As a queer trans girl in a semirural city in the middle of nowhere, I understand as much as anyone the intimate ways in which queerness and digital life can be interrelated.
Here, we don't have bars or public spaces where queer folks can meet up—our support and resources amount basically to a small PFLAG chapter whose only real contact information is an email address and a mostly‐inactive Facebook page.
When it comes to networking with other queer people—for those of us out of school anyway—the Internet is about our only available avenue to do so.
I see queerness as fundamentally relational; it finds its definition in the ways we orient ourselves towards certain bodies or away from others, the way we hold certain identities and refuse others, the way our bodies are understood by ourselves and by society, the way our networks of love, care, and support succeed or fail to line up with the expected norms.
The Internet, too, is fundamentally relational—whether it manifests itself as a collection of networks between devices, or hyperlinks between pages, or actions between entities—and so to me, cybre and queerness go so readily hand‐in‐hand.
Looking at the ways in which queer relationality can (or can not) be expressed through the networked relations of technology is a big part of what cybre is all about.
There are, of course, many possible motives underlying any relationship between two people, but in this issue we're going to focus on just one: love.
The norms and structures surrounding love—and their enforcement—are a big part of what marginalizes queer people in the first place, what drives them online, and what makes a cybre politic necessary once they get there.
When attempting to trace a history of love on the Internet, the narrative one finds can usually be reduced to a short two‐sentence quip like the following:
Once upon a time, people looked for love through newspaper personals.
Then Match.com was founded, and people looked for it online.
This narrative is troubling—and not just for its simplicity—because it makes two dangerous assumptions: first, that all love manifests itself through dating, and second, that the only forms of dating which deserve recognition are those which occur in public spaces—especially when talking about dating online.
We do not hear about the queer users meeting up through webrings on GeoCities and maintaining epistolary relationships through email.
We do not hear about the love and communities formed through noncommercial, less-centralized mediums like forum software, IRC chats, or bulletin boards.
We don't even hear about love which forms on larger, commercial websites which aren't seen as primarily dating‐focused, like Tumblr or Instagram.
And nor do we hear about the many different forms of love which aren't readily categorized as romance; the queer bonds of kinship and support which run as an undercurrent through our communities, holding them together.
While many of these ommissions are not necessarily queer‐specific, they are especially relevant to queer communities, whose networks of love tend to be at once less conventional and more private.
Intentionally or not, they function to to erase those forms of queer love and desire which do not take place in normatively‐sanctioned public—yet, importantly, privately‐owned—spaces, where they can be better monitored and regulated by corporations and/or the state.
In one particularly glaring example, Facebook doesn't let you name a romantic partner if they aren't also using the site—restricting the scope of those relationships which are permitted recognition to only those whose members are already known and under surveillance.
But omissions are made on less overt levels as well.
For example, not only does Facebook restrict the participants of a known relationship to only those people which make up its userbase, but it also restricts the form that relationships can take to only those things which are representable within its system.
It is not possible to represent a polyamorous relationship on Facebook.
It is not possible to state in your Basic Info that you are
Interested In nonbinary people—or, for that matter, nobody at all.
It is not possible to clearly distinguish between relationships which are sexual, domestic, romantic, or any combination of the three.
While the above critiques are limited to Facebook as a platform, the larger problem is not.
At the same time that our culture tells us that the only love which is valid online is that which fits into its narrow definitions of online dating, the designers of online dating and communication platforms are able to set limits on which forms of love they support and make clear to others that they do not belong.
These actions could be the result of active discrimination and refusal of service, but they could just as easily be a consequence of a homogenous development staff which considers less‐mainstream relationship structures to be not important or relevant enough to their work to merit accommodation.
It doesn't matter—the result is the same.
Consequently, it is up to us to resist such simple narratives of cybre relationships and to celebrate love and queer bonding in all of the places that it occurs.
We must decentre technological institutions as the determiners of what sorts of relationships are valid and deserve recognition, while at the same time creating technologies of our own for facilitating and accommodating love in all of its forms.
Unlike traditional straight relationships—which, ironically, are catered to online—queer folks oftentimes don't have a choice about using the Internet to find love.
Therefore, we must make these relationships our priority when designing, testing, and talking about love online.
CYBREMONDAY is a casual webzine aimed at elucidating conversations and ideas, questioning existing narratives, and promoting discussion regarding life and culture in (cyber/cybre)space.
This is its first issue.
Role Modelling Queer
I entered into my first (mutually‐acknowledged; romantic) relationship on .
At the time, I was a freshman in college, identified as agender and asexual, thought gender‐studies was a mostly misguided endeavour, and spent most of my time playing Borderlands in my room or debating the meaning of words with friends.
