Pri­de events in­vi­ta­ti­ons) but also to keep mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty up­dated on what had been dis­cus­sed at the mee­tings and wi­t­hin or­ga­ni­sing com­mit­tee mee­tings. Jo­burg Pri­de 2013 can be thought of as a se­ries of events, or­ga­nis­ed by mul­ti­ple groups – they could be cal­led Jo­burg Pri­des of 2013. Whi­le the­se mul­ti­ple pri­des did pro­ject a ‘frag­men­ted’ view of the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty – it could also be con­side­red to be a tru­er re­flec­tion of the com­mu­ni­ty: not united, ha­ving dif­fe­rent in­te­rests and ways of ex­pres­sing LGB­TIAQ li­ved rea­li­ties and ex­pe­ri­en­ces. It is this, the post-2012 Jo­burg Pri­de di­gi­tal con­ver­sa­ti­ons, as­so­cia­ted off­line mee­tings in 2013 and the 2013 Pri­de mar­ches and pa­ra­des that are of in­te­rest to the po­si­tio­n­ing of this pa­per.

A brief history of pride

Pri­de is an in­te­gral part of LGB­TIAQ his­to­ry.12 The pri­ma­ry aim of which is to make the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty vi­si­ble and place it firm­ly in the “pu­blic gaze”. In ma­king the com­mu­ni­ty vi­si­ble, Pri­de works to coun­ter the shame, “con­ce­al­ment and dis­avo­wal” that the com­mu­ni­ty ex­pe­ri­en­ces.13 Pri­de is seen as a way for a mi­no­ri­ty group to “chal­len­ge the sta­tus quo, fight for so­ci­al chan­ge” and gain sup­port from mem­bers outs­ide of the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty.14

Jo­burg Pri­de is an an­nu­al ce­le­bra­ti­on held by the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty and has ta­ken place sin­ce 1990. Throughout the his­to­ry of Jo­burg Pri­de, race, class and as­si­mi­la­tio­nist po­li­tics have been pro­mi­nent and in a sta­te of ne­go­tia­ti­on. For in­stan­ce, be­fo­re the for­ma­ti­on of the Gay and Les­bi­an Or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on of the Wit­waters­rand (GLOW), South Af­ri­can gay groups were pre­do­mi­nant­ly “whi­te and re­luc­tant to align them­sel­ves with the anti-apart­heid mo­ve­ment”. GLOW in­itia­ted the first Jo­burg Pri­de march in 1990, and was the first gay group with a lar­ge black mem­bership and “took a di­rect­ly po­li­ti­cal line”.15 The con­te­sta­ti­ons that exist around Jo­burg Pri­de are not uni­que to South Af­ri­ca but what ma­kes it worthy of not­ing is “the con­text of the apart­heid re­gime and the post-apart­heid era”.16 It is im­portant to note that the events and ac­tions at Jo­burg Pri­de 2012 are not iso­la­ted mo­ments, and need to be read as part of the his­to­ri­cal cour­se that dates back to the first Pri­de event in Jo­han­nes­burg in 1990. In 1990, Jo­burg Pri­de was the first les­bi­an and gay pri­de pa­ra­de to take place in Af­ri­ca. This first march was in­ten­ded to be a po­li­ti­cal pro­test, as were tho­se in the ye­ars that fol­lo­wed. Ca­me­ron de­scri­bes the first march as ha­ving a mood that “was fes­ti­ve, and dar­ing”.17 He sta­tes that the Pri­de par­ti­ci­pants “mar­ched to as­sert the spi­rit of hope that im­bued 1990” and the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty sought to “de­mand (their) rights as full, proud, pro­duc­tive par­ti­ci­pants in a ful­ly equal so­cie­ty”.18 In 1994, Jo­burg Pri­de be­gan to take a less po­li­ti­cal stan­ce with the march being cal­led a pa­ra­de ins­tead. In 1998 and 1999 the­re was an at­tempt to strike a ba­lan­ce bet­ween ce­le­bra­ti­on and pro­test but the event was still re­fer­red to as a pa­ra­de and a de­ci­si­on was made that the event “should al­ways be de­scri­bed as such”.19 Out of the dis­con­tent with the “com­mer­ci­al and de­po­li­ti­cised na­tu­re of Jo­han­nes­burg Pri­de” se­veral al­ter­na­ti­ve Pri­de events emer­ged over the ye­ars, in­clu­ding events such as So­we­to Pri­de.20

