Digital Semiotics & Pandemic Intimacy II

or: What we do in “the Dark”

by Amari Grey

Cover art: “Untitled” by Amy Xiaoqian Chen

Setting: Empathy – the silent and sensual realizations of (Our) meaning

Characters:

  1. Skin – “protective but permeable” (Russell 148); accumulated in friction and flight
  2. Body – platform/architecture; code/container; susceptible to capture and re-interpretation
  3. Blur – the pussy part1

This is a reflection on my journeys in the digital current, and the exchange of visibility I’ve negotiated these past three years. These are stories of being lost, as a praxis and a process; of being lonely, and often alone; becoming visible and unseen. I take vulnerability as an offensive measure against the techno-capitalist present; empathy, as a possibility made real in the arms of, in arms with, loved ones. This is dedicated, and indebted to, the grace that I’ve received – those who have offered me life and commitment to our mutual care. I am grateful for my family, transflesh, and finding home, again and always.

I am journeying, now, with a faith and patience earned from slowness and frustration. I can rest on the page before you, changed, and changing. You and I are in the Current, and we have traveled through the Dark. We make each other possible.

All that you touch 

You change. 

All that you Change 

Changes you.

 The only lasting truth

Is Change.

God

Is Change. (Butler 13)

Scene 1: Before Dusk     March 2020


We begin towards the end of contemplation, in the moment of an awareness of things. Lessons have been sown, and the reaping will begin. These were the conclusions we reached: 

“In our compulsion to construe reality, to (be) perceive(d) we are subject to the failure of conversation, yet persists a need to reconcile the miscommunication of self, to create something.”

“A ‘post’ more than a ‘counterlanguage’, a refusal than a response, Black soul force(s), digital or otherwise, does not endeavor to approximate white grammars, but constantly flows around their confines.”

“..black twitter as a public/private sphere mediates blackness’ accessibility. Therefore, movement around blackness becomes the intrinsic premise for racialization of everyone…Black Twitter effectively is Twitter, and vice versa. Again, We are the foundation, and Y’all are weird.” 

(Amari Grey, “AG” herein)


Today, I am the last of us to leave. I am the one to graze the floors, to take the trash, and sweep our remnants here. Pink donation bags – mostly mine, sweat and tears – all of ours, and the panel of ceiling we can’t fix. 

I’ve been alone in this room before, on heavy days or winter breaks. (Whenever home wasn’t homing.) But I am left today without our promise to each other. 

I pack the same bags, though they feel more burdensome now, and I wait, until They tell me I can stay. They moved me to E***t, which we’ve known for its roaches and the oversized rats, and I take this room for two. They say we’ll have “class” soon, so I paint a schedule on the walls and pretend to know what’s coming. It’s these first few weeks that we perform being capable, and I put on my jeans to impress the audience. 

How quickly we give it up! In these old ass dorms, the connection is faulty, and the requirements of our meeting are taxing, even to the machine. Overloaded, our status here seems too strained, too unwieldy, to process. I might ease the weight for both of us and turn off the camera. 

Covering me, a purple haze and a lover’s sweater; I look through the windows and catch no one’s eye. Over my body, I still feel Their watch. In this policed state2, laid bare by isolation, the courtyard of river west resembles the panopticon. 

I, and many others, shift our touches to the timeline and our breath into refresh and scroll. In skin crawls and goosebumps, we confess our attempt at relation.

I’ve logged off when I leave my room, to conspire with the water. In its warp and weft, I remember ourselves tangled in this universe, burning away place until here was the only one.

Now, I am the only one, here. The trees watch me cry again, and at the setting of the sun, I encounter the fear of absence.

Based on data from The Washington Post and Mapping Police Violence, police killed “at least one Black person every week” from January 1st through August 31st (Cohen). In the eve of the pandemic, we found ourselves witnessing not only the crest of black death’s wave but, through the channels of digital discourse, a viral circulation of our bodies.

When George Floyd was murdered by police in 2020, his 9-minute death video was viewed over 1.4 billion times online. Likewise, the live stream of Philando Castile being shot by police accumulated over 2.4 million views in just 24 hours. After Sandra Bland was found dead following a minor traffic violation, bodycam footage of her horrific police encounter garnered hundreds of thousands of views in a few short days” (Tanskley).

Incentivized by the “cost per click” and a lucrative garnering of views (Tanksley), the transmission of black death becomes as much a social spectacle as its own cryptocurrency. This sustained fact of murder, disseminated and reemphasized in digital circulation, establishes violence inescapable for us as black users, whether in the light of the physical or the Dark of cyberspace. Moreover, as the objects of surveillance and trauma, the systems of redress available to digital settlers (wypipo) were, and are, restricted from black users. 