So, needless to say, a lot has changed.
My lover was wonderful, but we were both inexperienced and largely ill‐equipped to deal with the onslaught of depression and dysphoria which I found myself facing on an increasing basis; the lived experience of being grey‐ace in a college environment where—even in queer circles—sexuality was taken for granted; the delicate situation of being in a queer relationship which read as straight because one partner was trans‐but‐not‐out and the other was kinda‐nonbinary‐but‐presenting‐as‐a‐cis‐girl.
Our relationship devolved into unhealthy dependency on one side and lack of boundaries on the other, a toxic mess inflicting harm on both our lives and leaving scars from which I am still learning to recover.
We broke up after only a year‐and‐a‐half of dating, but it wasn't until I was out of college and had the time, space, and distance to reflect on what had happened that I was able to heal to a point where I could get romantically involved again.
(Then, naturally, I fucked that relationship up too.)
For many people in queer communities, this is a familiar narrative.
The realities and stresses of being any of (queer, trans, nonwhite, disabled, ill, poor, homeless, without family, facing academia, facing capitalism, facing abuse, scarred from past trauma, and more), and at the same time trying to be a loving partner in a mature committed relationship, leave a lot open to go wrong.
And when things go wrong, they often do so visibly, and publicly.
In my senior year of college, a close friend of mine—after a long year of relationship drama of their own—finally entered into a relationship which was measured, caring, mutually‐supportive, and beneficial.
For me, still dealing with the aftermath of my traumas, this was earthshattering.
Seeing two people dealing with life, conflict, and hardship in a mature and responsible manner reminded me what relationships were supposed to look like, and helped me recognize the unhealthy behaviours that I had developed over the years.
When people talk about pride or being out, they often do so as a part of a conversation about visibility in cis, straight, and normative spaces, but—when it comes to relationships—I think visibility can be important in our own communities too.
Having visible, healthy, lasting relationships—and speaking about how we got there—can, in my experience, help educate those coming up under us, prevent them from making our same mistakes, and denormalize toxic or abusive relationship structures by providing a meaningful counternarrative of compassion and support.
If we stay silent about the good times, then the bad times are all that people will ever see.
However, this is not merely a personal issue.
One of the reasons why queer relationships so often go unspoken is because we lack the spaces and technologies to meaningfully (and safely) do so.
Queer bonds of romance or kinship are rarely expressible within most technological systems—at least not without reducing them to their most normative form.
They are also constrained by the (less-technological) realities of social networking and interaction.
(Who wants to read sappy relationship crap from someone they've never met before?
CW your shit, please.)
And finally, without good and effective moderation, acknowledging our loved ones can expose them to harrassment or attack.
Nevertheless, the need for positive examples of queer loving relationships stands.
Many people in queer communities have faced toxic, unhealthy, discriminatory, or abusive relationships at home or growing up—and many of us also face these things every day in the workplace as well.
Speaking personally, seeing mutually‐beneficial relationships of love and support in my feeds can help keep me grounded in what is good and important about being in love.
And, I mean, if straight people get to walk down the cybre streets holding hands… why not us also, imo.
Hooking up to the Cybre
As a teen gay boy (where boy is only a homonym) in a rural community, the only representation I could find for other gays like me were:
- YA novels by David Levithan about gay boys meeting in a class or a bookstore in the ways gays never really do, and
- LogoTV movies about melancholy gay men who feel like the only gay in the world who wants an actual relationship and not just hookups.
What I learned from this was that the legitimate gay relationships were the ones that resembled straight relationships.
When I turned 18 and became a gay man (and man was again just a homonym) and left for college I was prepared to finally date and fuck and all the things gay teens in rural towns don't get to do.
The reality I found was that gay life is inextricably linked with the cybre.
You never really know if who you're talking to is also gay, if they're flirting, and you're such a minority that ultimately gay life exists in a blend of flesh and cybre.
You go on Grindr and OKCupid, talk to a guy (or guy), meet up, hook up, and say your goodbyes.
I thought I'd be in a David Levithan novel but instead I was in a LogoTV made‐for‐tv movie.
There is a stereotype of gay men where all they do is fuck while feeling empty and soulless, for all the dick in the world could never fill the hole in their heart that only a heteronormative relationship could ever fill.
Grindr hook-ups aren't so soulless though.
At least, mine weren't.
We often would go on dates, cuddle, watch movies, and other romantic activities in addition to the sex.
We gave and got from each other what we wanted without tying it to a status or commitment.
For where I was at the time it was pretty satisfying.
By the time I was 21 I had sucked many dicks but had never been in any relationship.
By then my transition had (temporarily) taken me down the path of womanhood and I was surrounded by a gay community of mostly lesbians.