In 2004, an entran­ce fee was char­ged at the Pri­de fes­ti­vi­ties, which left many mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty dis­grunt­led be­cau­se many be­lie­ved that Pri­de should be open to all mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty and that an entran­ce fee was an ex­clu­sio­na­ry act. In 2005, the pa­ra­de rou­te brief­ly re­tur­ned to the city near Braam­font­ein but a par­ti­ci­pant was se­rious­ly in­ju­red when a bott­le was thrown from a buil­ding. This in­ci­dent was la­ter used to sup­port Pri­de’s per­ma­nent re­lo­ca­ti­on to Zoo Lake, whe­re it took place in 2006. In 2007, the or­ga­nisers of Pri­de or­ga­nis­ed the event un­der a new struc­tu­re. The or­ga­nisers de­scri­bed them­sel­ves on their web­site as “or­ga­nisers, all with con­siderable skills and ex­pe­ri­en­ces in re­le­vant fiel­ds and not lin­ked to trou­bled events”. They bran­ded the new event as Jo­burg Pri­de and re­mo­ved the words “les­bi­an” and “gay” from the name. The or­ga­nisers were ac­cu­sed of de­va­luing the LGB­TIAQ as­pect of the event to “make it more attrac­tive and less threa­ten­ing to he­te­ro­se­xu­als”.21 The pri­ma­ry ten­si­ons which Cra­ven (2011) and De Waal and Ma­ni­on (2006) have high­ligh­ted in their work re­vol­ve around the com­mer­cia­li­sa­ti­on of Pri­de, class di­vi­si­on, race, and as­si­mi­la­tio­nist po­li­tics. It is im­portant to note that the­se ten­si­ons are a re­sult of the on­go­ing le­ga­cies of the apart­heid sys­tem and the in­e­qua­li­ties it sub­jec­ted ci­ti­zens of South Af­ri­ca to.

Identity, performance and social networking sites

Queer theo­ry is a cru­ci­al pil­lar in ex­plo­ring Jo­burg Pri­de 2012 and the Jo­burg Pri­de 2013 events be­cau­se it ex­plo­res iden­ti­ty along mul­ti­ple li­nes. Fur­ther, queer theo­ry re­co­gni­s­es that the­re are a va­rie­ty of ways of ex­pres­sing one’s iden­ti­ty which do not fall wi­t­hin the boun­da­ries of he­te­ro­nor­ma­ti­ve pre­scrip­ti­ons. Queer is a term which at­tempts to in­vo­ke grea­ter in­clu­si­on than that of LGB­TIAQ be­cau­se it al­lows for mul­ti­ple ways of being. Iden­ti­ty is un­ders­tood to be that which ma­kes one dis­tinct and uni­que, yet it also im­plies a re­la­ti­ons­hip to the peop­le one as­so­cia­tes and iden­ti­fies with.22 Our iden­ti­ty is so­me­thing we uni­que­ly pos­sess: it is what dis­tin­gu­is­hes us from other peop­le. Yet on the other hand, iden­ti­ty also im­plies a re­la­ti­ons­hip with a broa­der collec­tive or so­ci­al group of some kind.23 The no­ti­on of the ex­pe­ri­ence of self is con­nec­ted to how one may per­cei­ve one’s exis­tence and a con­struc­tion of a nar­ra­ti­ve or his­to­ry for oneself – “being a par­ti­cu­lar per­son with a past, fu­ture and va­rious at­tri­bu­tes”.24

Per­so­nal iden­ti­ty is for­med by how one con­structs their life sto­ry in or­der to make mea­ning and to shape one’s iden­ti­ty.25 An in­di­vi­du­al will build on their nar­ra­ti­ve throughout their life and em­ploy it to bring mea­ning to what one does, and when one in­ter­acts with others in or­der to be ac­cep­ted or be iden­ti­fia­ble wi­t­hin a com­mon un­der­stan­ding of what it me­ans to be a per­son. An ex­amp­le of such nar­ra­ti­ves among the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty are tho­se told around mem­bers’ co­m­ing out pro­ces­ses and their ex­pe­ri­en­ces of Pri­de events.26 Pri­de events are key mo­ments of iden­ti­ty-buil­ding among LGB­TIAQ in­di­vi­du­als, com­mu­nities and or­ga­ni­sa­ti­ons con­cer­ned with LGB­TIAQ rights. At Pri­de events, LGB­TIAQ in­di­vi­du­als are able to try out their iden­ti­ties among other LGB­TIAQ peop­le in a ce­le­bra­to­ry and safe man­ner. Pri­de events not only ser­ve to af­firm or main­tain an in­di­vi­du­al’s iden­ti­ty, but also cont­ri­bu­te to so­ci­al co­he­si­on among the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty as they re­co­gni­se each other’s iden­ti­ties and con­firm that in­di­vi­du­als be­long to the group.

In in­ter­ac­ting with others, an in­di­vi­du­al may ad­opt a so­ci­al role which is an at­tempt to as­su­me an ac­cep­ta­ble iden­ti­ty in or­der to fit in with the group.27 Iden­ti­ty is in a sta­te of con­stant ne­go­tia­ti­on in the con­text of one’s own re­gu­la­ti­on of self and how one is re­gu­la­ted by tho­se one as­so­cia­tes with. An in­di­vi­du­al does de­ter­mi­ne their own iden­ti­ty but is re­li­ant on the re­co­gni­ti­on and con­fir­ma­ti­on of their iden­ti­ty by others.28 This at­tempt to pre­sent an ac­cep­ta­ble iden­ti­ty links well with as­si­mi­la­tio­nist po­li­tics wi­t­hin the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty.29 When an in­di­vi­du­al is at­temp­t­ing to de­fi­ne who they are, they en­dea­vour to as­sert their in­di­vi­dua­li­ty but also seek to join with a group. For an iden­ti­ty to be con­side­red le­gi­ti­ma­te, it nee­ds to be ack­now­led­ged by the group. This so­ci­al iden­ti­ty, as with per­so­nal iden­ti­ty, is flu­id and the con­te­sta­ti­ons which oc­cur around per­so­nal iden­ti­ty also oc­cur wi­t­hin the group iden­ti­ty. As with the case of LGB­TIAQ iden­ti­ties, one may find that a par­ti­cu­lar iden­ti­ty or ‘way of being’ is pre­scri­bed for an in­di­vi­du­al, and their le­gi­ti­ma­cy as an LGB­TIAQ in­di­vi­du­al and mem­ber of the com­mu­ni­ty is de­ter­mi­ned by how well they per­form in this role or fit this iden­ti­ty.

