Russell’s GLITCH FEMINISM encourages us to move beyond thinking about the early internet in nostalgic terms, and cautions against dismissing the contemporary internet as a ‘feverish, electric unlivable hell’, as Jia Tolentino puts it.  Rather, Russell suggests that despite excessive consumption and surveillance, there is still liberation to be found on the internet. It remains, in her words, ‘a room of one’s own’, a place to be free, to make work and to invite others in. This, as Russell compellingly argues, is because the internet remains less binary in terms of gender than the world AFK. While, as Russell says, ‘a body read online as male/female… fulfils a target demographic for advertising and marketing,’ this is less fixed than in the world offline. Russell shows us how this is so through the artists she profiles, many of whom are queer, Black and trans. Online, there remains a space to practise what Russell calls ‘glitch feminism’: to trip the wires of the ferociously enforced binary of gender, which, this book reveals, must always be filtered through race and sexuality in order to make sense. Online, we still get to choose what kind of body we have, and can learn to use the technological tools to remix, ‘rearrange… add to the original recording’, as well as employ technological failures to ‘glitch’ the system. We can inhabit the spaces of the in-between, and be ‘a little of this, a little of that, a little of something else’. Here, I’m reminded of the way artist Travis Alabanza explains trans identity: that it’s not about moving from one side of the rigid gender binary to another, from precisely ‘male’ to precisely ‘female’, but about ‘escape…choice… autonomy. Wanting more possibilities than the one you forced on me.’  Trans as in transcend. Russell suggests that online, we don’t have to have a body at all, but can step out of skin and float the physical form across the cool blue sea and through the coral reefs of cyberspace. This is what she means when she flips Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘One is not born, but becomes a woman’ to ‘one is not born, but becomes, a body.’ Certainly, in making the restrictions of the corporeal body known, the internet might allow us to act beyond its limits.
Most powerfully, GLITCH FEMINISM suggests that by refusing to inhabit the binary online, the force of the binary in our lives ‘AFK’ is revealed. Glitch feminism as a practice can expose the gender binary for the strange, violent trick that it is, and unpick its role in keeping our world turning ‘under the sun of capitalism’, as Russell puts it in characteristically beautiful prose. It is the gender binary that enables us to be marketed to, but more than that, it is what allows us to be read as human. Those who are deemed not to measure up to this binary are subject to violence from the state and other people, as we see in the huge rates of violence to which trans people are subjected. But as my best friend Joe, who is trans and non-binary and a deep and caring thinker taught me, this violence demands gender rigidity, that people stay within the binary, and so it is a good way to comprehend the high rates of violence against cis-women too.  So often violence against women and against trans and non-binary people is, in the eyes of perpetrators, seen as a punishment for ‘daring’ to step beyond the confines of these tiny boxes. On the street, in the public toilet, and in the home, people are daring to live beyond the tight confines of the bodies they were assigned at birth, and so are subjected to violence for which they are then blamed.  Of course, in all these circumstances, no one need to have done a single fucking thing to cop it, except have the audacity to live.
GLITCH FEMINISM suggests that in the remaining nooks and crannies of the internet where one is free to ‘glitch’, where people have ‘a right to complexity’ and to an identity beyond the binary, can assist in life AFK. My own experience in the chatrooms of BUST magazine offered me ideas like armour that I could wear, where necessary, around the place. And indeed for CL, a zine maker and artist whom Russell profiles, it was the internet that allowed her to embrace her identity as an ‘intelligent Black girl’ and then to continue her art practice AFK, to extend her agency and range. For other artists, such as self-defined ‘cyborg’ Juliana Huxtable, the internet offered control and freedom against suicide, gifting her tools to inform her offline art practice. But beyond inspiring the glitch feminist practice of individual artists, I wonder about the possibilities of a collective glitch. ‘How can we come together in solidarity?’ asks Russell. ‘It is our responsibility collectively to infect… to make impossible pathways viable as all else circuits toward a triggered collapse.’ Perhaps if we all glitched together and collectively refused the gender binary, the whole thing would come down.
But solidarity seems difficult for the internet, a claim that might exasperate those who discuss its possible powers. Surely, they might say, this is just a reflection of the difficulties of acting collectively, in solidarity, in life, AFK. Indeed, in its rare moments of collective solidarity, the internet bristles with energy and carries this force to those inhabiting its networked world. The internet allows people to speak to each other within the midst of social movements, to trade tips, collapsing the vast geographic distances between them. We have witnessed this year with the Black Lives Matter movement. And we saw it in 2014, when protestors such as the award-winning photojournalist Hamde Abu Rahme from Bil’lin, Palestine held a sign in solidarity with African-Americans protesting the murder of eighteen-year-old Mike Brown by the police and ongoing racist police violence in Ferguson. It read: ‘The Palestinian people know what it means to be shot while unarmed because of your ethnicity #Ferguson #Justice.’ Palestinians, subject to terror by Israeli forces, the rubber-coated steel bullets, teargas and live fire necessary to ongoing occupation, offered North American comrades, who they had never met and perhaps never will meet, tips on how to deal with being tear-gassed. When Mariam Barghouti tweeted ‘Make sure to run against the wind… when you’re teargassed, the pain will pass,’ and advised protestors not to flush their eyes with water but to try ‘milk or coke’ instead, the internet amplified what was common to these struggles. Their shared repertoire of resistance then breathed real-life networks into being when Hands Up United and the Dream Defenders, vocal organisers against US police violence, subsequently visited Palestine on a solidarity tour.  But I want to suggest that these glimmering moments of resistance push against the grain of the internet, just as these movements AFK push at the grain of social power. The internet trades so fully in the individual, is so self-obsessed that solidarity can be hard to build.