HOMOSEXUALITY, RHETORICS, HOMOPHOBIA:
A POSTMODERN RHETORICAL STUDY
B.A., University of Colorado, Denver, 2003
A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English 2008
2008 by Chanon Adsanatham All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Masters of Arts
Chanon Adsanatham has been approved by
Adsanatham, Chanon (M.A., Rhetoric and Composition)
Homosexuality, Rhetorics, Homophobia: A Postmodern Rhetorical Study
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Michelle Comstock
This thesis is a rhetorical study that examines the relationship between rhetorics and homosexual identity, the multimedia anti-gay rhetorics of a conservative Christian church, and the rhetorics of a Christian sexual reorientation therapy program. It begins by theorizing what homosexuality isa socio-cultural discursive construction sustained by rhetoritivity or discursive performativity that enables and maintains an identity. Then it analyzes two different kinds of rhetorics against homosexuality by two distinct Christian organizations. The first study evaluates three multimedia clips by a radically conservative Christian church that utilize fear appeal to coerce homosexuals and non-conservative Christian audience into conversion. Through design, appeal, and discursive analyses, the arguments of the clips are demonstrated to be persuasively ineffective and to fall apart. The other rhetorical artifact studied is the rhetorics of an ex-
gay therapy program on a CD-ROM. Through Foucaults theory of discipline and Berlins theory of social-epistemic rhetoric, the author shows how the gay therapy rhetorics operate through disciplinary instruments that gradually lead its participants to engage in confessional-dialectical processes that manipulate them to construct an internal panopticon to guard and normalize their desires. In the end, the participants become confined within conservative Christian ideology, thus the CD-ROMs promises of freedom and truth are deceptive. The thesis ends with a threefold rhetorical strategy for countering homophobia and creating positive social change: composing the GLBT legacy, composing rhetorics of visibility, and composing sexual discrimination.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its publication.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Origination of this Thesis.......................3
The Need for a Rhetorical Study......................5
The Focus and Structure of this Thesis...............6
Theoretical Assumptions: My Theory of Rhetoric......10
2. MAKING SENSE OF THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF
HOMOSEXUALITY: A THEORY OF RHETORIVITIVTY................14
Part I: A Foucauldian, Historical, and Cross-Cultural Exploration of Homosexuality........................18
Part II: The Creation of Homosexuality through the Performative........................................34
Part III: Homosexuality as Ideology and
(in Some Cases) Normalization.......................41
Part IV: Possible Exclusionary Problems of Homosexuality.......................................53
Part V: Rhetoritivity: A Theory of Homosexuality....56
Conclusion: The Implication of Rhetoritivity........60
3. DESIGN, APPEAL, AND DISCURSIVE ANALYSES OF
MULTIMEDIA ANTI-GAY JEREMIADS IN RADICAL CHRISTIANITY..............................................65
Source of the Analytical Framework..................68
Clip One: God Hates Fags..........................69
Clip Two: Bush Killed Them........................75
Clip Three: God Is Americas Terror...............82
Collective Appeal Analysis..........................89
Collective Discursive Analysis......................96
4. DISCIPLINING EX-GAY THERAPY: A FOUCAULDIAN/
SOCIAL-EPISTEMIC EXAMINATION OF SEXUAL RE-ORIENTATION RHETORIC..................................101
Components of the Journeyan Ex-Gay Therapy Program............................................104
Background on the CD-ROMs Developer...............105
The Ultimate Purpose of the CD-ROM.................107
Disciplinary Techniques and the Journey...........113
The End of the Journey: Destiny Ideological Confinement.........................................133
RHETORICAL RESIGNIFICATIONS: COMPOSING THE GLBT LEGACY, COMPOSING RHETORICS OF VISIBLITY, AND COMPOSING SEXUAL DISCRIMINATION..................143
Mike: A Story with an Unknown Ending................143
Combating Homophobia via Rhetorics..................148
Composing GLBT Legacy...............................149
Composing Rhetorics of Visibility...................150
Composing Sexual Discrimination.....................152
I began this thesis by reading a wide variety of texts that ranged from digital writing, identity politics, queer theory, cyber literacy, political strategies, cultural anthropology, academic politics, religious pamphlets, rhetorical theory to The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. At first,
I had no idea that much of what I read would come to be postmodernist texts and that many of the works that I cite in this thesis are classified under the category of postmodernism. They come to form the framework of this thesis and heavily influence my arguments. Hence, I call this project a postmodern rhetorical study.
This thesis grew from my love of and frustration with rhetorical and critical theory. It exemplifies the attempt to combine the two to examine two other subjects that also greatly fascinate me: conservative Christianity and homophobia. When I pinpointed homosexuality as a potential thesis topic, I wanted to study something unique, something that has not been talked about a lot in rhetoric and composition. Thanks to the scandal of Ted Haggard, I settled on the idea of sexual re-orientation therapy. This was the original focus of my thesis, but as I began to ponder this issue, it
led me to explore additional topics: the origin and nature of homosexuality and wrathful rhetorics against homosexuals by radical Christians. In the end, this thesis consists of three mini-theses that investigate homosexuality, spiteful anti-gay religious rhetorics, and ex-gay therapy.
This thesis would not have been possible without the care, guidance, support, and encouragement of the following people to whom I am greatly appreciative: Jake Adam York; Peggy Lore; Eiko Iwahashi;
Kris; Regina Rodriguez; the good friends I met in rhetorical theory: Rebecca Smith, Sharlie Graham, and Jenny Toews; and my rhetorical and critical theory professors. Most importantly, I owe most to my wonderful mother whose love, cooking, and relentless support of my endeavors
enable me to feel fortunate and blessed.
It wasnt only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. Ian McEwan, Atonement
On December 3, 2007, I received an unexpected letter from a member of the United States House of Representatives. Recognizing the name on the envelope to be a Republican congressman who, a few months ago, made national news for his fervent censure of illegal immigration and obstinate advocacy of English as the official national language, curiosity drove me to quickly tear the envelope openbut only to become disappointed by the message inside:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). It was a pleasure to hear from you.
As you know, ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation...
I do not believe that the special protected class status and advantages in question are not based on the fundamental rights and protections guaranteed to all Americans under the U.S. Constitution....
By providing a special right to individuals based on choice, the government is setting a dangerous precedence and creating a slippery slope. We must not discriminate against those who choose
to live a homosexual lifestyle, but neither should the federal government create a new class of protected citizens....
Thomas Tancredo Member of Congress
In November 2007, I e-mailed Tancredo to solicit his support for ENDA, a bill that would protect non-heterosexuals from employment discrimination that, in my opinion, is a fundamental right to which all people shall be entitled. Without this bill, it remains legal in more than thirty-four states to terminate employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity (PFLAG). I was confident that ENDA would receive congressional support and that it would face little antagonism. It seems to me that it is only reasonable and ethical to uphold such cause. I, however, was wrong. Gender and sexual orientation discrimination remains an unresolved problem domestically and globally. Aversion to homosexuality is a pandemic.
In retrospect, I encountered this pandemic for the first time as a third grader in Thailand when I was six years old. Society will not accept homosexuals, my third grade teacher taught. She added that homosexuals need to change, alter their attraction and identity; in other words, they need to become straight. I was too young then to understand the cruelty of her remarks or to comprehend what societal rejection meant.
My family had a homosexual member who lived with usan aunt whom we were told to call uncle, but since we never treated him differently, I did not quite understand why homosexuals must change. Because of my naivete, I did not give much thought to sexual orientation discrimination or gay rights until 1998 when, as a freshman in college, I learned the news of a horrific homicide: A twenty-one year old gay college student from University of WyomingMatthew Shepardwas robbed, brutally beaten, tied to a fence in a remote rural road, and left to die there on a frigidly cold night. Shepards tragedy constituted a profound moment in my life. For the first time, it dawned on me that a man could be tortured and murdered for simply liking another man. I came to realize that homophobiathe fear, dislike, and aversion of homosexuals that ignites attempts to thwart homophile movements and eradicate homosexualityis real and that it is a serious problem.
The Origination of this Thesis
Since then I have been an avid supporter of gay rights through contributions and volunteerism. I became very politically active during the fall 2006 election when a gay rights issue was placed on the ballot in Colorado: Referendum I, the measure to grant domestic partnership to same-sex couples. To help promote the Referendum, I volunteered at the campaign headquarter two to three nights per week, and this led me to become interested in pro and anti-gay rights rhetorics. That semester, I
was studying the rhetorics of gay identity and queer theory in an independent study project on postmodern rhetorics. A few weeks before the election, I had the privilege of presenting with Michelle Comstock, my independent study director, on gay identity in Referendum I campaigns at Queer: A Symposium, a day long series of lectures that focused on gay, lesbian, bi, and transsexual (GLBT) topics from disparate academic disciplines. As I studied the rhetorics of GLBT identity to prepare for the symposium, two significant national scandals involving homosexuality eruptedone involving Ted Haggard and the other involving Mark Foley. These scandals amplified vehement campaigns against Referendum I. As I closely followed the scandalous news and carefully tracked the increasing numbers of anti-Referendum I discourses, my interest in the rhetorics of homophobia grew, and soon after, I came to realize I had discovered a masters thesis topic: the rhetorics of homosexual identity and homophobia.
I define rhetoric as strategic uses of signs to achieve a communicative purpose.1 By using the term signs, I broaden my definition of rhetoric to include both non-verbal artifacts such as visuals as well as language based discourses such as essays and speeches. As Sonja Foss claims: Rhetoric is not limited to written and spoken discourses; in fact,
1 While some rhetoric scholars such as Foss, Foss, and Trapp use the term symbol instead of sign to define rhetoric, 1 prefer the latter because it denotes signifiers that signify.
speaking and writing make up only a small part of our rhetorical environment. Rhetoric, then, includes...nonverbal symbols as well as...verbal ones (5).
The Need for a Rhetorical Study
While the field of rhetoric and composition has expanded beyond language based texts to encompass visual and digital compositions, to this date, I am unable to find a published rhetorical study on anti-gay rhetorics by a composition studies scholar. Existing research in rhetoric and composition on GLBT issues can be classified into four main areas: pedagogy, bisexuality and transgenderism, online literacy, and cyberspace identity. In the area of pedagogy, compositionists such as Zan Meyer Goncalves, Karen Kopelson, Heidi McKee, Jacqueline Rhodes, Jonathan Alexander, Samantha Blackmon, David Wallace, and Barclay Barrios have published pedagogical pieces on how to incorporate queer theory, sexual identity, and homosexuality topics into the teaching of composition. In 2003, exploring bisexuality and transgenderism, Alexander, along with Jessica Yescavage, edited an interdisciplinary anthology of essays on this topic, but it does not directly examine the rhetorics of homophobia. Other GLBT studies in rhetoric and composition focus on online literacy. William P. Banks studied how adolescent gay males employ online technologies to develop a literacy of the self essential for productive rhetorical engagement (Alexander and Banks
293). Randall Woodland looked at why and how GLBT students utilize GLBT resources on the Internet, and Joanne Addison and Michelle Comstock researched the emergence of the discursive practices of lesbian, bi-sexual, and gay youths on the Internet. In the area of cyberspace identity scholarship, Alexander investigated queer identities and representations on the World Wide Web. Outside of the field of composition, Michael Cobb, an American literature scholar, published a book on religious rhetorics and literature. Much of Cobbs God Hates Fags: the Rhetorics of Religious Violence, however, examines the works of American authorsJames Baldwin, Stephen Crane, Tennessee Williams, and Jean Toomer. Evidently, there has not been any rhetorical study in rhetoric and composition that distinctively examines anti-gay rhetorics and homosexual identity.
The Focus and Structure of this Thesis This thesis is a rhetorical study that investigates how discourses create homosexual identity and how they could also be utilized to antagonize homosexuals. Specifically, I examine the relationship between discourse and homosexual identity, the multimedia rhetorics of a radical Christian church that repudiate and coerce homosexuality through wrathful divine threats, and the rhetorics of a Christian sexual re-orientation therapy program (gay therapy) that lures participants through promises of truth, freedom, and normalization. I begin by theorizing what
homosexuality isa socio-cultural discursive construction. Then I study two different kinds of rhetoric against homosexuality by two distinct Christian organizationsone that utilizes fear appeals to coerce homosexual and non-Christian audience into conversion and another that operates as ideological hegemony to provide elaborate gay therapy exercises to help homosexuals attain heterosexuality.2 Overall, including this introduction, my work consists of five chapters. Each chapter utilizes disparate theoretical frameworks from critical and rhetorical theory to illuminate my understanding of homosexuality and guide my analyses of anti-gay rhetorics by conservative Christian organizations.3
My first major argument in this thesis begins in the next chapter, chapter two, Making Sense of the Origin and Nature of Homosexuality: A Theory of Rhetoritivity. The chapter asks: What is homosexuality, and what is its relationship to discourse? A thesis that examines the issue of homosexuality must begin with an explanation of what homosexuality is. I contend that homosexuality is a Western discursive construction that emerged from a performative utterance that serves to categorize, subject, and brand non-heterosexuals. It is an ideology. Homosexuals come to be constituted by this invention, and they continuously define themselves by
2 Ideological Hegemony: A form of non-coercive social control achieved through consensus rather than through direct and material coercion (Castle 311).
3 Recognizing that not all Christians are anti-homosexual, I use the term conservative Christians or Christianity to denote radical Christians who believe that homosexuality is an abomination and advocate its extermination.
it. This leads to the development of gay identity and a culture that is sustained and renewed via rhetoritivitydiscursive performativity that maintains an identity.