Group iden­ti­ty, for in­stan­ce, wi­t­hin the broa­der LGB­TIAQ group, is also sub­jec­ted to a ‘po­li­cing of au­then­ti­ci­ty’. A group such as the trans­gen­der or gay group may have re­qui­re­ments of what ma­kes a ‘good’ trans­gen­der or gay group and the au­then­ti­ci­ty of the group de­pends on how well it per­forms its role as a unit, as well as how well in­di­vi­du­als per­form. A con­cre­te ex­amp­le are the ac­tions of the pre­do­mi­nant­ly black les­bi­an group, the One in Nine Cam­pai­gn, at Jo­burg Pri­de in 2012. Their ac­tions and the vio­lent re­ac­tion of the pre­do­mi­nant­ly whi­te les­bi­an or­ga­ni­sing com­mit­tee were both read as brin­ging shame to the broa­der LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty.

Iden­ti­ty is so­me­thing which is done, and is best thought of and un­ders­tood in re­la­ti­on to But­ler’s no­ti­on of iden­ti­ty as per­for­mance.30 An in­di­vi­du­al’s un­der­stan­ding of who they are will im­pact on their be­ha­viour and they will be­ha­ve in a way which they deem ap­pro­pria­te in terms of the per­son they con­sider them­sel­ves to be. Their con­text and en­vi­ron­ment will bring them into con­tact with in­for­ma­ti­on, me­dia and peop­le who will in­flu­ence how they un­der­stand their iden­ti­ty, and will in turn gui­de how they be­ha­ve and per­form their iden­ti­ty.31 In ar­guing that gen­der is a per­for­mance and that “gen­der is al­ways a do­ing”32, But­ler (1990) ar­gues that it is a re­pea­ted per­for­mance or se­ries of per­for­man­ces, and that re­pe­ti­ti­on is a si­gni­fi­cant sys­tem in the con­struc­tion of iden­ti­ty.

Co­ver ar­gues that so­ci­al net­wor­king sites should be con­side­red “per­for­ma­ti­ve acts in and of them­sel­ves”33. But­ler’s theo­ries of iden­ti­ty per­for­ma­ti­vi­ty are pre­sen­ted as ha­ving “enor­mous ca­pa­ci­ty to fur­ther our un­der­stan­ding of how the mul­ti­ple func­tions of so­ci­al net­wor­king sites […] are uti­li­sed in the con­struc­tion and play­ing out of iden­ti­ty, sub­jec­tivi­ty and selfhood in both on­line and off­line con­texts”34. The in­ter­net can be con­side­red a per­for­ma­ti­ve space in that it pro­vi­des a space for one to pre­sent one’s iden­ti­ty to the di­gi­tal com­mu­ni­ty with which one is in­ter­ac­ting. This is, in par­ti­cu­lar, as­so­cia­ted with the rise in po­pu­la­ri­ty of so­ci­al net­works such as Face­book, whe­re a gre­at deal of time spent on the plat­form is as­so­cia­ted with the main­ten­an­ce of one’s iden­ti­ty through the up­keep of one’s pro­fi­le and the con­tent with which one in­ter­acts. For ex­amp­le, an LGB­TIAQ in­di­vi­du­al may choo­se to craft their pro­fi­le to show their af­fi­lia­ti­on with LGB­TIAQ groups, ce­le­bri­ties, and cau­ses if they want to re­pre­sent them­sel­ves as an open and cau­se-con­scious LGB­TIAQ per­son. As LGB­TIAQ iden­ti­ties are con­side­red as mar­gi­na­li­sed iden­ti­ties wi­t­hin so­cie­ty, in or­der to at­tain a sen­se of be­longing LGB­TIAQ in­di­vi­du­als need to car­ve out new spaces of being.35 The in­ter­net crea­tes the op­por­tu­ni­ty for LGB­TIAQ in­di­vi­du­als to seek each other out on­line “wi­thout fear of stig­ma or vio­lence”, such as that which they may face off­line in pu­blic.36 The re­se­arch by Prins­loo et al. fur­ther po­si­ti­ons the in­ter­net as a space to ac­cess in­for­ma­ti­on and high­lights its po­ten­ti­al to crea­te a plat­form for mar­gi­na­li­sed groups, such as the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty. This com­mu­ni­ty can uti­li­se the in­ter­net de­s­pi­te being geo­gra­phi­cal­ly dis­per­sed, to en­ga­ge in crea­ting safe spaces and plan­ning ‘agi­ta­tio­nal’ ac­tivi­ties to con­test he­te­ro­nor­ma­ti­vi­ty and as­so­cia­ted ho­mo­pho­bia.37

