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A Critical Review and New Directions for Queering Computing and Computing Education

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Abstract

Technological imaginaries underpinning computing and technoscientific practices and pedagogies are predominantly entrenched in cisheteropatriarchal, imperialist, and militaristic ideologies. A critical, intersectional queer and trans phenomenological analysis of computing education offers an epistemological and axiological reimagining by centering the analysis of gender and sexuality through the lens of marginalized people’s experiences (queer, trans, and intersecting marginalities). It analyzes how systems of domination and liberation occur through relationships between objects, people, and their environments and how these systems of power multiply in effect when people are situated at multiple axes of oppression (such as gender, sexuality, race, and disability). Complexity, heterogeneity, and fluidity are at the core of queer and trans imaginaries and challenge the assumed naturalness of biological categories that underpin much of the cisheteronormative harm and violence in K-16 education, STEM disciplinary practices, and technological innovations. Foregrounding complexity, heterogeneity, and fluidity supports the critique, construction, and transformation of computational objects, worlds, and learning environments so that queer and trans perspectives, narratives, and experiences are centered and valued. In doing so, ambiguity, fluidity, and body becoming are centered in virtual spaces, thereby offering emancipatory possibilities for supporting critical literacies of gender and sexuality. Methodologically, approaches rooted in active solidarity with queer and trans people and a commitment to listening to intersectional experiences of gender and sexuality-based marginalization and resilience reorient computing learning environments towards liberatory, justice-oriented practices. Computing scholars and educators have identified data science (more broadly) and algorithmic bias (in particular) as an essential domain for furthering education research and practice. Histories of erasure, exclusion, and violence on queer and trans people, both by carceral technologies and algorithmic bias, and as part of the computing profession, are enacted on individual people and reflected in societal biases that inform and shape public experiences of computing and technologies. Overall, queering computing education and computing education research directs attention towards a multifaceted problem: the historical and ongoing hegemonic, cisheteropatriarchal control over programming; the limitations to representation by code that a computer can recognize; the possibilities to queer code and computer architectures; the technological regulation of identity and bodies; and the limits and affordances of technological representation of gender and sexual identity. A queer, trans, intersectional, justice-oriented approach to computing education attends to the structural, socio-historical context in teaching and learning computer science and coding, including the dominant cultures of the technology workforce and the everyday disciplining interactions with technology that shape who we can become.
A Critical Review and New Directions for
Queering Computing and Computing Education
Dylan Paré
Werklund School of Education
University of Calgary
dylan.pare@ucalgary.ca
This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford
University Press in the forthcoming book
,
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of
Education, due for publication in 2021.
Recommended Citation:
Paré, Dylan. (forthcoming). “A Critical Review and
New Directions for Queering Computing and Computing Education.” In George Noblit
(Ed.), Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. New York: Oxford University
Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.ORE_EDU-01524.R1
Summary
Technological imaginaries underpinning computing and technoscientific practices
and pedagogies are predominantly entrenched in cisheteropatriarchal, impe-
rialist, and militaristic ideologies. A critical, intersectional queer and trans
phenomenological analysis of computing education offers an epistemological and
axiological reimagining by centering the analysis of gender and sexuality through
the lens of marginalized people’s experiences (queer, trans, and intersecting
marginalities). It analyzes how systems of domination and liberation occur
through relationships between objects, people, and their environments and how
these systems of power multiply in effect when people are situated at multiple
axes of oppression (such as gender, sexuality, race, and disability).
Complexity, heterogeneity, and fluidity are at the core of queer and trans
imaginaries and challenge the assumed naturalness of biological categories that
underpin much of the cisheteronormative harm and violence in K-16 education,
STEM disciplinary practices, and technological innovations. Foregrounding
complexity, heterogeneity, and fluidity supports the critique, construction, and
transformation of computational objects, worlds, and learning environments
so that queer and trans perspectives, narratives, and experiences are centered
and valued. In doing so, ambiguity, fluidity, and body becoming are centered
in virtual spaces, thereby offering emancipatory possibilities for supporting
critical literacies of gender and sexuality. Methodologically, approaches rooted
in active solidarity with queer and trans people and a commitment to listening
to intersectional experiences of gender and sexuality-based marginalization
and resilience reorient computing learning environments towards liberatory,
justice-oriented practices.
Computing scholars and educators have identified data science (more broadly)
and algorithmic bias (in particular) as an essential domain for furthering educa-
tion research and practice. Histories of erasure, exclusion, and violence on queer
1
and trans people, both by carceral technologies and algorithmic bias, and as
part of the computing profession, are enacted on individual people and reflected
in societal biases that inform and shape public experiences of computing and
technologies. Overall, queering computing education and computing education
research directs attention towards a multifaceted problem: the historical and
ongoing hegemonic, cisheteropatriarchal control over programming; the limita-
tions to representation by code that a computer can recognize; the possibilities
to queer code and computer architectures; the technological regulation of iden-
tity and bodies; and the limits and affordances of technological representation
of gender and sexual identity. A queer, trans, intersectional, justice-oriented
approach to computing education attends to the structural, socio-historical
context in teaching and learning computer science and coding, including the
dominant cultures of the technology workforce and the everyday disciplining
interactions with technology that shape who we can become.
Keywords
Computing; Computing Education; Queer Theory; Gender; Sexuality; Technol-
ogy; Design; Computer Science; Human-Computer Interaction; Game Studies
2
Queering Computing and Computing Education
Introduction
Centering queer and trans perspectives through a critical phenomenological
framing are an essential reorientation away from the largely cisheteronormative
body of technoscientific scholarship that predominantly defines computing
and computing education. I examine historical and ongoing relationships
between computing education and queering, an act of reorientation of computing
objects, practices, and disciplinarity away from cisheteropartriarchal hegemonies,
particularly in the context of computing education. I argue that a critical,
intersectional queer and trans phenomenological analysis of computing and
computing education, can offer an essential epistemological and axiological
challenge to cisheteropatriarchal, militaristic, and intersectionally oppressive,
carceral technologies. By centering the analysis of gender and sexuality through
the lens of marginalized people’s experiences (queer, trans, and intersecting
marginalities) and building on queer, trans, and intersectional theories, the
critical phenomenological approach I propose here illustrates how systems of
domination, as well as resistance to and liberation from such systems, might
occur through relationships between objects, people, and their environments in
the context of computing and computing education.
Recent reviews and critiques have revealed that globally, the focus of techno-
scientific education research writ large – i.e., STEM education research – has
primarily been shaped by U.S. discourses of national security and national
economic growth and productivity priorities (Philip & Sengupta, 2020; Takeuchi
et al., 2020). These discourses are also intertwined with oppressive ideologies
and professional practices in the realm of computing (Philip & Sengupta, 2020).
These oppressive ideologies
¬
are cisheteropatriarchal, ableist, colonial, impe-
rialist, and racist and are central to the functioning of Western, nationalist
militarism and economic growth. In turn, these ideologies position specific
forms of experiences and lives as more valuable than others, further perpetu-
ating historical and systemic forms of marginalization (Takeuchi et al., 2020).
In a similar vein, a critical and historically grounded review of a necessarily
heterogeneous body of the literature that cuts across computer science, queer
and trans theories, queer game studies, and beyond offers a reorientation of
epistemologies and design approaches that underpin technological imaginaries
in the realm of computing education away from cisheteropatriarchy and towards
an intersectional queering of computing education.
