Refusing to get the story straight : cultural rhetorics and queer identities

Bacon, Jen S.
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Gordon, Tamar
Zappen, James Philip
Deery, June
Fortun, Kim
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Communication and rhetoric
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This dissertation examines the rhetorical deployment of identity in 52 women's coming out stories. More generally, this study details the mechanisms through which individual story telling events participate in larger cultural conversations and genres. As the stories that comprise the data for this dissertation chart their pathways from beginning to end, they inevitably collide with larger cultural discourses, and a negotiation of meaning occurs. What results is not necessarily a battle for "truth" or persuasion, but ajuxtaposition of cultural "truths." By locating that negotiation of meaning within the empirical world that my informants inhabited in the spring and summer of 1998, this dissertation tracks this negotiation of meanings on the very ground that coming out stories blaze their trail. Using the texts of women's coming out stories, narrated orally, I examine the relationships between rhetorics of individuality and authenticity, rhetorics of family, rhetorics of community, rhetorics of the public sphere, and rhetorics of dissent. In the process, I utilize a model of rhetorical analysis that I describe as "cultural rhetoric" and argue that it provides a way to see the relationships between stories and identities and the discourses that enable and constrain both. In the process, I describe what happens when cultural practices and rhetorical practice collide with the impulse to be "queer." Ultimately, I suggest models and methods for traversing a discursive terrain that resists fixed categories that pit one sort of difference against another in a battle for interpretive power.
May 2000
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dept. of Language, Literature, and Communication
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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