The in­ter­net forms a kind of ‘cy­ber-shel­ter’ in that les­bi­ans and les­bi­an groups are pre­do­mi­nant­ly un­able to main­tain phy­si­cal spaces due to fear of stig­ma, vio­lence and per­se­cu­ti­on – the in­ter­net ma­kes it pos­si­ble for les­bi­ans who can­not make con­nec­tions off­line to do so on­line. This is a con­se­quence of in­for­ma­ti­on tech­no­lo­gy al­te­ring the way in which we are able to con­nect with others and think of our­sel­ves and our iden­ti­ties.38 The in­ter­net ma­kes pos­si­ble ac­cess to in­for­ma­ti­on that mar­gi­na­li­sed peop­le, such as les­bi­an peop­le, would not nor­mal­ly have ac­cess to, and pro­vi­de a space for learning from sha­red ex­pe­ri­ence.39 The op­pres­si­on and mar­gi­na­li­sa­ti­on of LGB­TIAQ peop­le “ac­cen­tua­tes their need for sharing and iden­ti­ty buil­ding” and this cont­ri­bu­tes to the for­ma­ti­on of on­line com­mu­nities.40 Fur­ther­mo­re, the an­ony­mi­ty of the in­ter­net can ex­plain the rise in uptake among the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty, as in­di­vi­du­als may feel safer using the in­ter­net an­ony­mous­ly.41

The internet: An enabling environment

The in­ter­net is seen as sup­ple­men­ting so­ci­al ca­pi­tal. It is in­cre­a­sin­gly “in­te­gra­ted into rhythms of dai­ly life, with life on­line view­ed as an ex­ten­si­on of off­line ac­tivi­ties”,42 and can be uti­li­sed in such a way as to en­han­ce and com­ple­ment off­line li­ves.43 Whi­le the in­ter­net does sup­ple­ment so­ci­al ca­pi­tal, it does so for tho­se who can af­ford to be on­line. Not all in­di­vi­du­als have ac­cess to de­vices or the me­ans to con­nect their de­vices to the in­ter­net. This is a fac­tor that nee­ds to be con­side­red when re­se­ar­ching and ex­plo­ring the pos­si­bi­li­ties that di­gi­tal en­vi­ron­ments bring to the li­ves of mar­gi­na­li­sed iden­ti­ties.

The in­ter­net is in its­elf a so­ci­al space and can be re­co­gnis­ed as a “pu­blic space”.44 It is, like any off­line space, a place whe­re one is able to play one’s iden­ti­ty out. This is par­ti­cu­lar­ly true with the uptake in so­ci­al net­works such as Face­book, which al­low for on­line re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ons of one’s ever­y­day life and per­for­mance of one’s iden­ti­ty. The di­gi­tal space ma­kes it pos­si­ble for voices to be heard and view­ed pu­bli­cly – voices which may not have been pre­sent in the pu­blic sphe­re pri­or to the exis­tence of so­ci­al net­wor­king sites. It al­lows for in­di­vi­du­als to be ex­po­sed to dif­fe­ring view­points and to be held ac­coun­ta­ble for the va­lues they es­pou­se, as well as have the­se pu­bli­cly chal­len­ged.45 This pa­per ar­gues that this pro­vi­des for a ri­cher pu­blic sphe­re than the one found off­line, and that off­line in­ter­ac­tions are en­han­ced by in­te­gra­ting them into di­gi­tal con­ver­sa­ti­ons and spaces.

To a grea­ter de­gree than pri­or to the event, Face­book be­ca­me a pu­blic space for mem­bers of the Jo­burg LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty post-Pri­de 2012. The ten­si­ons, clash and con­ver­sa­ti­ons that oc­cur­red in Jo­han­nes­burg mo­ved on­line to Face­book. Alt­hough the in­ter­net is in its­elf a pu­blic space, it is im­portant to note that the in­ter­net of­fers pri­vi­le­ges to “cer­tain groups, lan­gua­ges, gen­der or coun­tries to the ex­clu­si­on of others”.46 This is no dif­fe­rent to pre­vious is­su­es rai­sed around Jo­burg Pri­de, such as ac­cess to whi­te pri­vi­le­ged spaces – one of the pri­ma­ry, his­to­ri­cal con­te­sta­ti­ons to sur­face in on­line con­ver­sa­ti­ons.47 Fol­lo­wing the clash bet­ween the Jo­burg Pri­de or­ga­nisers and the One in Nine Cam­pai­gn ac­tivists, the in­ter­net was ali­ve with vi­de­os, images, tweets, Face­book wall posts and blog posts of what had ta­ken place. Af­ter the in­iti­al news mo­ment had pas­sed, con­ver­sa­ti­ons con­ti­nued to take place on­line, as did pos­ting of con­tent about what had ta­ken place and par­ti­ci­pa­ted in con­ver­sa­ti­ons in com­ment feeds. So­ci­al me­dia and other on­line spaces be­ca­me an ar­chi­ve for con­ver­sa­ti­ons that oc­cur­red among each group’s mem­bers and bet­ween the groups them­sel­ves. Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stan­ces, the­se con­ver­sa­ti­ons disap­pe­ar in na­tio­nal and lo­cal me­dia as other events un­fold and cap­tu­re the pu­blic’s at­ten­ti­on. So­ci­al me­dia plat­forms, in par­ti­cu­lar Face­book, be­ca­me en­ab­ling spaces, which al­lo­wed for the­se con­ver­sa­ti­ons to con­ti­nue.