Chapter three, Design, Appeal, and Discursive Analyses of Multimedia Anti-Gay Jeremiads in Radical Christianity, asks the questions: How does one radically religious homophobic Christian church use multimedia clips to entice its audience to accept its teachings, and is its appeal strategy coherent and effective? The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is nationally infamous for propagating spiteful divine threats to intimidate Americans to obey its theology. Recently, it has indicated that it will protest the funeral of actor Heath Ledger because he played a gay character in the film Brokeback Mountain (Hazlett). The WBC utilizes argumentum ad baculum or fear appeal as a principal strategy to scare its audience into accepting its teachings. In this chapter, employing pedagogical ideas from Bruce McComiskeys Teaching Composition as a Social Process, I examine the meanings and effectiveness of the images in three of the WBCs multimedia clips at the design, appeal, and discursive level to demonstrate that while at the design level, the images in the clips embed powerful arguments that might incite terror, at the appeal and discursive level, the clips fall part and backfire against WBCs persuasive intention, which is to compel its audience toward WBCs
theology. I expose the clips shortcomings and failures and argue that ultimately, they are ridiculously ineffective in persuasion.
Chapter four, Disciplining Ex-Gay Therapy: A Foucauldian/Social-Epistemic Examination of Sexual Re-Orientation Rhetoric, inquires: How does the rhetoric of a gay therapy CD-ROM operate? Unlike the WBCs clips, this gay therapy CD-ROM, The Map for the Journey away from Homosexuality, does not coerce through wrathful divine threats. Instead, functioning through ideological hegemony, it utilizes discipline to convert homosexuals. Using Michel Foucaults theory of discipline from Discipline as Punish and James Berlins theory of social-epistemic rhetoric from Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class, I analyze the elaborate and strategic exercises called the Journey in The Map that are designed to help homosexuals reach transcendental truth and freedom. I demonstrate how the Journey" subjects its users to disciplinary instruments that require them to engage in confessions through writing, prayers, and mentoring. Eventually, the participants become constituted by their own confessional discourses through confessional-dialectical activities, and they come to gradually construct an internal panopticon that guards and normalizes their sexual desires. In the end, they are led to believe that they have attained freedom" and divine truth when, in fact, their perceived reality and freedom are merely discursive constructions
through a complex rhetorical process involving discipline that imprisons them in heterocentric ideology.
The conclusion, Rhetorical Resignifications: Composing the GLBT Legacy, Composing Rhetorics of Visibility, and Composing Sexual Discrimination, explores: What can be done to counter homophobia and enable sexual equality? Using ideas from the chairs addresses at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, one made by Akua Duku Anokye in 2007 and another delivered by Andrea Lunsford in 1989, I argue for using rhetorics as a weapon to fight homophobia through a method called composing ourselves, a rhetorical resignification tactic to contest the slanders that conservative Christians and Americans have composed about the homosexual identity. I suggest a threefold strategy: composing the GLBT legacy in which the legacies of famous nonheterosexuals are presented, composing rhetorics of visibility in which homosexual and queer pride are exhibited, and composing sexual discrimination in which composition students examine the social construction of sexuality. Collectively, I hope that my strategy will lead to positive social change.
Theoretical Assumptions: My Theory of Rhetoric
The arguments that I advance throughout this thesis rest upon the following key theoretical assumptions about rhetorics:
Rhetorics can form and influence reality. We create realities through signs. Strategic and successful utilizations of signs can lead us to perceive something as real, eternal, and stable. Our rhetorical choices and actions impact our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings on issues, resulting in us seeing something in one way instead of another. Our reality can change depending upon the rhetorics used to frame a subject. This is not to negate the existence of reality, but rather, it is to question claims of absolute reality and righteousness.
Rhetorics can form and brand identity. That is, they can define and constitute individuals (as argued in the next chapter). This, however, does not mean that there is no agency or resistance. Contestation and refutation are possible. Strategic and effective utilizations of rhetorics can overturn repressive and inequitable branding of identity, and transform peoples understanding and perceptions.
Rhetorics reside in the realm of parole within langue. Structuralism seeks to investigate langue or the universal, eternal binding system that enables communication. It negates liberal humanism and perceives knowledge as a product of langue. Whereas langue is fixed, permanent, and
diachronic, parole, the realm of rhetorics, varies and changes depending upon the context and time period. Within this structuralist framework, the realm of parole is not entirely restrictive; there is agency. Movements, tactics, and creativityrhetorical strategiesare possible. Effective utilization of rhetorics can be used as a counter-hegemonic instrument to create positive social change.
Human beings are the rhetors of rhetorics. Therefore, rhetoric is limited to human rhetors as the originators or creators of messages (Foss 4). This claim rejects all arguments that view rhetoric as a transcendental product or communication from the divine. We, humans beings, generate rhetorics to achieve a variety of objectives survival, learning, negotiation, advocacy, narration, and so forth. Nature has equipped us with the ability to use signs language and non-language artifactsto communicate. This capacity, which Ferdinand de Sassure calls langage, makes us unique (Scholes 14).
Rhetorics are epistemological tools. They can help us understand, create, and relate knowledge. Without rhetorics, knowledge would almost be impossible. This argument, however, is not to conflate knowledge with rhetorics. The
latter is a tool to convey or attain the former. The two are distinct.
Rhetorics are not disinterested. As creators of rhetorics, we are affected by our social context, culture, socioeconomics, history, and physical environments. These factors shape our thoughts and form our ideologies, thereby influencing our perceptions, judgments, values, and beliefs, which, in turn, impact how we construct rhetorics. Hence, the rhetorics that we create are not objective. There is no objective rhetoric.
Collectively, these assumptions form my theory of rhetoric. With this theory and my analyses of homosexuality and anti-gay rhetorics, I hope to contribute to the growing field of visual and textual studies in rhetoric and composition and expand rhetorical research to include an examination of anti-homosexual rhetorics and the discursive nature of homosexuality. It is my hope that the knowledge gained from this thesis can serve as a platform to help us develop an effective rhetorical strategy to combat homophobia and eliminate gender and sexual orientation prejudice, discrimination, and injustice that result from ignorance, closed mindedness, and most importantly, the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as realand legitimate.
MAKING SENSE OF THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF HOMOSEXUALITY: A THEORY OF RHETORITIVITY
Only from a self-consciously denaturalized position can we see how the appearance of naturalness is itself constituted.... The strange, the incoherent, that which falls outside,' gives us a way of understanding the taken-for-granted world of sexual categorization as a constructed one, indeed, as one that might well be constructed differently. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Ass fucker. Faggot. Cock sucker. Fairy. These are some lexical punches used to bruise gay mena group of sinful, abominable, despicable, and disgraceful beings from homophobic perspectives.4 Considered vulgar and offensive, certain social apparatusesschools, businesses, governmental agenciesprohibit such discriminatory diction. Public governmental offices, for instance, censure these epithets and allow for disciplinary actions against transgressors. At our university, to reinforce zero tolerance toward any verbal or physical threat and violence against non-heterosexuals, the campus promotes the Safe Zone Project, a program designed to educate students, staff, faculty, and administrators about the experiences, concerns, and issues of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) members of our community in order to foster a supportive environment (GLBTSS Auraria). Some student services offices display a Safe Zone sign with colors of the rainbow, a GLBT symbol, to
4 See my definition of homophobia in the introduction.
help non-heterosexual students feel comfortable when they visit. It appears that tolerance and respect for sexual diversity have become the norm on our campus and that discrimination against homosexuality is not tolerated. Those who transgress can suffer from institutional sanction and unfavorable social consequences.
For instance, a student can be disenrolled from a course or permanently expelled from the institution for uttering discriminative remarks in class. Re-admission to any University of Colorado campuses can also be rejected. These disciplinary actions may be permanently recorded on the transgressors transcript. But social punishment is possible as well. During my first year as a graduate student, a classmate, Jack (a fictive name), called another student a faggot in a casual conversation during break. Another straight" classmate immediately repudiated him, which fueled an altercation that nearly erupted violently. At the end of the semester when the class went to a bar to celebrate and socialize, Jack was refused invitation. I dont hang out with people who use the F word, one person asserted. The lesson from this incident: Uttering discriminatory epithet that creates an unsafe zone can induce a social ostracism.
Were Jack to use the term homosexuality or homosexual instead, how might my classmates have reacted? Would the altercation have resulted? Would he have been invited to the bar? The impact of faggot
differs drastically from the effect of calling someone a homosexual. The former appears vicious and homophobic, while the latter, depending upon the tone and context, carries less or no offensiveness.5 The term homosexuality is considered polite, and it is tolerated to a certain extent, if it contains no discriminatory undertone. Its usage has become as common as the air we breathe, so people can utter it without much hesitation or resistance in public. While homosexuality, as an orientation, might be considered wrong and sinful by some, homosexuality, as a terminology, is not. But why? The pervasiveness of its usage, acceptability, and appropriateness warrant a critical analysis. In his beautifully written book, The Trouble with Normal. Michael Warner urges people to question the idea of normal and investigate its impacts.6 Hence, a thesis that studies the rhetorics against homosexuality must critically reflect upon what homosexuality is and investigate its functions, meanings, and consequences.
In this chapter, I explore what is homosexuality, and what is its relationship to discourse? I contend that homosexuality is a Western discursive construction that emerged during the nineteenth century; thus it is not a universal and eternal sexual identity or orientation. Using cross-
5Unless one identifies as queer.
6 In his book, Warner examines how the obsession with normalcy led the gay community to create internal stratifications, discriminations, and phobias that propel heteronormativity. Although his book does not specifically analyze the discursive impact of the term homosexuality, it encourages us to question notions of normalcy and appropriateness.
cultural examples, I illustrate that homosexual desires, acts, and identity are arbitrary and that they can be independent from one another. Homosexuality actually emerged from a performative utterance that serves to categorize and brand individuals and subjects them to visibility and regulations. It is an ideology. Homosexuals, however, can become interpellated by this construction, and they continuously define themselves by it, leading to the development of gay identity and culture that have risen to contest homophobia. The homosexual identity, a nineteenth-century western construction, is sustained by rhetoritivitydiscursive performativity that maintains an identity. The nature of homosexuality is, therefore, discursive, and this makes the essentialism model of homosexuality problematic and questionable.
This chapter is comprised of six parts. The first part offers Foucauldian scholarship and historical and cross-cultural examples to evidence the Western discursive construction of homosexuality. The second part utilizes the performative utterance theory to illuminate the deployment of homosexuality. The third part examines homosexuality as a form of ideology. Next, using queer theory, I caution against possible exclusionary effects of homosexualitybut not in order to dismiss its legitimacy and importance. Afterward, I offer a rhetorical theory of homosexuality, my theory of what it is. Finally, I conclude with the
implication of rhetoritivity that challenges essentialist notions of the
To construct my arguments, I utilize the following critical and rhetorical theories: performative utterance theory of J. L. Austin; theories of sexual constructivism and power of Michel Foucault; performativity theory of Judith Butler; ideology theory of Louis Althusser; semiotics theory of V.N. Volosinov;7 and cross-cultural male sexuality studies of David Halperin, Tomas Almaguer, Bruce Knauft, and Peter Jackson. Collectively, Speech Act Theory, queer theory, neo-Marxism, new historicism, cultural anthropology, and sociology form the theoretical framework of this chapter.
Part I: A Foucauldian, Historical, and Cross-Cultural Exploration of Flomosexuality
I begin by studying the notion of sexuality, which will illuminate the origin of homosexuality. Following Foucault, I believe that sexuality is a construction through discourse, and homosexuality, as a kind or type of sexuality, is no different. Echoing Foucault, classicist Halperin writes: Sexuality is not a somatic fact; it is a cultural effect. Sexuality then does have a historythough (as I shall argue) not a very long one" (Is There a History 257). According to Foucault, The history of sexualitythat is, the specific field of truthmust first be written from the viewpoint of a history
7 There have been disputes about Volosinovs authorship. Some scholars such as Fredric Jameson believes that some of Volosinovs works were actually authored by Mikhail Bakhtin.
of discourses (History 69). He challenges the perception of sexuality as a
natural given, a biological essence, or a creation of God by asserting:
Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasure, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few major strategies of knowledge and power.
Foucault believes that sexuality, as a historical and discursive construct of the West, is deployed through religious and scientific inquiries. The will to know about sex led Europeans to collect information about sexual desires and behaviors and turn those into topics for observation, study, codification, and interpretation. These inquisitive acts create scientia sexualis or the science of sexuality that put[s] into operation an entire machinery for producing true discourses concerning it. (Foucault, History 69). Sexuality derives from discursive productions through inquiries, as if it [science] suspected sex of harboring a fundamental secret (Foucault, History 59).
Using Foucaults premise that sexuality is discursively devised and utilizing new historicism and cross cultural studies, I investigate male homoerotic practices of several cultures to argue that sexuality, in general,
and homosexuality, in particular, are constructions. They are not absolute, biological, or divine givens beyond the realm of discourse in which gender, acts, and desires perfectly align. Homosexualitya concept that seems natural and immutable in Americadoes not exist cross culturally, thus it is not eternal, natural, or universal. Homosexuality and homosexual acts are actually discrete entities. The former can be independent from the latter; the two are like apples and oranges. Homosexuality does not occur in cultures whose organizational system of sexuality utilizes disparate categorizations that do not fall within the black and white, homo vs. hetero frame. Homosexuality, therefore, is not a reality that is out there as a result of something naturally located in here.
