Monday, November 19, 2012

Reading Response: "Queer Rhetorical Agency: Questioning Narratives of Heteronormativity"

                                                                                                                      Alexander and Wallace                                                          MyThoughts
“In our review of this body of work
(see Alexander and Wallace), we argue that although confronting homophobia and including the perspectives of LGBT people remain important strategies for making our discipline more inclusive, these strategies often do not challenge the underlying presumption of a hetero/homo binary that continues to privilege heterosexuality in our society and in our disciplinary practice.” (793)

From this I now have a basis of what to be expecting, but what interests me is the mention of “hetero/homo binary.” We have talked about binary thinking a lot in class and I’m interested to see how these authors explain this double think in writing.
“A set of powerful controlling discourses, heteronormativity effectively divides people into two distinct categories-homo and hetero-and clearly privileges hetero- sexuality and what has come to be called the "nuclear family" as the normative mode and venue of intimacy and basic social organization.” (794)

The introduction of the word “heteronormativity” is interesting- part of their addition to the conversation. This also exemplifies the actual binary they mentioned. Smitherman and Delpit would argue along the same lines as it pertains to Blacks and Whites, Flynn between men and women, and certainly Malinowitz (who also discusses this discourse).
“…rhetoric and composition needs to more fully queer the exercise of its own agency to become more cognizant of LGBT people, as well as others who are systemically marginalized in American culture.” (794)

This argument has been recurring during this part of our class. The last part of this sentence strengthens my nothing that Smitherman, Delpit, Flynn, and Malinowitz would more than likely agree with this work.
My own note: Why is it that so many minorities are “systematically marginalized”? Is this not the land of the Free?
“Put more provocatively, queering rhetorical agency allows us to account substantively for the operation of heterosexist and heteronormative ideologies within rhetorical agency.” (796)

The thought that simply practicing their suggestions would help to prove the existence of such ideologies seems kind of odd to me, but nonetheless true. If we do not explore this “modified” type of rhetorical agency- how can we research its operations? Interesting.
“As Brian Street argues, ‘Researchers dissatisfied with the autonomous model of literacy ... have come to view literacy practices as inextricably linked to cultural and power structures in society and to recognize the variety of cultural practices associated with reading and writing in different contexts.’” (797)
This quote is so true! All of the authors we have read do not look at writing practices as simply JUST writing practice. It always has to do with societal views of the groups of writers being studied. Groups write the way they do and are criticized as they are based on the positive or negative stigma attached to them in society.
“Further, each [New Literacy Study and Queer Theory] also recognizes that engaging with the discourses of power has important consequences for individual and collective identity.” (798)

The authors’ reference to Gee and Delpit in explaining this identity- which made it easy to understand. However, I think it would have been interesting to mention Wardle and her explanation of identity is formed via discoursal practice as well. Wardle discussed identity and authority. This would’ve given a whole new element to this argument.
“For example, when people of color gain fluency in dominant discourses, their agency may be challenged, but they are at least visible as people of color in making such a challenge. Too often, a queer person who exercises fluency in a dominant culture can only do so while hiding or disavowing his or her queerness.” (800)

Smitherman’s article does a great job of helping to prove this. Just the simple fact that one uses Black Idiom can identify a writer as being from the Black community. But a gay or lesbian writer can write in Black Idiom, White English, or jibber jabber and not be identifiable as homosexual. I think this point is fantastic.
“…while Gee certainly understands the difficulty of gaining fluency beyond one's primary discourse, his model of literacy learning and its attendant negotiations of identity does not sufficiently consider how one's identity may be problematically represented within one's primary discourse or that one's primary discourses may share fractured, inaccurate, or otherwise discriminatory values that make it impossible to articulate an identity that allows one to act on such basic issues as gender expressions that cross normative female/male boundaries or physical attraction to one's own sex.” (801)