The internet as counter/public

The use of di­gi­tal and the ex­po­sure to al­ter­na­ti­ve view­points re­sults in a ri­cher pu­blic sphe­re. As with the case of Jo­burg Pri­de 2012, the in­ter­net pro­vi­ded a plat­form for the pu­blic to dis­cuss and dis­sect what oc­cur­red bet­ween the Pri­de or­ga­nisers and the ac­tivists as well as for mem­bers of the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty to de­ba­te some of the is­su­es that aro­se. Prins­loo et al.’s workon les­bi­an use of the in­ter­net is use­ful in its ap­p­li­ca­ti­on to the broa­der LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty (2012) they put for­ward Dah­l­berg’s pro­po­sal that the in­ter­net ma­kes avail­able the space for a mar­gi­na­li­sed group to es­ta­blish a coun­ter pu­blic and to “en­ga­ge in de­ba­te and de­ve­lop ar­gu­ments to coun­ter the main­stream pu­blic sphe­re”48. To un­der­stand what Dah­l­berg me­ans by the in­ter­net ma­king spaces avail­able for the es­ta­blish­ment of coun­ter­pu­blics, it is im­portant to un­pack the mea­ning of pu­blics and coun­ter pu­blics.

A pu­blic is ideo­lo­gi­cal and main­tai­ned through dis­cour­se, and un­able to exist outs­ide of the dis­cour­ses that dis­cuss them. War­ner ar­gues that “some pu­blics are de­fi­ned by their ten­si­on with lar­ger pu­blics. Their par­ti­ci­pants are mar­ked from per­sons or ci­ti­zens in ge­ne­ral.” This pu­blic in con­flict with the lar­ger pro­ject is then un­ders­tood to be in breach with the “ru­les ob­tai­ned in the world at lar­ge, being struc­tu­red by al­ter­na­ti­ve dis­po­si­ti­ons or pro­to­cols” – in ef­fect a coun­ter­pu­blic.49 Coun­ter­pu­blics, by de­fi­ni­ti­on, are shaped through their di­ver­gence with “the norms and con­texts of their cul­tu­ral en­vi­ron­ment”.50 Against the back­drop of the pu­blic sphe­re,51 a coun­ter­pu­blic “enables a ho­ri­zon of opi­ni­on and ex­ch­an­ge; its ex­ch­an­ges re­main dis­tinct from aut­ho­ri­ty and can have a cri­ti­cal re­la­ti­on to power”52.

Nan­cy Fra­ser sug­gests that for mar­gi­na­li­sed groups, such as LGB­TIAQ per­sons, it is in their in­te­rest to form “al­ter­na­ti­ve pu­blics” which she terms “sub­al­tern coun­ter­pu­blics”. The­se sub­al­tern coun­ter­pu­blics are “par­al­lel dis­cur­si­ve are­nas whe­re mem­bers of sub­ord­i­na­ted so­ci­al groups in­vent and cir­cu­la­te coun­ter-dis­cour­ses” in or­der to form and as­sert their own in­ter­pre­ta­ti­on of their iden­ti­ties and in­te­rests.53 One es­sen­ti­al pur­po­se of the coun­ter­pu­blics is to in­tro­du­ce new or al­ter­na­ti­ve dis­cur­si­ve po­si­ti­ons into pu­blic spaces whe­re they are able to be pu­bli­cly op­po­sed or chal­len­ged. Fra­ser sug­gests that coun­ter­pu­blics ser­ve two pur­po­ses: as spaces of safe­ty and re­or­ga­ni­sing, and as trai­ning spaces for pro­test ac­tivi­ties to be di­rec­ted towards the broa­der pu­blic.

In con­side­ring Jo­burg Pri­de 2012, the in­ter­net was pro­vi­ded a space for both the Jo­burg Pri­de pa­ra­de par­ti­ci­pants and the One in Nine Cam­pai­gn ac­tivists to re­group and to dis­cuss what had ta­ken place among their groups. It also al­lo­wed them the op­por­tu­ni­ty to plan ad­di­tio­nal ac­tions which were di­rec­ted at each other, and pu­bli­cised for the broa­der pu­blic’s at­ten­ti­on. For in­stan­ce, the Jo­burg Pri­de 2013 events came about as a re­sult of the dis­cus­sions which took place on Face­book, which were mo­ved to off­line pu­blic spaces such as the mee­tings held in Mel­vil­le, the Jo­han­nes­burg cen­tral busi­ness district, and at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Wit­waters­rand. The Face­book pa­ges were used to keep mem­bers and in­te­rested par­ties up­dated about what had ta­ken place du­ring the off­line mee­tings, as well as to no­ti­fy them of fol­low-up mee­tings and events, whi­le ma­na­ging and sustai­ning their own re­pre­sen­ta­ti­on.