But some believe the opposite. They perceive it as a natural, coherent identity that derives from a prior external, natural, and universal gay existence. This incorrect belief follows the conception that words originate from and correspond to an actual artifact. This constitutes a misunderstanding that perpetuates an essence behind homosexuality. It assumes that homosexuality actually existed first and the terminology emerged as a result to accurately signify the existence. It also supposes that ....language, when reduced to its elements, [is] a naming-process onlya list of words, each corresponding to the thing that it names (Saussure 842). But these ideas are false, for language is a system of signs that operates through differences rather than through mere
reflections or correspondences (Saussure 842-844). The meanings of words function through a relational matrix dependent upon distinctions. Terry Eagleton clarifies: Each sign in the system has meaning only by virtue of its difference from the others. Cat has meaning not in itself, but because it is not cap or cad or bat....Meaning is not mysteriously immanent in a sign but is functional, the result of its difference from other signs (Literary Theory 84). The word homosexuality operates via the logic of binary distinction of homo vs. hetero. It derives its meaning from being the opposite of heterosexuality; therefore, it is a socio-cultural construct and a linguistic label that is based on a framework of relational contrast developed in the Western world. As such it does not reflect or originate from a pre-existing sexuality, as cross-cultural examples demonstrate. To illustrate my arguments, I provide examples of male homoerotic practices in Ancient Greece, the Chicano culture, the indigenous Gebusi tribe of Papua New Guinea, and the modern Thai society.
Halperin describes the societal organization in Ancient Greece, which influenced sexual behaviors: The predominant feature of the social landscape of classical Athens was the great divide in status between this superordinate group, composed of citizens, and a subordinate group, composed of women, children foreigners and slavesall of whom lacked full civil rights (Is There a History 260). This social stratification scripted
and defined the Athenians sexual roles: The socially superior penetrated
the inferior, not vice versa, so sex was based on social standing, not
identity or inward inclination (Halperin, Is There a History 260). The
binary sexual orientation and logic of hetero vs. homo did not exist nor
did it matter; therefore, a man could engage in sexual intercourses with
both males and females, but only the hierarchy, who was penetrating
whom, was significant. Sexual behaviors did not depend on sex or gender,
and it did not brand individuals with a sexual identity. According to
Halperin, this traditional, hierarchical model of male sexual relations
represents sexual preference without sexual orientation (How to do 97).
In fact, the contemporary division of people into sexual groups for identity
purposes would have confused the Athenians. In Halperins opinion, the
Greeks would have viewed such classification as senseless like grouping
people into identity categories based upon the food they enjoy (Halperin,
Is There a History 270). He writes:
Before the scientific construction of sexuality as a positive, distinct, and constitutive feature of individual human beings,...certain kinds of sexual acts could be individually evaluated and categorized, and so could certain sexual tastes or inclinations, but there was no orientation, much less for assessing and classifying it. (Is There a History 269, original emphasis)
To summarize, unlike our society, in classical Athens, what we now perceive as sexuality far from being independent of politics,...was constituted by the very principles on which Athenian public life was organized" (Halperin, Is There a History 261, original emphasis). Sexuality, in ancient Greece, did not depend upon the binary of male vs. female or homosexuality vs. heterosexuality. Rather, it was organized based upon social statusand this was the bottom line.
If social standing constituted the bottom line for sexual acts in the Hellenic world, which means that homosexuality did not exist as a concept or identity, what determined acceptable behavior among Greek men? Socially acceptable male behavior consisted of performing a sexual role that is aligned with ones social standing, so a master would penetrate his slave, not the opposite. Homo or hetero sexual practices were irrelevant to machismo.8 Additionally, the Greeks defined manhood through courage and persistence in a competition (Halperin, How to Do 93). Halperin states: A man displayed his true mettle in war,...and more generally in struggles with other men for honorin politics, business, and other competitive enterprises. Those men who refused to rise to the challenge ...incarnated the classical stereotype of effeminacy (How to Do 93). Thus, a straight hunk who excessively indulges in sexual intercourse with various women, watches every football game over jugs of
8 The ancient Greeks, however, did not find all sexual and gender behaviors acceptable. See Halperins How to Do the History of Male Homosexuality on deviant male behaviors during the Antiquity.
beer at sports bar, and drives a Ferraribehaviors that might exemplify masculinity in contemporary Americawould not satisfy the Greek criteria for manhood. This hunk would be a mere sissy in the eyes of the Ancient Greeks whose definition of masculinity differs drastically from the contemporary American one.
Similar to the Ancient Greeks, in the Chicano culture, manhood is not solely defined through hetero or homo sexual practices either. In his research, Almaguer, an ethnic studies sociologist, discovers that the Chicano culture embraces a different conception of sexual practices dissimilar from the binary matrix of American and European cultures (225). There is no cultural equivalent to the modern gay man' in the Mexican/Latin-American sexual system, explains Almaguer (255). Like the Hellenic Greeks, Mexican and Latin American cultures place significance upon the role that a man assumes during intercourse. Gender/sex/power in the Chicano culture is organized upon activeness or passiveness, and this is of utmost importance, whereas gender and biological sex are secondary (Almaguer 257). Of primary significance is whether a man performs the activos/machisas or the pasivoslcochons role. The active man (the top)the penetratortypically receives no stigma, thus he is still able to maintain his pride, and no definite word exists to describe him categorically, but the receiver (the bottom)the penetratedis shamed and de-maled for engaging in a female role,
which is viewed as weak, subservient, and unmanly (Almaguer 257).9 The Nicaraguans use the word cochon to label the bottom, which derives from colchon meaning mattressa flat, dormant object that men dominate by laying upon (Lancaster 112). As such, the term cochon can be interpreted to symbolize passiveness and powerlessness, and those who are called cochons exemplify subordination and weaknesses, unmanly characteristics in the Chicano culture (Almaguer 258).
Likewise, in Mexico, the activos are not severely stigmatized like
the pasivos. Octavio Paz, the Mexican literary Nobel laureate, reflects:
Masculine homosexuality is regarded with a certain indulgence insofar as
the active agent is concerned. The passive agent is an abject, degrading
being. Masculine homosexuality is tolerated then on condition that it
consists in violating a passive agent (40). Thus, topping another man
does not threaten ones heterosexuality or jeopardize ones machismo.
Bottoming, on the contrary, does. Reflecting upon this double-standard,
The Mexican sexual system actually militates against the construction of discernable, discrete bisexual or gay sexual identities because these identities are shaped by and draw upon a different sexual system of discursive practices.
One does not, in other words, become gay or lesbian identified in Mexico because its sexual system precludes such an identity formation in the first
9 Top, the man who penetrates, and bottom, the man who is penetrated, are common slang terms in the gay community.
place. These bourgeois sexual categories are simply not relevant or germane to the way gender and sexual meanings are conferred in Mexican society. (262)
To summarize, the meaning of manhood and acceptable sexual acts in the Chicano culture depend upon the idea of masculine dominance. The macho is deemed superior while the effeminate is perceived as weak.
Gay, as a classification, is not evident in Mexico, so Mexicans who nowadays identify as gay actually adopted a foreign identity categorization.
All in all, the Chicano perceptions of homoerotic acts and sexuality, while they may be somewhat similar to the Ancient Greeks, differ drastically from those of the United States. Influenced by heteronormativity, some Americans may feel that these cultures conceptions of sexuality are unorthodox and bizarre. These disparate reactions demonstrate the relativity of sexuality and evidence that there is no natural, universal absolute, so judgments against other cultures should be suspended. To further evidence the claim that homosexuality is a discursive invention that is not universal, I offer an anthropological study of same-sex acts in the Melanesian culture of Papua New Guinea.
Knauft, a cultural anthropologist, studies male sexual exchanges of the Gebusi, a tribe of 450 people living in a remote and interior area of the rainforest in New Guinea Western Province (1). In the Gebusi culture,
young boys in their mid or late teenage years must undergo a male initiation ritual to reach adulthood in which they perform oral sex on older tribesmen and swallow their ejaculations (Knauft 1). Such practice is a coming of age rite that is not clandestine, shameful, or gay, and Gebusi men would openly discuss this practice and proclaim their arousal toward another man in social settings without embarrassment (Knauft 2). Knauft reports: This included senior men, whose jokes about sexual liaisons with other males (and women) were a prominent dimension of male camaraderie and entertainment...Women could easily hear mens sexual joking and horseplay through the thin sago-leaf wall... (2). The Gebusi does not consider these conversations or the ritual an abomination nor do they perceive them as behaviors that would turn men gay. Anxieties over homoerotic taboo, stigmatism, and character defamation do not exist.
Knauft conducted his study from 1981 to 1982. It is interesting to note that when he returned to New Guinea for a follow-up study at the same site in 1998, he discovered that the Gebusi community drastically changed. Whereas it appeared unacculturated and remote in the early 1980s, in 1998, school, governmental outpost, police office, small stores, and a few churches had been established (Knauft 3). Churches and schools became important apparatuses. Children now attended a community school for 6.5 hours every weekday, and eighty four percent of adults had received baptism from a Catholic, Evangelical or Seventh Day
Adventist church (Knauft 3). With the spread of Westernization, the initiation ritual disappeared; the practice became abandoned (Knauft 5). Gebusi teenage boys now perceive it as an appalling custom (Knauft 5). In a miscommunication with three local Gebusi teenagers who were asking about adameni, Knauft, thinking that they were referring to the initiation, probed: Does adameni have to do with traditional Gebusi customs? You know, your old initiation sex custom in which a teenager sucks the penis and swallows the semen of a manso he can grow big and achieve full manhood (4)? His questions shocked the boys. The anthropologist, not realizing that adameni" is a love potion that men use to lure ladies, revealed a custom in their culture that now appears disgusting and strange (5). Western conceptions of sexuality and its heterocentric ideology had colonized the Gebusi culture of Papua New Guinea and disseminated homoerotic taboo.
Having demonstrated that male homoerotic acts in the Gebusi culture do not brand or constitute a homosexual identity, next, I present my final cross cultural evidence from Thailand, a country northeast of Papua New Guinea, to further confirm that homosexuality is a Western discursive construction. Gay as an identity or terminology never existed in the Thai culture until it was imported into the Thai lexicon from the English language during the 1960s to describe underground male homoerotic
behaviors that investigative journalism uncovered. This lexical import gave rise to a new sexual identity in Thailand.
Originally, the Thai language contained three words for sexuality: chain id (heterosexual male), ying vink (heterosexual female), and kathoey mzmu (effeminate male). Kathoey, however, is not identical to gay. While gay, in the Western world, denotes a male who is attracted to his own sex regardless of gender displays, kathoey is exemplified by gender qualities. A kathoey is a homosexual who behaves effeminately and views himself as a female. The verbal and physical demeanors that he exhibits are traditionally associated with the female sex. In Thailand, kathoey, according to Thai studies scholar Peter Jackson, are commonly thought of as low-class social riffraff (361).10 With only three words for sexual identities, the original Thai lexicon has no word to describe a masculine man who prefers to be with another man sexually or romantically. Based on the available Thai vocabulary for sexuality, it could be inferred that the Thai sexual dichotomy consisted of the masculine heterosexual male, the feminine female, and the effeminate male. Its categorization is based on gendernot desire. The male/masculine and female/feminine binary logic frames the Thai sexuality system. In 1965,
10 As a Thai native, I do not entirely agree with Jacksons assessment. Admittedly, there are social stigmas attached to those who identify as kathoey, and historically, the Thai society has not always been accepting of them; however, depending upon the context in Thailand, kathoeys are not always perceived as low-class riffraff. Some have risen to prominence in Thai entertainment industry, and they have come to be highly regarded for their artistic abilities.
this binary frame was disrupted by the premiere of the term gay, which signifies an unprecedented identity and concept to the Thais.
Gay (mu) is a loanword from the English language that emerged in the Thai lexicon during 1965 through a scandalous news article entitled Civilized People in Dark Corners (P. Jackson 374). The scandalous homicide of Darrell Berrigan, a gay American who started an English newspaper in Bangkok, ignited much investigative journalism about his homosexual life-styles that led to the discovery of an underground group of masculine male prostitutes who serviced male foreigners (P. Jackson 383, 388). Confused because this group of men was unknown to the general Thai public, the newspaper struggled to find accurate diction to define and describe them. The Thai Rath newspaper coined the word kathoey pu-chai nxmumnu (masculine kathoey) to name these sex workers; however, the neologism caused much confusion because it subverted the traditional Thai denotation of kathoey, which signifies femininity, inferiority, and low-class status (P. Jackson 384). Jackson elaborates:
The nonalignment of the gender, age, status, and commercial hierarchies in the case of kathoey pu-chai made it a problematic category of the dominant conception of kathoey. In particular, how was a man who paid kathoey pu-chai to penetrate him to be labeled? In some situations Thai copywriters seem to have considered the clients of all types of kathoey, including kathoey pu-chai, to be men....Yet if Berrigan was a kathoey
and the men who penetrated him were also kathoey, then we arrive at a crucial destabilization of the kathoey-mar\" pattern of homoeroticism. The interweaving hierarchies that determine positing as kathoey and man come apart, which creates the discursive contradiction of homoeroticism as a relation between two types of kathoey rather than between a kathoey and a man. (386)
This confusion sprouted additional journalistic probes, which revealed that the masculine male prostitutes called themselves gay. In October 1965, the discovery became published as the front page news of Thai Rath. The leading article employed the term gay instead of kathoey pu-chai, and unlike in English, it defined the former as masculine men who seem to possess the mind of complete men and who exhibit fashionable and sophisticated appearances, positive qualities as compared to kathoey (P. Jackson 389). This news created the distinction between kathoey as effeminate, low-life group of female wannabe men and gay as masculine, sophisticated men who are deemed superior. Thus, gay, as an identity and category, emerged for the first time to the Thai public through investigative journalism. It was an imported concept from the English language to give intelligibility to the identity of underground masculine male prostitutes. This new identity derives from a Western linguistic label. As such, it is not a natural creation.