I outline a framing of critical queer and trans phenomenology to guide this
approach. The goal of a phenomenological account is to foreground experience
beyond socially pre-determined categories (Merleau-Ponty, 1966). A critical
phenomenological approach centers marginalized experiences of oppression,
restraint, erasure, and silencing by normative and disciplinary forces (Ahmed,
2006; Bettcher, 2020; Salamon, 2010; Young, 1980). I present challenges and
possibilities associated with enacting such reorientation while identifying the
need for solidarity with and listening to queer, trans, and intersectional voices.
I also identify areas that need immediate attention to challenge the systemic
violence and oppression deeply interwoven in technological imaginaries.
Framing Queering within Critical Queer and Trans Phenomenology
Queer and trans theories developed in the 1990s within a milieu of critical
responses to women’s studies and feminist theories, and epistemological hetero-
geneity is a key facet of the field. Rather than adhering to a single perspective,
construct, or theoretical frame, the fields of queer and trans studies reflect
the myriad of ways in which the assumed naturalness of the gender binary,
the biological body, and cisheteropatriarchal relationships have shaped our
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
experiences, institutions, and theories. For example, a proliferation of language
exists to describe the assumed naturalness of the gender binary and how it is
reinforced through heterosexuality (since the 1980s), including Judith Butler’s
(2006/1990) heterosexual matrix, Adrienne Rich’s (1980) compulsory heterosex-
uality, Monique Wittig’s (1980) heterosexual contract, and Michael Warner’s
heteronormativity (1991). Trans studies grew in the mid-1990s as a field where
trans people theorized their own lives and countered the pathologizing writ-
ings about them (Stone, 2006/1991; Stryker, 2006). Transgender studies have
challenged gay and lesbian studies and queer theorists on many fronts, notably
expanding theories of the body and embodiment (Prosser, 1998; Rubin, 1998;
Salamon, 2010), liminality (Bettcher, 2020), and theories of becoming (Lane,
2009). Furthermore, many of the ontological challenges and epistemological
expansions that shaped trans, gay, lesbian, and queer studies are grounded in
intersectional approaches addressing gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class;
however, intersectional approaches have also been marginalized within the field
(Anzaldúa, 2009/1991; Combahee River Collective, 2014/1978; Crenshaw, 1990;
Davis, 1983; Lorde, 1984; Roen, 2001).
Despite queer theoretical approaches to education being taken up more generally
since the mid-1990s in education research (Britzman, 1995; Pinar, 1998; Sumara
& Davis, 1999), education research in STEM disciplines has largely been rooted
in cisheteropatriarchal perspectives (Fifield and Letts, 2014). This framing is
evidenced, for example, in the cisheteronormative and binary representation
of bodies and sexuality in K-12 biology textbooks and science classrooms
(Bazzul and Sykes, 2011; Snyder and Broadway, 2004). Cisnormativity and
heteronormativity, or the combined cisheteronormativity, refers to the assumed
naturalness of binary gender, alignment with the gender one is assigned at birth,
and heterosexuality, and the implicit or explicit belief that society should be
organized by these gender and sexuality norms. A queer theoretical approach to
education also highlights how marginalized immigrant students are disciplined
and silenced through normative expectations about bodily comportment in
mathematics classrooms (Takeuchi & Dadkhahfard, 2019). Queering offers
a critical phenomenological resistance to such forms of disciplined erasures
and oppressions. Queer theory goes beyond the mere inclusion of different
identities to interrogate regimes of normativity in classrooms (Rands, 2009)
and can fundamentally question what counts as knowledge and knowing in
technoscientific education (Takeuchi & Dadkhahfard, 2019).
The work of reorienting oneself involves an active and continual resistance to
the normative forces that impose docility. A phenomenology of reorientation
attends to experiences of recognizing normative forces and orienting oneself with
counter-hegemonic and non-normative actions and people. For example, Ahmed
(2006) explains how “compulsory heterosexuality diminishes the very capacity
of bodies to reach what is off the straight line” (Ahmed, 2006, p. 67). Those
who go “off the straight line,” she says, travel a new path of repeated actions
that tend their bodies towards queerness, “often in the face of hostility and
discrimination, to gather such tendencies into a sustainable form” (Ahmed, 2006,
p. 78). Ahmed (2006) describes disorientation as the “feelings that gather when
we lose our sense of who it is that we are” that results from “encountering the
world differently” (p. 20). This is aligned with Butler’s (2006/1990) notions of
the heterosexual matrix and compulsory heterosexuality, which also argue that
society’s normative expectations marginalize queer and trans bodies, desires,
and experiences.
Ahmed (2006) argues for disorientation as a path forward for queer phenomenol-
ogy because the simple act of queer presence disorients straight paths. However, I
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
argue that pedagogical approaches in computing education need to be focused
on reorienting both computing and computing education. Phenomenologically,
this involves recognizing and resisting the normative enforcements within disci-
plinary spaces and enforced through disciplinary expectations and practices that
effectively make us “docile” (Foucault, 1995/1975; Takeuchi & Dadkhahfard,
2019; Takeuchi et al., 2020). The work of reorientation should be central to the
experience of learning, and following Crenshaw (1990), I further posit that this
should not be framed as a political act that relies on identity politics. One’s
identity as lesbian, gay, transgender, straight, or cisgender should not be the sole
basis for pedagogical design. As our work (Paré et al., 2020) shows, systemic
forms of oppression that are ubiquitous in our experiences can be illustrated in
ways that both embody and connect with peoples’ personal experiences, without
necessarily making them feel the sense of a loss of self. While one could argue
that this is an act of disorienting the discipline of computing, I believe that
this is, instead, an act of reorienting normative computing practices (e.g., the
use of a well-known algorithm) toward queerness. That is, learning computing
is a phenomenological move of continual action that orients the discipline of
computing in ways that are aligned with queer and trans notions of liberation
and solidarity.
Within the broader field of education research within and across STEM disci-
plines (including computer science), queer and trans perspectives in computing
education have received little, if any, attention. A critical phenomenological
approach for framing computing education research grounded in intersectional
queer and trans scholarship offers a framework for critique and new directions
that foregrounds queer and trans perspectives. My goal is to center an in-
tersectional analysis of gender and sexuality through the lens of marginalized
people’s experiences at the heart of computing education. Computing is com-
monly viewed as a complex practice that involves the design of multi-layered,
computational objects and human-computer systems and networks. The critical
phenomenological approach to computing that I propose offers an analysis of
how systems of domination (Collins, 1990) occur through relationships between
(computational) objects, people, and their environments. Additionally, I look
at how these systems of power multiply in effect when people are situated
intersectionally (Crenshaw, 1990), i.e., at multiple axes of oppression (such
as gender, sexuality, race, disability). I also argue that naming, addressing,
and ameliorating these forms of oppression and violence can happen through
queering computing and computing education.
Queering computing education is not merely a matter of adding some missing
context to the more technical elements of computing education. Instead, it is
a fundamental questioning of the epistemological and axiological assumptions
that shape what we take for granted as authentic computing education. The
authenticity I seek necessitates a political reorientation of computing and com-
puting education toward intersectional, queer, and trans perspectives in thought
and action with marginalized people in the struggle for liberation. This political
reorientation involves unsilencing and acknowledging computing histories of
cisheteropatriarchal violence toward queer and trans people and perspectives
and examining how queer and trans theories can reimagine computing practices
and computing education research as I explain next.
