GimpGirl Grows Up:
Women With Disabilities Rethinking, Redefining, and Reclaiming Community
Alejandra Ospina – GimpGirl Community, GimpGirl.com
Jennifer Cole – GimpGirl Community, GimpGirl.com
Jason Nolan - Ryerson University
“GimpGirl Grows Up” is autoethnographic exploration of the GimpGirl Community that will integrate personal reflective explorations of key members with stories, images, posts and dialogues, issues and debates over the past decade of the GimpGirl Community (Anderson 1989; Author 1999; Baym 1998; Burdell & Swadener 1999; Carr & Kemmis 1986; Clandinin & Connelly 1990; Goldman-Segall 1995; Schön 1983; 1987; Willinsky 1989). The research ideas informing our inquiry are to explore the artifacts of a decade of the GimpGirl Community in light of existing research into community formation and governance, and to chart the path of an online community through the affordances of various technologies from the early web on into Web2.0. Central to this project is situating the exploration within lived experience as a deeply emic exercise where the key members of the GimpGirl Community, supported by a researcher, set the research agenda, conduct their own inquiry, organize and present their findings and conclusions. It is hoped that this model, inspired both by the community’s desire to distance itself from the educational, social and medical institutions that weigh so heavily on their lives, will extend the blurring of the notions of producers and consumers of content on the Internet.
In February 2008, GimpGirl celebrated its new home on 3DE's island in Second Life. This new incarnation, after a decade of transitional homes on listservers, MOOs, webpages, and blogs marks a coming of age for an organization and a community that is always working the fringe of the disability community beyond the reach of institutionalized norms and discourses (Author 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005a; Collins and Berge 1997; Fernback and Thompson 1995; Kendall 1996). This presentation will explore the various strands and social communication spaces that make up the GimpGirl Community constellation (from text-only communications incorporating all Web2.0 innovations in social communications) that serve to enact a system of being that ironically and paradoxically resist dominant discourses as a means to empower participants in the community; create spaces for sharing of ideas and experiences that are at the same time both safe and edgy (Author 2005b, 2005c; Foucault 1991; Illich 1970).
Inspired by Jennifer’s participation in the DO-IT program for teens with disabilities at the University of Washington (http://www.washington.edu/doit/), the road started with "The Center for Breaking Away", a non-profit intended for disabled youth transitioning to adulthood, but it quickly morphed into helping disabled women of all ages, with an initial focus on teens becoming independently-minded adults. GimpGirl was propelled forward in early 1998 as a collaboration of young women with disabilities who did not feel that there was a lot of community available for them. It quickly grew to incorporate many niche communities, such as young queer women with disabilities and women with disabilities of all sexual orientations. It strove to give those without a community a place to be themselves and talk about what was important to them. There was total of four lists in the beginning that were hosted on the servers at the Internet service provider Sasquatch Computer that Jennifer and friends owned. All lists were moderated to ensure that the list environment stayed supportive and guarantee that no one became the focus of a flame war when people were searching for acceptance. Believing that anyone who had struggled with acceptance would actually attack someone else proved hard, but leaving the list on automatic one weekend while Jennifer was on vacation taught her that lesson. She came back to many hurt feelings and many vicious e-mails piling up. She admits dea