Thus far, I have provided cross cultural evidence from Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Latin America, and ancient Greece to
demonstrate that contrary to the West, some cultures do not categorize men who engage in same-sex activities under homosexuality or brand them with a homosexual identity. Rather, in these disparate cultures, such identity was not evident, as sexuality is organized upon principles that differ from the binary hetero and homo logic or rather, illogic: The ancient Greeks classified sexual desires and acts based on the superiority of ones social standing; the Chicano culture rely upon activeness and passiveness; the Gebusi tribe of Papua New Guinea perceived homoerotic acts as a coming of age cultural tradition; and the Thai organizes sexual identity through masculine and effeminate gender qualities. Homosexuality, as a terminology and identity concept, did not originally exist in these places. I have cited cross cultural sexuality studies as evidence not for history or anthropology scholarship but to advance a key argument: Homosexuality is an arbitrary socio-cultural discursive construction of the West. Unlike the West, other cultures do not necessarily conflate male homoerotic acts and desires with an identity or orientation. These cross cultural examples negate the commonly held belief about the universality and essentialism of homosexuality as well as the coherent alignment of sex, gender, behaviors, and desires that constitutes sexuality. Homosexuality is neither a universal idea nor a transhistorical phenomenon. It is an invented identity formed in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Homosexuality, as an expression, premiered in 1869 on a pamphlet distributed in Leipzig by Karl Maria Kertbeny, a journalist (Halperin, How to Do 109). Kertbenys neologism did not aim to devastate homosexuals. Rather, he coined it to campaign against criminalizing homoeroticism in the Federation of North German States (Halperin, How to Do 109). Kertbeny, unlike conservative Christians in contemporary America (which I discuss in the next chapter), did not equate homosexuality as an abomination or sin. Instead he defined it as a sexual drive directed toward persons of the same sex as the sex of the person who was driven by it (Halperin, Howto Do 109). Unfortunately, however, Kertbenys attempt failed (Halperin, Howto Do 109). Homosexuality became scrutinized and punished, and a new branding of a perverted sexual identity developed.
According to Foucault, in the nineteenth century, the Europeans, possessed by prudishness, started scrutinizing and regulating sexual practices, and this new persecution of the peripheral sexualities entailed an incorporation of perversions and a new specification of individuals (History 42-3, original emphasis). In 1870, homosexuality was transformed from acts into a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology (Foucault, History 43). That year, from the publication of Carl Westphals medical
writing on contrary sexual sensations, homosexuality became cemented
as a new sexual category. Foucault explains:
We must not forget that the psychological, psychiatric, medical category of homosexuality was constituted from the moment it was characterizedWestphals famous article of 1870 on contrary sexual sensations can stand as its date of birthless by a type of sexual relations than by a certain quality of sexual sensibility, a certain way of inventing the masculine and the feminine in oneself.
With the birth of homosexuality in 1870, a new breed" or specie now came into existence: Homosexuality...was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a specie (Foucault, History 43). A new reality was strewed and incorporated into human beings, creating an identity (Foucault, History 44).
Part II: The Creation of Homosexuality through the Performative
Homosexualitythe new reality, specie, and identity-emerged through a performative utterance; homosexuality was created by a performative. Austin defines the performative in How to Do Things with Words: There are two kinds of statementsconstatives and performatives. The former states verifiable facts, (e.g. The door is closed.), whereas the latter enacts or creates; it is an utterance that gives
birth to something new (e.g. I pronounce you man and wife.) The performative does not function to describe or verify truth or falsehood nor does it refute a claim, but rather it acts and creates (Austin 682). The name performative, Austin explains, is derived, or course, from perform, the usual verb with the noun action: it indicates that the issuing of the utterance is the performance of an actionit is not normally thought of as just saying something (683). Ultimately, Austin believes that constatives can transform into performatives. David Richter clarifies: They [constatives] assert or swear or report that a particular state of affairs is true, and as such are doing things just as much as sentences that promise or congratulate (680).
Using Austins theory, I believe homosexuality originated from a performative utterance. The nineteenth century writings on homosexuality constitute performative utterances that create an unprecedented specie and a new identity category, which continues to emerge to the modern day. As such, homosexuality is a product of discourse. Influenced by Austin, Davin Grindstaff contends: The social classification of homosexual identity is a performative act, constituting identity by naming itself in public discourse (58). Thus, when one proclaims that one is gay, or one is a lesbian, one is enacting a performative that binds and creates ones identity, brining it into existence. Performative acts are forms of authoritative speech: most performatives, for instance, are statements
that, in the uttering, also perform a certain action and exercise a binding power, asserts Butler (Bodies 225). The utterances create existence and constitute bodies.
The emergence of homosexuality as an identity category through performative utterance generates several consequences. First, it forms new knowledge and information. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, homosexuality was not an intelligible identity. It was unknown; it was invisible; it was unidentifiable, but through the performative, homosexuality was born. Public knowledge regarding homosexuality is now possible, and homosexuals are now recognizable. Unfortunately, public recognition and knowledge have not entirely been positive. For instance, in 1886 when psychiatrist Richard von Kaft-Ebing published Psychopathia Sexualis, he pathologizes homosexuality as a perversion, an illness, and a sign of degeneration in European society (Flail 105). Similarly, Westphals 1869 article in a German medical journal depicts homosexuality as the contrary, contrary to the proper, procreative 'sexual feeing of men and women (Katz 54, cited in Flail 104).11 Evidently, deviancy and numerous negative qualities have been attributed to homosexuality, generating spiteful perceptions toward the identity.
" In History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Foucault cites 1870 as the birth year of homosexuality when Westphal published his article on contrary sexual sensations tHistory 43). However, in The Invention of Heterosexuality, Jonathan Ned Katz states 1869 as the publication date of Westphals article. Some scholars such as Donald Hall have argued that Foucaults date of 1870 is not entirely accurate.
Second, the establishment of a homosexual identity enables effective and easier managing of individuals. Scientific discourse produces the very category and identity it attempts to manage. According to Foucault, the nineteenth century was a period during which there was obsession with sexual control, management, and regulation. Regulating a group of invisible and identity-less people is difficult and nearly impossible. By fostering an identity category upon them, the population becomes visible, so regulating, controlling, and managing them become easier and more effective.
Third, domination and oppression are possible. Butler argues that they occur as a result of restrictive and enslaving identity categories created through language that allow an identity to have intelligibility. In order for domination and oppression to take place, she suggests that visibility and intelligibility of an identity through discursive creationism must occur first, for to be oppressed one must first become intelligible (Butler, Undoing 218). Discursive inventions then create reality to elevate some social groups, while demoting and oppressing others. Butler states: Domination occurs through a language which, in its plastic social action, creates a second order, artificial ontology, an illusion of difference, disparity, and, consequently, hierarchy that becomes social reality (Gender 150, her emphasis). This hierarchy of social reality privileges
heterosexuality at the expense of homosexuality. Hence, intelligibility is problematic; it creates drawbacks.
Lastly, the deployment of homosexuality serves as a platform to elevate heterosexuality and propel heteronormativity. The homo vs. hetero binary provides a contrastive framework that privileges one sexual orientation over another. Once instituted as an identity, homosexuality comes to serve as the opposite counterpart of heterosexualityits contrary. Thus, the creation and categorization of homosexuality is a form of repression. From its birth in 1870 through Westphals publication on contrary sexual sensations, homosexuals are depicted as the deviant other. Homosexuality was not born with a pure and innocent identity. Since the nineteenth to the twentieth century, from the castigation of Oscar Wilde to the spread of Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) or what is now called AIDS, it has been and continues to be associated with perversions, sins, abnormality, diseases, and sickness by conservatives. The worse it appears, the better heterosexuality looks because the latter comes to exemplify the opposite qualities. Homosexuality serves as its contrastive, disadvantaged counterpart. Consequently, homosexuals suffer unfair injustices. Deemed as the abnormal and the contrary, homophobia can spread its discriminative actions without legal sanctions. Discriminative force can be exercised righteously as it disguises itself as being
beneficial to both the abnormal individual and the society at large. Thus, the human rights of an individual can be suspended, and personal details about ones life can be interrogated and brought to public display. Abnormality can be used to justify criminalization, prohibition, and discrimination, allowing heteronormative influences to effectively and swiftly spread.
Evidently, the consequences of the creation of homosexuality as an identity category through a performative utterance create several drawbacks for homosexuals. It oppresses, marginalizes, and disadvantages them. Through instituting an identity category, homosexuals become a subjected subject; that is, as identity categorization is cast upon them, they are intelligible and visiblea subjectbut at the same time, this intelligibility and visibility enable regulations, so to become subject to a regulation is also to become subjectivated by it, that is, to be brought into being as a subject precisely through being regulated (Butler, Undoing 41). Regulation constitutes a form of subjugation and domination, for the subject is not free; they are confined within certain rules and norms.
Therefore, queer theory advocates abolishing sexual identity altogether. Queer theorists believe that by refusing to crystallize in any specific form, queer maintains a relation of resistance to whatever
constitutes the normal (Jagose 99). In their perspective, the categorization of sexual identity is a form of linguistic violence upon the bodies because it maintains identity categories that restrict, foreclose, and marginalize; categorization leads to regulatory regimes, oppressive structures, and a name that enslaves (Butler, Imitation 1707; Gender 147). Butler complains against identity: Im permanently troubled by identity categories, consider them to be invariable stumbling-blocks, and understand them, even promote them, as sites of necessary trouble (Imitation 1708).
One of the main problems with sexual identity categorization is the maintenance of a limiting binary sexuality system. By identifying as a homosexual, one reinforces the homo VS. hetero dichotomy. One remains under the binary grip. The binary, unfortunately, tends to privilege heterosexuality at the expense of homosexuality. Because maintaining the homosexual identity reinforces the binary that segregates and oppresses, homosexuals cannot disturb the binary logic that surrounds sexuality, nor the attendant process of privileging and devaluing that surrounds this particular and every other pervasive binary system (Kopelson 22). Consequently, heterocentricism and heteronormativity remain intact. In this sense, homosexuality constitutes an ideology, a concept I define in the next section.
Part III: Homosexuality as Ideology and (in Some Cases) Normalization
Following the Marxist tradition, I define ideology as a set of beliefs, ideas, principles, and traditions that serve to dominate and marginalize a social group, in order for another group to remain powerful, privileged, and dominant. Ideology is not obvious; it disguises itself and masks its oppressive effects. Because homosexuality is an ideology, not all homosexuals see their sexual orientation as a categorization that subjects them to discriminative visibility, marginalization, and categorical enslavement. Some do not recognize that their identification enables the binary dichotomy that negatively casts them as the contrary of heterosexuality. Some even come to see their identity as natural rather than an arbitrary socio-cultural linguistic construction of the West.
(Ideology can have positive effects on social groups, an important point that I will discuss later.) Collectively, these perceptions are the effects of ideology.
Because homosexuality is ideological, some gay rights organizations view the gay identity as a natural phenomenon rather than a discursive invention. They utilize the born gay theory approach to politically justify homosexuality. Borndifferent.org, a website developed by the Gill Foundation, argues that homosexuality is natural because people are born gay. To articulate its argument, the website offers a series of
video clips about Norman, a Brittany Spaniel puppy that moos rather than barkshe was born that way. The clips state: Norman couldnt think of a single reason why he moos instead of barks. He just always had...Norman, Norman, Norman, different from the day he was born. He just cant fight what comes so naturally (Gill Foundation). Obviously, Norman symbolizes homosexuals. He propagates the message that homosexuality is not a discursive construction but rather a natural phenomenon. The name Norman is also a pun that suggests normalcy. The normal and natural angle that the website uses to advocate gay rights demonstrates that to some homosexuals, homosexuality has attained a natural status. This is a result of ideology, which blinds them from recognizing the socio-cultural discursive construction of sexuality that enables regulations. Hans Bertens clarifies how ideology functions: ...It is that which makes us experience our life in a certain way and makes us believe that that way of seeing ourselves and the world is natural. In so doing, ideology distorts reality in one way or another and falsely presents as natural and harmonious what is artificial and contradictory... (85 original emphasis). Each time one evokes the naturalness argument of homosexuality, doing so evidences the ideological effect of homosexuality. At this point, it is important to note that I am not suggesting that homosexuality is unnatural in an anti-gay sense, an angle that homophobic individuals have utilized to argue against
homosexuality. Nor am I criticizing borndifferent.org for failing to see homosexuality as an ideology. I applaud and commend the Gill Foundations homophile efforts. My purpose here is to demonstrate that homosexuality is an ideology. As a result, some individuals have misrecognized the actuality of homosexualitya discursive construction through performative utterances.