Tiera Tanksley, in her study of digital traumas experienced by young black girls, locates an algorithmic bias wherein our “reports [are] systematically denied or ignored” and our defenses to abuse are “flagged as ‘hate speech’ and ‘inciting violence.’” In a virtual economy of our death, the “only remaining method of protecting [oneself] was to simply ‘avoid social media for a while’” (Tanksley). With the pressure of global entropy compelling my flight, I hesitated to resort to consciousness offline, and quarantined in my room, this ultimatum became the premise for my virtual dissociation – a reminder of “how technologies replicate the racial logics that produce, fetishize, and profit from Black death and dying” (Tanksley). 

It was in the wake of these conditions that I wrote “Digital Semiotics & Pandemic Intimacy”  or What being (black) on Twitter has revealed to me. Now, the setting relocates from the liminalities of interaction to the fullness of interiority; I remove the quotation marks from the page and bring you a transcript – of data, journals, and memory. 

This co-constructed reality, this conversation, is a narrowing of reach from sufferers of the human condition to my sisters in transition. Both we (users gathered here), and We [black trans(itioning) folks], are assembled under the global present: a chaotic undulation of pandemic states and precarity of the collective future. As people in a changing body, and bodies in a changing world, the act of transition, and lessons therein, encompass linkages between the uncertainties of Our flesh and our place in the world. 

What knowledge might a body hold for our transition? What can we all learn from Our ever-changing form?

From the experience of my medical transition – through many false starts and misconceptions – I consider how We adapt to becoming change, and how we may garner peace within an opaque present.

In the “hybrid” gaze with which we’ve coined this moment, we pass from the isolation of quarantine into a state of in-between. When allowed by regulations, we convene “AFK” (away from keyboard)3, and our bodies are engaged by the physical eye; when we return to a social distance, we recede back into the singularity. The image of ourselves in the gaze of others remains as a static notion of our presence, but we lose the ability to watch our bodies move. Previously being the only observers to ourselves in isolation, we instead become the only one to see our selves change

The contrast created between an alternating gaze and the reality of Our transition generates both an awareness of this disconnection and apprehension towards our transmission. I use transmission to describe both the capture of our bodies by the gaze and the movement from our physical selves into the skin of the virtual profile. At this juncture, the body is the battery for transmission, and from this resonance of bodily chaos, we can recognize our selves, and the machine, as containers of energy. In the restlessness of removal from the physical exchange, this kinetics generates entropy, and despite our attempts to be still, this energy oozes from the site of our flesh. When we listen, we approach awareness of our own permeability.

These awakenings to our bodies manifest in my flight to the digital. By grounding digital world-building in the suppression of bodily instability, we discover a viral ecology premised on transition and terrified by it. As black trans users, the entropy enacted on Our flesh is synthesized with the anxiety of the zeitgeist and will reveal itself to me, in my dissociation from fears still unspoken into the digital double.

Scene 2: At the fear of Absence  


Running it back…

Responding to the status of the black and the individual, at the onset of the pandemic, the first installment of this series bridged semiotics and digital studies towards a liminal perspective on our Twitter(s) and timelines. Now, we veer from our conversational reality into an a (re)interpretation of gaps and silences. Having located in Twitter’s architecture both the facts and fear of “slippage”, gaze, and “potential energy”, we bring the hyperintensity of our interactions into an updated temporal context.

Rather than the isolation of quarantine, our social relationships alternate between virtual and physical, in a shifting pandemic and political landscape. The sites of our meeting, alternately emphasized, give way to a hybridity whose movement to, and from, the gaze carries us in and out of a mutual reality. Recalling our discussion of potential, we recognized the intensified stakes of interaction in our status of isolation – “both the speech act and act of speaking” – and we named “the death of the social” as a precondition for our digital flight (AG). Accordingly, we retrace the genealogy of this potential through “the spaces of transformation intersticed in black socialities” (AG) – a fungibility erected around the black, and eroticized and pathologized by those whose stability it maintains.

This project redresses fears of instability (yours, mine, and Ours), and wonders how the questions of time and relation, surfaced by our (r)evolving current, are ever-present riptides for the black non-subject. Here, we reconsider that the warpings of time and multiplicities of space, enacted for others in the hybrid present, “always already [exist] in the territory of blackness, whether it knows it or not” (Dean), and if we signify the black as the modal logic of space, then matter and energy are the form and force which “extends and limits the human condition” (AG).

Thus, the matter and energy of digital space retranslate their subjectivity (the digital settler) and Our negation, and extract and transform a black potential. Put differently, the conditions of possibility which confer both an attraction and disquiet in virtual embodiment are recapitulations of “the range of trans*formations enacted on and by Black bodies…” (Sharpe 50). Christina Sharpe formulates these logics of transition and relation in terms of the Trans*Atlantic, and following Sharpe, I reimagine the digital platform and exchange as blurred landscape and torrid flow. The push and pull of our virtual relation – our negotiations of reality – occur in the gravity of the black, reverberating with its anxieties, and exposing its current in the Wake. 

