Queer Figures/Texts in

Rhetoric & Composition: A Story

In light of post-Stonewall politics, in November 1974 College English releases a special edition publication, The Homosexual Imagination, which asks readers to consider the disciplinary influences of gay visibility and to examine the field’s homophobic constructs.  In this edition, articles address “A Gay Feminist in the Academy” by Dolores Noll, “When We Say ‘Out of the Closets!’” by Julia Standley, “Giving a Gay Course” by Ron Schreibner, “Toward a Gay Criticism” by Jacob Stockinger, and “Notes of a Homosexual Teaching Assistant” (written anonymously).  While gay identity is being talked about, there’s still a hint of homophobia, if not from the writers themselves.  The field is still scared.  (Homo)sexuality is talked about in very safe ways and in highly academic spheres.  These conversations (very) slowly make their way into Rhetoric & Composition.  

Nearly twenty years pass, and no one in our field is really addressing GLTBQQ identities or identifying themselves as queer scholars who do queer work …

In 1995, Harriet Malinowitz writes Textual Orientations: Lesbian and Gay Students and the Making of Discourse Communities, where she explores lesbian and gay students’ positions in the mainstream writing class as well as in gay-themed writing classrooms.  Malinowitz extrapolates the idea of “assumed global validity of heterosexual knowledge” (65) through which social constructs are generated by communities of like-minded people.  For Malinowitz, liberatory pedagogy takes social-epistemic rhetoric a step further and calls individuals to not only think as critical intellectuals but to actually empower them to change the conditions of their lives.  She argues that the relationship between social-epistemic rhetoric and liberatory pedagogy may be a useful lens for thinking about how GLBTQ people situate and utilize personal and community discourses within academic spaces.

We believe it is this book that signals an influx of queer scholarship from rising stars in our field …

In 1999 and 2003, respectively, Blake Scott and Will Banks write queer(ed) dissertations from prominent universities in our field: Blake, from Penn State; Will, from Illinois State.  Blake’s dissertation titled “Disciplinary Diagnosis: Rhetoric, AIDS, and the Technoscience of HIV Testing” marks an early intersection with rhetoric, science, and the gay body, a project through which Blake enacts a series of projects that implement service-learning, health science, and technical communication.  His work about at-home HIV testing kits makes it into publication in CCC and College English.

Will’s dissertation, “Performing the ‘Not-Me’: Ethos in Four Student Portfolios,” examines student portfolios from his queer rhetoric course, through which he argues that antiquity, not modernism, is a lens through which students can best establish “self” in the writing classroom.   For Banks, “[a] focus on ethos can validate students’ rhetorical skills, as well as teach them how to handle the stresses inherent in recognizing that their textual selves are multivalent, post-modern performances” (http://english.ecu.edu/~wpbanks/).  His dissertation prompts scholarship that examines the GLTBQQ self in many different contexts, including digital space, adolescent discourse, and writing program administration.  His special edition of Computers & Composition with Jonathan Alexander titled “Sexualities, Technologies, and the Teaching of Writing” goes on to win the Ellen Nold Award in 2004.   

In 2008’s Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies, Jonathan Alexander for the implementation of “sexual literacy” in the composition classroom, a space, he purports, has not adequately interconnected sexuality and literacy in our field’s scholarship and pedagogy.  For Alexander, sexual literacy is more than simply knowledge, understanding, and inclusion of sex and sexuality in curricular discourse, but “an intimate understanding of the ways in which sexuality is constructed in language and the ways in which our language and meaning-making systems are always already sexualized” (18).  Through this definition of sexual literacy, Alexander invites us to consider how students write sexuality as both a personal and political space, how sexuality and literacy are interwoven, and how we can implement pedagogical tactics to assist students in composing sex and sexuality as a means of becoming critical citizens.  This book is highly influential and will impact the courses Matt and I teach in the spring here at MSU.  This is the book right now.  

Will and Jonathan are talking about GLBTQQ identities through composition pedagogies and studies, and Blake talks about these identities through technical communication, but where else could these conversations happen?  Where could other galaxies exist?