Medicine has long been used as a weapon against queer people.
Consider the chemical castrations of gay men like WWII code cracker Alan Turing, the designation of homosexuality and "gender identity disorder" as psychopathologies curable through "ex-gay" and electro-shock therapy, and the decade and a half during which HIV-positive people got denied access to federal aid and life-saving medications because no one wanted anything to do with a bunch of disease-spreading faggots.
But instead of shying away from a medical world that has been used to stigmatize us, queer artists Micah Cardenas, Pinar Yoldas, and Zach Blas have re-imagined queer biology in ways that explode the concept of "viralness" and seek to "infect" others with their radical (that is, awesome) ideas.
So get ready to look at the future of queer art — a mixture of political commentary, science-fiction, postmodernism, digital identity, and pornography that challenges the capitalist and heterosexist power structures that shame "unhealthy" people away from visible society.
A woman lays prostrate on an examination table, her mostly naked body bound in a white bandage dress.
Above her, a medical examiner in a corset repeatedly scans the woman's body with a metallic phallus. The xaminer's patient quivers, her hand caressing the breast that has fallen bare from the examiner's clothes.
On a stage behind them, two purple aliens lit darkly by blacklight wrestle in embrace; they could be fighting, fucking or trying to escape — one cannot know.
These are the sorts of "constructed fictional realities" that performance artist, hacktivist and gender theorist Micha Cardenas delights in staging; displays where societal confines — embodied by ropes and lashes of BDSM play — fuse with a new interactive queer technology of blinking fiber optic cables, the very same that allow currently people to connect worldwide.
When she showcased her prototype fashions for UCLA's Queerture Queer + Couture Fashion Show a few years ago, her collaborative designs featured models tangled in exoskeletons of headphones, adapters, exposed electronics, wire and tape — future citizens enmeshed in communication networks and yet liberated by them, able to experience survival and pleasure in new ways seperate from corporate control.
Cardenas' idea is that people can "queer" communication by reconfiguring phones, wires and cables into our clothes, bodies and every aspect of self-expression, even sexual self-expression.
"As global capitalism continues to produce new forms of emergency daily, from ecological to economic disasters to mass uprisings," Cardenas says, "it is clear that people can no longer depend on corporate networks of communication."
At her talk at the 2012 SXSW panel on queer theory and art, Cardenas suggested retooling the medical communications once used to stigmatize the queer community — talk of viruses, contagion and exposure — and change it into an empowering parlance where queer ideas threaten to infect the political mind with viral ideas, alien identities and epidemic possibilities.
As you read this, a giant island of garbage roughly the size of West Virginia floats adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
It's called the North Pacific Trash Gyre and it's predominantly made of chemical sludge and stray plastic bits all degrading in the oceanic sun.
The small bits of plastic — euphemistically called "mermaids tears" — get eaten by albatrosses and small marine animals; while some of the creatures die as a result, others get eaten by larger fish and end up on our dinner table, filled with the toxins of modern materialist waste.
Cross-disciplinary artist Pinar Yoldas regarded this gigantic pool of trash as a sort of modern-day primordial soup and wondered what kind of creatures might spawn from such a techno-capitalist ooze.
She answered her question by creating Speculative Biologies, a collection of mutated tumors and neoplasmic organs encased in glass containers and displayed as a sort of "natural history museum of the future."
Among these new creatures are SuperMammal, a pink and cream colored column of differently shaped breasts; Mega Male, a coral antler overgrown with softly curved penises and testicles; and NeoLabium, a vaginal anemone with multiple layers of transluscent labia covering its magenta core.
Each creature represents an excess of desire — they're warped and yet alluring, organic yet unnatural, familar yet unnerving.
In her notes, Yoldas says the many penises of the Mega Male can become and erect and ejaculate in unison. Meanwhile, the NeoLabium's bloodflow can increase to such heights that the organism experiences more sensation and pleasure than that known by any living creature.
"These new organisms... are the playground of the next step in evolution: species of confusion," Yoldas says of her work.
"Possessing both artificial and natural systems, part animal, part machine, of no fixed gender, half microbe, half human these creatures definitely do not belong to the garden of Eden."
In January 2008, an experiment by two Tufts University researchers found that people can accurately identify a man's sexual orientation just by looking at his face; the suggestion being that the biological geometry of a person's face — their "biometrics," if you will — can reveal a person's sexual identity, regardless if the person wants to be outed or not.
For political theorist and multimedia artist Zach Blas, the implications of what's more commonly called "gay face" are troubling.
"This study parses us into categories that will be used against us, gives us a visibility that only controls us, and makes us easily knowable to those in power," says Blas.
Blas' Orwellian fears seem more justified when you consider that more studies since then have confirmed the recognizability of gay men by facial sight alone.
More recently, Facebook recently removed a page that posted the faces of suspected gay Ugandan men as a way to target them for violence and harrassment. Have no doubt, our faces and identities are being used against us.
"How do we flee this visibility into the fog of a queerness that refuses to be recognized?" Blas asks. "We can start by making faces our weapons."
That's why Blas created the Fag Face Facial Weaponization Suite, an imaginary software that allows users to create an inscrutable mask whose facial dimensions are the amalgam of many people's faces — the end result looks curiously like a baboon's face with a prominent forehead and chin.
In theory, such a mask would render your face illegible and therefore non-existent, giving you the freedom to revolt "anonymously" — the connection with the hackivist collective Anonymous being quite deliberate.
But the Fag Face suite is just one of several imagined products under Blas' Queer Technologies group, "an organization the develops applications for queer technological agency, interventions and social formation. We use technologies to make queer weapons of resistance."
These other products include transCoder, a queer programming anti-language software development kit; ENgenderingGenderChangers, a “solution” to switching the gender binary of male/female computer plugs; GayBombs, a technical manual manifesto that outlines a “how to” of queer networked activism; and the Grid, a mapping application that tracks the dissemination of queer technologies and maps the battle plans to more thoroughly infect networks of global capital.
According to Queer Technologies, you can find their items displayed and deployed at the “Disingenuous Bar,” a parody of Apple's Genius Bar where one can find political support for life's “technical” problems.