Terms of engagement: 

So, we determine black potential as a particular type of possibility that the presence, fact, or threat of the black brings to the digital. In the absence of black users, this possibility remains and regenerates across the algorithm and platform and is recognized and revered in the logics of surveillance. The gaze mediated in our (hyper)visibility centralizes the black, and black users, not as representation but an originary locale. From this dark gravity the virtual is extracted, and cyber-space and black space are coterminous.

The economy of viral blackness illuminates the logic of digital construction in the register of the libidinal – “the affective tensions undergirding modernity and Western technoculture” (Brock 10). With the black as a gravitational sense, these “affective tensions” are mediations of black potential which “can be understood as the combustion powering the engine – a visceral, powerful, and necessary component in any figuration. It is infrastructure, invisible to our perceptions…until a rupture occurs” (10).

In our contemporary moment, our rupture occurred in March 2020. Previously on DS&PI, the social landscape of isolation made visible the disquiet in our stillness that we may have otherwise continued to overlook. If these anxieties have generated an increasingly perceptible tension, then this rupture holds a familiar resonance for those whose flesh is malleable and morphing. 

Our engagement with Sharpe introduces the conditions to attend to the “a range of embodied experiences called gender” (50) in the space of transformation opened by rupture. For black trans users, a landscape of instability and awareness of gaze are quotidian events; as bodies-of-change, the suspension of time in quarantine, and recent currents of transition, are facts of Our flesh.

The construct of the gender binary is, and has always been, precarious. Aggressively contingent, it is an immaterial invention the in its toxic virality has infected our social and culture narratives” (Russell 6).

We [the black trans user] are most often walking with the precarity of our selfness, and now we find the world in our shoes. 

Where are we going? 

The conditions of imitation, appropriation, and violence endured by black users in black space is understood by Legacy Russell, author of Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto, as “viral blackness” (Russell). The experience of viral blackness, in hypervisibility and overexposure, can transform how black user’s process their trauma, especially that accumulated in the pandemic landscape; overwhelmed by precarity in both the digital and the physical, We may fall into dissociation. As We dissociate from both our bodies and the profile, we synthesize the “real, virtual, and projective” (Lewis Ellison) selves and introduce the format of the “digital double” – an intensified symbiosis with our virtual embodiments.

Black space radiates in and out of the presence of black potential, and as a digital architecture is extracted from black space, black space both grounds and exceeds the sites coded in the digital. These sites are containers for our bodily transmission, and in the transfer of our doubles, the gaze is weaponized to regulate black potential and encircle our form.

“The idea of ‘body’ carries this weapon: gender circumscribes the body, ‘protects’ it from becoming limitless, from claiming the infinite vast, from realizing its true potential” (Russell 8).

Gender represents an integral strategy for restriction of black potential with the flesh as a site for the capture of Our entropic force. This universal logic then organizes the gravity of digital presence, and the body of the digital double creates a local point in black space. For the black trans user, in the intensity of hypervisibility, the site of Our transition accelerates towards a hyperlocale wherein the double escalates from an autobiographical profile to an autobiological presence: a self-defining and defined “ghost in the machine” whose codified flesh may house Our spiritual potential. 

“When the body is determined as a male or female individual, the body performs gender as its score, guided by a set of rules and requirements that validate and verify the humanity of that individual. A body that pushes back at the application of pronouns or remains indecipherable within binary assignment, is a body that refuses to perform the score” (Russel 8).

The ability to assign a categorial container to the threat of the non-subject (Us) sustains the function and equilibrium of identification technologies. The logic of gender proffers Our bodies as data, content, and matter for the digital landscape and its overseers. For this reason, Our transmission across the current, through the container of the double, can parallel a transition between and through forms of flesh – the autobiological entrapments for the black. The kinetics of this transition may re-emphasize dysphoria for Us whose bodily transition occurs concurrently.

Between the transmission from flesh and occupation of the digital body, the double is printed and produced for commodification and/or consumption. As the gravity of space and hyperlocale of legibility, black transflesh is distributed, received, kept, and archived – dissociated from its source and extracted from Our potential. We are both hidden and hyper-located, consumed but unseen. “There, a Black queer femme body is flattened, essentialized as singular in dimension, given little room to occupy and even less territory to explore” (Russell 21).

At the site of this flattening, despite the potential of its user, Our digital double is reconstrued as a “poor image” (Steyerl). Across an unstable pandemic landscape, this poor image not only describes an abstraction of Our energy by the platformed gaze but represents an interior fixation on Our own viral matter. Moving in and out of space, to and from the gaze, hybrid existence particularly impacts the transitioning black non-subject whose status is  always in flux. Where to me, in isolation, my flesh is amorphous and illegible – an accumulation of kinetic flux – I am nevertheless read and re-stabilized when the gaze returns. 

