My research, broadly conceived, considers digital technologies’ long-term impacts on social movement organizing and political activism. In my work, I study the points of contact between identity, activism, and technological affordances and constraints. As such, my research is interdisciplinary, connecting the user-centric approaches of feminist science and technology studies with digital humanities and LGBTQ Studies’ critical attention to movement history. My research is driven by a commitment to using these histories as a foundation for imagining how new digital technologies might correct earlier failures and be used to create a better future for all users, particularly those who might otherwise be further marginalized. Moreover, this work requires engaging deeply with the ethical challenges of studying and archiving born-digital materials, especially content by vulnerable populations.
My first book, The Two Revolutions: A History of the Transgender Internet (NYU Press, 2023) explores how the “internet revolution” shaped transgender movement politics from the 1980s up to the current political moment. The Two Revolutions reconstructs the various digital networks of political activists, cross-dressing computer hobbyists, and others interested in gender nonconformity who incited the second “revolution” of the title: the emergence of “transgender” as a collective political identity in the mid-1990s. Taking a historical approach, each chapter of The Two Revolutions considers how trans users engaged with the platforms and their attendant affordances which have at various points composed “the Net:” bulletin board systems (or BBSes), commercial “walled gardens” like AOL and Compuserve, Usenet, websites, and algorithms and semantic tagging. Drawing methodological inspiration from platform studies, each chapter considers the ways platform design influenced not just community discourse but also its major political goals.
My next book project, tentatively titled Otherwise Networks, builds on my existing interests but investigates the early visions for both digital technology and the Net
that centered marginalized voices and users. In it, I consider what the Net might have looked like had it been modeled on platforms like the woman-centered EchoNYC BBS, independent queer-owned ISPs like NYCNet and Washington D.C.-based ZZAPP!, or decentralized anarchist-leaning networks like FidoNet. Each of these services, through their infrastructure and internal organization, prioritized investment in local community, stakeholder input, and in the case of FidoNet, shared governance. Drawing on archival documents, oral history, and media archaeology, I argue these platforms offer glimpses of what a counterfactual history of the Internet might look like, one that centered the voices and needs of those most vulnerable.