Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xviii

Maya Angelou has said, “Thank you, always say thank you; it’s the greatest gift you can give someone; because thank you is what you say to God”: Áṣẹ. In this wisdom, I say thank you to God, to all of God’s manifestations in the Orisha, Saints, to all of my ancestor helping spirits, and to all of my guardian angels for the blessing of life and the vision, fortitude, love, joy, creativity, and care they provided me in bringing this book to life. I am grateful.
My thanks to the institutions that have offered financial support and intellectual community to me toward the completion of this project: a Scholar-in-Residence Program Fellowship sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; a Visiting Scholar Fellowship from the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference...

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Prologue

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pp. 1-14

This too is a story—for this study flows from life stories by Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people to theorize the myriad ways individuals have learned and employed literacy in their quests to build a life on their own terms and, more specifically, toward the goals of self- and communal love, healing, care, and other modes of survival. As I investigate the voices, faces, and places that inform this book, I am drawn over and over again to scenes of literacy within my life story that are crucial to narrativizing my life experience as a Black, queer, feminist, cisgender man who is a learner, teacher, scholar, artist, activist, and advocate; scenes that, when read alongside my later analysis, dovetail back to the themes of identity formation and affirmation, literacy concealment, ancestorship, and others explored in the chapters that follow....

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Introduction: Black Queer Meanings of Literacy

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pp. 15-54

There is an old church hymn that goes, “My soul looks back and wonders, how I got over?” The song lyrics are an exercise of self-reflection, the singer occupies a location of triumph over adversity of some type while touching the very essence of the struggle. This book, at its core, is about how Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people—by telling stories of ways they have been wounded by individuals and institutions—detail how they struggle against harm, and what literacy and love have to do with it.
My in-depth interviews with Black LGBTQ people, traversing sites of Black queer literacy learning and use—from homes, public libraries, and schools to religious and spiritual worship spaces and digital social networks—invite us to reconsider the relationship between literacy and normativity1; the ways this relationship works analogously to racialized...

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1. “Treacherous Enterprises”: Hiding/Out through Literacy Concealment

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pp. 55-101

A queer kid. A classroom. A classmate for his same-sex crush. The queer kid gives his classmate a card, asking him to be his valentine. The object of the crush, reportedly angered by this declaration of love, allegedly adds it to the list of reasons his queer classmate should be punished. He approaches one of the queer kid’s friends and says, “Say goodbye to your friend Larry, because you’re never going to see him again.” 1 Two days later, he makes good on his promise. He shoots his classmate twice in the head with a .22-caliber handgun, drops the gun, and walks out of the classroom. The queer child does not recover from the shooting. On February 13, just hours before Valentine’s Day, he dies....

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2. “Because of Their Fearlessness, I Felt Empowered”: Ancestors, Fictive Kin, and Elders

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pp. 102-152

In 1987, at age eighteen, Stephanie Flowers came out to herself during her first semester as a student at an Ivy League university. One of the challenges she faced was that there were no visible queer or queer of color spaces on her campus, so she had no access to or awareness of Black lesbian history, culture, and politics. She thought of this as an especially detrimental form of historical erasure that affected her personal and intellectual development. Flowers came out as a lesbian into a community of White lesbian feminists, an experience she described as rewarding yet difficult because she learned “to be an activist around queer issues and... around race issues in the Queer Community.... But at the same time, it was born out of painful encounters with people.” Although she encountered much racism within those circles, Stephanie was able to use activist tools to transform the LGBTQ and feminist space into one cognizant of racial diversity and racism....

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3. “Spiritual Wanderers and Resident Aliens”: The Unholy Life of Literacy Normativity and the Creation of Black Queer Spiritualities

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pp. 153-191

When Phylicia Craig wrote a letter to her parents “coming out” as a lesbian, they sent her letter back—along with six pages of biblical scripture, each one condemning homosexuality as an abomination in the eyes of God and enumerating the love relationships that Christianity did and did not sanction. For Craig, this was “heartbreaking.” She wrote back to her parents, enclosing pamphlets about the coming-out process from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a national organization that provides support services for individuals who are allies of LGBTQ communities, particularly close friends and family members. She also included several biblical passages that affirmed her identity as a Black lesbian Christian, challenging her parents’ reaction by quoting scripture that called for them to love and support her like “good” Christians. Craig’s referencing of the Bible, the same text her parents used to condemn her, is one example of how individuals enact restorative literacies to survive uses of text that wound or harm....

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4. Feeling Myself: Refashioning Undesirability in Black Queer Digital Spheres

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pp. 192-240

After a few weeks of pilot interviews for what was then a budding interest in Black LGBTQ literacy practices, I recognized that a number of interviewees had mentioned being users of the same online social network—AfricanAmericanQueerTalk.com. While I was already familiar with the site, having a number of friends who were members and frequent users of it, I had not yet visited it. After creating a member page of my own, I was immediately bombarded with an onslaught of fields in which I was asked to declare information about my body type, gender identity and expression, educational background, hairstyle, penis size, HIV status, whether I was a top, bottom, or versatile, and a number of other matters related mostly to physical characteristics, hobbies, and sexual preference. I was then permitted to surf the website and look at the profile pages of other users. In one area, users are invited to say any additional thoughts on what they are looking for, and I noticed a...

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Conclusion

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pp. 241-254

That literacy, in its many forms, is critical to the lives of queer people of color may be the most seemingly apparent statement of twenty-first-century literacy, composition, and rhetoric research, and yet it is completely taken for granted. This fact alone necessitates a fuller consideration of the role literacy plays among queer people of color beyond the parameters of my intervention. Pursuant to exploring this statement, my work here grew from research questions, methodologies, and analysis that led to my theorization of the literacies of everyday Black LGBTQ people. A primary labor of Fashioning Lives is my theorization of Black LGBTQ literacies as they detail the myriad ways where literacy, in all its dynamism, plays a central and complicated role in research participants’ reflections on their everyday lives. In particular, my work demonstrates how literacy normativity problematically shapes literacy as a personal, institutional, and interactional experience in Black LGBTQ people’s everyday lives, and it reveals what they do to navigate this reality to survive. That survival, I posit, grows from, comes to represent, and becomes an instrument of self- and communal love....

Appendix A: Research Participant Reference Chart

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pp. 255-256

Appendix B: Interview Script

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pp. 257-258

Notes

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pp. 259-274

Bibliography

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pp. 275-294

Index

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pp. 295-306

About the Author

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p. 307

Back Cover

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