What is queer rhetoric? Queer rhetoric is self-conscious and critical engagement with normative discourses of sexuality in the public sphere that exposes their naturalization and torques them to create different or counter-discourses, giving voice and agency to multiple and complex sexual experiences. As we shall see throughout this webtext, such engagement can take a myriad of forms, and it benefits from a history of activist, liberatory, and feminist rhetorical practices designed to critique patriarchy and capitalist hegemonies. But queer rhetorical practice focuses in particular on sexual normalization and the regimes of discursive control through which bodies are disciplined and subjectivities reified as “straight” and others “bent.”

Queer rhetoric is certainly concerned with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, identities, and politics, but it is not exclusively linked to them and may in fact resist certain kinds of gay and lesbian normalization. How so? On one hand, queer rhetoric may include LGBT resistance to normalizations that exclude LGBT people from being understood as fully human, as deserving of the same rights and privileges as “straight” society. On the other hand, rhetorical practices that attempt to negate differences between straights and gays, however well-intentioned and politically effective, may not necessarily be queer. That is, suggesting that gays and straights are essentially the same—and that, consequently, the same rights accorded to straights (such as marriage and open military service) should be given to gays and lesbians—may be an effective rhetorical strategy; but it is not particularly queer since it fails to question the regimes of normalization through which straights have certain rights and privileges in the first place. Certainly, a variety of rhetorical and political strategies may be necessary to secure a variety of rights for the most people; but queer rhetorical practice focuses more on those strategies that seek to broaden, even to the breaking point, what counts or passes as “normal.” In the process, queer rhetoric works to unseat the rhetorical and material tyranny of the normal itself.

Queer rhetoric thus relies on (1) a recognition of the dense and complicated ways in which sexuality, à la Foucault, constitutes a nexus of power, a conduit through which identities are created, categorized, and rendered as subjects constituted by and subject to power; and (2) a reworking of those identifications to disrupt and reroute the flows of power, particularly discursive power. Queer practice in this regard is robustly rhetorical in that it sees discourse as densely persuasive—a set of textual, visual, and auditory tools through which bodies and psyches are shaped and cast in particular identity formations and through which such bodies and psyches might potentially be recast and reformed.

In this online essai, we attempt both to perform a queer rhetorical archive and to theorize such archives’ rhetorical and pedagogical possibilities. At a time when “information” and “data” about the “queer” are readily accessible, we wonder about the challenges of making such information and data meaningful. Certainly, rhetoric offers us a number of strategies for such meaning-making, showing us the various ways in which information about the queer can be constructed—to further queer visibility, to argue with or against the queer, to analyze the emergence of the queer and the queer’s impact on the public sphere.

Throughout this Webtext, we emphasize the rhetorical nature of queer rhetorical practice by organizing our discussion around the Aristotelian appeals of logos, pathos, and ethos. In essence, we perform a disidentification with these appeals. On one hand, we note their continued dominance and persuasiveness in structuring arguments in Western public spheres, and certainly in the rhetorical training of students in composition programs. On the other hand, we note how logos, pathos, and ethos have often been practiced in ways that are heteronormative or incommensurate with seeing and honoring non-normative sexual expression. In queering logos, pathos, and ethos—in offering a counter-archive of queer rhetorical practices—we acknowledge the often disavowed sexualized nature of these persuasive appeals while also remixing the raw materials of logos, pathos, and ethos to think and envision the queer.

Work with queer archives shows us alternative modalities of rhetorical practice. In general, since so much of the public sphere is increasingly mediated in online venues, and since the web in particular facilitates the creation of counterpublic spaces, we see a potential diversification of rhetorical practices, some of which may question or even seek to subvert some of the dominant practices of the public sphere. This potential seems particularly rich in queer archives. As Ann Cvetkovich argues, it is imperative that we understand “gay and lesbian archives as archives of emotion and [potentially of] trauma” (242). Such trauma may not be fully representable. However, the articulation of complex emotionsfrom anger to resentment to pain and an acute sense of loss, as well as delight in desire and the pleasures of naming desire and claiming communitybecomes central to queer rhetorical work. As such, ethos and pathos often assume dominance, while logos, traditionally vaunted as the superior form of argumentation and persuasion, is less queerly compelling. We theorize that the concomitant significance of ethos and pathos to the rhetorical performance on queer rhetorical practices may have much to do with the fact that such practices often present us with actual individuals or groups, not just with minds articulating a sense of the queer but also with bodies performing queerness. As such, the online queer archive offers us a nearly unprecedented opportunity to think the body in rhetorical practice—and in this case, the queer body in queer rhetorical practice.

In the remainder of this site, we offer one potential online queer archive that seeks to perform our theorization. Specifically, we offer a mini-archive that queers dominant rhetorical practice in public spaces. In the process, we hope to demonstrate a challenging but productive way to expand our awareness of rhetorical possibilities in both articulating queer presences and in asserting queer values. In sum, the queer moves multiply in online spaces. We can only catch a glimpse of its trajectories, its possibilities. But doing so, no matter how provisionally, offers us a challenging sense of queer rhetorical strategies in online venues.