Cisheteropatriarchal Violence and Normativity: A Brief Historical
Look at Computing
The history of gender in computing is far from simple, though, especially
since cisgender women, queer and trans people have been intricately involved in
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
shaping what we know in the early 21
st
century as computer science. The earliest
“computers” near the turn of the twentieth century were women, who were
employed in positions that involved doing the work of calculating or computing
(Abbate, 2012; Barkley Fritz, 1996; Hicks, 2017; Shetterly, 2016). Barkley
Fritz (1996) and Hicks (2017) show how women’s careers as programmers were
positioned by their male managers as low-skilled labour, thus under-valuing
their contributions. Programming became more prestigious and lucrative as
higher-ranking jobs were turned over to men, and eventually, the field of
computing became overtly dominated by men, thus solidifying computing
within a hegemonic, cisheteropatriarchal culture (Chun, 2004; Ensmenger,
2015; Hicks, 2017). Computing’s early queer and trans history also reveals
the ways that computing was not always a domain held by cisgender, straight
men. For example, Alan Turing, an early pioneer of computing, was a gay
British mathematician whose work in cryptography was instrumental in WWII
and whose insights spurred the emergence of artificial intelligence, computing,
and mathematical biology (Voss, 2013). Lynn Conway, a computer scientist,
electrical engineering scholar, and transgender activist, made foundational
contributions to computer architecture through inventions such as scalable
design rules for VLSI chip design (Computer History Museum, 2020).
However, both Turing and Conway faced societal bigotry that impacted their
lives and careers. Turing was convicted of Gross Indecency in 1952 for being
gay, and the State forced him to take estrogen hormones. He died by suicide in
1954 and was only exonerated posthumously in 2013 (BBC, December 2013).
Conway was fired from her job at Xerox PARC in 1968 when she notified
Human Resources that she was undergoing gender transition and hoped to
do so quietly while maintaining her job (Conway, 2012). IBM delivered a
formal apology to Lynn Conway 52 years later (Cramer, November 2020). This
history of systemic oppression reminds us that the contributions of gender and
sexually marginalized people were not welcomed in the professional worlds of
computing. Despite making ground-breaking contributions, they were removed
and inflicted with physical or financial violence by the State or their institution.
Therefore, the oppression of queer and trans people in computing has not only
been discursive or symbolic; it also takes the form of displacement and violence.
Not surprisingly, the current dominant culture of computing has been critiqued
as cis-male-dominated and cisheteropatriarchal, arising out of the 1960s and
1970s university computer labs. These labs were necessary gathering spaces to
access computers before home computers were available (Ames, 2019; Ensmenger,
2015). These cultural spaces, Ensmenger (2015) argues, were initially criticized
as communities of “computer bums” but soon developed computer programming
into a hegemonic, masculine culture that further shaped the culture of computer
programming long after university computer labs were no longer a central hub
of computing innovation:
The norms, ethos, and practices established in the university com-
puter centers of the 1970s formed the basis for the emergent computer
hobbyist culture of the 1980s (and beyond) and would be perpetu-
ated and re-created in similarly masculine spaces, from the bedrooms
of pimply teenage computer hackers to the couches and erstwhile
dormitories of innumerable Internet start-ups, to the studiously
informal work spaces/playgrounds of corporate campuses at Apple,
Microsoft, and Google, where free sodas and foosball tables are seen
as being as essential to the production of software as product labs
and computer workstations. (p. 54)
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
This early development of cisheteropatriarchal programming environments has
developed into the early 21
st
century “brogrammers” represented by Silicon
Valley start-up culture, as well as the massive online hate campaigns directed at
women and other marginalized groups who are believed to be encroaching upon
“men’s space” in computers, technology, and gaming (Hicks, 2013; Salter, 2017).
Ames (2019) further notes that the white male programmer’s image is deeply
ingrained in the imaginations underlying the “One Laptop Per Child” project.
Her in-depth observations of how children in Paraguay used the OLPC laptops
and software offer striking contrasts with the white male imaginaries. White,
cisheterosexual male imaginaries position coding and computing as primarily
individual enterprises, while also employing visions of technological solutionism,
and Ames (2019) found that in contrast, the children’s lives and their relation-
ships with their communities are more complex and much more meaningful
than what OLPC designers imagined, or what even could be accomplished using
OLPC devices.
At stake here is what does and should count as authentic forms of computing and
coding. As Takeuchi et al. (2020) remind us, authenticity governs pedagogical
imaginations and dictums around disciplines and technologies. Critical feminist
scholars have pointed out for a long time that most disciplines rest on the notion
of a “pure” discourse (Haraway, 1991; Irigaray & Bové, 1987), and pedagogy and
public education has become a demand for and enforcement of docility to such
discourse, particularly in STEM disciplines (Takeuchi et al., 2020). An example
of enforced docility is the conformity to the gender binary even in the context
of scholarship on gender in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).
Keyes’ (2018) summary of a series of critical reviews (Rode, 2011; Schlesinger et
al., 2017) shows that scholarship on gender in HCI literature typically assumes
gender is binary, immutable, and physiological. Furthermore, as of 2017, only
three papers have been published in the history of the flagship conference (CHI:
Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems) proceedings that include
trans users, and none include non-binary users specifically (Keyes, 2018).
The notion of technocentrism (Papert, 1987) is another form of enforced docility,
i.e., the fallacy of referring all questions about technology to the technology
itself. In the context of computing education, as Sengupta, Dickes & Farris
(2021) have pointed out, the “essential crisis of technocentrism” (p. 12) is hiding
and folding the heterogeneity of experiences within technological interfaces.
Technocentricm and the imposed homogeneity, in turn, creates a device-centered
view of coding in the guise of authentic practices – i.e., practices enacted by
professionals in complex, real-world settings. Here again, a critical queer, trans,
and intersectional phenomenological inquiry offers an important insight that
hidden beneath the commonly parlayed notion of authenticity is a cultural and
ideological history of masculinity and militarism.
Ensmenger (2015) notes that cultural practices of coding that value competition,
mastery, and optimization arose from the hegemonic masculine culture of
computing’s early days in university computing labs, where “computer bums”
were focused on programming “trivial puzzles” and producing code that was
“beautiful, elegant, humorous, or otherwise aesthetically appealing” (p. 57).
Computer bums, Ensmenger (2015) notes, would spend hours “trimming” the
code, trying to make it more efficient and thus, at once, enacting and sustaining
a form of cisheteropatriarchal competition as “a means of both demonstrating
mastery over the machine and establishing dominance within the community
hierarchy as a form of masculine competition to impress and gain the envy of
male friends in the lab” (p. 57). In this context, it is noteworthy that Chun
(2004) traces the ideological history of how notions of mastery, command, and
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
control became embedded in computing cultures to the militaristic past of the
U.S.:
Software languages are based on a series of imperatives that stem
from World War II command and control structure. The automation
of command and control, which Paul Edwards has identified as a
perversion of military traditions of “personal leadership, decentral-
ized battlefield command, and experience-based authority,” arguably
started with World War II mechanical computation. (p. 33)
This history leads us to the following question: if the epistemological roots
of normative and cisheteropatriarchal technoscience are indeed in militarism
(Gupta et al., 2019), then what are alternate epistemological spaces that may
offer computing more equitable and just imaginaries? How can we challenge
normative enforcements of docility to dominant epistemologies? As my critical
review of the following section will reveal, one such space is the domain of queer
and trans theories.
How Queer and Trans Theories Can Shape Queering Computing
Recent advances in educational computing (e.g., Paré, Shanahan & Sengupta,
2020) have drawn upon foundational constructs proposed by queer theorists
such as the heterosexual matrix (Butler, 2006/1990), queer orientations (Ahmed,
2006), as well as Lane’s (2009) call for trans and queer studies to engage with
a fundamentally more complex, new materialist biology. Butler’s (2006/1990)
notion of the heterosexual matrix helps us understand how the hegemonic, dis-
cursive, epistemic practices enacted in our everyday interactions reify heterosex-
uality as normative experiences and expectations at the individual, institutional,
and societal levels (see also: Risman, 2004). Lane (2009) critiques Butler for
emphasizing “the fixity of biological materialities of sex compared with the
flexibility of gender” (p. 141). Lane argues that instead of viewing the body as
constraining, fixed, and given; we must view the body as a dynamic, transfor-
mative process of ‘body becoming’ (Lane, 2009, p. 141), where social, material,
and biological aspects of experience interact with each other fluidly. Ahmed
(2006) argues that straightness is not the default or “normal” identity but is
also produced relationally through normative orienting gestures that connect
people, spaces, and objects, all of which (re)produce cisheteronormativity.
