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December 12, 2017

Queer (World) Making

December 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

In my previous posts, I’ve outlined some of the ways making and multimodal composing offer up spaces for people to make in order to make their worlds. In my last post, I articulated what I think are some differences between multimodal composing and making. In this post, I want to discuss the ways in which I see queer communities already engage in the “making as world making” I discussed in my last post.

Making as world-making is enacted daily in queer communities all the time, as exemplified in the work of Qwo-Li Driskill, Malea Powell, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherie Moraga, all people who claim queerness, all people who make worlds through their own makings. Thus, I don’t want to claim that anything that I am suggesting is new. My previous post was designed to provide some examples of the ways in which I see people of color enacting multimodal composing practices that resist straight, white, Western forms of knowledge, and without enacting the baggage of multimodality as a trendy buzzword used to describe something that everyone does everyday. It was also designed to show that thinking of multimodal composing as making in order to make worlds opens up space for us all to expand what we value when we discuss multimodal composing; it also puts more weight in multimodal composition’s possibility for supporting queer and feminist making, but also in supporting all of our lives. Indeed, in my first post, I quoted Stacy Waite, who said “if oppression is really going to change, it’s our civic duty to think in queerer ways, to come up with queer kinds of knowledge-making so that we might know truths that are non-normative, and contradictory, and strange” (64). I would argue that we already do think in queer ways, enact queer kinds of knowledge-making; they just aren’t always recognizable in my field (composition and rhetoric) as knowledge-making. However, they have always been world-building.

Two examples of this kind of world building enacted by queers are the Lesbian Avengers, an activist group that began in the 1990s, and the drag ballroom community. Both of these communities enact “multimodal” composing as world-making in their everyday action. For example, in the documentary film “The Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire,” a group of Avengers marched on Washington in 1993 to protest a hate crime committed against a lesbian woman and gay man, whose home was set on fire. At this protest, the avengers practiced fire-eating to show that fire had no power over them. In the film, as they take the fire into their mouths, they claim “We take the fire of action into our hearts and we take it into our bodies. . . our fear does not consume us.” This act of eating fire is a making, a making both of a protest and of a community but of a space, even if for a moment, in which fears of being killed for being queer are literally consumed.

Another example is the creation of drag balls, in which queer communities of color walk, dance, and perform in drag for trophies. Drag balls are not just spaces for queer self-expression, but for community and home-building, for making a world in which being a queer of color is celebrated and loved. In the film Paris is Burning, interviews with those who participate in the drag balls highlight that the balls are not simply pageants, but home spaces where people find and join their own chosen families in their “houses.” Drag balls, then, become more than just a making, but a home and a world that is more bearable for queers of color.

I want to be clear that I understand that queer communities are already engaged in making as world-making; I know I’m not discovering something queer people don’t already do. Just as Angela Haas is careful to acknowledge that she is not claiming that wampum is the origin of hypertext (in her piece “Wampum as Hypertext”), I want to acknowledge that I am not calling for queers to start making things and making worlds; I know we’re already doing this work. However, in both the cases of the Lesbian Avengers or in the drag balls, none of these communities are claiming to be doing multimodal work; they may not even choose to claim that they are “making” anything necessarily, certainly not for the means of world-making. These communities are just doing it (as Harjo writes, dancing it, being it) because it makes the world more bearable. What I am arguing is that a cultural rhetorics orientation to queer and feminist multimodality includes this story as a means “to make one absent story present in our discussions” of queer, feminist multimodal composing, “and the addition of this story may lead us to better understand the theory of discovery” (Haas 96).

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