The poor image is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard…The poor image has been uploaded, downloaded, shared, reformatted, and reedited. (Steyerl)

In a zeitgeist of uncertainty, a hyperfocus on the stable, and dread for illegibility, is echoed in the accelerating status of the world. I stepped into my transition under these conditions: dissociation from my flesh and compulsion towards the double. Amplifying, rather than curing my anxieties, the reality of a chemically changing form sharpened a sense of capture as my body took up change as its resting state. The distinction between myself and the static, circulated, poor image becomes stark.

User @Ranting_Trans proposes a summation of this in the machinic lens:

January 2, 2023. 2:59 AM:

If transitioning is new game plus, then fixing all the mental health problems you developed while growing up as ‘the wrong gender’ haa got to be the secret nightmare boss fight you unlock after beating the game twice. (quotations mine)

In video game modes, “new game plus”4 (or NG+) is a mode of gameplay typically unlocked after an initial completion of the plot; often a “replay” or “challenge” mode, the opportunity for new play redresses the landscape of the game to access features and spaces unavailable to the unexperienced. The transitioning body similarly reassigns its landscape and brings the consciousness of Our gameplay into the frame. Contextualizing the flesh’s journey through time, We play with the code of gender to unveil contours in the platform. Nevertheless, alongside these unlocked features, equipment, or truths remain the evils and opponents of our first playthrough. 

In a reply to the former tweet, user @The0nlyBiscuit furthered this technology of transition with the economy of gaze exacted around the coded non-subject.

January 2, 2023. 3:09 AM:

transitioning would be more like developing a game. You don’t realize anything is wrong but as soon as you checked the code, you realized there was a huge glitch at the very start that was the main cause of a lot of other glitches. 1/2

you have to spend a lot of time patching up these glitches while also releasing updates of the game to your ‘fans.’ Some fans may have abused some of these glitches and no longer enjoy your game because of it, but that is the sacrifice of developing your game. 2/2 (quotations mine)

I’ve sought transitioning as a means to quell my discomfort with a form incongruent to my spirit. Faced with the breaks in my code, I realized that I approached this act, as the plot’s final destination, rather than its development – the “patch” and not the “patching.” 

Where “bodies traveling through the glitch fail joyfully” (Russell 116), evading digital surveillance and identification, the dissociated self is not capable of escaping perception, despite its delusion. The user instead flees into the double to avoid awareness of the flesh. I found that as a black trans non-subject, the distance I desired from myself, and enacted virtually, was antithetical to my consent to transition; as a witness to the global unstable and a body in change, my own concern for the gaze fostered a pathological relationship to both the double and the notions of glitch. 

Medical and social transition can provide an insurgent avenue for imagining new forms of spirit and soul force, which the façade of the digital intends. The act of imagining, however, “is not merely looking or looking at; nor is it taking oneself intact into the other. It is, for the purposes of the work, becoming” (Morrison 4). The project of becoming is necessarily rooted in communal presence for those subjected to corporal and data trauma, the “manifestations of harm that emerge in the digital realm” (Githere).

On the mathematical level, the black space of the digital is graphed into what Wells Lucas Santo coins “algorithmic neighborhoods” – “neighborhoods of people rendered as a data points” to service surveillance and discrimination. As gender enacts locality in the space, the black trans user is structured to data, yet the data set is corrupted in acceleration at the hyperlocale of Our transitioning flesh. More intensely, when we gather in digital space, and Our data points converge, We witness a mutual slippage through gender and reclamation of the neighborhood.

With physical movement often restricted, female-identifying people, queer people, Black people invent ways to create space through rupture

Here, in that disruption, with our collective congregation at that trippy and trip-wired crossroad of gender, race, and sexuality, one finds the power of the glitch. (Russell 7, italics mine)

To thrive in transition, “becoming” now means for me an embrace of this possibility and Our mutual journey through the perils of rupture. This “crossroad” is energetic and electrified, a minefield of Our own network that glitches the flesh and permeates the skin of the platform.

At this point, we’ve assumed the black as a tension between the digital double and AFK selves, as logic of human relation, and a precondition of digital accumulation and exchange. We’ve explored where the distinctions of “real, virtual, and projective” fluctuate in isolation, and when/where the “safe” transmission between the self and the digital double is a projection afforded to digital settlers. For the black, the digital current rebounds internally, reflecting and revealing black potential both to Ourselves and others. The intensity of our digital presence rests on an implicit apprehension towards algorithmic failure; though sensitive to the pressures of digital embodiment, we likewise may fear rejection from the platform, and a forced confrontation with our bodies. 

We both refuse to ask, and are always asking, “what will I do if the tweets stop loading?” When the virtual “lights” go out? What do we do in the Dark?

Scene 3: Through the Closing of Eyes   January 2021 


At the turn of the year, I find myself in Harlem. I live with Shavonna, on streets my father once shared. G-ma’s calls feel almost further away, but my mother reminds me that I am often, and always, home. With others, I am scared and static. To myself – distant and seldom. 