Building on this body of work, Paré et al. (2020) demonstrated how multi-
agent simulations of gender and sexuality-based marginalization could help us
understand gender and sexual experiences as complex, emergent, multilevel
phenomena involving dynamic interactions between individuals, groups, and
institutions. Paré et al. (2020) present Flocking Q.T. Stories, a multiagent-
based simulation that illustrates how structural (macro-level) phenomena such
as gender and sexuality-based marginalization and resilience can manifest
through individual-level interactions between computational agents. Further,
by engaging in conversations with people with lived or professional scholarly
experience of gender and sexuality-based marginalization, they found that
participants interacted with Flocking Q.T. Stories through orienting (Ahmed,
2006) their attention toward marginalized agents, as well as engaging in reasoning
that connected individual behaviors with emergent outcomes.
In Paré et al.’s (2020) simulation, a classic algorithm known as Reynold’s
(1987) flocking algorithm was integrated with narratives of gender and sexuality-
based marginalization and resilience. Their simulation consists of four types
of computational agents: normative and non-normative boids or bird-droids
(Reynolds, 1987) and two types of institutions: normative and non-normative.
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
Proximity to normative boids and institutions subtracted energy from the non-
normative boids, and proximity to other non-normative boids and institutions
increased their energy. Each non-normative boid “carries” an audio story - a
first-person account of gender or sexuality-based marginalization and resilience.
These stories were recorded by local people who volunteered to contribute a
short 2-minute audio narrative of their experiences of gender and sexuality-based
marginalization or resilience. All of the boids move according to Reynolds’
(1987) flocking algorithm, and parameters of the Reynolds’ algorithm are also
affected in part by the frequencies of the audio file. The overall effect is that
the movement pattern of the non-normative boids is visually distinct from the
normative boids while a story is being played, causing the former to vibrate
while they are also flocking. The effect also helps create a visual contrast
between a flock of non-normative boids moving together with vibrations and
a stagnant, non-normative boid because it is drained of energy. This contrast
in movement, as Paré et al. (2020) demonstrated, alongside the experience of
listening to narratives of marginalization and resilience, helped orient peoples’
attention to marginalization in the simulation both at the individual level and
at the emergent level.
Another fundamental epistemological perspective is Butler’s (2009) account
of the opacity of the self, referring to the delimitations to representation and
recognition of the self. Butler (2009) argues that in giving an account of oneself,
“there can be no account of myself that does not, to some extent, conform to
norms that govern the humanly recognizable” (p. 36). Rather than conforming
to the norms of human recognizability, coding that has productive use in relation
to a computer must conform to what that computer infrastructure can recognize.
In attempting to represent variations of gender and sexuality in ‘real coding,’ we
should ask whether and to what degree gender and sexuality can be represented
in code that is recognizable to a computer. If we code gender and sexuality
with only the delimitations of the computer in mind, we risk restricting human
agency. However, Butler (2009) suggests that in relation to the self and society’s
norms, if we can acknowledge the limits of recognizability within the confines
of regulating systems, we can recognize the limits of knowing. Recognizing the
opacity of the self within the system could open the possibility for a new ethics,
she argues, where we no longer expect a definitive answer to the question of
how to represent the self. Thus, we might open new spaces for epistemic and
representational fluidity that allow the self and the other to live more fully, not
reduced or determined by the confines of what can be (canonically) known. For
example, Butler’s (2009) notion of the opacity of the self, as it relates to the social
regulation of identity and bodies, can be helpful in deepening our understanding
of the technological regulation of identity and bodies, with a fundamental
acknowledgment of the limitations of virtual representations of bodies.Butler’s
notion can be used to question how human bodies, agency, and identity can be
represented computationally, identify its inevitable limitations, and question
how we could axiologically reorient computing around these limitations and
possibilities. A new ethics guided by these questions would recognize the
limits of knowing imposed by the technological infrastructure and question a
technological infrastructure’s role in restricting epistemic and representational
fluidity and human agency. An analysis of the socio-technological opacity of the
self must recognize that the sources of opacity are socio-technically distributed
enforcements and constructions that extend beyond the psychological and
interpersonal. People are socio-historically situated, which shapes their designs
and experiences with computer infrastructures and algorithms, an idea I will
return to in my section on carceral technologies and algorithmic bias.
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
These epistemological perspectives fundamentally question objectivity, univer-
salism, masculinity, and cisheteropatriarchy as problematic imaginaries around
which computing is situated as a practice. Queering computing, at its core,
involves challenging these technological imaginaries. For example, building on
Chun’s (2004) analysis of computational performativity, Jackson (2017) looked
specifically at computing as a cultural and rhetorical performance of gender that
(re)produces structural masculinity in software. Jackson (2017) used examples
of queer pseudocode in queer digital art practices by Zach Blas (2008) and Julie
Levin Russo (2008), analyzing these through Halberstam’s (2011) “queer art of
failure,” to demonstrate how queer pseudocode resists narratives of computer
programming as “determined and correct (masterful) narratives” (Jackson, 2017,
p. 16).
With certain types of necessary epistemic reorientation and representational fluid-
ity in mind as queer goals, how would queer coding or a non-cisheteropatriarchal
performance of coding look? Jackson (2017) suggests an interesting answer in
the form of artistic examples of pseudocode that destabilize cisheteropatriarchal
ideals of coding. However, these examples do not operate as real code because
their algorithms cannot work with computers. Jackson suggests, however, that
this might be the point: “Code or software as illogical seems like a contra-
diction, but only so when the meaning of a given piece of code is invested
in the correctness of an algorithm” (p. 19). Must all coding produce correct
algorithms, or could we imagine other uses of coding, be they artistic, critical,
social analysis, or part of learning coding, as a vast and creative world with
numerous possibilities? Queer pseudocode, I believe, can offer an exciting and
playful space for exploring queer and trans imaginaries in computational worlds,
and therefore, can offer an interesting area for research in computing education.
Soon and Cox (2020) offer another reorientation of computing through the lens
of aesthetic coding, which they explain uncovers the hidden layers of coding
practices in normative coding representations, such as source code, and highlights
the political and aesthetic to bring attention to the social and political effects
of programming. Soon and Cox (2020) frame aesthetic coding not in reference
to ideas of beauty but to “what presents itself to sense-making experience and
bodily perception” (p. 14), suggesting a phenomenological approach. Their
approach is also grounded in critical approaches, by drawing attention to and
incorporating into introductory programming lessons “power relations that
are under-acknowledged, such as inequalities and injustices related to class,
gender and sexuality, as well as race and the enduring legacies of colonialism”
(Soon and Cox, 2020, p. 14). Soon and Cox’s (2020) work offers another way
to imagine queering computing in introductory programming where technical
coding lessons are interwoven with cultural critiques of power structures.