Concluding remarks

This pa­per ar­gues that the suc­cess of the Jo­burg Pri­de 2013 events, such as that of Jo­burg Peop­le’s Pri­de, was great­ly due to the use of the di­gi­tal en­vi­ron­ment to en­ga­ge and sustain at­ten­ti­on around Jo­burg Pri­de. Di­gi­tal­ly LGB­TIAQ in­di­vi­du­als were able to ne­go­tia­te the is­su­es rai­sed around Pri­de, this was done through con­ver­sa­ti­ons re­vol­ving around some of the fol­lo­wing are­as: who had ac­cess to spaces; which spaces were pre­fer­red and were ac­ces­si­ble; the form Pri­de took, whe­ther it was to be a re­mem­bran­ce event, be ce­le­bra­to­ry, po­li­ti­cal or a com­bi­na­ti­on of the afo­re­men­tio­ned.

The­se ne­go­tia­ti­ons around is­su­es pro­vi­ded the space for all mem­bers who had ac­cess to the page/​group to par­ti­ci­pa­te (if they wis­hed) in the shaping and de­ve­lop­ment of the Jo­burg Peop­le’s Pri­de event – al­lo­wing for a sen­se of ow­nership of an in­te­gral nar­ra­ti­ve mo­ment in the li­ves of LGB­TIAQ peop­le. Some may ar­gue that ha­ving mul­ti­ple Pri­de events in 2013 can be seen as a sign of a frag­men­ted LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty, which could hold some truth. Howe­ver, the mul­ti­ple events could also be read as the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty re­co­gnis­ing that its mem­bers have dif­fe­rent nee­ds that can­not ne­ces­sa­ri­ly be con­tai­ned wi­t­hin a sin­gle de­fi­ni­ti­on. In do­ing so, the com­mu­ni­ty ack­now­led­ged that all iden­ti­ties should be free to per­form and be re­co­gnis­ed wi­t­hin their own right wi­thout nee­ding to be con­tai­ned wi­t­hin a sin­gle de­fi­ni­ti­on of what the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty may look like.

The de­gree of or­ga­ni­sing and re­co­gnis­ing the di­ver­gent nee­ds of the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty would not have been as rich if it were not for the di­gi­tal space and what it of­fe­red in way of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and or­ga­ni­sing. As we in­cre­a­sin­gly move into a di­gi­tal world, we need to ima­gi­ne new ways of or­ga­ni­sing and en­ga­ging in pro­test and po­li­tics, ways that may enable a de­gree of sustai­ned ac­tion. If we are to ima­gi­ne new ways of or­ga­ni­sing through the in­te­gra­ti­on of off­line with on­line, we must also set our­sel­ves the task of con­cei­ving a world whe­re ac­cess to di­gi­tal tools and con­nec­tivi­ty is rea­di­ly avail­able to all. When ima­gi­ning the pos­si­bi­li­ties that the di­gi­tal en­vi­ron­ment pro­vi­des, we must re­co­gni­se and note that in­ter­net com­mu­nities are “re­stric­ted to the di­gi­tal ‘ha­ves’ (or at least tho­se with di­gi­tal so­ci­al ca­pi­tal) ra­ther than the ‘have nots’”54.

Original source: Leu­phana/Spheres

[1] B.M. Lei­ner et al., “A Brief His­to­ry of the In­ter­net”, in ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, 39(5), 2009.

[2] From her­ein re­fer­red to as Jo­burg Pri­de, Jo­burg is a shor­ten­ing of Jo­han­nes­burg and is used ins­tead of Jo­han­nes­burg by the South Af­ri­can LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty.

[3] The One in Nine Campaign is an or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on “groun­ded on a fe­mi­nist cri­ti­cal ana­ly­sis of the pa­tri­ar­chal na­tu­re of exis­ting po­li­ti­cal ar­ran­ge­ments”. T.M. Mi­la­ni, Sexual Citizenship: Discourses, Spaces and Bodies at Johannesburg Pride 2012, Jo­han­nes­burg, Uni­ver­si­ty of the Wit­waters­rand, 2012. The cam­pai­gn was for­med in 2006 in re­s­pon­se to the Zuma rape tri­al in which South Af­ri­ca’s then de­pu­ty pre­si­dent, Ja­cob Zuma was ac­cu­sed of rape. The cam­pai­gn “sup­ports sur­vi­vors of se­xu­al vio­lence” and seeks to “ap­p­ly pres­su­re on va­rious bran­ches of the cri­mi­nal jus­ti­ce sys­tem through di­rect ac­tion and tar­ge­ted ad­vo­ca­cy”.

[4] Pri­de is an event that oc­curs wi­t­hin the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty to make the com­mu­ni­ty vi­si­ble and ce­le­bra­te se­xu­al ori­en­ta­ti­on and gen­der iden­ti­ties that are not the sta­tus quo. Cp. S. De Waal and A. Ma­ni­on, Pride: Protest and Celebration, Jo­han­nes­burg, Fane­le, 2006. Jo­burg Pri­de is an an­nu­al ce­le­bra­ti­on held by the LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty and has ta­ken place sin­ce 1990. Whi­le the­re are other Pri­de events ta­king place in South Af­ri­ca, Jo­han­nes­burg Pri­de is the lon­gest run­ning Pri­de event in the coun­try. It has been de­scri­bed as ha­ving a his­to­ry that “runs along­s­ide the his­to­ry of the tran­si­ti­on to de­mo­cra­cy in South Af­ri­ca”. E. Cra­ven, Racial Identity and Racism in the Gay and Lesbian Community in Post-partheid South Africa, Mas­ter of Arts The­sis, Uni­ver­si­ty of the Wit­waters­rand, Jo­han­nes­burg, 2011.