I enter the classroom through the screen and type the password to Time Out of Mind. For a few hours, we are spatial conspirators and consensual witnesses to the other’s locale. Though conjuring our space, we are also fatigued of this perception. We might pause our connection, venture to the outside, and remember under the same sky. 

I enter the park from the East. I sit towards the pond, and Tomashi breathes into the pages of our novel, Parable of the Sower. She will task us to define Change, but first to observe. We journey with our Lauren through displacement, transition, empathy, and survival. She journeys with us. Soon, it is my turn to read, 

We are Earthseed

The life that perceives itself

Changing. (Butler 135)

I haven’t been lonely since we’ve sat together, and I find faith with the many who in these corners surface. At the bank of the water lies the world that we gather, and we perceive ourselves changing. We keep more than one promise to each other: to be land and wave. To be together. And we plant the machine in the grass. With the location of my sight in the frame of our rupture, I can feel the time that has led from our loss. What has pushed me so far away from home, and blessed me with an old one. 

I walk often then under the moon. I find the dock, to paint and write myself into the ground. I search for traces in the torrent of stars, and I feel full of time – like time can feel full. I might imagine these stars, their image, as an accumulation of time and speed; in my sight, a transmission of their distant energy, placed for me across the lightyears. I feel comfort in this eye contact with the universe, and alone together our silence swells.

I am grateful in this time, for these offerings that bring me calm, if not stillness. For community in confronting the fear of the world together, and rendering our mutual instability. For the summoning of light in the negative of the Zoom, and reminders of the touch and love I deserve. 

Essential to the tool of glitch, as “socio-cultural malware” (Russell 116), is a willingness to embody change, as Octavia Butler writes, “to take root among the stars” (87). Becoming change is not only to inhabit the transitioning form but to be one with its ever-changing pace, the shifting accelerations of Our chemical processes. For Russell, “This is bodywork” – to become the blur.

April 23, 2021 – “we transitioning?”

Summer returns, and it’s the euphoria of the sun that convinces me I’m ready. But what I’ve experienced as a through-way I fixate as a destination. At the time of this decision, I’ve found a place to move, and I have an image of myself that I feel ready to capture. Soon, Jesús will leave to endure another year, and once again, I will be with myself. There is a whisper surfacing to have something other than me, a reason or compulsion for being What I Am. So, on the eve of our parting, I am decisive and determined. 

August 4, 2021 – “2 weeks on mones and my nipples are perky. maybe not all people are bad.”

Under a new light, I am alone again. Paranoid, by the possibility of disruption. More than the fact of depression, I am worried of a return to a past-felt self. I fear the dependence of my comfort on the presence of Another, and I am losing, softly, a trust in my body. At the onset of the storm, a loved one visits. I am confronted with how different we are, with every where that we’ve traveled, and yet, we release a long-held breath. We remember the banks of the river, and for these two weeks, who I was and who I am encounter each other. This is the last time I will see them, and I feel we both know.

Their leaving feels like the slippage of time, a final departure of a former moment and the cracking of spoiled chrysalis. It’s the experience of closure that ultimately breaks me, and in riptides through my body, loss echoes. I sit in this apartment in the wake of their absence, resounding in quiet, and still, I am unsettled by the feeling of presence. I sense myself watched and surrounded. I close my eyes to the rhythms around me and am faced with an ambient pulse. It is the softness of this glow that captures my restlessness, and in the tense density, my spirits question me. 

What is transition for a body that’s been hurt? For what experiences have I blamed myself? How far must I go to get to me?

Through the closing of eyes, I allow myself to still, and witness a murmuring deep and through the blood. These are the fears that I accumulate, brought close to me by the burden of our intimacy. Now, when there is no one, and no where, else, I head into the Dark.

Scene 4: Into the Dark           November 2021


November 8, 2022. 1:11 AM. Tweet. Grey, Amari (@greys_place, “frank ocean’s tooth gap”):

“i’m afraid of the way I experience and understand love changing bc it’s an unknown type of pain and also euphoria  that will reveal things I don’t know about myself and change me in ways i probably can’t imagine

so i think ultimately i’m afraid of becoming something i can’t imagine which is also inevitable so like the fear is silly” [lol]


In the months after, I paint the room with each turbid, transient emotion. Red, in September, for the swelling of anger. October – the cabinets – ceruleans and sky. November comes, and slowly I wade into mourning. I choose green for the living room, which we will finish together. 

My use of “the Dark” recalls both Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark and Simone Browne’s Dark Matters. Morrison takes the dark as a (black) shadow over rhetorical presence, while Browne configures blackness as a precondition for the “universe of modernity” – “the invisibilized infrastructure through which legibility is negotiated” (AG). I deepen these significations of the Dark as the sense of peril and surroundings of opacity conjured around Our current, whose affect reverbs through the transitioning flesh. 

