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  • Letters
  • Craig Gingrich Philbrook (bio) and Kimberlee Pérez (bio)

Dear Kimberlee,

As we craft our response to this Forum, which we have worked on for some time now, I find myself thinking about this period of time, about all that has happened. Working on this Forum about Gust’s article, we have had to extend the authors’ time twice—once in the wake of the Pulse shootings, again in the wake of the election—because the contributors (and you and I), needed to take stock again, breathe for a minute, reflect.

It should come as no surprise, but the intensity of the times reminded us both that writing about heteronormativity does not occur from a place beyond its reach. This is the old communication theorist’s conundrum, in a way, or a version of it. Just as communication theory is itself an act of communication, theorizing the violence of heteronormativity that happens in the wake of that violence stumbles to its feet to try to craft a resistant language in the debris field homophobic violence generates. As I think this, I remember Gust’s stories about some of the things powerful people in our field said to him when the article first appeared, demonstrating heteronormativity’s power to render even a space like an elevator at a convention a war zone.

This violence always reminds me of Goffman’s stigma research, particularly when one of the consequences of the stigmatized speaking back to what Goffman called “the normals” is being further stigmatized. The so-called normal is always [End Page 180] prepared to characterize us as failing to have “good adjustment.” For Goffman, when we comply, our good adjustment “means that the unfairness and pain of having to carry a stigma will never be presented to them [the “normals”]; it means that normals will not have to admit to themselves how limited their tactfulness and tolerance is; and it means that normal can remain relatively uncontaminated by intimate contact with the stigmatized, relatively unthreatened in their identity beliefs. It is from just these meanings, in fact, that the specifications of a good adjustment derive.”1 In more contemporary terms, failed good adjustment registers as the neoliberal crime of being an unhappy subject in an era that Lacanian theorist Alenka Zupančič characterizes as marked by “bio-morality.” For her, bio-morality is an ideology “which promotes the following fundamental axiom: a person who feels good (and is happy) is a good person; a person who feels bad is a bad person.”2 Heteronormativity generates so much unhappiness and outrage and then asks LGBTQ persons to “get over it.” That weight is intensified exponentially and differently when one thinks about LGBTQ affiliation as but one aspect in various intersectional identities.

As you and I have talked about these articles with each other in these times, we have also found ourselves talking about the consequences of heteronormativity in our own lives. We’ve shared the ways members of our families and other institutions have responded to us—disconfirming our personhood and concern. We have helped one another explore strategies that might allow us to insulate ourselves from these family members and institutions or appeal to them for recognition, sometimes successfully. I do not know how you might want to nuance this or take it out altogether, but I think about the ways we have each withdrawn from family contexts that have felt corrosive and navigated our departments and university’s best intentions in the context of the miles that they, of course, like any other institution in a heteronormative culture, have yet to go. Reading, thinking, writing, and talking about heteronormativity, then, we have also been soaking in it. Always. And we know its ubiquity is no accident, but part of its design, its purpose-built ideological efficacy.

This is why we wanted the Forum to appear in QED, with its emphasis on LGBTQ worldmaking. What, after all, is a project like this one but a collective endeavor to build bonds and contribute to such a world? To assay its features and dream up interventions? To develop an existential ensemble of minds/voices/viewpoints like a network of outposts in hostile...


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pp. 180-185
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