The field of queer game studies offers critiques of cisheteronormativity as
well as imaginaries of possible futures. For example, this body of scholarship
highlights how cisheteronormative frameworks discipline gender and sexual
identity into narrow, binary forms of representation (e.g., man/woman, mas-
culinity/femininity, and heterosexual attraction) and reifies these in our gaming
experiences. A further critique it offers is by illustrating how gender and sexual
identities outside of these normative, binary frames can themselves be policed
into narrow forms of representation – gay/straight, transgender/cisgender –
and the disciplining nature of identity categories, including marginalized iden-
tities. Clark (2017) presents this theoretical positioning in Game Studies as
the difference between token representation by, for instance, including a single,
stereotypical, gay character contrasted with an approach which “questions the
norms and conventions of how games, or specific game genres, are expected to
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
function” (p. 4). In the following section, I present a more detailed discussion
on some of the challenges and insights from queer game studies for addressing
these issues, as they might also be relevant for designing computational learning
environments that orient our attention to queer and trans experiences.
Lessons for Queering Computing from Queer Game Studies
Shaw and Ruberg (2017) argue that queer theories in game studies and game
design have the potential to fundamentally shift who is heard in games, how
games are interpreted, and how the games industry can be (re)imagined:
[Queer theories] offer lenses through which to reclaim the medium,
giving voices to the experiences of queer player subjects and bringing
to light the fact that games are queer (or at least queer able) at
their core. Such frameworks have the potential to show those who
make games that queerness represents far more than a niche issue
or an untapped demographic. (p. xiii)
However, the existing, early 21
st
-century climate for games has considerable
challenges to face to fully realize the potential envisioned by Ruberg and Shaw,
along with other Queer Game Studies scholars, queer gaymers, and queer game
developers. Chang (2015) raises the challenge that faces those who wish to
queer gaming that relies on computers, arguing that:
Given the binary nature of digital computers--from platform to
programming--the difficulty of queering games remains a challenge.
After all, what is a game but a matrix of code, power relations, and
constraints? ... In other words, games always constrain players via
normative narratives and mechanics. (p. 8)
Digital gaming is intricately tied in with the challenges already noted, from the
embedded cisheteropatriarchy in computational performativity and architecture
to the deeply embedded culture of Silicon Valley “brogrammers” and online
hate campaigns against marginalized people such as the 2014 #GamerGate
hate campaign (Hicks, 2013; Salter, 2017). However, despite the continuing
hostility towards marginalized people in mainstream video games and video
game culture, the expansion of the independent “queer games scene” since 2012
is “pushing the medium toward greater inclusivity” (Ruberg, 2018, p. 417).
This expansion of the queer indie game community, Ruberg (2018) argues, also
provides a potential point of entry for critical engagement with “new, expanded
directions for thinking about queer and otherwise marginalized perspectives”
(p. 418). Through an analysis of the work of contemporary, queer, indie game
designers, Ruberg (2018) demonstrates how queer indie games can take up
“issues of algorithms, systems, and abstraction and repositions them within
distinctly queer frameworks” (p. 418). Further, games’ interactivity can be
a way to challenge the idea that queer and trans representations must always
show life as it is. Instead, it can “allow users to explore alternative ways of
being and to purposefully complicate rather than distribute representations of
marginalized people’s lives” (Ruberg, 2018, p. 426).
Burrill (2017) suggests that another important way to engage with queerness is
to study difference and the erasure of bodies of difference, or queer bodies, in
digital games. Burrill (2017) notes the emerging interconnectedness of bodies,
technology, and gaming explicitly as an essential area of study when highlighting
immersive virtual reality games where the body becomes the interface and
virtual representations of one’s body are limited to “a corporatist, homogenous,
objectified, and universal body that fits all systems” (p. 29). Thus, avatars
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
have the potential to become yet another algorithm of oppression by conforming
(virtual) bodies.
Virtual bodies, or avatars, have the potential to transform, mediate, and express
complex relationships to the body, as explored by digital media and games
scholar and artist Micha Cárdenas. Cárdenas (2010) discusses her mixed-reality
performance art in the virtual online world, Second Life, “that questions the one-
year requirement of “Real Life Experience” that transgender people must fulfill in
order to receive Gender Confirmation Surgery and asks if this could be replaced
by one year of “Second Life Experience” to lead to Species Reassignment Surgery”
(p. 4). Cárdenas’ work shows that discussions of the complex relationships to
the body, the virtual body, and gender and sexuality have the potential to be
a site of deep learning about identity, representation, and our relationship to
technology. Synergistic scholarship is emerging in the field of digital literacy
studies; for example, the notion of digital queer gestures (Lizárraga & Cortez,
2019) and humor as political possibility in LGBTQ+ reaction videos on YouTube
(Shrodes, 2020). A digital queer gesture “blends the semiotic affordances of
video, audio, and text in the digital realm, [and] is animated, hybridized, and
revived across time and space to inspire queer Latinxs to disrupt taken-for-
granted normative practices and discourses” (Lizárraga & Cortez, 2019, p.
154). Digital queer gestures can help computational media designers recognize,
interpret and incorporate such gestures as interactions between avatars in queer
and trans virtual reality (VR) spaces. As Shrodes (2020) explains, “humor as
political possibility [in LGBTQ+ reaction videos] expands the focus of critical
media literacy beyond media analysis and production and toward the ways in
which these literacies show up and matter in the everyday lives of young people”
(p. 18). Engaging with the ways that LGBTQ+ young people use humour
has the potential to reorient computational design and learning in virtual
environments by attending to a queer form of social critique that supports, as
Shrodes (2020) suggests, “nam[ing], challeng[ing], and transform[ing] dominant
ideologies toward more just futures” (p. 1). Designing for queer humour in
virtual environments and interactions and has the potential to combine play
and social critique in ways that can support critical literacies of gender and
sexuality.
The relationship between virtuality, bodies, and body becoming was further
explored by Paré et al. (2019), who explored how VR and 3D sculpting
can support the development of critical literacies about gender and sexuality.
They presented a retrospective analysis of a design group meeting of a small
group of friends in their early thirties with gender nonconforming and queer
identities and life histories. The group interacted collaboratively in VR-based
environments, where they created 3D sculptures of personally meaningful objects
and designed their VR avatars in VR social media. Their analysis highlighted
the roles of playful engagement with the virtual body becoming (Lane, 2009) and
friendship in supporting deep and critical engagement with complex narratives
and marginalized experiences of gender and sexuality.
An Important Area for Future Work: Carceral Technologies and
Algorithmic Bias
Queering computing and computing education is at once an epistemological
and an axiological commitment. In this vein, I propose carceral technologies,
including but not limited to algorithmic bias, as an area within computing
and computing education that could benefit urgently from a queer, trans, and
intersectional focus. Benjamin (2019a) argues that a prominent function of
technology is the surveillance of marginalized people, especially Black people in
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
the U.S., premised on the notion that “other people’s safety and freedom are
predicated on our containment” (Benjamin, 2019a, p. vii). Benjamin’s (2019b)
carceral technologies draws from Browne’s (2015) explanation that “surveillance
is nothing new to black folks”; from slave ships and slave patrols to airport
security checkpoints and stop-and-frisk policing practices, she points to the
“facticity of surveillance in black life” (as quoted in Benjamin, 2019b, p. 23).
Benjamin (2019a; 2019b) shows that carceral technologies of surveillance are not
accidentally racist. Instead, new technologies reproduce racist and anti-black
surveillance and control that were already embedded in society. Surveillance
is also not new to queer and trans people. For example, Salamon’s (2010)
description of trans phenomenology extends Butler’s (1993) heterosexual matrix
to the intersubjective embodiment of the gendered body:
“Bodies are always shaped by the social world in which we are in-
escapably situated. This cultural shaping happens at the conceptual
level, in that what we are able to imagine about what our bodies
are or may become — even to decide what “counts” as a body and
what does not — is structured by the history of how bodies have
been socially understood, by what bodies have been. (p. 76-77).