Although homosexuality is an ideology, within ideology, contestation and social movements against oppression and inequality are possible. Ideology cannot completely restrict agency and social movement. In some instances, contestation can overthrow an oppressive ideology, but even if an ideology remains intact, there is space for counterchallenges. A flourishing gay culture has merged to challenge the depiction of its identity as odious, filthy, abnormal, and pathological. The homosexual community has celebrated and re-branded itself through pride, and it invented symbolismsthe rainbow flag, the yellow equality sign, and the inverted pink triangleto retaliate against homophobia. It fights for positive recognition and tirelessly works to resignify itself as an honorable community of individuals. But how did this occur? How did an ideological identity invented for regulation purpose and elevation of heteronormativity rise to contest its antagonist? Foucaults theory of power provides an answer to these questions, thus ...the objective is to analyze
how this occurred not in terms of repression or law, but in terms of power" (Foucault, History 92).
For Foucault, power is not a possession by any authority, person,
state, or institution. It is depersonalized and decentralized. By power,
Foucault clarifies, I do not mean Power as a group of institutions and
mechanisms that ensure the subservience of the citizens of a given state.
By power, I do not mean, either, a mode of subjugation which, in contrast
to violence, has the form of the rule (History 92). Instead, power is
relational, diffused, innumerable, and omnipresent. Foucault elucidates:
It seems to me that power must be understood in the first instances as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and constitute their own organization; as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies. (History 92-3)
Hence, we must rid ourselves of a juridical and negative representation of
power, and cease to conceive of it in terms of law, prohibition, liberty, and
sovereignty (Foucault, History 90). Foucaults definition of power
completely revises and negates the traditional perception of power or what he calls the old form.
Unlike the old form, modern power, besides being diffused, relational, and impersonal, is productive and inseparable from resistance. Foucault distinguishes repressive power, the old form, from modern power, the new form: [The former] is a power that only has the force of the negative on its side, a power to say no; in no condition to produce, capable only of posting limits, it is basically anti-energy. This is the paradox of its effectiveness: it is incapable of doing anything..." (History 85). In contrast, today relations of power are not in superstructural positions, with merely a role of prohibition or accompaniment; they have a directly productive role, whatever they come into play (Foucault, History 94). Thus, contemporary power is a productive force; it is not antienergy. While it is productive, it also breeds resistance. Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power, ascertains Foucault (History 95). All in all, modern power, productivity, and resistance are inseparable.
Foucaults arguments regarding power as productive and indivisible from resistance are important concepts for understanding the rise of homosexuality as a counter ideological identity. Collectively, the productive nature of power and resistance lead to a positive resignification
of the homosexual identity; homosexuals resignify themselves to as normal, legitimate, and prideful to combat spiteful stereotypes of their identity. Because power is not entirely repressive, because it is productive, and because it includes resistance, it ignites the homosexual community to redefine its identity and develop gay pride to repudiate heterocentricism.
At this point, one might make the rebuttals: If homosexuality is an ideology that works to regulate and manage homosexuals, how can it have generated gay pride; why have homosexuals not resisted this ideology; and why have not all of them become queer instead?12 Althussers theory of ideology offers important insights.
For Althusser, ideology is a representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence (162). As such, it does not correspond to reality (Althusser 162). What is presented in ideology, argues Althusser, is therefore not the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals (165). Rather, it is an illusion; ideology = illusion/allusion (Althusser 162). However, although it may not be real, it has a material existence (Althusser 165). It is rooted in physical objects, and human beings, ideological creatures, are its target, as ideology needs human beingssubjectsto exist: There is no ideology except by the subject and for the subject. Meaning, there is no
121 am using the term queer here to denote the political movement to resist identity categorization.
ideology except for concrete subjects, and this destination for ideology is only made possible by the subject: meaning, by the category of the subject and its functioning (Althusser 170, original emphasis). Ideology, hence, interpellates or hails individuals as subjects and in doing so, it forms them (Althusser 170). (Interpellation is the process by which ideology recruits an individual and turns them into its subjects.) For Althusser, human beings cannot escape from interpellation, as we are ideological creatures. He explains: Individuals are always-already a subject [of ideology]...even before [they are] born... (176 original emphasis). Being interpellated is not merely negative; it allows us to live out [our] relation to society, the realm of signs and social practices which blinds [us] to the social structure and lends [us] a sense of coherent purpose and identity (Eagleton, Literary Theory 149). Thus, interpellation provides satisfactions.
In the case of homosexuality, while it is a categorical Western constructionan imaginaryto regulate sexuality, its interpellate power provides a sense of identity, meanings, and community to individuals who identify under its categorization. Ideology, in the Althusserian sense, offers benefits. It is a system of repression-enticement. Identifying as gay or lesbian enables people to belong in a community with like individuals, which allows them to have membership and a sense of belonging.
Consequently, they no longer feel lonely, rejected, or alienated; there are others like them. Being interpellated allows them to derive pleasure from possessing a sense of common ground with similar individuals. Consubstantiation becomes possible. As a result, homosexuals do not desire to abandon their fictive identity category. They remain adamant about maintaining it. For instance, my friend Tiffany (a fictive name).
For several years, calling herself an asexual, she felt no attraction toward men or women. While her friends are liberal, supportive, and accepting of all sexualities, Tiffany felt she was abnormal because she was unable to identify with any orientation. She believed something was inherently wrong with her, and this caused her to feel alienated and lonely. Consequently, her self-esteem plummeted. Confused, scared, and lonely, she became depressed, but fortunately, through therapy, she began to recover and came to discover her new sexual identitylesbianism. After identifying as a lesbian, her depression decreased. I feel normal and sane again, she told me, I feel so much better than before. I dont feel weird or awkward anymore because I know that there are people who are like me. I can go to a lesbian coffee shop and hang out with them (Tiffany). Now as a happily in-love lesbian, Tiffany has discontinued therapy. She has regained self-esteem and a confidence that has dissolved her depression.
Tiffanys happy ending illustrates the positive impact of ideology. Having a homosexual identity, although it is an ideology, allowed her to eradicate her depression and enabled her to feel and be legitimate. It formed her as an intelligible subject, but she is now subjected to a binary sexual system that dichotomizes and segregates. Regardless, ideology enabled her to belong in a community of like individuals, a community which helps her feel welcomed, valued, loved, and supported. Her lesbian identity is both repressive and enticing.
Through interpellating individuals as homosexuals, ideology enables a collective identity, which leads to the development of a community of like individuals. As membership grows, the identity can accumulate force and influence. When an external force antagonizes a community, members will bond to retaliate. Doing so increases group cohesion and intensifies resistance. In Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence, Cheryl Glenn asserts: Nothing brings people together, helps them identify, makes them consubstantial faster than a common enemy on whom they can transfer all their frustrations, disappointments, guilt, and grudges (50). The intense contestation between homosexuals and homophobia ignites cohesion among the homosexual community, hence the development of homophile organizations such as the Chicago Society for Human Rights in 1924, the Mattachine Society in 1951, and the
Daughters of Bilitis in 1955 (Jagose 24-26). These early gay rights groups attempted to increase tolerance for homosexuality through education and, in some instances, through using the abnormal card, which argues that because homosexuals are psychologically defected, they should receive sympathy rather than condemnation (Jagose 22-29).
However, in 1969, a shift in tactic from the gay community
emerged. The Stonewall protest took place in New York City to demand
respect, recognition, and equality. This landmark incident marks the birth
of the gay liberation movement (Jagose 31). The movements intention
now went beyond tolerance; it aimed to create a cohesive identity (Jagose
31). Annamarie Jagose explains:
Gay liberationists, by contrast, refused to pander to heterosexual anxieties and scandalised society with their difference rather than wooing it with claims of sameness.
Whereas the homophile movement had come to advocate assimilation, gay liberation was constructed around the notion of a distinct gay identity. Although there were clearly significant lines of continuity between the two formations, essentially, however, gay liberation, to a much greater extent than is true of the older homophile groups, is concerned with the assertion and creation of a new sense of identity, one based on pride in being gay. (Jagose 31-32, citing Altman 109)
The gay liberations focus on identity establishes gay pride. Gays refuse to be citizens of shame, abnormality, and pathology. Thus, they re-brand themselves as a legitimate and honorable group of citizens. Gay men
reinvent themselves through the word gay, which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, originally denotes liveliness, joy, brilliant, mirth, energy, and happiness. This act is a significant rhetorical move. Through identifying with the term gay, homosexual men attempt to rid themselves from negative connotations and resignify their identity through positive qualities and connotations associated with the diction of gay. This resignification and other fights for an honorable identity, tolerance, and equal recognition have led to the flourishing of gay symbolisms such as the rainbow flag, the growth of annual worldwide gay pride festivals, the rise of national advocacy and lobbying organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, the emergence of GLBT magazines and newspapers, and recently, the broadcasting of Logoa cable television channel for the homosexual community. Homosexuality, in the twenty-first century, is no longer an isolated group of protestors, and with the spread and the increasing strength of homosexual political organizations, businesses, communities, and symbolisms, homosexuality has become normalized in certain locations, which I call vibrant gay community (VGC).
I define VGCs as places, usually urban and liberal, which celebrate GLBT presence and honor, appreciate, and support sexual diversity. In these locations, its non-heterosexual citizens are generally comfortable and proud about exhibiting their sexual identity, so these communities contain and attract large GLBT populations. San Francisco, Sydney, and
London are examples of VGCs. These sites are significant. I believe they have subversive potentials, and I remain hopeful about their possibilities to propel equality. They are important hubs for progress and equality.13 They are the locations in which large GLBT rights organizations, lobbying groups, and major prideful celebration events take place. They are the main places for the growth and development of gay culture and community whose rise challenge heteronormativity. Most importantly, they serve as a model for the rest of the nation and the world to follow.
In these model places, homosexuality hails individuals to identify with it through pride, a sense of community, and cultural vibrancy. VGCs now possess their own ideological state apparatuses, such as churches, bars, community organizations, television programs, mass publications, music, radio stations, families, political groups, and sports team, which collectively, strengthen the vivacity of the homosexuality identity. These apparatuses have engrained homosexuals with certain beliefs, senses, and reality, and a whole vibrant culture has emerged as a result. Consequently, to homosexuals in VGCs, homosexuality has become normalized. Hence, it seems to be natural and real and not a discursive construct or a strange fictive label. In VGCs, homosexuality constitutes a reality, a sense of absolute because experienced reality beyond which it is very difficult for most [homosexual] members of the society to move, in
13 This statement should not be taken as an argument that progress and equality do not exist or are unattainable elsewhere.
most areas of their lives (Williams 110). Gayness or lesbianism in a VGCwhich is urban, progressive, welcoming, and diversenow appears as common sense." It is no longer something strange or unorthodox.
Part IV: Possible Exclusionary Problems of Homosexuality
The fact that homosexuality no longer appears strange or unorthodox in VGCs because it is normalized leads to a crucial question: What are the implications? While I feel that homosexuality, as an identity category, is imperative for advancing overdue equality, creating a sense of community, eradicating ignorance, and providing comfort for those who are afraid to be out, as argued previously, it inevitably produces restrictions and regulations that limit the possibilities of sexual orientations, freedom, and fluidity. People are boxed in, which may foreclose future possible identities. Karen Kopelson contends: Perhaps the most common critique of identity politics, of course, is that it forecloses this possibility of excess; that is, as marginalized groups organize to rectify their outsider status, they create a falsely unified front that itself becomes exclusionary in its disavowal of multiplicity... (24). Butler expresses similar concerns: Im not at ease with lesbian theories, gay theories, for as Ive argued elsewhere, identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive
structures or as the rallying points for a liberatory contestation of that every oppression (Imitation 1707). These counterarguments against the homosexual identity from queer theory are thought provoking. Can gay rights really bring about liberation when it requires cementing a sexual identity, which consequently, restricts the freedom and potentials of other sexual orientations? If it succeeds and homosexuals are liberated, is it truly a liberation in the sense that people are free to do what they want in terms of gender and sexuality? The answer to these questions is no. Gay liberation, while it might free homosexuals from inequality, inevitably limits freedom; people will remain in identity categories and the ideology of homosexuality. Consequently, there can be no absolute freedom in terms of sexual binary. Discursive labels, which are socially constructed, continue to constitute human beings, and we remain subjected subjects. This is why queer theorists have reiterated the concern that coming out simply obeys and reinforces the laws of sexual categories, and of their knowable, nameable selves (Kopelson 21). However, remaining in categories, as I have argued earlier, is not necessarily negative. It can provide a sense of community and normalcy (as in the case of Tiffany).
But at the same time, obedience and reinforcement of categories could marginalize other sexual identities and develop homocentricism the preference for and the privileging of homosexuality over other orientationswhich brings up a concern: Could homosexuality create its
own normativity that marginalizes, delegitimizes, and forecloses other sexual orientations; is to be out really to be inin with normalizing judgments? My friend Tiffany, until she identifies as a lesbian, felt abnormal and strange for not possessing a concrete identity. She felt alienated and worried about revealing her unintelligible sexual orientation to others because they might judge her as odd. For years, she suffered depression and chose to remain silent to avoid social criticism. Admittedly, her asexuality confused me for a while, as I wondered: How the heck can you not know what you are? The available sexual categories restricted my comprehension. Tiffanys anxiety over her sexuality, which culminated in severe depression, overwhelmed her. She is fortunate, however, in that she now identifies as a lesbian, which enables her to feel a sense of normalcy in the end. Homosexuality perhaps saved her life, but what about other people who cannot identify with any particular sexual category? Because there is not a discursive label through a performative to provide them with intelligibility, they become the deviant, the excluded, the unintelligible, and the invisible. Homocentricism and heterosexism could destroy their lives. What would happen to Tiffany if she were to rediscover that one day she no longer likes women or men again? She would be deemed as unintelligible and strange. Having identity categories and limiting them as singular, static, and immutable can provide
tremendous benefits to some minority populations, but they can also marginalize others who cannot identify with their terms.