[5] A die-in is a form of pro­test whe­re ac­tivists feign being dead. Die-ins were po­pu­lar forms of pro­test among mem­bers of ACT UP in the 1980s. Cp. J. Tay­lor, Playing it Queer: Popular Music, Identity and Queer World-making. Bern, Pe­ter Lang, 2012.

[6] Facebook-Statement by the One in Nine Cam­pai­gn from Oc­to­ber 8, 2012.

[7] It is im­portant to note that wi­t­hin the his­to­ry of Jo­burg Pri­de, the term LGB­TIAQ has not al­ways been used, it was re­fer­red to as only a les­bi­an and gay event in pre­vious ye­ars. Cp. De Waal and Ma­ni­on, Pride. For the pur­po­ses of this re­se­arch, the full term will be used ex­cept when being spe­ci­fic or re­fe­ren­cing a par­ti­cu­lar body of work.

[8] The use of the term com­mu­ni­ty is used here as a way of de­scri­bing a collec­tive of like-min­ded in­di­vi­du­als.

[9] Cp. E. Cra­ven: Racial Identity and Racism in the Gay and Lesbian Community in Post-partheid South Africa; W.L. Leap, “Stran­gers on a Train: Se­xu­al Ci­ti­zenship and the Po­li­tics of Pu­blic Trans­por­ta­ti­on in Apart­heid Cape Town”, in A. Cruz-Ma­la­ve and M.F. Ma­nal­an­san (eds.), Queer Globalisations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism. New York NY, New York Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2002, pp. 219–235.

[10] One such vi­deo tit­led Gay Pride March Interrupted by Activists shows the clash bet­ween pro­tes­ters and pa­ra­de par­ti­ci­pants.

[11] Jo­han­nes­burg Pri­de or­ga­nis­ed a pa­ra­de, which took place on 26 Oc­to­ber 2013, whi­le Peop­le’s Pri­de or­ga­nis­ed an event, which took place on 5 Oc­to­ber 2013.

[12] S.M. Ka­tes and R.W. Belk, “The Mea­nings of Les­bi­an and Gay Pri­de Day: Re­sis­tan­ce through Con­sump­ti­on and Re­sis­tan­ce to Con­sump­ti­on”, in Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 30(4), 2001, pp. 392–429.

[13] De Waal and Ma­ni­on, p. 9.

[14] J.J. Rat­cliff et al., “Why Pri­de Dis­plays Eli­cit Sup­port from Ma­jo­ri­ty Group Mem­bers: The Me­di­ta­tio­nal Role of Per­cei­ved De­ser­ving­ness”, in Group Process Intergroup Relations, 16(4), 2013, pp. 462–475, p. 472.

[15] De Waal and Ma­ni­on, p. 7.

[16] Cra­ven, p. 61.

[17] De Waal and Ma­ni­on, p. 4.

[18] E. Ca­me­ron, “Fo­r­e­word”, in S. De Waal and A. Ma­ni­on (eds.) Pride: Protest and Celebration. Jo­han­nes­burg, Fane­le, 2006, pp. 4–6, p. 4.

[19] Cra­ven, p. 58. Cra­ven’s work is par­ti­cu­lar­ly use­ful in tra­c­ing the his­to­ry of the LGB­TIAQ mo­ve­ment in South Af­ri­ca, par­ti­cu­lar with re­fe­rence to race and class.

[20] Cra­ven, p. 58.

[21] Cra­ven, p. 43.

[22] S. Hon­gla­dar­om, “Per­so­nal Iden­ti­ty and the Self in the On­line and Off­line World”, in Minds & Machines, 21, 2011, pp. 533–548.

[23] N. Bostrom and A. Sand­berg, The Future of Identity: A Report Commissioned by the UK’s Government Office for Science, 2011.

[24] Bostrom and Sand­berg, p. 7.

[25] M. Du­ran­te, “The On­line Con­struc­tion of Per­so­nal Iden­ti­ty through Trust and Pri­va­cy”, in Information, 2, 2011, pp. 594–620.

[26] Cp. M. Jol­ly, “Co­m­ing out of the Co­m­ing out Sto­ry: Wri­ting Queer Li­ves”, in Sexualities, 4(4), 2001, pp. 474–496.

[27] Cp. Bostrom and Sand­berg, p. 7.

[28] Cp. D. Bucking­ham, “In­tro­du­cing Iden­ti­ty”, in Da­vid Bucking­ham (ed.) Youth, Identity and Digital Media, Cam­bridge MA & Lon­don, MIT Press, 2008, pp. 1–24.

[29] J. Puar, “Re­thin­king Ho­mo­na­tio­na­lism”, in International Journal of Middle East Studies, 45(2), 2013, pp. 336–339.

[30] Cp. J. But­ler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Lon­don, Rout­ledge, 1990.

