While the introduction of new internet domains such as .GAY and .LGBT offers the potential for queering internet structure, it also raises important questions which must be taken into account at this moment of redesigning the Domain Name System (DNS). This is also a significant opportunity for historians and other scholars to reflect on the ongoing relationship between LGBTQ communities and the internet, histories of naming and identity, as well as the unique histories of sexualities across regions affected by these new domains.
The internet has long been recognized as a medium with great potential for LGBTQs. Especially in its first years, the internet was considered a laboratory for individuals to explore sexual and gender identities. Later, scholars realized that online and offline worlds are much more interconnected than previously thought and that identity play or switch are in fact exceptional online. Still, the internet does make it easier for many LGBTQs to access LGBTQ-related information and make contact with others, particularly in the process of coming out (Szulc and Dhoest 2013). More recently, we can observe the proliferation of increasingly specialized LGBTQ websites serving the interests of all range of individuals and identity positions.
The introduction of new extensions such as .GAY and .LGBT into the Domain Name System is unlikely to dramatically raise visibility online. Yet, the new domains will identify websites as LGBTQ even at the basic level of internet structure, an important step forward for queering the internet. Any move of LGBTQs from offline to online, however, may also contribute to a new invisibility, or e-invisibility. While books and bars are potentially public, ‘queer e-resources are typically only seen by those who look for them’ (Scott 2011: 96).
Ownership and governance of the new .GAY or .LGBT domains are also important issues to think about before the domains are launched.* Who will govern (and how) the allocation process for the domains will be crucial in determining their use and meaning. Some questions that should be asked include: What will be the rules and policies governing the allocation of .GAY and .LGBT? Who will assess the appropriateness of the websites applying for these new domains and how will they do this? How expensive will it be to register these domains?
Scholars of the history of sexuality may also reflect on the politics of naming and inclusivity.After the Stonewall riots, US activists adopted the term ‘gay’ to indicate an affirmative identity. Later the term was extended to ‘gay and lesbian’, ‘LGB’, ‘LGBT’, ‘LGBTI’, etc. in a search for a collective name that could be more inclusive. We should ask what it means to return to the sole ‘gay’, or even ‘LGBT’, as a collective marker of online spaces. Who is included? Who is marginalized?
Additionally, the introduction of .GAY and .LGBT raises questions regarding global histories of power relations and privilege. After all, even if the two terms are becoming more popular internationally, they are English, and when adopted in different countries are often localized (for example ‘gej’ in Polish). We may ask what it means to choose an English name as a universal marker for various national and international LGBTQ websites.
Related to this are also questions about the western imperative of visibility, concerns about safety, and even concerns surrounding anti-LGBTQ politics in other regions. For example, we should ask what it means to be clearly marked as ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’ in different parts of the world, or which websites might prefer not to be explicitly marked as such. From another position, Saudi Telecom Company objected to introducing .GAY arguing that ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) cannot ‘enforce western culture and values into other societies’.
What becomes clear from this range of concerns and perspectives is that the creation of .GAY or .LGBT internet domains must also be met with important questions fraught by histories of naming, identity and global relations.
* Feedback to regulators has generally supported application for ownership by the only community-based applicant: Dotgay LCC.
Alexander, J. (2002) Homo-pages and queer sites: Studying the construction and representation of queer identities on the World Wide Web. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies 7(2/3): 85-106.
Scott, T. (2011) Queer media in the age of the e-invisibility. International Journal of Communication 5: 95-100.
Szulc, L. & Dhoest A. (2013) The internet and sexual identity formation: Comparing internet use before and after coming out. Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research 38(4): 347-365.
Łukasz Szulc is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Antwerp. His research project investigates (trans)national queers online and is based on case studies from both Poland and Turkey. Łukasz blogs in Polish at www.dopiskipedala.blox.pl and his personal website is www.lukaszszulc.com He tweets from @lukaszszulc
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