Not that you were lying awake nights wondering how my research
was progressing; still, I thought I should let you know that
a dissertation isn't happening for the next couple years. At
least, not one from me.
However, I will be presenting a paper at the American Folklore
Society meetings that is based on my observations here. I've
appended the abstract of the paper here, and I'd appreciate
any comments you have for me before I begin writing the paper.
Folk Outing: Rumor, Queer Community, and Cyberspace
During her 1992 Presidential address, Barbara Kirshenblatt-
Gimblett suggested that folklorists should pay more attention to
the ways individuals in contemporary society construct themselves
as parts of groups, and argued that "cyberspace" communities
formed through the channel of computer-mediated communication
provide a vast territory of exploration for folklorists. Yet
another territory for exploration is the field of gay and lesbian
folklore; in the small body of scholarship on gay and lesbian
folklore, for example, no attention has been paid to how lesbians
and gay men use the folk genre of rumor. My work brings these
two concerns together by examining the function of rumor among
the queer folk community of the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss.
Rumor is a very interesting phenomenon contextually: it is
the process of a sort of "folk journalism," acting as a news
source at odds with "official" media. Nowhere is this more true
than among lesbians and gay men. The near absence of positive
images of homosexuality in mainstream media and the
institutionalized homophobia that keeps gay people closeted in
the public sphere keep lesbigay history and culture invisible.
Rumors help to offset this. They reveal a hidden history
(Rudyard Kipling's marriage was a front; he was involved in a
relationship with her brother, an American who was also involved
with Henry James). By revealing "the truth" about the sexual
orientations of celebrities, rumors subvert the erasure of
homosexuality by the culture industry. In the process, role
models are created out of people whose sexual orientation has
never been made public (Jody Foster), or a weapon has been
invented to use against institutionalized homophobia (David
Geffen and Pete Williams).
When a revelation of a public figure's sexual orientation
appears in the mainstream media, issues surrounding the ethics of
"outing" arise. But these ethics are not called into question
when the knowledge circulates through folk channels. In the
global village, however, folk knowledge offers only limited
empowerment. Computer-mediated communication currently provides
the space that bridges the folk and mainstream channels by
offering broadly distributed, public communication under folk
control. Specifically, the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss provides a
"folk" context for the exchange of rumor, yet this folk context
is public space.
In direct contrast to most other newsgroups, soc.motss has
grown into a fairly close community, or folk group: "motssers"
have a strong sense of groupness and group history, they
regularly arrange local gatherings, they meet annually for an
international "motss.con," and they maintain an electronic
archive of digitized photographs of themselves. As a folk group,
they exchange a great deal of folklore, not the least of which
are rumors about the sexual orientation of contemporary and
historical personages. Such rumors are then exchanged
simultaneously in both folk and public contexts. Just as
lesbigay people do not have the same representation in the
mainstream media that heterosexual people do, they cannot have
the same sort of public, social community that heterosexual
people can. In its disruption of the boundaries between public
and private, soc.motss provides empowering community and
communication that, by its very use, subverts cultural
Don Yarman : "When you come right down to it, ice cream is the basis
yarm...@osu.edu : of any sensible party, and everything else is a waste
: of time."
: _David and the Phoenix_ (Follett, 1957)
> In direct contrast to most other newsgroups, soc.motss has
> grown into a fairly close community, or folk group: "motssers"
> have a strong sense of groupness and group history, they
> regularly arrange local gatherings, they meet annually for an
> international "motss.con," and they maintain an electronic
> archive of digitized photographs of themselves. As a folk group,
> they exchange a great deal of folklore, not the least of which
> are rumors about the sexual orientation of contemporary and
> historical personages.
This confuses the whole with the part. Some motssers go to motss.cons,
some have digitized images, some like to discuss rumors about who
is or was, and who isn't or wasn't. "Motssers" as a whole do not
act in a lemming-like, stereotypical manner, and the "soc.motss
community" is both larger and more diverse than the above suggests.
Moreover, you have not defined "folk group". Do folklorist's, who
go to folklore conventions and pass rumors back and forth about
what rumors are being passed back and forth, constitute a "folk
group"? Can I assume all you people have an agreed-on notion
of "folk group", or is this, as I suspect, mere folklore
Gene Ward Smith/Brahms Gang/University of Toledo
> Moreover, you have not defined "folk group".
A "folk group" is a collection of scruffy, bearded individuals in open-toed
sandals and Fairisle pullovers who play the fiddle while one of them sings
in a high, thin voice with his eyes screwed shut and one finger in his ear
about his being - despite all appearences to the contrary - a
devil-may-care young poacher lad whose bonnie wee lassie has died of the
plague (sing whackety-whackety-foldidley-aye) and lies buried beneath the
greenwood tree but enough this sadness for the moon is high and he'll lead
the gamekeeper a merry old dance and be back in the tavern come morning.
I'm not sure what gave Donald this impression of us.
\ / s5/7 b g(-) l y- z- o a(+) u+ v-- j+/++
\ / GS -d+ -p+ c++ !l e--- m+ s/--- n--- h+ f g- w+ t@ r- y*
\/ __________________Kinsey 6 Liverpool 0____________________
Arnold Zwicky. The way that man goes on about
shape-note singing . . .
Don Yarman : "Having a life is more important."
yarm...@osu.edu : --Beverly Moss, one of my advisors, on learning
: that I've suspended work on my dissertation.