Russell regards this sense of peril as a viral misgiving towards Our potential: “Within technoculture, a glitch is part of machinic anxiety, an indicator of something having gone wrong” (7). As the horcrux of the machine, the non-subject may absorb the spectre of algorithmic failure; an “indicator of something having gone wrong” becomes an internalized reminder of an inability to be right. There, in the movement of anxieties swirling in the Dark, arises the opportunity for a corporal fear, and an unfortunate pathology of glitch’s power. 

Thrusted into the Dark by the shockwave of loss, I collided with the unresolved matters obscured by dissociation. In the torque of my transition, I had aimed towards an ultra-defined, hyperlocale – a “woman” to obtain and perform in the eyes of others. This is not who or What I Am, and when I push myself into a “passable”5 womanhood, I make evident to myself an incongruence and insufficiency – becoming vulnerable to manipulation of this toxic compulsion. 

For survivors of digital semiotics and pandemic intimacy, artist and guerilla theorist Neema Githere offers a praxis of “data healing.” “As an experimental practice that sought to draw links between technology, nature, and spirituality” (Githere), data healing reinterprets the archive of the flesh to address its captures and permutations. To deal with data trauma, We attend to the quiet of the Dark and register meaning beyond content and code. Data healing redresses Our “relationships to connectivity, and facilitate[es] ancient data retrieval” (Githere) to acknowledge not only “what, is (and isn’t) the technological artifact…[but] the assemblage of the artifact and its practices” (9). Perhaps most importantly, in Our spiritual practice, we reckon with “the technocultural beliefs about [Our] artifact as evinced by its users” (Brock 8) – the perceptions of my double that you and I both hold.

Through data healing, We reassess the profile as an accumulation of selves: an archive available to exploitation and analysis (both yours and Ours), and a container for Our inevitable overflow. Rather than an identificatory duplicate, I understand my double as an artifact accumulated in the wake of my transition – a timeline of change and gaze flowing from my turbulence and excess. In the silence of meditation, I bear witness to its assemblage, and I might rest into the fact of my own messy potential. All of us,  in this global moment, might learn to pause in our uneasiness, to see ourselves accumulating, and embrace the opacity of change. We might not lose every fear, but perhaps we can embrace them.

If I am only, ever free to myself, that will be enough. I can be joyfully illegible and a malware to the machine by rendering this body “working against the design of the world” (Russell 136). Now, when I access the screen and boot up the double, the frequency of my intention has lowered. 

In Listening to Images, Campt detects the “quiet” as a “deeper understanding of the sonic frequencies of the quotidian practices of black communities” (4). The quiet represents “a sublimely expressive unsayability that exceeds both words, as well as what we associate with sound and utterance” (4, italics mine). This register attends to meaning in overflow of the code that refuses seizure by the platform.

Essentially, though a public profile, I may embed meaning into the code of my image to be perceptible by the girls that get it6. With a “fuck you” to legibility, We refuse contortion towards the gaze and arrive at a mutual nonperformance; “this nonperformance is a glitch” (Russell 8) By modulating the frequency of transmission, We exploit our “unsayability” to render Our content empty and leave the double – the poor image – as a hoax for capture. 

Through the quiet, I attend to the slippage of my own image in its transmission across black space. Moving beyond the semiotic reproduction of the autobiological, we can conceive of this frequency as a livewire in the platform. We recognize a deeper affective/interpretive register in the exchange of the double, but what of Our flight from capture? 

If We emanate a frequency from the locale of Our doubles, then in the register of the imperceptible, Our livewires intersect. Put differently, by leaving the double vulnerable to seizure and fleeing through the quiet, We assemble a fugitive network. The gathering of black transflesh in the Dark escapes the detection mobilized by the platform’s algorithmic neighborhoods and “repopulat[es] the algorithm” (Bengal) with Our discarded imposters. Necessarily “as [the double] accelerates, it deteriorates” (Steyerl).

Having subsumed into the network, We locate a comfortable togetherness for black trans users wherein We afford ourselves an unquestioned affirmation. We congeal the hyperlocales of Our flesh and witness the blurring of skin – a consensual vulnerability to slippage through gender. In a blurred existence, Russell finds that “we become no-body, and in the gorgeous crush of no-body, we become every-body” (116). Leaving quiet at the level of the double, I suggest silence as the mouthfeel of this slippage. In silence, I refer to the implicit fact of blackness in a black trans “unsayability”, and I specify blackness to distinguish from the fact of the black in the double’s cyberspace.

The silent in this blackness then refers to the trust and embrace of Our selves, in confrontation with Our potential. Where the quiet enacts a fissure in my bodily identification, I sense the silent not on the surface of the flesh, but permeating through its layers.  

It’s in my redirection from the double to the network, through quiet into silence, that I’ve consented to transition again.