The history of how bodies have been understood and the possibility for queer
and transgender embodiments is one of strict surveillance and control, foremost
enacted through colonialization, racism, and anti-blackness where White, Euro-
pean ideas about gender and sexuality were imposed on Black, Indigenous, and
People of Colour (Driskill et al., 2011; Snorton, 2017), and often through the
direct, governing role of colonial education (Coloma, 2006; Cruz, 2001; Ristock
et al., 2019). Benjamin (2019a) builds on Mingus’ poignant observation of how
the “magnificence” of certain bodies—e.g., bodies of queer and trans people, and
people of color, for example-- are “coded” societally “not just undesirable and
ugly, but un-human,” while centering only a White, heterosexist, ableist body
as desirable (Mingus, 2011; as quoted in Benjamin, 2019a, p 103). Carceral
technologies that specifically target Black people and marginalized people of
colour include predictive policing software (Benjamin, 2019a; O’Neil, 2016),
algorithmic and AI-based decision support systems for judicial cases (Alkhatib
& Bernstein, 2019), pre-trial electronic monitoring systems (Benjamin, 2019a),
among others. My concern is that a lack of a critical queer and trans phe-
nomenological focus would enact and further reify technological violences on
queer and trans people.
From an epistemological perspective, at stake here is perpetuating forms of
knowing and technological design that contribute to or directly enact erasure
and violence upon queer and trans people. In an earlier section, I reviewed
Jackson’s (2017) paper, which demonstrates using pseudocode examples, how
we might draw attention to the limits of recognizability of gender and sexuality
by computers. This discussion shifts the perspective of coding from an emphasis
on producing code that can automate gender and sexuality recognition and
surveillance to a much more fundamental critique of computers’ limits as a
cultural tool. If computers are trained to see bodies in the image of cisgender,
White, heterosexual binaries, then the use of such biased datasets underlying
facial recognition algorithms automatically position people of colour and non-
binary, queer, and trans people to a greater risk of automated surveillance and
harassment. For example, “airport security technology, databases, algorithms,
risk assessment, and practices are all designed based on the assumption that
there are only two genders, and that gender presentation will conform with
so-called biological sex” (Costanza-Chock, 2020, p 4), which automatically
positions trans and non-binary people “deviant” and “anomalous” (Costello,
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
2016; Currah & Mulqueen, 2011). This, in turn, increases the possibilities
of queer, trans, and non-binary people being physically harassed through the
targeted deployment of computational means and beyond.
This critique is not merely an addendum to the “core” technological imaginary
of designing and inventing algorithms and abstractions. Instead, I call for a
fundamental axiological turn toward justice from within the world of computing
by recognizing how commonly used computational tools (e.g., search algorithms,
face and body recognition software, avatars) and practices may carry forward
the societal biases that oppress and harm marginalized people. We must
actively improve and fix the relevant computational infrastructure and cultural
expectations in ways that are specifically oriented toward queer and trans justice.
My call extends and deepens existing critiques of algorithmic bias that have
focused on issues at the intersection of race and gender. For example, Noble
(2018) brings to light the racist and sexist underlying infrastructure of Google
search algorithms, elucidating examples such as how a search for “ ‘black girls’
surfaced ‘Black Booty on the Beach’ and ‘Sugary Black Pussy’ to the first page
of Google results, out of the trillions of web-indexed pages that Google Search
crawls” (p. 162). Along similar lines, Benjamin (2019a) draws attention to the
ways that targeted advertising on social media sites might be lauded for its
well-meaning goals, but this distracts from the many other ways that it can
reproduce racism:
But there is a slippery slope between effective marketing and efficient
racism. The same sort of algorithmic filtering that ushers more
ethnically tailored representations into my feed can also redirect real
estate ads away from people “like me. This filtering has been used
to show higher-paying job ads to men more often than to women,
to charge more for standardized test prep courses to people in areas
with a high density of Asian residents, and many other forms of
coded inequity. (p. 17)
This kind of demographic targeting has the power to shape identities by rein-
forcing societal ideas of what a Black person, a woman, or a person from a poor
neighbourhood should want to have and should aspire to be. It systematically
filters people and shapes their lives’ possible pathways, even affording more and
better opportunities to those with existing privilege.
Left unchallenged, these forms of oppression, exclusion, and marginalization
will continue to be the natural order of computing, which simply follows and
replicates the arc of biases and injustice against marginalized people in society.
Therefore, I see queering computing as a necessary mode of resistance to
challenge “the order of things” (Ahmed, 2006) within technological realms and
not merely as a critical social commentary that lives outside the inner sanctum
of computing and computing education. Queering computing is particularly
important because research on gender and sexuality-based algorithmic bias
and computationally enacted harms is a less developed area of research. And
while researchers in computing and STEM education have already identified
algorithmic bias as a critical area for computational and scientific literacy (Philip
et al., 2016; Vakil, Marshall, & Ibrahimovic, 2020), the field has yet to recognize
gender and sexuality-based harms from critical, intersectional, queer and trans
phenomenological perspectives as integral to computing education. But more
imminently, such a reorientation is also essential because, as I review next, the
dangerous legacy of technological surveillance and violence specifically targeted
toward queer and trans people stemming from the 1960s (Kinsman, 1995) is still
carried forward by artificial intelligence researchers (Wang & Kosinski, 2018).
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
Wang & Kosinski (2018) designed an algorithm using deep neural networks for
analyzing profile pictures of human faces and classify sexual orientation with
greater accuracy than humans. Their early pre-print and news coverage received
substantial criticism (BBC News, 2017), which they attempted to address in the
final published journal article. However, their theoretical framework, methods,
and interpretation of results contain numerous flaws and, as I discuss here,
illustrates how cisheteronormativity, racism, and sexism become embedded in
computing research, producing flawed and harmful outcomes. I can begin with
the premise of the study itself: identifying one’s sexuality based on their looks
simply perpetuates a kind of carceral surveillance similar to what has been
enforced on Black and marginalized people of colour in the U.S. (Benjamin,
2019a). Second, these researchers limited the training dataset of images to
white heterosexual or gay people, thus eliminating Black, Indigenous, People
of Colour, transgender people, and bisexual and other non-monosexual people.
My point here is not that BIPOC queer and trans people needed to be included
in the dataset but to point out that the authors’ own approach simply reifies
the algorithmic bias against people of colour in the context of facial recognition
(Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). Third, the authors explained that there was a risk
that the dataset could be inaccurate if people on the dating site inaccurately
represented their sexual orientation, but they argue that they could see no
reason why people would misrepresent this information on a dating site. This
assumption completely misses the numerous social risk factors that shape
dating site users’ representational choices to mitigate harassment. For example,
bisexual people may not identify themselves as bisexual because of biphobia
in heterosexual and queer communities. Similarly, women may intentionally
misrepresent their sexuality to mitigate online harassment from men seeking
women, allowing them to instead initiate contact with men. Fourth, the
researchers also employed Amazon Mechanical Turk workers to verify that the
gender of the face in the profile picture matched the user’s stated gender, thus
introducing cisnormative beliefs that gender can be determined by appearance.
Finally, the researchers do not account for how the publicness of a dating site,
as well as the type of clientele, and whom a site is primarily marketed to pre-
determine who might use that site, and how they might represent themselves in
terms of gendered, sexuality-based, and racialized beauty standards.
