Tongues Untied, or The Rhetorical Zap



We return one final time to Grindstaff, who argues that,

  1. [o]nce queer subjects begin to speak, their discourse is immediately conditioned by the rhetorical secret and its performative contradictions. Queer resistance must rework the discursive conditions from which we speak.

  2. Invention is our most effective political and cultural resource. (155)

If such is the case, if invention is our most effective resource—and we believe it is—then we claim queer rhetorical practice as a powerful critical and personal appeal. It is Morris’s “restless” movement. It is a necessary intervention in the public sphere, a rough-and-tumble bedfellow of logic and rational debate, coupling us all toward greater understanding, richer imagination, and an enhanced sense of our available—and possible—freedom.

In creating an archive of queer rhetorical practices, we acknowledge the continued provisionality and positionality of such practices. They occur at particular times, in particular spaces, for particular and sometimes with often unintended effects. They are rhetorical not only in that they seek to be persuasive, but in that they envision audiences and ways of being that have traditionally been thought unthinkable. They also seek to challenge those who have thought us and our lives unthinkable. In that way, they simultaneously build communities and counterpublics while challenging dominant publics. So, who are those audiences? They are, in many ways, continually moving targets, just as the queer rhetorical practices are continually mobile strategies for tracing the flows of desire and resistance in relation to the exercise of power. We imagine that tracing as addressing a mobile “you” ... a “you” who may or may not be you, but who certainly exists, who speaks and in speaking often denies the power or ability of others to speak.

“Once queer subjects begin to speak…” With what do they speak? We conclude not with conclusion, but with suggestion, with gesture, with a return to the body in the metaphor of the tongue, moving from Adrienne Rich’s generality of a “dream of a common language” to the specificity of Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied, for in the tongue we find a robust metonym of our struggle, our critique, our possibility. The queer tongue, long denied its utterances, long disciplined by legislation and normalization, long in the making of critique and the construction of queer identities, of queer particularities, of queer taste. The tongue contains our histories, and our possibilities. We have variously been tongue tied and twisted. We have bitten our tongues, but also gestured tongue-in-cheek through camp, spoken in the tongues of innuendo and insinuation, longed for a mother tongue, a tongue untied, and found just as often the tongue bath, the deep-throated kissing that articulates the desires of the body in its annunciation of alternatives to your lives, your limited languages. We are these tongues, so many tongues, speaking, depressed, suppressed, repressed, but still expressed in the plays of power that twist and bite, but also lick and delight. We reserve our right to be mouthy, to spit, to eat fire, to do things that we are not supposed to do with our mouths and tongues. Our tongues know the death of silences, the dead in the silences, but also the living loving taste of pleasures in the dark and the light. We crash your party, take our seats at your table, never hesitating to critique your setting, your taste, and daring you to expand your palate/palette, if you’d only let us. We’ll do so anyway, licking our lips with delight, for the tongue is speech in the body and the body in speech, the smack of desire in the licking of those lips, inviting, teasing, denying, connecting, kissing—but not always the Judas’ kiss you offer, but sometimes—sometimes—the kiss of recognition in difference, of delight in what you don’t know. O taste and see how good, how very very good this difference is, this tongue can be.