The lesbian stereotype is they U-Haul and adopt a cat 2 weeks in.
Everyone around me was dating and I wondered what was wrong with me that nobody would date me.
It was around then that I met my first and only self‐identified straight boyfriend.
We were both very busy so we only hung out once a week and the relationship happened over Facebook Messenger.
The blended online course of relationships.
It was wonderful though.
We had fun, were affectionate, and one time we even fucked.
About 40 days into the relationship we broke up because he was moving away to live by the beach, working his dream job with deep‐sea robots (who can blame him).
I was heartbroken (for the first time!!).
What even was that relationship?
It was so short!
It looked nothing like the relationships my friends had!
I eventually realized the relationship was exactly how long it needed to be, the way it needed to be, and was overall good for both of us.
Two people gave and got what they needed, had a good time, and as their paths diverged they said their goodbyes.
It was a 40‐day Grindr hookup and really, there's nothing wrong with that.
The summer after getting dumped I got TF‐ed into a furry dog online.
The communities I found were much more affectionate than any community I had been in.
People were much quicker to flirt, cybrefuck, and RP physical affection.
But there was never any script; nothing was going anywhere necessarily.
I can spend a few days or weeks getting really close and intimate with some demonbunnydogtreeperson, whether or not we cybrefucked or just RPed rolling around and cuddling.
We can tell each other our emotions and feelings and compliment each other.
Then it can fade back into a casual platonic friendship, and it's not a big deal.
It's not a breakup, it's not disappointing, it's two people whose paths converged, they had fun, gave and got what they wanted, and then simply diverged without it becoming an issue.
This is fantastic when you're super fucking busy and messed up.
Can you really do a full committed relationship with constant irl hangouts when you work two jobs and struggle with all the shit the queerphobic world throws at you?
Maybe you can (and that's great!).
But it's also super good and useful to be able to casually move in‐and‐out of intimacy ad‐hoc and get the affection and attention you need without all the weight you might not be able to handle.
I love living in cybrespace as a dog that everyone loves to pet and praise and play with as though I were a real dog.
When I was single I still did not feel lacking in affection or attention.
I can get forms of attention or play that perhaps my offline girlfriend does not want to give.
And often just like with Grindr we may decide to meet up and go on dates or become offline friends.
Give and take.
There's no shame in hooking up and I don't think it leaves any void in our hearts.
As someone who is—by some accounts—all about that gay shit, and living in a world which is generally not, I don't think it comes as any surprise that I like seeing queer relationships flourish online.
When an especially gay relationship pops up in my feeds, I have a desire to see it not fail.
This is all well‐and‐good when the relationship in question is strong, committed, and built for longetivity.
But it can become a problem because when, well, that isn't the case (and it won't always be).
Some relationships aren't intended to last forever‐in‐the‐straight‐We're‐getting‐married!‐sort‐of‐way.
And sometimes—in the case of relationships which are unhealthy or toxic—having the relationship fail is in the best interests for everyone involved.
At this point, community investment stops being a positive force of affirmation, and instead becomes a regulatory frame, exerting pressure on relationships against their best interests and—if that pressure is unsuccessful—creating drama as a regulatory force.
Because social media is generally designed around a model of sharing and consumption, the problem of relationship drama tends to be exacerbated online.
Reblogs and shared posts can quickly remove statements from their original context, and shared feeds and timelines can rapidly turn private disputes into community concerns.
(The addition of nonboostable toots to Mastodon has—no doubt—saved many a relationship conflict from escalating out of control.
I was around before this became a thing and let me tell you.)
Cybre drama is bad enough on its own, but it can also have an effect beyond its immediate circumstances:
Fear of what might happen should a relationship go bad can have an impact on what is shared or done while a relationship is good.
For queer folks who are forced into the closet in their daily lives, and whose online relationships aren't able to find expression in most of the spaces they are forced to inhabit, the regulatory threat of cybre drama functions to further push queer relationships into the shadows and out of the public light.
Counterintuïtively, my desire to see gay shit might be contributing to the forces keeping gay shit out of my view.
To a large extent, this is a cultural problem.
We can help reduce the risk—and threat—of cybre drama by understanding relationships as fluid, by acknowledging the validity of short‐term relationships, by recognizing that break‐ups happen, and that's okay, and by finding ways to support the relationships formed between our friends and lovers—without applying pressure for them to last an eternity into the future.
We can also use technological affordances—like unlisted or nonboostable toots—to keep relationship conversations from escaping their intended audience and help everyone stay loving in a safe manner.
Social media is—tbh—sometimes not the greatest for talking about or dealing with relationships—but for queer folks on the Internet our options can sometimes be limited, and it's up to us to keep those spaces inviting and warm.