Queer STS Forum #5: Queer-feminist issues in pandemic times

Daniela Jauk, Birgit Hofstätter, Anita Thaler & Magdalena Wicher

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we knew it and affected all parts of our lives and societies. Nobody can say that their everyday life was untouched by the measures taken since spring 2020 by governments following the advent of the virus. This fifth issue of the QueerSTS forum is a reflection of these turbulent times and takes the contemporary crisis as a starting point for scholarly and personal reflection. 

For the fifth volume of our QueerSTS forum we thus were not only asking for scholarly papers but between July and November 2020 we were collecting voices, videos and art from our community: How did and does the COVID-19 pandemic – and the measures taken in their countries – change their work, their research, their teaching, their daily routines and their relationships? We wanted to know what they think: Which consequences will only be temporary, which effects will last? And: How do they feel about all that?

Additionally, this issue features four papers: two full scholarly papers,  one book review,  and a collective literary experiment. Our co-editor Daniela Jauk helped to establish a feminist mothering group in Graz/Austria in 2015 that connects now 34 members across several countries and is used as ressource for “Theorien, Praxen, lnterventionen” (theories, praxes, interventions) in the realm of critical motherwork and care work. It is open for all who are interested in feminist parenting including individuals that may not be identified  as ‘mothers’ in dominant discourse. While the group had been meeting physically for some time, it now functions mainly as a listserv that has been quite lively during the pandemic. In this notable year, members have discussed the Covid-19 care crisis on a personal and structural level and organized to write and sign on to open letters to politicians in the wake of insufficient childcare policies and retraditionalization of the gender order. 

Upon forwarding the Queer STS Forum the collective chose a creative format, a Cadavre Exquis as a working method. Cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse) is a collaborative drawing approach first used by surrealist artists to create bizarre and intuitive drawings. The feminist mothering collective has adapted this method for a collaborative writing experience as a creative way to share their experiences in a sustainable, doable, and joyful way in the pandemic crisis of care. Ten members followed the call with written and photographic contributions that have been blended and translated into a bilingual narrative Cadavre Exquis in the order in which the items were received. It was important to the authors to participate as a collective to make transparent that the seemingly “individual” experiences of members add up to a deeply political and collective experience. Even though many perspectives are missing and the captured voices are specific ones, the feminist mothering collective in their work here also shows how we may find agency, empowerment and islands of liberation in the midst of spilled milk and homeschooling schedules. 

Over the last months we have been flooded with images of Zoom birthday parties, many of us have not seen their families for many months and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have become more important than ever in our family lives, in fact they in most cases have become the single life line for families to interact at all. The full paper by our Queer STS colleagues Susanne Kink, Lisa Scheer and Forum co-editor Anita Thaler is thus a timely contribution as it explores the question of how doing family takes place in queer contexts, thereby asking how ICT shapes queer families and how queer families use ICTs. Theoretically it takes up conceptional shifts, on entanglements between family studies, queer studies and Science, Technology and Society Studies (STS). Although the article was mainly written in pre-pandemic times and refers primarily to queer families, it is certainly possible to draw parallels to the current Covid-19 situation and recognize the increasing importance of using ICTs for doing family and doing intimacy while being apart. Based on in depth analysis of multiple semi-structured interviews with two women who describe themselves as (currently) being lesbian and living in a queer family between June 2018 and June 2019 their analysis shows how “virtual togetherness“ is established in transnational families and how ICT have been used for many years to “do family.” The piece also critically illuminates that while being connected is especially important when family members are apart, access and connectivity pose big technological challenges in maintaining a connection. 

Our second full paper has been inspired by Zach Blas’ “Queer Technologies”, and asks on what could it mean for a computer or smartphone interface to shape our digital and physical selves to change our perspectives? Elena Lee Gold explains in „How Might Hyperlinks Express Shyness? and Other Queer Interfaces“ how we could physically connect to our computers, like with a friend or a romantic companion. For instance, what if our push notifications moved around freely to have relationships with one another as autonomous creatures? How would we see them and their interactions with us?

While criticizing the oppressive nature of norms, and offering a technology design, which serves as a digital resistance, Elena Gold is aware of the feelings of alienation such an interface can produce. Because this very feeling of people challenging hetero- and gender-norms stands in the beginning of this work, the hope of Elena is to “provide an element of agency to those who need it.“

For this issue Brigit Hofstatter reviewed the 2020 volume Intersektionalität – Von der Antidiskriminierung zur befreiten Gesellschaft? (Engl. Intersectionality – From anti-discrimination to a liberated society?) by Christopher Sweetapple, Heinz-Jürgen Voß and Salih Alexander Wolter. Birgit works for an established, white and predominantly hetero-feminist women’s association and examines the book in terms of its promise to make intersectional theory applicable for the practise. Spoiler alert: She concludes that the book is a must-read for established organisations with true aspiration to become aware of intersectionality.

All of us found ourselves whelmed and often overwhelmed but the new situation of added care work, restricted resources, new modalities of learning and meeting and working, so we decidedly did not want to add to people’s workload. Thus we encouraged people to send short glimpses in their lives, for their manifold voices, their personal experiences, in their contexts of working and living, to illuminate and share queer-feminist experiences of these pandemic times. We asked people to share to their comfort level in length and depth and consider the text to be more like a blog entry or an e-mail to colleagues abroad.

We were explicitly interested in intersectional insights and views from different living contexts and geographical areas. When asking people from our community, at first we had many agreeing to contribute. During the process, however, we lost some potential contributors, some voices that stayed silent. We lost a voice from a crip perspective, a voice that could contextualise the pandemic with the black lives matter movement, a non-binary voice from the American Midwest, a voice that would allow insight into the struggles of queer people in Poland and how a pandemic cannot stop homophobic politics from forcing activist to flee from a European country.

We know that this crisis has influenced us all, and we learned within seconds of our first cross-national web-meetings that country-specific measures and circumstances were very different at given times (e.g. Who was allowed to go where with whom, and when?). This is why we are very thankful to be able to share some insights and thoughts from a diverse group of people located at various places on this Earth. Thus the voices in this Forum are sent from Macau, Norway, United Kingdom, Spain, Thailand, Israel, Hungary, and Austria in this Forum. A big thank you to Anne Bremer, Dennis Zuev, Erin Kavanagh, Ester Conesa, Guitarpsy, Hana Himi, Karen Richmond, Zoltán Bajmócy, and haring & the trouts:

From the countryside in Carinthia/Austria we feature a special musical reflection on our VIRTUAL LAND. The videographer, artist, musician, scholar and teacher Sol Haring has engaged Kordula Knaus and the trouts, her band project and melts together several voices from the pandemic. Within their band of four women they share four Phds, a professorship, multiple disciplines and gender identities. Their back ground in gender studies is mirrored in the feminist approach to music production and lyrics. VIRTUAL LAND is the first virtual collaboration for a song they have produced online. 

We originally thought we do not want to put extra pressure on our queer-feminist community and on ourselves by publishing a call for contributions, and if this would mean to have a very slim 2020 Forum issue then this would also reflect the challenges we all faced this year. However, when we spread the word that we would be interested in how this COVID-19-crisis is influencing us, we received very positive feedback. Seeing all the contributions in this volume now, we can say, this might be the largest Forum we ever produced, and it is by far the most diverse in its formats and styles as well as locations and backgrounds of contributors. 

We are very thankful to be part of such a wonderful, committed community, who helped us to understand a little bit more about the world we live in, especially how to teach, do research, love and live in pandemic times (and hopefully soon beyond).