Thus far, it might seem that I am against all categorizations or that I am advocating for the abolition of sexual categories altogether. I am not. I recognize the importance and benefits of homosexuality as an identity category, and I do not identify as a queer theorist; however, I feel it is obligatory to consider the drawbacks of homosexuality as a normalized identity category by incorporating the perspectives from queer theory in order to provide a more balanced view regarding sexual identification and its possible discriminative and exclusionary impacts. We must be sensitive and mindful about the normalization of homosexuality because homosexuality is not normalized everywhere. While we may not be able to get rid of sexual identity categories altogether because they have become so ingrained in our culture, we can, at the very least, be aware of its drawbacks and use this knowledge as a platform to explore strategies that might be more inclusive rather than exclusive.
Part V: Rhetoritivity: A Theory of Homosexuality
If homosexuality is capable of being exclusive and interpellative, what sustains it? This is an important question that I wish to explore before concluding the chapter. In answering this question, I present my own theory of homosexuality. Homosexuality, an ideology and a discursive construction in the Western world through a performative utterance, is
sustained through discourse. In short, discourse originates and maintains it.
In developing my theory, I utilize Volosinovs Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. According to Volosinov, ideology operates through signs: Without signs, there is no ideology (9, his emphasis). Thus, the domain of ideology coincides with the domains of signs. They equate to one another. Wherever a sign is present ideology is present, too (Volosinov 10). The relationship between ideology, consciousness, and signs are inseparable: Consciousness takes shape and being in the material of signs created by an organized group in the process of its social intercourse. The individual consciousness is nurtured on signs; it derives its growth from them (Volosinov 13). Because it is through signs that we derive our consciousness, Volosinov believes that the study of ideology must exclusively focus on discourse. Examining it through other means would constitute a flawed approach (Volosinov 12).
Applying Volosinovs ideas to homosexuality, I believe that discourse is integral to the existence and intelligibility of the homosexual identity, and without it, the latter would dissipate. The social classification of homosexual identity, contends Grindstaff, is a performative act, constituting identity by naming itself in public discourse...Identity is also...the material of ideology (58). Through performative utterance, a discursive act, homosexuality comes into existence. When one declares
that one is gay, one is performing a discursive action that forms and strengthens this invented category. The utterance has an effectcreating and constituting identity to bind human beings. It can be a rhetorical act.14 Disclosing ones identity can serve as a strategic move to achieve a purpose, which could vary from giving information about ones self, allowing for recognition to gaining community membership. For instance, by strategically uttering that one is gay in a GLBT environment, one can come to develop common ground with a community of like individuals, so that one is not alone or alienated and so that group cohesion and identity are strengthened.
Moreover, the GLBT community has strategically developed many significant artifacts that sustain their identity. These items are rhetorics that maintain a crucial role in cohering and upholding homosexuality: coming out narratives, perseverance stories, images of Matthew Sheppard, the rainbow flags, the inverted triangles, and the yellow equality sign. They are rhetorics because they derive from the strategic usage of signs to fulfill several functions: They help interpellate, develop pride, consubstantiate, cohere, and brand the homosexual community. In addition, the GLBT community also utilizes discourses to counter its antagonists. When homophobia threatens its community, retaliation is devised through rhetorics that are then exhibited via websites, print
14 See my definition of rhetoric in the introduction.
advertisements, television programs, banners, and speeches These rhetorical artifacts help propel homosexuality, its influence, identity, intelligibility, and publicity to the general public and the homosexual community.
All in all, discourse is essential to the construction of homosexuality, the declaration of sexual identity, community coherence, identity re-branding, and the retaliation of homophobia. It enables them, and many of these acts are rhetorical; they require strategic usage of signs to achieve a purpose. Through repetitive, constant, and strategic citation of discourses, homosexuality is sustained. I call this process rhetoritivitycompulsory utilizations and repetitions of discourses, often strategic, which form, advance, and sustain an identity. Rhetoritivity references the convergence of discourse, ideology, rhetorical strategies, and performativity. It is constant and ongoing; it constitutes discursive performativity that enables the concept and the maintenance of homosexuality. If it ever ends, homosexuality will dissipate because ...ideology must be renewed, reinforced, and defended continually through the use of rhetorical strategies and practices (Foss 243). Thus, the nature of homosexuality is discursive, and rhetoritivity is its backbone. Perhaps this is why a gay gene has not been discovered.
Homosexuality, as an identity, is located within rhetoritivityit is rhetoritivity. And this is its rhetorical secret.15
Conclusion: The Implication of Rhetoritivity
Having uncovered the rhetorical secret of homosexuality rhetoritivityI close this chapter with a discussion on the implication of my theory. Because homosexuality is rhetoritivity, there is no essentialism to it whatsoever. Essentialism is the single inherent, indivisible, immutable element that allows something to exist; it is its essential. Homosexuality, however, has no essence. There is not a single inherent, indivisible, and immutable element that defines it. Locating its essence in rhetoritivity, acts, desires, and biology are all problematic and questionable. Rhetoritivity is not a single, inherent, or unchanging act. In fact, if we divide it, it consists of disparate and multiple forms of discourses and rhetorical strategies, none of which is a single element that enables homosexuality. Although rhetoritivity is made up of discourses, as it is discursive performativity, discourse should not be seen as its essence either because as poststructuralism has demonstrated, discourse can be deconstructed and shown to be aporetic.
Labeling sexual acts and desires as the essence of GLBT identity are equally flawed because it presumes that there is a singular
15 Davin Grindstaff uses rhetorical secrets to denote the elements that disguise the composition of an identity.
homosexual act or desire that is static, eternal, inherent, and irreducible when there is not. If there is a singular act that exemplifies the essence of homosexuality, then which would it be? Is it a sexual act or a romantic one? Instead of acts, if the essence is constituted via same-sex desire, then what defines this desirelibido, gender, attractions? And must the desire be exclusive to one sex? If so, how would we classify married men or women who do not identify as homosexuals but at times possess same-sex desire and attraction? Additionally, if a man undergoes a sex-change operation and becomes solely attracted to women, should she (he?) be categorized as a person possessing same-sex desire? Collectively, these questions pose troublesome issues for defining the essentialism of homosexuality.
Locating essentialism in biology is problematic and controversial as well. Most importantly, it has been politically ineffective. Conservatives have continuously negated them by rejecting the gay gene and the born gay propositions. Refuting the essentialist explanation, anti-gay organizations, such as those that offer gay therapy programs (more on this in chapter three), attack homosexuality by viewing it as a mutable characteristica choice that can be corrected. Thus, their strategies are anti-essentialist. Specifically, they attempt to disconnect behaviors and desires from identity, viewing the former as temporary mistakes. They now utilize the love the sinner, hate the sin approach to eradicate
homosexuality (Fetner79). Besides gay therapy programs, conservative Christians have also formed the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization that sponsors and exhibits research to refute the biological essentialist explanations of homosexuality; therefore, political strategies and identity politics that rely upon the essentialist framework have continuously failed to solicit conservatives supports. They remain unsuccessful in helping homosexuals attain equal rights and protection.
But even if they were successful, the essentialist model raises another drawback: It would classify homosexuals as minorities. In order to attain equality, political arguments for homosexual rights based on essentialism relegate homosexuals to the position of underprivileged and underrepresented minorities who need civil rights. Grindstaff calls this tactic the minority model of sexual representation, and he cautions that it may lead homosexuals to become more enslaved to [the minority] discursive conditions and less able to launch an effective challenge to its necessary logics (70). In addition to branding homosexuals as minorities, the minority model also allows heteronormativity to remain privileged and esteemed and to continue to retain its majority status. While I would like to see homosexuals attain equal rights, I am perturbed by the fact that doing so may require them to remain relegated to a minority position. Alternative political strategies are, therefore, needed. (I offer some ideas
in the final chapter of the thesis.) All in all, essentialism, as a theoretical model for understanding and advancing homosexuality, is inadequate.
This chapter, which contains six parts, began with a question about the difference between the acceptability of the term homosexuality over epithets such as ass fuckers and fags that are deemed derogatory and are consequently censured. The fact that homosexuality is generally perceived as polite and acceptable in public perplexed me. It led me to ponder the nature of homosexuality. In part one, I argued that homosexuality is not a universal sexual orientation and identity category, but that rather, it is a Western discursive construction from the nineteenth century. I demonstrated through cross cultural examples that acts, desires, and identity are arbitrary and can remain independent from each other. Hence, 'While our society portrays binary oppositions like masculine and feminine or straight and gay as elementary natural categories, the rules have little to do with nature and everything to do with culture (Richter 1616). In part two, I explained that homosexuality arose from a performative utterance that served to categorize and brand individuals and subject them to visibility and regulations. In part three, I investigated how homosexuality has become an ideology that interpellates the homosexual subjects, constituting them, which ignites the development of gay pride and contestations against homophobic forces.
This led to the transformation and re-branding of the homosexual identity that culminates in the normalization of the homosexual identity in vibrant gay communities. In part four, I cautioned against the possible drawbacks of the homosexual identity such as exclusions and marginalization of other unintelligible sexual identities. In part five, I explained how rhetoritivity sustains homosexuality, so the nature of homosexuality is discursive. Finally, I concluded with a discussion of the implications of rhetoritivity in which I question the essentialism of homosexuality.
DESIGN, APPEAL, AND DISCURSIVE ANALYSES OF MULTIMEDIA ANTI-GAY JEREMIADS IN RADICAL CHRISTIANITY16
For just as different drugs dispel different secretions from the body, and some bring an end to disease and others to life, so also the case of speeches, some distress, others delight, some cause fear, others make the hearers bold, and some drug and bewitch the soul with a kind of evil persuasion. Gorgias, Encomium to Helen
Thank God for 9/11; thank God for dead soldiers; thank God for Katrina"; God hates America; youre going to hell; God hates fags; fear God. These messages form the preaching of a conservative Christian group in Kansasthe Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).17 Our job is to preach these truths. That doesnt mean change it to make them feel good. Youre supposed to preach it unapologetically, truthfully, and unambiguously, a WBC member proudly proclaims (God Hates You"). Founded in 1955 in Topeka, Kansas by Pastor Fred Phelps, the WBC declares its mission: Adhere to the teachings of the Bible, preach against all form of sin (e.g., fornication, adultery [including divorce and remarriage], sodomy), and insist that the sovereignty of God and the
16 Radical Christianity: Conservative Christians who utilize pompous divine threats and preach wrathful religious messages to coerce obedience.
17 See my definition of conservative Christianity in the introduction.
doctrines of grace be taught and expounded publicly to all men (WBC).18 Homosexuality constitutes one of the primary sins that WBC targets. Perceiving the growth of GLBT communities in urban America as militant movements that pose a clear and present danger to the existence of the United States, the WBC travels across the nation to picket in public with their infamous signs, God Hates Fags and Turn or Burn (WBC). In 2001, the church stormed Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins to rebuke CSUs sanction against Pi Kappa Alpha fraternitys and Alpha Chi Omega sororitys 1998 homecoming float that exhibited homophobic references to Matthew Shepards homicide (Cobb 1). (Shepard died in a Fort Collins hospital a few miles away from CSU.) Phelps contests CSUs administration: What they did and the way they treated those kids in that frat and that sorority for mocking that homo was outrageous. If theres any group that deserves to be mocked for their filthy lifestyle, its the fags (qtd. in Cobb 2). WBC followers, along with Phelps, went as far protesting the trials of Shepards murderers (Cobb 20). In doing so, the WBC believes that they are accomplishing the divine mission of spreading Gods hatred of homosexuality and cleansing America from wickedness. They perceive their beliefs to be the absolute universal truth that every being must obey.
Homosexuality, according to conservative Christianity, is an abomination, and homosexuals are sinful; therefore, they will burn in hellinterminably. They will...drink of the wine of Gods anger that has
18 This direct quotation contains original wording, parenthesis, and brackets by the WBC.
been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and [they] will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb...The smoke from their torture will go up forever and ever (Holy Bible, Revelation 14.10-1). Conservative Christians threats and warnings about the sinfulness of homosexuality perplex and vex me. This combination propels me to want to better understand their rhetorics.
Therefore, in this chapter, I examine the meanings and persuasive effectiveness of the images and arguments in three of the WBCs multimedia clips entitled God Hates Fags, Bush Killed Them, and God is Americas Terror. I analyze these clips at three levelsdesign, appeal, and discursive. At the design level, I provide an overview of the clips, offer their synopses, and identify their important features. Then I address their non-verbal elements and interpret their meaning and significance to clips overall arguments. At the appeal level, I study the appeal strategy that the clips utilize to advance their perspective, and I evaluate their effectiveness in achieving persuasiveness. Finally, at the discursive level, I review the institutional impacts and the subjective social and cultural values inherent in the clips. Overall, my analytical framework is a threefold approach, and through this frame, I argue that while at the design level, the images in the clips embed powerful arguments, at the appeal and the discursive level, they fall apart and backfire against WBCs persuasive aim, which is to convert the audience, homosexuals and heterosexuals, against
homosexuality and to attract them toward WBCs theology. I expose the clips1 shortcomings and failures and contend that ultimately, these multimedia rhetorics are ridiculously ineffective in persuasiveness.