Queering computing and computing education also involves inquiring about the
historical arc of violence on queer and trans people, and it helps us recognize
that the reification of societal biases in software and computing cultures does not
happen overnight. In 1961, the Canadian Security Panel, a special investigative
panel authorized by cabinet directive, formally commissioned F.R. Wake to go
to the U.S. to research and study detection tests and technologies to identify
“homosexuals” in the RCMP and other “sensitive” positions of national defence
(Kinsman, 1995). For the next six years, until the eventual abandonment
of the project in 1967, Wake researched and developed a technology that
came to be called “the fruit machine,” which measured pupil dilation and
gaze direction while the participant was shown a variety of images, including
mildly/bordering pornographic images (Kinsman, 1995). The results from
these experiments were used to “identify” individuals who were likely to be
gay. Similarly, technologies of classification have also long impacted the lives
of transgender people. Hicks (2019) shows how the increasingly computerized
methods for tracking, identifying, and defining British citizens through the 1950s
provide some of the earliest examples of transphobic algorithmic bias. Fuelled by
the British government crackdown on “homosexuality, prostitution, and other
‘immoral’ acts that had in common their ability to upset traditional gender
roles,” the new Ministry computer systems were designed to “reif[y] binary
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
gender and strength[en] the fiction of gender as an unchanged and unchanging
category” (p. 24-26). The computerization of citizen records removed the small
degree of flexibility that British transgender citizens previously had to change
their gender identification records and the citizen benefits afforded to them.
Changing gender identification records remains a significant source of difficulty
for trans and non-binary individuals at the time of this writing in the early
2020s.
These challenges for transgender people and identification technologies are
not limited to citizen records but also include technologies such as automatic
gender recognition software. Automatic gender recognition (AGR) uses facial
recognition software to identify individuals’ gender from photographs or videos
algorithmically. Keyes’ (2018) review of HCI papers shows that AGR research
“fundamentally ignores the existence of transgender people, with dangerous
results” and that “taken in conjunction with other work in HCI, this suggests
that how gender is commonly operationalised in the field is one cause of HCI’s
erasure of trans users’ needs and experiences” (p. 2). Hamidi, Scheuerman,
& Branham (2018) conducted interviews with transgender people to better
understand how transgender people feel about AGR technology and how it
impacts their lives. The authors found that transgender people were overwhelm-
ingly against AGR software, critiquing its ability to identify such a subjective
experience as gender and the privacy concerns and potential harm that could
arise from being misgendered by the AGR algorithms (Hamidi, Scheuerman,
& Branham, 2018). Given the issues that have already arisen from the intro-
duction of body scanning technology at airport security checks that regularly
misgender and ‘red flag’ transgender people for more invasive and demeaning
screening measures, it should be unsurprising that transgender people would be
concerned about their privacy and personal safety regarding AGR technologies
(Currah & Mulqueen, 2011). It is the lack of attention to critical perspectives,
including queer and trans theories and life experiences, that further enables the
reproduction of oppressive normativities in research and practice, whether it be
cisheteronormative, racist, Eurocentric, colonialist, ableist, speciesist, or other
forms of oppressive normativity and domination resulting from an erroneous
belief in the neutrality of technology.
Discussion: Queering the Technoscience Imaginary
As illustrated in the above intersection, queer and trans review of the heteroge-
neous literature related to computing and computing education, our immediate
attention is required to challenge the hegemony of political neutrality in com-
puting literacies, particularly in light of the systemic violence and oppression
computing has enacted on historically marginalized people due to their queer
and trans identities. The ideological and epistemological origins of techno-
logical imaginaries that have shaped computing and STEM education are far
from neutral. Scholars have brought to attention how these imaginaries are
entrenched in masculine and militaristic ideologies (Gupta et al., 2019; Haraway,
1991; Philip et al., 2018; Takeuchi et al., 2020) and are reified in practice in
computing education in the form of device-centered ideologies of control and
competition (Sengupta, Dickes, & Farris, 2021). Here, I argue for a further
reorientation of the epistemological and axiological perspectives underlying
these imaginaries through centering the work of queer and feminist theorists
and queer and trans scholars (e.g., Ahmed, 2006; Butler, 2009; Lane, 2009). I
further argue for positioning intersectionality, complexity, heterogeneity, and
fluidity as fundamental epistemological commitments that challenge the White,
cisheteropatriarchal normativities and hegemonies that predominantly shape
databases, algorithms, and computing cultures (Costanza-Chock, 2020). This
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
reorientation must also advance working in solidarity with queer and trans
people as an urgent need both within computing and computing education
(Paré et al., 2019, 2020).
As Ahmed (2006) noted, queering, or the act of making queer, involves changing
the order of things. My call for queering computing and computing education
centers queer and trans voices in computing and computing education but also
goes beyond and fundamentally transforms the experience and possibilities of
computing. For example, grounded in queer and trans theoretical imaginaries
that value ambiguity, fluidity, and body becoming, virtual reality can offer
emancipatory spaces and opportunities for supporting critical literacies of
gender and sexuality (Paré et al., 2019), which in turn has the potential to
challenge the assumed naturalness of biological categories that underpins much
of biology education in K-16 levels. Methodologically and pedagogically, Paré et
al. (2019, 2020) also argue for adopting computational design approaches that
are based on active solidarity with queer and trans people and a commitment
to listening to experiences of gender and sexuality-based marginalization and
resilience. I am also encouraged by similar arguments for methodological and
axiological shifts advanced by queer scholars in education research more broadly
(McWilliams & Penuel, 2017; Shrodes, 2020; Uttamchandani, 2020).
The histories of erasure, exclusion, and violence on queer and trans people,
enacted using technologies and as part of the computing profession is an inex-
tricable part of the ideological history and becoming of computing in the early
21
st
century. Acknowledging this history is essential for the epistemological and
axiological reorientation of computing education toward justice. The appro-
priation of computing toward carceral means that disproportionately targets
Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour and queer and trans people is also
part of this ongoing history (Benjamin, 2019a; Costanza-Chock, 2020). This is
particularly striking given that technologies for categorization and oppression
of people marginalized based on gender and sexuality continue to be developed
and studied (Keyes, 2018; Kinsman, 1995; Hicks, 2019).
I conclude with the important reminder that queering computing education and
computing education research requires viewing computing in light of the his-
torical and ongoing hegemonic, cisheteropatriarchal control over programming;
the limits to representation possible by code that a computer can recognize;
the possibilities to queer code and computer architectures; the technological
regulation of identity and bodies and acknowledging the harm on queer, trans
and marginalized bodies through carceral technologies; and the limits and
affordances of technological representation of gender and sexual identity. Our
theories of learning are theories of society (Philip & Sengupta, 2020), and
therefore, it is simply not enough to issue calls to study computing education
without addressing fundamental biases within computational worlds that enact
harm societally. Queering computing education must position and prepare
learners to challenge and subvert the dominant cisheteropatriarchial cultures
of the technology workforce they might join, and recognize and resist their
everyday, disciplining interactions with technology that inevitably limit and
shape whom they can become. Given that notions of authenticity shape much
of technoscience education (Takeuchi et al., 2020), it then becomes imperative
to reimage authentic computing education from queer, trans, and intersec-
tional perspectives rather than reifying violences and oppressions through a
continuance of misguided notions of technological neutrality and instrumentalist
notions of workforce readiness in computing classrooms. I seek to reorient the
fields of computing and computing education research toward these greater,
emancipatory imaginations, with a simultaneous commitment to queering our
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
epistemological and axiological positions.
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Queering Computing and Computing Education
Acknowledgments
Partial funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and Alberta Innovates
Technology Fund are acknowledged. The opinions expressed are the author’s
and are not endorsed by these agencies. The author would also like to thank
Dr. Pratim Sengupta, Dr. Miwa Takeuchi, Dr. Pallavi Banerjee, and Dr.
