Queer counterpublics in the digital context

Stream: Identities and Relationships among MSM
Date: Friday, 1 April 2016
Time: 11.15 am – 1.00 pm


Queer counterpublics have been seen as a significant resource for gay men's HIV prevention in the critical literature, where they tend to be conceived as rhizomatic structures consisting of relays among various forms of media circulation and visible, accessible inhabitations of urban space.

While the theorisation of counterpublics can be criticised for its tendency to characterise digitally-arranged sex as ipso facto privatising, this paper argues that creating contexts for collective reflexivity about private sexual exchanges persists as a priority for counterpublic health in the digital context. Concerns about counterpublic health are particularly topical right now, given the intense governmental assault on 'nightlife' in Australian urban centres (a traditional locus of LGBTI socialisation); not to mention the proliferation of homonormative discourses which are characteristically HIV, sex and drug phobic and fail to register the significance of digital sexualities for their constituents.

Compared with previous generations of gay men, the sexual subjectivities of upcoming generations of same-sex attracted individuals are being formed in substantially altered conditions, which creates a range of pedagogical challenges – not least the question of how to promote acknowledgement of (and non-vitriolic reflexivity around) a range of hidden, widely engaged in, but presumptively illicit sex/risk practices.

Referencing a range of empirical examples drawn from common sexual media engagements among gay and MSM, this paper argues that some trajectory from private to public – or what I call ‘frame-overflowing’ – is a necessary precondition of counterpublic activity, even while it intrinsically runs the risk of breaching ethical sensitivities


Kane Race (Presenter), University of Sydney
Kane Race is Associate Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. He has published widely on gay male responses to HIV/AIDS in the context of antiretroviral therapy. His book, Pleasure Consuming Medicine: the queer politics of drugs (2009, Duke University Press) draws on gay community responses to HIV/AIDS and drug harm reduction to promote what he calls ‘counterpublic health’. He is currently working on a monograph entitled "A Gay Science: Remaking Sex, Drugs and HIV Prevention in the Digital Context", under contract with Routledge.