Shifting Futures: Digital Trans of Color Praxis

Android Hackers and Femme Camouflage

As Anonymous demonstrate, the ability to shift between informatic opacity and spectacular visibility is what matters most for a contemporary political movement to enact change within a neocolonial regime facilitated by global digital networks. Monae’s character Cindi Mayweather demonstrates this ability to shift from spectacular to invisible in many ways. One way is that over time, her gender presentation shifts between android gender on the cover of “Metropolis: The Chase Suite”, butch or masculine in “The ArchAndroid”, and femme in “The Electric Lady”. In the narrative described, in the ArchAndroid, she is “the Alpha Platinum 9000, a droid optimized for rock performance, often cloned but never equaled. Cindi is on the run, having fallen in love with the human millionaire Anthony Greendown – a pairing which, in Metropolis, is against the law”21. Yet in The Electric Lady, Monae is exploring the history of black feminists such as Assata Shakur, living in hiding and having a movement of people not in hiding who are in solidarity with her. 

In the video for “Primetime” we see Cindi Mayweather, both an android and a programmer of androids, hacking black female androidsand presenting a femme gender appearance. One might describe this as a kind of femme camouflage, exploiting the perception of femmes as ineffective or unimportant to hide her revolutionary anti-droid slavery agenda. This femme disturbance of the logics of visibility and representation recalls Keeling’s black femme function. Still, Mayweather’s android gender seeps through in the wide eyed gaze Monae performs in photographs, a kind of gender presentation that exceeds racialized expressions of masculinity or femininity. Monae states “"The lesbian community has tried to claim me… But I only date androids”22. Her embodiment may be seen to borrow from Little Richard, another black, queer, gender non conforming figure central to developing the style of rock and roll that Monae’s music follows at times. Yet given the way that her performance of android is at times presented as her own life story, Monae’s gender presentation may be seen as a form of Taquiyya, a shia form of what Nandita Biswas Mellamphy calls “hypercamouflage” that advocates complete invisibility through living among the enemy23. Mayweather’s underground life in “The Electric Lady” follows this pattern. 

In the video for “Primetime”, the interface through which Mayweather programs her android gogo dancers is a translucent interface which appears in the surface of their skin. Offering a possible reimagining of the idea of This Bridge Called My Back as this interface called my back, the backs of these androids are interfaces for their types of movement, and the interfaces are translucent, able to be hidden or made visible in an instant. Throughout the video, translucent interfaces hover around the performers. While these interfaces have been made popular through films such as Minority Report, Monae’s use of them materializes a future that sees black people as the operators of powerful computing devices. 

Further, Mayweather’s control over the transformation her own body imagines the black trans person, with the ability to shift their shape and color outside of gender norms, as the paradigmatic example of a futurity beyond the racialized apocalypse of android hunting, brought on by android intelligence surpassing that of humans, which is referred to as the singularity and Monae says is her vision of the future24. In an interview with she articulates that her goal is not just to create speculative fiction, but to prepare people to be able to survive the impending apocalypse. To do so, Metropolis relies on histories of slavery, colonization and black feminism to create models for resistance in a future where computing devices not only surround us and surveil us, where they are on our backs, where they make constitute us, where we are media. 

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