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  • The Politics of Queerphobia:In the Communication Discipline
  • Shinsuke Eguchi (bio)

As a social institution in the United States, higher education is foundationally rooted in identity-based exclusion and systemic oppression

—Rachel Alicia Griffin1

In August 2018, I proposed a roundtable discussion panel titled "Cisheteronormativity without Evidence: Phobias and Irrational Fears Concealed" to the Western States Communication Association's (WSCA) newly organized interest group Communication, Identities, and Differences, chaired by Michelle A. Holling. A major reason why I organized this panel is based on my observation throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, postdoctoral training, and faculty experience. Being a transnational Asian American queer scholar, I find that despite the historical visibility of cisgender White gays and lesbians in the field of communication, the discipline is actually not hospitable to scholars who perform queerness through their research, teaching, and service. Because queerness is an intellectual and political identity that is "truly liberating, transformative, and inclusive of all those who stand on the outside of the dominant constructed norm of state-sanctioned White middle-and upper-class heterosexuality,"2 there is a disciplinary force of power that drives away communication scholars equipped with queer politics. However, the communication discipline, a part of higher education, welcomes cisgender gays and lesbians who do exactly what White middle-/upper-class heterosexuals research, teach, and serve.3 Critiquing the cisheteronormative landscape of communication discipline, Gust A. Yep warned us of cisheteronormativity as "a site of unrelenting, harsh, unforgiving, [End Page 60] and continuous violence for LGBTQ [lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer] individuals."4 Thus, the cisheteronormative system forces scholars who perform queerness to tone down their everyday performances.

In view of that, in this article I am interested in exemplifying underlying aggressions toward scholars who perform queerness in the discipline. To do so, I borrow Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's theorizing of strategic essentialism as a minoritarian political tactic to decenter the majoritarian codes of belongings, tastes, and values.5 Therefore, I strategically essentialize queer and trans communication scholars working in and across the lines of differences (e.g., race, ethnicity, nationality, language, class, and the body) under scholars who perform queerness to make my point. However, I do not mean to reduce all aggressions against scholars who perform queerness to binary interactions between heterosexuals and queers.6 I recognize that queerness is multiple, dynamic, and fluid in and across the line of differences. At the same time, I attend to the way in which the communication discipline maintains masked, color-blinded modes of queer-phobia. Underneath professed acceptances lie an irrational fear of queer and trans communication scholars. Such a manifestation of queerphobia is similar to the way in which the phrase "we do not see race" actually reproduces racism.

In what follows, I write three major examples representing masked, colorblinded expressions of queerphobia I have observed before. I am interested in critiquing the structural implications of my observations and am not interested in identifying or accusing specific individuals who have participated in these scenarios. My overall goal is that my sharing of experiences may speak with other scholars who perform queerness. So, I push the boundaries of the communication discipline where scholars who perform queerness through their research, teaching, and service continue to be corrected.

Example I: "The [queer and trans] scholar's research program is too narrow"

I have observed multiple instances where communication scholars critiqued various queer and trans communication scholars' research programs as too narrow. With their "well-meaning" intentions, these critics also suggest that the queer and trans communication scholars should engage in "different kinds of work" to show the breadth and width of their research programs. However, this is actually an underlying queerphobic situation because they (falsely) assume queer and trans studies to be a narrowly defined subfield. Queer and trans studies is actually a large field due to its interdisciplinary growth, and one that has established its hypervisibility and prominence in the communication discipline last two [End Page 61] decades. Still, doing queer and trans studies is not automatically translated as doing communication works that speak for the discipline at large. This assumption not only centralizes the domination and pervasiveness of heterosexual(ized) communication scholarship but also discounts...