This week in my grad seminar, we discussed new materialism, technology, and embodiment via Elvia Wilk’s Cluster Mag article on “How the feminist internet utopia failed, and we ended up with speculative realism,” and Julian Gill-Peterson’s blog post “We Are Not Cyborg Subjects, We Are Artisans.” Wilk’s article is about, in part, the way that posthumanism, as a concept and an area of academic study, shifted from 90s cyberfeminism to postmillennial new materialism/speculative realism. It’s also a feminist analysis of the expectation that our online selves accurately and truthfully represent our “real” fleshy bodies (as are manifest, for example, in the nymwars). Peterson’s post is about transgender embodiment; it uses a new materialist framework to argue that technology is not something mixed in with an already self-sufficient body (e.g., a cyborg), but a co-requisite of embodiment from the beginning. As Peterson argues, “all bodies are formed through technogenesis and the active participation of the body’s materiality in its continual becoming, its continual modification.” Things like games, toys, interaction with caregivers–all these things draw out and shape its bodies potentialities into a typically “human” body, one that, for example, knows how to use its opposable thumb, and has hand-eye coordination. Peterson’s point is that trans* embodiment isn’t more or less technologically mediated/assisted than regular embodiment–it’s just different technologies with a vastly different politics. The world has been materially, technologically, socially, epistemically, and politically organized to make bodies cis-gendered, so trans* embodiment requires working against the grain or bending the circuits of normative technogenesis.

One of these normative circuits is the demand for what Wilk calls the “1:1 self-to-body ratio.” [1]  As we discussed it in class, the “1:1 self-to-body ratio” is the idea that the identity you claim, your “self,” must legibly correspond to the identity others perceive on or attribute to your body. If I say I’m a woman, then my body must be visible or legible to others as, if not fully cis-female, then feminine enough not to raise suspicion that I may be misrepresenting myself. This 1:1 self-to-body ratio is one of the norms that makes so-called “catfishing” a problem. It is generally considered deceptive, if not fraudulent, to present your “self” (the person people interact with online) as having a different kind of body than you “really” do.

The 1:1 self-to-body ratio is where Wilk’s discussion of internet norms overlaps with trans* theory. Hegemonic understandings of trans* identity and embodiment are grounded in a similar 1:1 self-to-body ratio, which is often referred to in trans* studies as the “wrong body narrative.” As Janet Mock explains,

To me, “trapped in the wrong body” is a blanket statement that makes trans* people’s varying journeys and narratives palatable to the masses. It’s helped cis masses understand our plight – to a certain extent. It’s basically a soundbite of struggle, “I was a girl (boy) trapped in a boy’s (girl’s) body,” which aims to humanize trans* folks, who are often seen as alien, as freaks, as less-than-human and other.

You’re in the “wrong” body if your body doesn’t perceptibly match up to your felt sense of self. The wrong body narrative translates, via the 1:1 ratio, trans* identity and embodiment to normal/normative understandings of human subjectivity and embodiment.

So there’s this overlap between the 1:1 ratio in internet usage, and the 1:1 ratio in gender identity (cis/trans). I need to think more about this, but it seems to me that it’s not entirely the same 1:1 ratio in each case, but variations on the same theme. But maybe it is more homogeneous. I dunno. This overlap, though, might be a helpful way to situate work like Micha Cardenas’s stuff on “transreal” aesthetics and politics…which I really need to go back and look at more carefully. And that’s pretty much where I am on this/where we left things in class. If anyone has any further thoughts, or recommended reading on this issue, I’d love to hear them.

[1] The 1:1 ratio wasn’t always an internet norm. As Wilk notes, a lot of 90s cyberfeminism theorized the internet as a place where one’s “self” did not need to correspond to one’s “body.” But then, as Wilk implies, “protecting women” from things like sexual abuse, exploitation, and bullying became an excuse to demand real-name technologies and impose the 1:1 ratio on online interactions. Sounds like another instance in which hegemony/white supremacist patriarchal capitalism uses “protecting women” as an excuse to actually further exploit white women and POC.


Robin is on twitter as @doctaj. Her avi pic may or may not perfectly correspond to her present physical appearance.