First of all, this sentence is extremely long and wordy. However, it is important to this argument. As the authors point out flaws in Gee’s argument (as Delpit also did), it becomes apparent that the explanation we have for Primary Discourse so far is not complete. Personally, I took Gee’s explanation and accepted it- then after reading Delpit, I questioned it. And now, after reading this, I question Gee and Delpit. I guess I am learning that I must think more critically of what I read rather than just accepting everything to be true. With that said, the issues they have pointed out are interesting- Conflict within a primary discourse can affect identity and understanding of any other discourse one chooses to be part of.
“Indeed, a variety of discourses -within many families, throughout communities, and even at the level of governmental politics- work to normalize heterosexuality as the "desired" mode of articulating a sexual identity.” (801)

I have a problem identifying with this. It is true, I suppose, that most believe heterosexuality to be the standard- but not necessarily the “desired.” I personally have no problem with gays/lesbians, and neither do a lot of my friends and family- so I wouldn’t say heterosexuality is our “desired” preference. It is just what is more common.
“For example, many gay and lesbian students growing up in this culture are still subject to discourses that deny legitimacy to their feelings and desires, and that position their emerging identities as gays and lesbians as second-class citizens, not entitled to the cultural, political, and material benefits of married family life.” (802)

Again, is this not the land of the Free? On a personal note, I think it is outlandish not to have the choice of who you marry. Whether a person is judged or not, they should still have the choice to do so without feeling as though they are “second-class.” The simple fact that these people need a law to be passed just to say they can be married is discrimination in itself. Legality should not be considered in one’s personal choice to whom they marry.

“Warner's second contribution to a more nuanced understanding of rhetorical agency is captured in his notion of counterpublics which suggests that discourses created in opposition to the marginalizations inherent in dominant culture serve not only as publics, as spaces for discourse, within that culture but also as spaces for discourse about difference(s) that suspend or perhaps even supercede normative values.” (804)
I’m kind of confused here. If a public encompasses a discourse of normative values, and a counterpublic encompasses a discourse opposite of that- what if members of the counterpublic think their discourse is the one of normative values? Then, is that corresponding public also a “counterpublic”? I know that’s confusing so it can’t be correct. Clarification!
“A counterpublic does not assume that its positions, views, or investments can be "taken for granted," or that its self-understanding can pass as "normalcy." Rather, it serves as a potential space for critique of what otherwise passes for normative, natural, and assumed.” (804)
Well, point proven. (My previous comment is irrelevant now that I have an explanation).
So, counterpublics are basically a discourse or combination of that serve as a potential method to fix problems existing in the corresponding public. (similar to a secondary discourse being a place to explore the ways of a primary discourse).
“The discourses that many queers cultivate in queer communities constitute a counterpublic that is not just "different," but often repugnant to the dominant public, which routinely denies queer people and queer communities comparable legal status on a number of significant issues.” (805)

As I said before in regard to legality- this makes me less proud to be an American. If women and blacks have overcome this and are now widely accepted, and if many of us are not proud of the fact they didn’t have equality in the first place—then why, I ask, are we STILL doing this to homosexuals, or any other disenfranchised group??? Also, I now understand the value of including the public/counterpublic in this text. Many of the authors we have read in this unit could have included this in their text- as it clearly could relate to Smitherman, Delpit, Gee, and Malinowitz’ studies and explanations.
“Thus, Warner's publics/counterpublics can be seen, on the one hand, in a heterosexually-privileged dominant culture that under-
stands "straightness" as the desired, unquestionable norm and, on the
other, in a queer culture that not only does not take its existence for granted
but that, in many ways, actively tries to re-imagine relations among people.” (805)

I just thought it was important to note that this is a great way to clarify all the referencing to Warner’s work. It’s an important piece of this paper, in my opinion.
Entire last paragraph on 806
Greatly summarizes their background detail before going into implications. They tied all mentioned authors together well, along with mentioning their own standpoint.
“Composition pedagogy that seeks to arm students with the tools to understand and address the inequities inherent in dominant culture cannot avoid issues of identity, and it must also enjoin questions of the bases on which morality is defined.” (807-808)

I felt the same way after reading Smitherman’s article. Composition pedagogy should incorporate learning about inequities so that students can make their own decisions about inequities within culture and within discourse.
“…we must also invite students to see how the discursive practices that continually re-create heteronormativity (and other systems of marginalization) have affected them and how each of us chooses to resist or perpetuate those practices whether we realize we are doing so or not.” (808)

The “whether we realize we are doing so or not” part is confusing to me.

