Janta Dispatches: Technoqueer

Thiago Carrapatoso
July 22, 2016

“Janta – Queer Food, Queer Politics” is the cycle of activities organized by the art residency Lanchonete.org and the Canadian foundation Musagetes as part of the Cidade Queer / Queer City initiative. Every month, the series convenes people to discuss a queer perspective on urbanism and the city. The informal dinners, where no one is required to discuss the proposed topics, happen at Casarão do Belvedere, a house under heritage protection laws situated in one of the most emblematic neighborhoods of São Paulo, Brazil. Each month, a different theme is proposed as a way to open up the curatorial process to anyone interested and engage a broad audience in the cycle. The main idea is to exchange experiences of what would be defined as “queer” and how “queer” is inserted in more emergent and non-hegemonic aspects of city life.

The Casarão is located at Bela Vista, one of the first neighborhoods to be established in the city; it has a unique history, with traditional oligarchical elites to proletarians, immigrants, and house occupations co-existing. The host and owner of the Casarão is the actor Paulo Goya, who himself has a singular history connected to São Paulo’s culture; he was part of one of the most emblematic theater groups in Brazil called Teatro Oficina. Both Casarão and Goya create the perfect atmosphere to raise and sustain interesting questions about heritage, urbanism, memory, queer life, hegemonic culture, and contemporary daily life in the city.

Even though each dinner has its own theme, no one is forced to discuss the proposed topic. The introductory subject is just a starting point to spark ideas of what to consider, as well as what we are researching at the moment. The goal is exchange and to have an encounter with difference, producing a fruitful dinner without necessarily pushing any kind of structure.

When the food is served, the politics arise . . .

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Recent developments in Brazil show the growth of gender discussions inside the technology field, since women have conquered great antagonism to their participation in coding, programming, and developing new and customized initiatives. Projects like RodAda Hacker (a Portuguese play on the word “rodada” or “game” and the name of the first computer programmer Ada Lovelace), PrograMaria and several others are trying to change a field that is predominantly constituted by men. And, in doing so, they are changing the perspectives of the people working with them, showing that coding, mathematics, and computers are not a male thing.

Last year, the group Laboria Cuboniks launched the Xenofeminsm (XF) manifesto, in which it is argued for another feminist principle, one that has technology in its bones. According to the manifesto:

XF constructs a feminism adapted to [technology ubiquity]: a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision; a future in which the realization of gender justice and feminist emancipation contribute to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of every human, cutting across race, ability, economic standing, and geographical position. No more futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital, no more submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike, no more reification of the given masked as critique. Our future requires depetrification. XF is not a bid for revolution, but a wager on the long game of history, demanding imagination, dexterity and persistence.

This is only part of the very interesting text that they wrote. Anyone knows that nowadays we can’t separate technology from our daily lives, but to what extent do we question ourselves how that technology is made and by whom? What does that say about our contemporary behavior? And how does a gender bias in the construction of the technology influence the way we interact with each other? If the technology is mostly constructed by men, whom does it serve?

The manifesto shows a different perspective about what technology really is in society. It leaves behind only an object — an adornment in our routine — to become the weapon and the main focus of feminist and gender discussions. Technology is already in our lives, but how can we use it to create a progressive agenda? And where is the queer perspective in this process? The researcher Jacob Gaboury wrote a series of articles for Rhizome about the queer history of computing. Because of our hegemonic heteronormative ways of thinking, the history of computing and consequently, technology and its leaders and innovators are reduced to only male, heterosexual, and mostly white figures, according to Gaboury. He went on in the series to use the biography of many important figures in the evolution of technology to prove that the queer perspective is rooted in technology itself, it being created and reflected by the difference of its agents. In other words, without the marginalized — those excluded from society, the repressed — technology as we know today could never exist.

On the other hand, the reality shows that there is a lot to fight against inside the technology field to truthfully have a parity of representation inside the system which is, many times, misogynistic and full of prejudice. Recently, the game “Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear” was used in a polemic because it has transsexual characters in its narrative. Several gamers manifested themselves against the character in sites like GOG or Steam with hate speech. Their manifestation caused the creators of the game to change the character in a way that minimizes its explanation about being a transsexual. If even in the virtual world a trans person can’t be represented, where they can be? Will they ever be allowed to be themselves in both virtual and physical worlds?

If XF technology is the weapon, how can we use technological mechanisms — which, for Gaboury, is ours by essence — to change this perspective?

Thiago Carrapatoso

Thiago Carrapatoso is a journalist and specialist in communication, arts, and technology. He works in helping to create a methodology for using heritage education against gentrification in São Paulo.

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