Marie-Claire Shanahan for their insights and commentary on earlier drafts.
Further Reading
Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Bettcher, TM. (2020). Trans phenomena. In G. Weiss, G. Salamon, & A.
V. Murphy (Eds.). 50 concepts for a critical phenomenology (pp. 329-335).
Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
Burrill, D. A. (2017). Queer theory, the body, and video games. In B. Ruberg &
A. Shaw (Eds.), Queer game studies (pp. 25-33). Minneapolis, MN: University
of Minnesota Press.
Cárdenas, M. (2010). Becoming dragon: A transversal technology study. CThe-
ory, 4-29.
Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design justice: Community-led practices to build the
worlds we need. MIT Press. Retrieved from https://design-justice.pubpub.org/
Currah, P., & Mulqueen, T. (2011). Securitizing gender: Identity, biometrics,
and transgender bodies at the airport. (Part III: The Sexual Body) (Report).
Social Research, 78(2), 557-582.
Fifield, S., & Letts, W. (2014). [Re] considering queer theories and science
education. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 9(2), 393-407.
Hicks, M. (2019). Hacking the cis-tem. IEEE Annals of the History of Comput-
ing, 41(1), 20-33.
Jackson, G. S. (2017). Transcoding sexuality: Computational performativity
and queer code practices. QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, 4(2), 1-25.
Keyes, O. (2018). The misgendering machines: Trans/HCI implications of
automatic gender recognition. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer
Interaction, 2(CSCW), 1-22.
Paré, D., Shanahan, M-C. & Sengupta, P. (2020). Queering complexity using
multi-agent simulations. In M. Gresalfi & L. Horn (Eds.), Interdisciplinarity in
the Learning Sciences, 14th International Conference of the Learning Sciences
(ICLS), (pp. 1397-1404). London: International Society of the Learning
Sciences.
Paré, D., Craig, J. Shanahan, M-C. & Sengupta, P. (2020). Flocking Q.T.
Stories. [Online Simulation]. Retrieved from https://flocking.queercode.org/
Paré, D., Sengupta, P., Windsor, S., Craig, J., & Thompson, M. (2019). Queer-
ing virtual reality: A prolegomenon. In P. Sengupta, M-C. Shanahan, & B. Kim
(Eds), Critical, transdisciplinary and embodied approaches in STEM education.
(pp. 307–328). Springer, Cham.
Queer Code Collective. (2020). Queer code. Retrieved from https://queercode.org/
Paré forthcoming/2021 19
Queering Computing and Computing Education
Ruberg, B., & Shaw, A. (Eds.). (2017). Queer game studies. University of
Minnesota Press.
Shaw, A. (2021). LGBTQ Video Game Archive. [Online Archive]. Retrieved
from https://lgbtqgamearchive.com/
Soon, W., & Cox, G. (2020). Aesthetic programming: A handbook of soft-
ware studies. Open Humanities Press. Retrieved from https://www.aesthetic-
programming.net/
Takeuchi, M.A., & Dadkhahfard, S. (2019). Rethinking bodies of learners
through STEM education. In P. Sengupta, M-C. Shanahan, & B. Kim (Eds),
Critical, transdisciplinary and embodied approaches in STEM education. (pp.
199–216). Springer, Cham.
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Conference Paper
FULL TEXT available @ https://bit.ly/3gaDfat Mementorium is a heartfelt story about identity and belonging told through a virtual reality (VR) branching narrative. Mementorium’s design builds upon our previous designs and research on queer reorientations to computing and queer approaches to embodied learning in VR. The design is accomplished through the branching narrative, which supports listening to marginalized experiences and emotional co-construction of the story, and through the interaction design, which encourages play and embodied learning and centers authentic practices of belonging and becoming. This paper introduces Mementorium’s narrative and interaction design and research that informed the design. Mementorium is an approximately 30-minute single-player, room-scale interactive VR experience intended for a general audience to learn about gender and sexuality-based marginalization in science and technology.
Article
Background We outline a case for how the Learning Sciences is at a powerful inflection point where the “real world” needs to be seen as comprised of the political entities and processes in which learning happens. We seek to sharpen the principle that learning is political by elucidating historical and contemporary processes of European and U.S. imperialism that remain foundational to our field and by developing the argument that theories of learning are theories of society. Methods Through a contrapuntal approach, which emphasizes a critical lens to analyze empire, we juxtapose notions of authentic practice in computing education with scholarship in sociology that brings the lives of tech industry immigrant workers to the fore. Findings Our analysis reveals how the social construction of disciplinary and professional expertise in computing is intricately interwoven with historically persistent patterns of the appropriation of the lives and labor of endarkened people through systems of transnational migration and institutional forms of racial segregation. Contribution A contrapuntal lens in the Learning Sciences prompts our field to embrace the necessary uncertainties and the theoretical and methodological possibilities that emerge when sites of learning and learning itself are recognized as political and as contestations of empire.
Article
Background Using a conceptualization of learning as the act of organizing possible futures, I examine prefigurative relationship-building processes. Youth organizing research has shown that relational and political development are outcomes of participation, but offers limited examples of how these developments co-occur in discourse. Methods I research alongside Chroma, an LGBTQ+-themed community-based youth group whose members offer training to teachers and others about working with LGBTQ+ youth. Drawing on critical ethnography and discourse analysis, I engage the question: What was the character of the social relations Chroma youth organized together as they worked to advance their educational advocacy projects? Findings I develop a notion of educational intimacy, which describes relationships that allow for inclusive and productive engagement in advocacy and learning while also mirroring desired future social configurations. I ground my development of educational intimacy in audio data from Chroma meetings, workdays, and trainings. Contribution I situate educational intimacy in queer theoretic perspectives and existing learning sciences research. I conclude with some open questions about educational intimacy and learning in collective action projects. Educational intimacy offers a way of talking about how relational and political developments co-occur as learning processes in social movement spaces.
Article
The author contributes new insights into everyday literacies in participatory cultures using a multimodal analysis of three LGBTQ+ reaction videos on YouTube. LGBTQ+ reaction videos respond, often comedically, to oppressive media forms and technologies. In the analysis, the author considers how reaction video makers draw on seven meaning‐making modes and multimodal techniques in digital composition to enact practices of critical media literacy, namely, to identify, interrogate, and disrupt dominant ideologies that undergird media forms and technologies. Through analytic video logging and multimodal analysis of video episodes, the author also examines the role of humor in enactments of these practices. The article forwards the conceptual framework of humor as political possibility made manifest in the range of ways that video makers construct slips of humor, compose multimodal parodies, and create satires that critique dominant ideologies and imagine new ways of being in the world. Examining literate activities in participatory cultures with a focus on LGBTQ+ identities has purchase to explicate possibilities to name, challenge, and transform dominant ideologies toward more just futures.
Conference Paper
Errors and biases are earning algorithms increasingly malignant reputations in society. A central challenge is that algorithms must bridge the gap between high-level policy and on-the-ground decisions, making inferences in novel situations where the policy or training data do not readily apply. In this paper, we draw on the theory of street-level bureaucracies, how human bureaucrats such as police and judges interpret policy to make on-the-ground decisions. We present by analogy a theory of street-level algorithms, the algorithms that bridge the gaps between policy and decisions about people in a socio-technical system. We argue that unlike street-level bureaucrats, who reflexively refine their decision criteria as they reason through a novel situation, street-level algorithms at best refine their criteria only after the decision is made. This loop-and-a-half delay results in illogical decisions when handling new or extenuating circumstances. This theory suggests designs for street-level algorithms that draw on historical design patterns for street-level bureaucracies, including mechanisms for self-policing and recourse in the case of error.