Source of the Analytical Framework The idea for this chapters three-level analytical framework derives from Bruce McComiskeys Teaching Composition as a Social Process, which advocates teaching writing at the textual, rhetorical, and discursive level of composing (8). For McComiskey, the textual level focuses on the linguistic characteristics of writingthe textual elements such as grammar and genre (McComiskey 6). The rhetorical level examines the generative and restrictive exigencies (audience, purpose, etc.) (McComiskey 6). The discursive level looks at the subjectivities and social and cultural values that shape the text (McComiskey 7). An effective composition course, McComiskey argues, must engage students in all three levels of analysis. It incorporates this tripartite map of composing into its pedagogy (McComiskey 7, 16-17). Flowever, rather than strictly emulating McComiskeys approach, I am using his ideas as a spring board to develop and perform a three-level of analysis in which I have re-defined the focus of the majority of the levels to differ from McComiskeys.
Before engaging in the three-level of analysis of WBCs multimedia clips, it is important to note the organization of this chapter. At the design level, I analyze each clip individually, examining each one before proceeding to the next. The design analysis is twofold. First, I provide an overview of the clip and identify its important features. Afterward, I explicate the meanings and significance of the non-verbal elements in each clip. Because the design content of each clip is unique and discrete, it is best to look at each one singly to ensure clarity and prevent confusion. Afterward, as the appeal and discursive aspects of the three clips are similar, I analyze the appeal effectiveness of all three clips together before concluding with a collective discursive analysis.
Clip One: God Hates Fags
I begin my analysis by looking at the first clip, God Hates Fags, which opens with a voice of an older man proclaiming, God hates fags.
Its a profound theological statement," while the screen displays a picture of Phelps wearing a suit, a tie, and a cowboy hat and holding a large sign in his left hand that reads: God hates fags (God Hates Fags). Phelpss figure centrally occupies the screen. The three fingers in his left hand, the hand holding the sign, point toward the word hates, directing the audiences attention to his message. The sign that Phelps holds is quite
large, as it covers him from his chest down to the upper thigh. Phelpss black and white portrait is superimposed upon a tri-color horizontal stripe of green, yellow, and orange. We come to learn that Phelps is the narrator of the clip when he appears on the screen and begins to explicate each word on the poster: God almighty is the first word, and it means the God of the Bible, the God of creation, the God of eternity who dwells in the high and holy place (God Hates Fags). Then we see a picture of a Caucasian man in a red hat and a red pullover jacket with black stripes out on the street holding the sign God Hates Fags with green, yellow, and orange background colors.
Next, Phelps ventures into explaining Gods hatethe second word on the poster. He asserts: ...Those revelations of Himself [God] include not only the attribute called the love of God and the mercy of Godbut the hatred of God, not an evil passion as it is with men, but it is a fixed determination in the Almighty to punish the wicked for their sin forever ("God Hates Fags). More images of WBC members picketing with the God Hates Fags signs accompany this message.
Phelps then explicates the term fags while the clip exhibits the word faggots in all black lower case text that occupies the center of the screen: Fags is a contraction of the word faggots, which is an elegant metaphor for the homosexuals and their enablers. Fags is elegant, and its appropriate. Theyre fags. They are called fags, the contraction of faggots because they have kindled the fire of God almightys wrath (God Hates
Fags). At this point, portraits of gay public figuresElton John, Carson Kressley, Rosie ODonnell, Ellen DeGeneres, and Richard Simmonsare exhibited. The clip concludes with Phelpss prediction of the future for homosexuals and their enables: They will all burn in hell where they will remain interminably tormented. They have kindled the fire of God Almightys wrath, threatens Phelps, kindle the fire in their lust one for another, kindle the fire of wrath by virtue of the place theyre headed, where the worm on each of them never dies and the fire never quits
(God Hates Fags, original word order). Images of protestors holding the God Hates Fags signs reemerge; however, we begin to see new signs with imperative statements such as turn or burn and fear God. These imperative syntax forms are significant. In the early parts of the clip, the WBC picketing signs only contain declarative sentences that state God hates fags. Whereas declarative statements serve to present information, the imperative calls for actions. It promotes activity, directing homosexuals to denounce homosexuality and to change their wicked ways so that they can earn Gods grace and avoid the Inferno. The rhetoric here invites membership into conservative Christianity. The rhetor of the clip strategically uses the imperative syntax toward the end of the clip to ensure remembrance of this crucial message. After the imperatives are presented, the clip concludes with Phelps uttering God indeed hates fags (God Hates Fags).
God Hates Fags contains several significant non-verbal designs: the opening visual of Phelps; the tri-color horizontal stripes of green, yellow, and orange; the colors of a male picketers attire; and the usage of the black lower case font for the word faggot. I will now describe and analyze each of them in details.
The opening image of the clip shows Phelps holding the sign, God Hates Fags, in his left hand with three fingers pointing to the word hates, while his right hand is placed on top of his head. His right elbow extends outward at a forty-five degree angle, creating the image of a V, which symbolizes vengeancean important message of the clip. Because God hates fags, He will wrathfully execute His vengeance upon them; He will cast them into hell to suffer endlessly.
Phelpss image is plastered upon green, yellow, and orange horizontal stripes. Green is on top. The Christian tradition has used green as the liturgical color of the Trinity, so it can be taken to symbolize the divine (Gast). It is placed on top to signify the superiority of the Lord, His grace, and power. In the Western tradition, yellow, the next color, represents the color of the flesh, and in Christianity, it also signifies degradation, so collectively, within the context of the clip, this color indicates the fall of humanity as a result of sinsa message that all of WBCs clips continuously proclaim (Gast).19 Its placement below the green
19 Christianity perceives all human beings to have fallen from grace as a result of Adam and Eves disobedience. Hence, from the Christian perspective, we are all degraded.
stripe suggests humanitys inferior position to God. He is superior, and He reigns over us. Orange, the last color on the stripethe color of flames resembles hell. In WBCs other clips that discuss hell, the color orange is consistently used to delineate flames. Altogether these stripes depict human beings, sinful creatures, as being in between the Lord and hell.
The last is right below us, and it can engulf us at any time. Gods blessing, however, is available; it is above us. Thus, we are in between two realms. Our actions can impact which direction we will be cast. We either turn or burn. Our destiny depends upon whether we choose to embrace God or homosexuality.
The design of a male picketer in red and black attire picketing with the sign, God Hates Fags, is the next symbolic design in the clip. The man is wearing a red pullover jacket with black stripes on the sides, in addition to a pair of black gloves. Black and red are colors Christianity associates with Satan who is generally painted in these colors. Through these colorations, the WBC associates homosexuality with Satanism. The color of the picketers wardrobe reinforces the idea of sinfulness and damnation, characteristics associated with the devil, which homosexuals exemplify. In this symbolic image, homosexuality seems to be depicted as Satanism, and homosexuals are cast into the same league as the devil. The two are conflated.
Another symbolic design consists of the display of the word faggot in black lower case text. There are two issues in this imagethe usage of black ink and the lower casing of the word faggot. Black connotes filth, damnation, evilness, misery, and hopelessnessdevilish traitsand homosexuality embodies these qualities in the conservative Christian perspective. The use of the lower case text further enacts condemnation by relegating homosexuality to a subordinate position. In English, capitalization denotes importance and emphasis. The letter G in the word God, for instance, is always capitalized to suggest supremacy and to demonstrate homage. Putting the word faggot in lower case demotes homosexuals to an inferior status and deems them as unworthy and subordinate. Together the lower casing and the black text bespeak that homosexuals are inferior because of their filth and abomination.
On the surface, it seems that the clip, God Hates Fags, simply announces Gods hatred of homosexuality, through careful analyses of its significant visuals, it becomes evident that these elements suggest the following points: Homosexuality is sinful, evil, and damning; therefore, homosexuals will incur Gods wrath, but there is hope. One can turn and attain grace by renouncing ones sinful sexuality, becoming a member of the WBC, and living in accordance with Phelpss preaching, and by doing so, one will not burn.
Clip Two: Bush Killed Them
Homosexuality is conflated with governmental and national destruction in the next multimedia clip, Bush Killed Them. At first, this clip focalizes upon George Bushs wickedness, and it bushwhacks his character. Later, however, it emphasizes that Bushs failure to stop homosexuality increases his evilness and makes him an incompetent leader. The clip contains three main messages: Gods anger, Bushs greed and arrogance, and the national pro-gay agenda.
The clip opens with an image of a woman holding a large sign above her head that reads Bush killed them, while a female voice utters, President Bush is responsible for incurring the wrath of God on Americans (Bush Killed Them). Images of Bin Laden and another Al Qaeda leader are shown followed by a picture of a WBC member holding the sign, God sent the lEDs.20 The narrator informs us that terrorism and the destruction of the U.S. army through the Iraq war result from Gods punishments for Bushs refusal to enforce WBCs theology.
The narrator then focuses on the war. She claims that Bush waged it for vengeful and avaricious reasons. According to her, the president attacked Iraq to avenge his fathers failure to execute Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War and to acquire more oil to feed his greed. Throughout this assertion, the clip displays several images of the president: a
20 Improvised explosive device
photograph of him giving a speech, a portrait of him waving to a military crowd, and a cartoon depiction of him blindfolding America. (I will provide more details about these visuals later.) These delineations are followed by the portraits of WBCs members protesting in the streets with the signs Bush Killed Them, Thank God for Katrina, and God Hates Fags.
Following these signs, we see a picture of New York Citys firemen covered in ashes at Ground Zero and an image of a WBC member holding the sign, God Is Americas Terrorist, as the narrator explains: Since George Bush is responsible for incurring the wrath of God, hes responsible for however the Lord chooses to carry that out, whether he is using another person to do it or a meteor shower or another natural disaster such as Katrina (Bush Killed Them).
Next, the narrator complains that despite Gods punishment, Bush continues to disobey divine order. He chooses to spit in Gods face by sending a practicing homosexual, Michael Guest, to be the ambassador of Romania with his husband, despite the fact that the Romanian people did not want an openly practicing, proud, unrepentant gay man to represent their relationship with the United States (Bush Killed Them). Here, homosexuality remerges as a national issue. It becomes conflated with national destruction and depicted as a political concerndomestically and internationally. A continuous series of images of WBC members protesting with the following signs are presented: Michael Guest = 9/11, God
Hates Fags, Fags Doom Nation, Fags Are Lawless, Bush Killed Them, Perverted in Chief, and Fag Pimp.
Subsequently, the narrator faults Bush for failing to stop the U.S. Supreme Court from enforcing sodomy laws. She claims that this constitutes a negligence of presidential duty, and she interprets it to be an indication that Bush supports the gay agenda. As she complains, a video clip of homosexual women and men marching and parading the American flag in front of White House is presented, but it becomes countered by the next set of images of protestors holding the sign, United Youll Fall.
The clip comes to an end with the following depictions: Bush delivering a speech with two senior Federal Reserve officials by his side, Bush holding his middle finger to the audience, and WBC protestors holding the sign You Hate God. The narrator closes the clip with the statement Bush killed them.
Throughout the clip Bush Killed Them, we encounter several slanderous images of Bush that are designed to advocate a theocratic instead of a democratic presidency: the president is shown delivering a speech, waiving to a group of soldiers, blindfolding America, appearing drunk, broadcasting a proclamation next to Federal Reserve officials, and upholding his middle finger. In the subsequent design analysis section, I analyze the meanings of these depictions sequentially.
In the first image, Bush, wearing a suit, stands on a stage next to a podium waving to a crowd. Behind him are two miniature yellow oil pumps placed side by side. Between the pumps is a black round object that looks like a car wheel, and at the back of it stands a graphic figure of a fully armed soldier launching forward with a pistol in his hands as if he is about to fight.
The soldier figure informs us that the Iraq war is the central issue in this image, and the yellow oil pump signifies that oil represents the motive for it, so avariceone of the seven deadly sinsfuels the invasion. The yellowness of the pump symbolizes the color of the flesh, indicating that oil is paid for through human lives. The wheel between the pumps symbolizes the constant motion or the endless cycle of war that continues without an end. Facing and waving to the crowd, Bushs back is to these objects. This suggests that the he has turned his back on the real issues of the war.
The two subsequent images of the president are paired to contrast one another. One depicts him standing and waving to a large crowd of U.S. soldiers who are clapping and cheering him on with miniature American flags. This portrayal shows patriotic support for the presidency. The proceeding image, however, is a cartoon that depicts Bush blindfolding a smaller boy who is wearing a hat that resembles the American flag with the word U.S. written on it. The boy stands for America,
and he has his index finger over his cheek, which indicates a wondering gesture. A question mark and an exclamation point are drawn next to his head, which represent confusion and shock. The cartoon conveys that the president is deceiving the nation and hiding surprising truths from us. He is blindfolding us with deliberate lies in order to eliminate and reduce speculations and questions. America is naive like a boy; we allow Bush to cover our eyes. The appearance of the president in this cartoon is one of a liar, traitor, and deceiver. Pairing a patriotic image with a satirizing cartoon makes us skeptical about the validity of the former image. The cartoon contrasts and negates the previous picture. This contrastive combination rebukes and criticizes the presidents honesty and integrity toward the troops and the nation. He, in the end, appears as a hypocrite and an untrustworthy leader.
