I am a PhD candidate at University of Illinois at Chicago. I study the relationship between sexualities and digital media in the U.S. using a queer feminist epistemology, paying particular attention to intersections of gender, race and sexual identity. My work lies at the convergences of sexualities studies and science and technology studies, contributing to fields such as LGBT studies, queer theory, critical heterosexuality studies and media studies. My teaching experience includes specialized courses in sexualities as well as general and introductory courses and research methods.
My dissertation examines the practices of users of smartphone dating applications known colloquially as “hookup apps,” whose users now number in the tens of millions. I analyze the cultural significance of the popularization of these apps. The study combines 41 interviews with app users recruited through Facebook, analysis of news media coverage, and discourse analysis of popular cultural productions such as movies and YouTube videos. I compare Grindr, marketed for men seeking men, and the primarily heterosexual app Tinder, which is popular with lesbian, bisexual and queer women as well as transgender app users. The comparative aspect of the study allows for an investigation of the specificities and contradictions of sexual identity, gender and technology design. My dissertation is funded by the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and by the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In my dissertation I intervene in academic and popular debates about changing sexual and gender norms and the cultural effects of new technology. The effects of the popularization of hookup apps has been overstated and sensationalized. They are not making people overly rational, shallow and superficial, nor wildly promiscuous. I argue that social norms around dating and sex are changing, but the reasons for this have far more to do with the changing forms of intimacy in late capitalism and with contemporary beliefs about women’s sexuality than with the mediation of mobile internet technology. I challenge deterministic accounts of the effects of new technology on social life by showing how the quite different features of the apps Grindr and Tinder rely on pre-existing sexual scripts for gay men and heterosexuals. The subversion of the gender and sexual binaries, built into the design of Tinder, by women looking for women and by transgender and gender non-conforming users reveals the queer potential of normative technologies.