[31] P. Che­ong et al., “Me­dia Use as a Func­tion of Iden­ti­ty: The Role of the Self Con­cept in Me­dia Usa­ge”, in M. Hin­ner (ed.), Freiberger Beiträge zur interkulturellen und Wirtshaftskommunikation: A Forum for General and Intercultural Business Communication. Volume 6. The Interrelationship of Business and Communication, Ber­lin: Pe­ter Lang, 2009, pp. 365-381.

[32] But­ler, p. 25.

[33] R. Co­ver, “Per­for­ming and Un­do­ing Iden­ti­ty On­line: So­ci­al Net­wor­king, Iden­ti­ty Theo­ries and the In­com­pa­ti­bi­li­ty of On­line Pro­files and Fri­endship Re­gimes”, in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. Vol 18(2), 2012, pp. 177–193, p. 177.

[34] Co­ver, p. 178.

[35] Cp. D. Col­lins, “‘We’re the­re and Queer’: Ho­mo­nor­ma­ti­ve Mo­bi­li­ty and Li­ved Ex­pe­ri­ence among Gay Ex­pa­tria­tes in Ma­ni­la”, in Gender & Society, 23(4), 2009, pp. 465–493.

[36] E. Fried­man, “Les­bi­ans in (Cy­ber)space: the Po­li­tics of the In­ter­net in La­tin Ame­ri­can On- and Off-line Com­mu­nities”, in Media, Culture & Society, 29(5), 2007, pp. 790–811, p. 791.

[37] Cp. J. Prins­loo et al., “Cy­ber­queer SA: Re­flec­tions on In­ter­net Usa­ge by Some Trans­gen­der and Les­bi­an South Af­ri­cans”, in S. Ching­amu­ka and D. Glen­w­right (eds.), Gender and Media Diversity Journal, 10, 2012, pp. 139–146; N. Fra­ser, “Trans­na­tio­na­li­sing the Pu­blic Sphe­re: On the Le­gi­ti­ma­cy and Ef­fi­ca­cy of Pu­blic Opi­ni­on in a Post-West­pha­li­an World”, in Theory, Culture and Society. 24(4), 2007, pp. 7–30.

[38] L. Hil­lier and L. Har­ri­son, “Buil­ding Rea­li­ties less Li­mi­ted than their Own: Young Peop­le Prac­tising Same Sex Attrac­tion on the In­ter­net”, in Sexualities: Studies in Culture and Society, Lon­don, Sage, Vol 10(1), 2007, pp. 82–100.

[39] T. Da­vis, “Third Spaces or He­te­ro­to­pi­as? Re­crea­ting and Ne­go­tia­ting Mi­grant Iden­ti­ty Using On­line Spaces”, in Sociology, 44(4), 2010, pp. 661–677.

[40] J. Nip, “The Re­la­ti­ons­hip bet­ween On­line and Off­line Com­mu­nities: The Case of the Queer Sis­ters”, in Media, Culture & Society, 26(3), 2004, pp. 409–428, p. 424.

[41] B. Meh­ra et al., “The In­ter­net for Em­power­ment of Mi­no­ri­ty and Mar­gi­na­li­zed Users”, in: New Media & Society, 6(6), 2004, pp. 781–802.

[42] B. Well­man et al., “Does the In­ter­net In­crea­se, De­crea­se, or Sup­ple­ment So­ci­al Ca­pi­tal? So­ci­al Net­works, Par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on, and Com­mu­ni­ty Com­mit­ment”, in The American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 2001, pp. 436–455, p. 440.

[43] Cp. S. Turk­le, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, Lon­don, Wei­den­feld and Ni­col­son, 1995.

[44] Nip, p. 414.

[45] V. Goby, “Phy­si­cal Space and Cy­ber­space: How Do They In­ter­re­la­te? A Stu­dy of Off-line and On­line So­ci­al In­ter­ac­tion Choice in Sin­g­a­po­re”, in CyberPsychology & Behavior, 6(6), 2003, pp. 639–644.

[46] M. Wall, “So­ci­al Mo­ve­ments and Email: Ex­pres­si­ons of On­line Iden­ti­ty in the Glo­ba­liza­t­i­on Pro­tests”, in New Media & Society, 9(2), 2007, pp. 258–277, p. 263.

[47] Cp. N. McLe­an, “Di­gi­tal as an Enabler: A Case Stu­dy of the Jo­burg Pri­de 2012 Clash”, in Feminist Africa 18. E-spaces: E-politics, 18, De­cem­ber 2013, pp. 25–42.

[48] J. Prins­loo et al., p. 145; cp. L. Dah­l­berg, “The In­ter­net, De­li­be­ra­ti­ve De­mo­cra­cy, and Power: Ra­di­ca­li­sing the Pu­blic Sphe­re”, in International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, 3(1), 2007, pp. 47–64.

[49] M. War­ner, Publics and Counterpublics, New York, Zone Books, 2005, p. 56.

[50] War­ner, p. 63.

[51] Here it is use­ful to re­fer to Ha­ber­mas’ no­ti­on of the pu­blic sphe­re.

[52] War­ner, p. 56.

[53] Fra­ser, p. 497.

[54] D. Mur­thy, “Di­gi­tal Eth­no­gra­phy: An Ex­ami­na­ti­on of the Use of New Tech­no­lo­gies for So­ci­al Re­se­arch”, in Sociology, 42, 2008, pp. 837–855, p. 845.
Year of publication: 
2015