“As openly gay composition teachers and theorists, we are heartened by the possibilities for change entailed in Butler's notion of agency because our experiences have convinced us that both American society and the practice of rhetoric and composition can benefit greatly from an understanding of agency rooted in an acute and critical understanding of the often heterosexist discourses through which all of us are called to understand our lives.” (809)

I feel this is a great part of the paper but would have been nice to read at the beginning. Maybe mentioning this at the beginning would have made the paper a little more personal and would have made me more willing to continue reading.
“Sorting out the various discursive and rhetorical moves that are used to marginalize homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and trans-sexualism in our society and in our pedagogy can be a tricky business…” (809)

This would be interesting to collaborate on with Delpit.
“Instead, we believe this act of aggression depended on an underlying sense of heteronormative privilege
that led this student to believe that LGBT people were not a likely present audience to which he needed to attend or that even if an LGBT person read his words, morality and "nature" were so clearly on his side that he need not bother to explore any other points of view.” (811)

This is referring to a paper written by Wallace’s student that expressed hatred toward gays. I’ve never really thought about it, but I suppose an ideal audience is always there when writing a paper. And I view my audience essentially as copies of a person I imagine up (i.e. a group of people just like Ms. May). I suppose I should begin to add diversity to my “ideal audience.””
“…attempts at inclusion must be careful to avoid limited inclusion and tokenism or the laudable attempt to be inclusive of queer people and perspectives is undermined by a shallow understanding of what it means to do so and by the failure to see that including the queer in a tokenized fashion serves to reinforce heteronormativity--often by eliding the material benefits of the hetero-norm.” (813-814)
Limited inclusion, as I take it, is only including homosexuals in rhetoric when you know they are present- and otherwise being rhetorically heterosexist when they are not. (Note to self).
“…with an awareness that they are historically grounded, students and instructors can then ask why we are divided into "gay" and "straight" (much less "male" and "female"). In whose interests are such divides maintained? What do they empower some people to do? How do they limit the power and agency of others? How do such divides weaken not just some disenfranchised members of society, but all of us, keeping us ignorant about one another and about the interlocking systems that position us as separate, divided, and unknowable to one another?” (814)

The whole quote seems rather powerful to me. The inclusion of the last question really brings this paper home.
My opinion: If our history has led us to be judgmental- what great stories have we missed out on in the past, are we missing out on now, or will we miss in the future?! If you set aside human differences, and respect each other simply based on the fact that every human is a human- culture and society would be much more adapt, successful, and advanced.
“A concept of rhetorical agency that distinguishes between what it means to challenge overt instances of homophobia and heterosexism from what it means to critique and potentially unseat underlying heteronormativity is important for our field because it illustrates what it means to move beyond the shallow inclusion of the perspectives and experiences of those who have been marginalized in American culture toward real acceptance oft hose who have been ‘othered.’” (815)

The distinction between challenging and critiquing is nice here. And I like how this statement (at the end) references to all minorities or disenfranchised groups in America. The other authors (Smitherman, Delpit, Flynn, Malinowitz) would also agree that simply critiquing what we have would be a huge step in the understanding and inclusion of ALL types of people.
“Further, we must see that accepting responsibility for our individual and collective participation in the discourses of oppression is foundational to developing pedagogies that enable our students to do the same.” (816)

I think that the conclusion of this paper did a great job of summing everything up, but this last sentence is great. It is simply saying- if you know you are contributing to the oppression of someone through your participation in a discourse… try to be the one to make a change. Otherwise, how else will your students, and ultimately the future of America, do any different?


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