November 28, 2021 – “I might be happy here in /as my body”

By blurring the architecture of gender and “deploying the Internet as a creative material” (Russell 9), the gathering of trans non-bodies in the digital “aims to make abstract again that which has been forced into an uncomfortable and ill-defined material” (8). This is a confrontation with landscape and its logic as much as a reclamation of Our territory from the digital settler. Russell puts forth the demand of glitch for “an occupation of the digital as a means of world-building” (12). But, where Black Twitter may be “an exercise in world-building as language-making” (AG), a black trans underground silently mobilizes this potential towards a world-breaking rupture…a bodily dissolution, at the core of our desires.

Through exploiting digital modality and media (Crystal), We move from a conversion and occupation of matter to a secession of our black space. In subsuming Our individual hyperlocales, the material we gather accelerates in the intensity of gravity, and in this blurred territory, we manifest Our own black hole. 

In the confines of the Dark, We conjure mist over the collisions of Our flesh and hide the fissure We create. Like Lauren, We “Shape God” (Butler 133). Burning into the platform, We can be always, and already, undetermined and porous. 

Conclusion // things I’m thinking about

To glitch is to embrace malfunction, and to embrace malfunction is in and of itself an expression that starts with ‘no’” (Russel 17).

February 11, 2023. 12:37 AM. Tweet. (@blizzy_mcguire, “BLIZZY):

as a trans person i have set so many deadlines for myself; my hair should b this long by X age, my boobs should b this big by X months, i want to look like this in X years — i do not want to set myself up for disappointment/externalize my self esteem anymore!

January 2, 2023: ‘Consistency – the result of discipline + passion. 

Passion – love, freedom, and the wisdom to know the difference’

I am my best, and most honest, when I refuse to be articulated. This is made possible in the camaraderie of transness, the silence of blackness. I am ill-equipped to occupy space settled by the white cis-hetero, and I will not be doing so much longer. There is nothing of myself that I am required to explain, and I do not care for the demands of the subject.

When We [the black trans user] leave the sites of Our exploitation – when We protect Our selves/bodies – We suffer the rage of those no longer able to access Our potential. We become the malware in their fragile stability. We force others to confront their own energy, and they redirect its shocking unto Us. 

In the marrows of code, I have often absorbed this feeling, and it enacts a tension in my transmission. I’ve carried the guilt of others projected onto me, and the weight of becoming might threaten to break. I must choose to allow myself to leave others behind. I must forgive myself for growing.

Surrounded by these walls, I am revealed in the saturation. Loss, fear, intensity coloring the life that I’ve managed to build. I see All that I am, amongst all that I’ve survived. I had paused my transition, to return to the feeling of presence, and here, I wait silently. 

Eyes open, I reread and recover the strokes of each intention. I admire their width and succession. Although I have fallen and fled often since our rupture, I have felt so much, so boldly. It is a gift to bear witness, and my endeavor to share. 

The ghosts in the ground surface to these sounds, and I speak until I’ve felt them before. These are the ancestors I had called on, the Earthseeds I have planted. I remember the forces that have led me far from the fear of Absence, and I arrive at the absence of fear.

I had walked, so slowly, until I found where I was. It was the pacing of lungs that would guide me. I hadn’t felt held, so gently, since our parting of ways. Now hope comes before me, awake and awakening.

Like the swirling of sea foam, Our bodies churn into the virtual current. Softly and swiftly, We may touch each other. More often, We cohere. I admit to the fear of drowning, and I depart from the eye(s) of the storm. As We sink beneath the surface, We subsume within the phosphorescence and (be)come into a heart-felt elsewhere. I must promise myself to always feel this abundant.

This is a viral diffusion. These are truths that I have earned. This is what we do in the Dark.

tl/dr:

(This yt lady chewed a lil.)

Footnotes

1 According to “Know Your Meme”, a site documenting viral phenomena and Internet cultures, “the pussy  part of X” refers to the best, and often essential, aspect of (a) matter. Appearing on Twitter circa 2018 from  user “@eeb___”, the phrase tends to occur within situations we savor.

2 Harvard University regularly traumatizes Their black students and invests in our systems of oppression. In  April 2023, four black students were accosted in their room and held at gunpoint by campus police, in the  dorm that I used to inhabit. We manifest Their abolition.

3 “AFK”, meaning away from keys/keyboard, dates to 1989 and became popularized in use within  multiplayer gaming and chatrooms. AFK differs from the now more common “IRL” (in real life) by  highlighting the proximities of our virtual and physical interactions. AFK acknowledges a movement to and from the mechanisms of the digital, and here, serves as a reminder of a hybrid zeitgeist.

4 As a term NG+ was coined in the 1995 role-playing video game Chrono Trigger, but the unlockable mode  could be found in earlier RPGs such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.

5 In reference to gender performance, “passing” refers to the successful registry of a person’s gender  presentation in the gaze of others. For black folks in general, the politics of passing are mediated by  racialization and permutations of patriarchy. 

6 “The girls that get it, get” refers to a sound on TikTok created by Black TikToker Mikhaela Jennings, aka  “khaenotbae.” The phrase has been circulated and appropriated from its context by non-black brands and  users which speaks to her implication.

