- Queerly Remembered: Rhetorics for Representing the GLBTQ Past by Thomas R. Dunn
Queerly Remembered: Rhetorics for Representing the GLBTQ Past is a timely contribution to the burgeoning study of queer rhetoric(s), public memory, and their many intersections. Unfolding over six chapters, Thomas R. Dunn’s book gives renewed voice to gay pioneers and lesbian artists; explores the tragic, yet crucial, complexities of remembering queer death; and calls upon rhetoricians to (re)theorize, (re)write, and do queer memory better.
Dunn’s first chapter, “‘Making do’ with Heterosexual History” outlines his three overarching claims: (1) public memories are of paramount importance for GLBTQ communities; (2) queer public memories are founded upon both tactical and ephemeral practices and, more recently, monumental rhetorics; and (3) these monumental memory practices have, continue to, and will increasingly affect heterosexual and homosexual publics alike (4–5). These claims come together in what Dunn terms queer monumentality: “[the] ongoing and evolving assortment of efforts by GLBTQ people, institutions, and communities to give their shared pasts a weightiness, timelessness, and grandeur in order to activate collective power and effect social change” (21). Dunn queers monumentality by adopting a “both/and approach to the queer past”; queer monumentality, he argues, transgressively joins monumental forms of remembrance with the tactical and ephemeral approaches pioneered by GLBTQ communities (33). Queerly Remembered animates this concept through four case studies.
Chapter 2, “A Monument to ‘a great fag,’” dwells with a Toronto statue of Alexander Wood: a Canadian colonist who, in the early nineteenth century, became embroiled in a homosexual sex scandal. His monument, in contrast to the tactical and ephemeral forms of queer memory predominant in the twentieth century, exemplifies how GLBTQ publics have monumentalized their histories in distinct ways. Dunn locates three memory rhetorics at work: (1) “the official democratic memory,” wherein Wood is integral to the Canadian nation-state; (2) “the traditionalist countermemory,” in which Wood is remembered for [End Page 193] his supposed deviancy and sexual depravity; and (3) “the camp countermemory,” which refigures the colonist as a malleable queer figure (42). Wood’s statuesque form (with its tailored coat) and adjoining plaques (complete with a sculpted buttocks) immortalize Canada’s “gay pioneer” in the heart of Toronto’s gayborhood (37). Wood’s memory, Dunn reveals, is quite queer indeed.
Dunn’s second case study, chapter 3’s “Remembering Matthew Shepard,” focuses on the tragic 1998 murder of the titular gay University of Wyoming student. Shepard’s death ignited outrage, a media spectacle, and Dunn argues, different modes of remembrance among divergent publics and counterpublics. In contrast to Wood, Shepard has been remembered in distinctly nonmaterial fashion. By selecting relevant “fragments of discourse” related to Shepard, Dunn reveals how the GLBTQ community remembered Shepard as a victim of a violent hate crime (73), how he was marked as both a “secular saint” (78) and a “common man” (86) and, finally, how disparate queer counterpublics productively contested Shepard’s remembrance by calling attention to the “representational deficiencies” of his white, cisgendered, gay, educated, and middle-class intersectional identity (85). Dunn’s analysis of Shepard’s conflicted memory raises important questions about which queer figures are (and are not) remembered and how they are (and are not) monumentalized (92). Although not immortalized in stone, Shepard’s memory nonetheless inspired (and continues to inspire) contemplation and contestation.
Chapter 4, “Imagining GLBTQ Americans,” offers a more sweeping analysis of GLBTQ memories as they are enshrined within domestic public educational programs. Dunn turns to textbooks, in particular, as articulations of American nationalism. Textbooks, he argues, demarcate accepted knowledges about the past (94). Moving to recent attempts by California legislators to refigure GLBTQ figures and histories within public schools, Dunn traces rhetorical maneuvers to represent queer communities according to “rhetorics of national contribution” (109). His analysis calls attention to the memories forgotten in queer fights for progress: (1) GLBTQ pasts beyond the purview of American nationalism (114), (2) the myriad harms experienced by GLBTQ communities (115), and (3) the political movements for gay and lesbian...