The image that follows depicts the president sitting on a couch laughing with the prime minister of Japan and other officials. There are several wine glasses on the coffee table in front of him. The president extends his arms outward in a ninety degree angle, and his upper body tilts forward, as if he is about to grab or scare someone. It is a funny gesture, and he appears like a drunken man. The scene in the picture suggests a party or reception, as many men are standing around with drinks in their hands. As these depictions are shown, the narrator complains that Bushs leadership lacks conservative Christian ideology,
uttering: The buck has to stop somewhere, and the leaders of countries are responsible for leading that country and following the way of the Lord (Bush Killed Them). This commentary voices the WBCs disapproval of Bushs presidency. It calls for a radical theological change in the administration.
In this depiction of Bush as a drunken man, rationality, professionalism, and composurerespectable qualities associated with competent leadershipare absent. This image, deliberately taken out of context, conveys the argument that any leader who does not uphold Gods decree is negligent and irrational; he or she is drunk with sins. Alcohol suggests irrationality, indulgence, and slothfulness, qualities which exemplify Bush because he fails to uphold WBCs theology. This criticism also extends to the prime minister of Japan, for the narrator claims that every leader in the world must enforce the Lords teaching, but Japan is a Shinto and Buddhist country, so its government is not based on conservative Christian principles. The clip is arguing that nationally and internationally, leaders who fail to institute WBCs beliefs are irrational and indulgent. They are drunk with immortality, which causes them to be dangerous and flawed leaders.
The next picture of the president shows him delivering a speech behind a podium at the White House. To his right is Alan Greenspan, the former head of the Federal Reserve, and to his left is Ben Bernanke, the
Reserves chairman. The men are standing on a beige carpet decorated with a large round presidential seal, consisting of an eagle. The camera pans down and zooms in on the seal, conjuring the image of a mint, which is also branded with an eagle symbol.21 This coin-like visual along with the portraits of Federal Reserve officials suggest that avarice is the theme of the image. Bush is guilty of this deadly sin. This depiction slanders him as a man of greed, and it reinforces an earlier complaint the narrator utters at the beginning of the clip when she accuses him of launching the Iraqi war to satiate his greed for oil: ...He has long standing ties with the oil industry, which stands to profit from the control of the land in the Middle East...so before he even came to office, he was hoping for a reason to go start some trouble for the Middle East, in particular, in lraq (Bush Killed Them). Thus, Bushs greed for wealth, rather than his compassion for the Iraqis, is the motivation for the war. Overall, the portrayal of Bush in this coin-like visual indicates that he is motivated by money rather than morality.
The final image of the president in which he is holding a middle finger toward the audience is a sarcastic one. It was probably manipulated in Photoshop. The message in this picture is: Bush is screwing you and America. He exemplifies a rude, arrogant, and defiant leader. He is also an offensive president; he offends God and the nation with his immorality
21 For some reason, when I first saw this image, Judas came to mind. According to the Bible, Judas is paid seven silver coins to betray Christ. He is driven by avarice and hubris, qualities that Bush possesses.
by failing to govern by conservative Christian ideology. This manipulated image essentially presents Bush as a careless leader whom we cannot trust. He cares not about America or Americanshe is screwing everything up.
To summarize, the portrayals of the president in the clip, Bush Killed Them, are entirely negative. They utilize visually slanderous rhetorics that equate Bush with avarice, wrath, deception, carelessness, and negligence because he refuses to govern by WBCs ideology, and as a result, fails to enforce laws against homosexuality. Phelpss church vehemently repudiates his character and presidency. While the clip does not call for impeachment, it advocates for a new kind of government: a conservative Christian theocracy and a new leader who, unlike Bush, will eradicate homosexuality and institute Biblical laws. The advocacy of conservative Christianity is the main objective and argument of the clip.
Clip Three: God Is Americas Terror
The lack of theocracy in the presidency, Gods hatred of homosexuality, and the sins of Americans drove the Lord to cast vengeance upon our nation. This is the argument of the clip, God Is Americas Terror, which asserts that the tragedies from 9/11, Katrina, Iraq warfare to Oklahoma City bombing resulted from Gods disappointments and abhorrence of Americas wickedness. It opens with black and white
images of majestic locations of Americathe Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, the mountainsand portraits of pivotal patriotic moments and places in American historythe Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, and a U.S. astronaut landing on the moon. As these visuals are displayed, a Caucasian man in his early forties narrates that America was once blessed by God in the beginning of its birth and that God bestowed much power and prosperity upon the nation, but America has forgotten Him. It has turned against Him by indulging in sins and wickedness such as homosexuality, heresy, and heathenism.
A new set of black and white images then emerge: a distressed soldier pressing his forehead against his hands in a prayer position, a fist gripping a rosary, an animated cartoon scene of dinosaurs having an orgy, several pictures of people busily crossing the street in New York City, and a crowd gathering at an event. As these visuals are presented, the narrator narrates: She [America] became a great whore, sleeping with every strange god that she could find to sleep with and paying her lover. This nation has become a whore. Theres a line that youve crossed (Gods Is Americas Terror). The diction of whore is significant. It is a criticism of polytheismthe freedom of religionin the United States. The narrators complaint that America is sleeping with every strange god that she could find indicates that the WBC desires and perceives its preaching to be the only legitimate religion and way to salvation. Thus, other
religions are false and illegitimate. By practicing a variety of religions, Americans have become unfaithful to God. Religious infidelity, a whorish characteristic, is prevalent in the nation. Here, the WBC is advocating for monotheism, specifically its own conservative theology.
In addition, we see the following tragic illustrations: the World Trade Center rubble, Osama Bin Laden, the Oklahoma City bombing, wildfires, the Taliban, a bomb explosion, New Orleans, and a cemetery. These delineations are alternated with pictures of WBC members protesting in the streets with the signs America Is Doomed, God Hates America, Youre Going to Hell, God is Americas Terror, God Hates the U.S.A., and Gods Americas Terrorist. Meanwhile, the narrator reports that God has punished Americans by using the Taliban and Bin Laden as His servants to destroy New York City, influencing Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma, conjuring wild fires throughout the nation, and blasting Katrina against New Orleans, but yet these destructions remain unsatisfactory. The narrator forewarns that there will be future annihilations from the Lord.
The clip then comes to a close with contrastive images of people peacefully praying inside a large church, waves splashing across a sandy beach full of cars and buildings, and a group of people holding a candle vigil outside a church building in a rural setting. It ends with the narrator asserting: God is Americas terrorist.
This clip, God Is Americas Terror, contains several perplexing non-lexical designs that appear chronologicallythe usage of black and white images, the dinosaur orgy, the interjection of pictures of WBC signs between images of American tragedy, and portraits of the churches near the end of the clip. I investigate the significances of these depictions next.
In the beginning of the clip, majestic portraits of America in black and white are exhibited. The lack of vivid color is significant. Black and white is used to communicate the message that America is no longer prosperous and flourishing. Its greatness is now history, a story of the past. Its glory and vibrancy, qualities associated with dazzling colors, have faded because it became a great whore by not obeying the conservative Christian ways. Whereas color provides a sense of liveliness, joviality, energy, and brilliance, its absence provokes opposite qualities such as dullness, damnation, and tragedyconditions which, according to the WBC, America will now face for offending God.
Additionally, the animated dinosaur orgy cartoon is an allusion to male homosexuality. This black and white cartoon shows a group of dinosaurs standing in a long line behind a traffic light pole waiting to penetrate a dinosaur on the other side the light. As the light turns green, one dinosaur jumps forward for an intercourse as the previous one jumps off to create vacancy for the incoming one. In conservative Christianity, gay men are stereotyped as promiscuous and sexually voracious and
insatiable; they are whorish like the dinosaurs. The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian organization, for example, cites a (refutable) study on its website that illustrates gay men as sexual animals: Bell and Weinberg, in their classic study of male and female homosexuality, found that 43 percent of white male homosexuals had sex with 500 or more partners, with 28 percent having one thousand or more sex partners (Dailey). Similarly, the Catholic Education Resource Center, purports: ...A 1978 study found that 75 percent of white, gay males claimed to have had more than 100 lifetime male sex partners; 15 percent claimed 100-249 sex partners; 17 percent claimed 250-499; 15 percent claimed 500- 999... (Diggs). The dinosaur cartoon reinforces these questionable statistics that equate homosexuality with promiscuity and sexual insatiability. It evokes homophobic references about the danger and moral corruption of being a homosexual. It serves a slanderous purpose to justify WBCs ideology and discrimination.
Furthermore, the dinosaur, an extinct animal, has symbolic meanings. Rabbits, dogs, or ants could have been used to slander and stereotype gay men, but the WBC chooses dinosaurs. This extinct animal suggests extinction and backwardness. Through its symbolism, the WBC criticizes homosexuality as backward and non-productive. It forewarns about human extinction. In conservative Christianity, sex is designed solely for procreation. God wants humans and animals to be fruitful and
multiply, but same-sex intercourse defies this divine order. It is non-procreative. Hence, homosexuals will be punished through extinction like the dinosaurs. The dinosaur symbolism portends homosexuals future: They will face catastrophe and become completely exterminated from earth. The dinosaur symbolism serves as another powerful attack against homosexuality.
Besides the dinosaur cartoon, the clip exhibits portraits of American tragedy, which are interjected with images of WBC members picketing with signs that warn America is doomed. The depictions of great American calamities are designed to provoke fear in the audience and to argue that the nation has decayed for not observing Biblical laws. Consequently, its good old days are gone. The United States is a tragic hero that is doomed. To further reinforce these points, the clip transposes images of WBC members parading their infamous signs on the street such as God Hates America and America Is Doomed." These depictions attempt to drive home Gods wrath and intensify fear, but the clip offers a hopeful channel to relieve anxiety: church membership, the subject of the next set of contrastive pictures near the end of the clip.
Toward its conclusion, God Is Americas Terror presents two images of people quietly praying at a church along with a photograph of a natural disaster. First, we see a portrait of people quietly worshiping inside a beautiful gothic church, which is interrupted by an image of waves
sweeping the shoreline full of cars and sky scrapers. A photograph of a group of people praying outside a church in a rural area with candles, a contrast to the chaotic urban scene of the beach, follows. The visuals of the churches convey the argument that through worshiping, praying, and becoming a member of the WBCs community, one can avoid calamities and attain peace. The church is a peaceful place in which one can take refuge, rest, and seek protection. Gods wrath, which will cause multitude destructions, will not harm those who pray and join the church. Conservative Christian membership will ensure safety and protection from outside chaos and calamities, so come hither.
Overall, the design elements in the clip God Is Americas Terror, which include the usage of black and white images, the dinosaur orgy cartoon, the interjections of the pictures of WBC signs between images of American tragedy, and portraits of the churches, serve to fulfill a persuasive goal: to provoke the fear of Gods wrath and to incite disgust for homosexuality so that the audience will join the WBC. While it may seem that the clip God Is Americas Terror, at the design level, focuses mainly on divine destruction and less on homosexuality, its ultimate goal is to convert and increase the numbers of followers, for church membership is an ultimate defense and attack against homosexuals, as well as a means to multiply WBCs influence and power. All in all, the clip attempts to infect and spread WBCs conservative Christian ideology.
Thus far, I have examined the design components and their significances in the clips God Hates Fags, Bush Killed Them, and God Is Americas Terror. I have provided their synopses, identified their significant designs, analyzed their meanings, and explicated their visual arguments. Collectively, these clips advocate conservative Christian ideology at the local, national, and international level. They urge the eradication of homosexuality, non-theocratic governmental system, and the freedom of religion. Homosexuality is a motif that occurs throughout the three clips. While each clip is enriched with strong and controversial propositions that aim to persuade the audience to accept WBCs beliefs, it contains many problematic appeal issues that interfere with its persuasive effectiveness. In the next section, collective appeal analysis, I identify what they are and demonstrate that these multimedia rhetorics are ultimately persuasively ineffective. Its appeal strategy is ineffectual.
Collective Appeal Analysis
The appeal analysis examines the appeal strategy that the clips utilize to advocate their arguments and evaluates its persuasive effectiveness. The ultimate purpose of these WBCs multimedia rhetorics is to convince the audience, homosexuals and heathens, to eradicate their sins and adopt WBCs teaching. By depicting God as a vengeful, wrathful, and angry omnipotent spirit who is about to ferociously wreck the nation, the WBC hopes to tremble its audience into conversion. Fear appeal
constitutes the WBCs strategy. To intensify the fear, it conflates sins with
national insecurity and homosexuality with national destruction. At issue
here is not moralitybut security. According to Michael Cobb, religious
language against homosexuality and sins presents itself as the language
of national security to scare its audience (27). Fear constitutes the main
appeal strategy in the WBCs multimedia clips. It is their presencethe
displaying of certain elements on which the speaker wishes to center
attention in order that they may occupy the foreground of the hearers
consciousness (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca 117). Charles Hill
explains the importance of presence:
When particular elements are given enough presence, they can crowd out other considerations from the viewers mind, regardless of the logical force or relevance of those other considerations.
The rhetors hope is that this process will prompt the audience to accept his or her claim based on one or two pieces of powerful, vivid evidence, and not stop to think about issues such as the relevance or actual importance of the evidence, or about what other arguments and opinions should be brought into the equation and weighted before making a decision. (9)
The presence of fear exemplifies the clips as rhetorics of argumentum ad
baculum (B. Jackson 42). Brian Jackson explains this Latin term: The
Latin phrase argumentum ad baculum, or argument to the club or stick, is
used to describe the rhetorical practice of appealing to fear (43-4). He
elaborates that it operates by warning that an undesirable and fearful