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Reclaiming Queer

Activist and Academic Rhetorics of Resistance

Erin J. Rand

Publication Year: 2014

Reclaiming Queer is an examination of the rhetorical linkage of queer theory in the academy with street-level queer activism in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The late 1980s and early 1990s were a defining historical moment for both queer activism and queer theory in the United States. LGBT communities, confronted with the alarming violence and homophobia of the AIDS crisis, often responded with angry, militant forms of activism designed not merely to promote acceptance or tolerance, but to forge identity and strength from victimization and assert loudly and forcefully their rights to safety and humanity. The activist reclamation of the word “queer” is one marker of this shift in ideology and practice, and it was mirrored in academic circles by the concurrent emergence of the new field of “queer theory.” That is, as queer activists were mobilizing in the streets, queer theorists were producing a similar foment in the halls and publications of academia, questioning regulatory categories of gender and sexuality, and attempting to illuminate the heteronormative foundations of Western thought. Notably, the narrative of queer theory’s development often describes it as arising from or being inspired by queer activism.

In Reclaiming Queer, Erin J. Rand examines both queer activist and academic practices during this period, taking as her primary object the rhetorical linkage of queer theory in the academy with street-level queer activism. Through this strategic conjuncture of activism and academia, Rand grapples with the specific conditions for and constraints on rhetorical agency in each context. She examines the early texts that inaugurated the field of queer theory, Queer Nation’s infamous “Queers Read This” manifesto, Larry Kramer’s polemic speeches and editorials, the Lesbian Avengers’ humorous and outrageous antics, the history of ACT UP, and the more recent appearance of Gay Shame activism. From these activist and academic discourses, Rand builds a theory of rhetorical agency that posits queerness as the very condition from which agency emerges.

Reclaiming Queer thus offers a critical look at the rhetoric of queer activism, engages the history of queer theory’s institutionalization and the politics of its proliferation, suggests a radically contextual understanding of rhetorical agency and form, and argues for the centrality of queerness to all rhetorical action.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Rhetoric, Culture, and Social Critique


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Title Page, Editorial Board, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-xii

As childhood dreams go, I suppose mine were a little queer. I dreamt of being a lawyer, a kindergarten teacher, and a fashion designer (never a college professor!), but more than anything, I dreamt of writing a book. My books were among my most treasured objects and favorite companions. I cherished the...

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Introduction: Toward the Queer Possibities of Rhetorical Agency

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pp. 1-29

“Queers Read This.” Both a title and a command, this bold declaration headed the fifteen thousand flyers handed out at the 1990 Gay Pride parade in New York City, inviting recipients to identity and action. And read they did—about heterosexual privilege and queer invisibility, about the misrepresentation...

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1. Staking a Claim on the Queer Frontier: The Debut and Poliferation of Queer Theory

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pp. 30-64

When queer theory emerged in the academy as an edgy and slightly scandalous new area of study at the beginning of the 1990s, it did not enter the scene modestly or decorously. Instead, it was rapidly insinuated into conferences, departments, and bookstores with, as Berlant and Warner suggest...

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2. An Inflammatory Fag We Love to Hate: Larry Kramer, Polemicist

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pp. 65-89

“With this article I am calling for a MASSIVE DISRUPTION of the Sixth International AIDS Conference that is being held in San Francisco June 20–24.” Thus begins Larry Kramer’s essay, “A Call to Riot,” in a 1990 issue of OutWeek magazine. Kramer goes on to state in no uncertain terms that the...

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3. Visibility with a Vengeance: The Lesbian Avengers and Lesbian Chic

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pp. 90-126

On the first day of school in 1992, children arriving at the conservative District 24 elementary school in Queens, New York, were greeted by a festive morning celebration: a marching band in kilts played jaunty music while women clad in “I Was a Lesbian Child” T-shirts held a giant pink banner...

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4. Gay Pride, Queer Shame: The Politics of ACT UP's Affective History

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pp. 127-155

On April 27, 2012, Rachel Maddow delivered a lengthy and moving encomium to ACT UP to mark the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the group. Calling ACT UP “one of the most effective activist groups in American history,” Maddow’s report included past news coverage...

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Conclusion: Risking Resistance

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pp. 156-170

If nothing else, queer theory is a field supremely cognizant of the rhetorical significance of marking beginnings and endings. At the start of 2012, when the intellectual pursuit organized by the term “queer theory” was barely old enough to buy itself a beer at the local gay bar, its demise...


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pp. 171-194


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pp. 195-206


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pp. 207-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387518
E-ISBN-10: 081738751X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318284
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318283

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 4 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Rhetoric, Culture, and Social Critique
Series Editor Byline: John Louis Lucaites See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 881888042
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reclaiming Queer

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gay rights -- United States.
  • Gays -- Political activity -- United States.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects.
  • Rhetoric -- Social aspects.
  • Queer theory.
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