Amari Grey (she/they) is a writer, avatar, and artist from Baltimore, Maryland. Her visual and written work considers generational memory, black intimacies, and technoculture and has been recognized in national and international symposia. Grey has published experimental essays with Studio Magazine and Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism and was recently awarded grants from the Just Inquiry Initiative and Open Gate Foundation for forthcoming audiovisual projects. (You can find her on Instagram @amarixgrey or on Twitter if you must.) 

References:

Bengal, Rebecca. “How Garrett Bradley’s Films Reset Our Personal Algorithms.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 1 Oct. 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/garrett-bradley-interview-time-movie-11601486269. 

Brock, André. Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures. New York University Press, 2020. 

Browne, Simone. Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Duke University Press, 2015. 

Butler, Octavia E.. Parable of the Sower. Seven Stories Press, 2016. 

Campt, Tina M. Listening to Images. Duke University Press, 2017. 

Cohen, Li. “Police in the U.S. Killed 164 Black People in the First 8 Months of 2020. These Are Their Names. (Part I: January-April).” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 10 Sept. 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/black-people-killed-by-police-in-the-u-s-in-2020/. 

Dean, Aria. “Notes on Blacceleration.” e-Flux Journal, no. 87, e-Flux, Dec. 2017, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/87/169402/notes-on-blacceleration/. 

Doan-Nguyen, Ryan H, et al. “Four Harvard Students Held at Gunpoint by Campus Police in ‘Swatting’ Attack: News: The Harvard Crimson.” The Harvard Crimson, 4 Apr. 2023, https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2023/4/4/lev-swatting-attack/. 

Githere, Neema. “The Data Healing Recovery Clinic.” Feminist Tech Policy, https://superrr.net/feministtech/vision/2-the-data-healing-recovery-clinic/. 

Grey, Amari. “Digital Semiotics & Pandemic Intimacy.” Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism, no. 18, 11 June 2021, pp. 18–23. 

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc, 2019. 

“New Game Plus.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Oct. 2005, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Game_Plus. 

“The Pussy Part.” Edited by Owen, Know Your Meme, Know Your Meme, 28 Dec. 2021, https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/the-pussy-part. 

Russell, Legacy. Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto. Verso, 2020. 

Santo, Wells Lucas. “Algorithmic Neighborhoods: The Mapping of Space and/as Algorithmic Redlining.” Medium, Medium, 5 Jan. 2023, https://ephemera.medium.com/algorithmic-neighborhoods-91a1ead887e2. 

Sharpe, Christina. “The Ship.” In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2016. 

Singh, Katherine. “Khaenotbae Knows She’s Your Fave Tiktok Star.” KhaeNotBae: TikTok Creator Behind Your Favorite Sounds, 7 Mar. 2022, https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2022/03/10891423/khaenotbae-tiktok-the-girls-that-get-it. 

Stewart, Carlyle Fielding. Black Spirituality and Black Consciousness: Soul Force, Culture, and Freedom in the African-American Experience. Africa World Press, 1999. 

Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image.” e-Flux Journal, no. 10, e-Flux, Nov. 2009, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/10/61362/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/. 

Tanksley, Tiera. “When Black Death Goes Viral: How Algorithms of Oppression (Re)Produce Racism and Racial Trauma.” SAGE Perspectives Blog, SAGE , 4 Jan. 2023, https://perspectivesblog.sagepub.com/blog/research/when-black-death-goes-viral-how-algorithms-of-oppression-reproduce-racism-and-racial-trauma. 

Tweets Referenced:

Jasmine(‘s boobs hurt) [@Ranting_Trans]. “If transitioning is new game plus, then fixing all the mental health problems you developed while growing up as the wrong gender haa got to be the secret nightmare boss fight you unlock after beating the game twice.” Twitter, 2 January 2023, twitter.com/Ranting_Trans/status/1609821751227342848?s=20 

Biscuit [@The0nlyBiscuit]. “transitioning would be more like developing a game. You don’t realize anything is wrong but as soon as you checked the code, you realized there was a huge glitch at the very start that was the main cause of a lot of other glitches.” Twitter, 2 January 2023, twitter.com/The0nlyBiscuit/status/1609824065530871808?s=20

Biscuit [@The0nlyBiscuit]. “you have to spend a lot of time patching up these glitches while also releasing updates of the game to your ‘fans.’ Some fans may have abused some of these glitches and no longer enjoy your game because of it, but that is the sacrifice of developing your game.” Twitter, 2 January 2023, twitter.com/The0nlyBiscuit/status/1609824065530871808?s=20

BLIZZY [@blizzy_mcguire]. “as a trans person i have set so many deadlines for myself; my hair should b this long by X age, my boobs should b this big by X months, i want to look like this in X years — i do not want to set myself up for disappointment/externalize my self esteem anymore!” Twitter, 11 February 2023, twitter.com/blizzy_mcguire/status/1624281371161026562?s=20