Part of my goal in the CHI fellowship has been to explore an idea I have been developing over the last year about queer multimodal composing: that the act of making things can make worlds. I’m definitely not the first person to have developed an understanding of making as world-making, and I owe much of what I know from the work (and in many cases personal mentorship) of Malea Powell, Angela Haas, Jacqueline Rhodes, Qwo-Li Driskill, Gloria Anzaldúa, Trixie Smith, and Dànielle DeVoss, Andrea Riley Mukavetz, among many others.
In this fellowship, I would like to particularly focus on how queer modes of composing and making can create more welcoming, beautiful, livable worlds for queer people. What follows is some history and background of my project, alongside some of my own art.
Queer Composing as Life-Affirming and World-Making
As the Cultural Rhetorics Conference in 2016, I sat in on a panel on queer mentorship. At this roundtable, a director of a writing center at a women’s college told us about her writing center as a queer space. She had multiple students who identified as LGBT and she worked hard to cultivate a welcoming space for them. Still, at one point, as she discussed her students’ struggles with self harm and thoughts of suicide, she tearfully asked the group of us: “My queer students are literally dying. What can I do?” We remained silent, blinking at the enormity of the question.
How many of us had asked ourselves this? How many had asked our mentors? Probably everyone in the room. We went on to share some stories of possibility and hope, but the questions stayed with me long after the session. It still sticks with me. I want to know what I can do as a scholar, a student, a teacher, a practitioner and a mentor to defy the deaths of my queer siblings, friends, mentors, teachers, and students.
Because it is what I am perhaps best at and what I care about most, I want to think about how queer work in writing and rhetoric especially can defy death.
Terrific, Radiant, Humble
In “Cultivating the Scavenger,” Stacy Waite writes,
I advocate for queer methodologies because I am queer, because queer teenagers all over the world are killing themselves at horrifying rates, because 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)
Like Waite, I want to spend my career thinking in queerer ways, encouraging my colleagues to think in queerer ways, teaching my students to think in queerer ways. Developing and foregrounding the queer imagination is one way to counteract the normative structures in place that delegitimize and erase queer ways of knowing. For instance, Waite recalls a time in the second grade in which, as an answer to her teacher’s question, “what saved Wilbur from being killed in Charlotte’s Web?,” Waite responded “writing” instead of “Charlotte.” “I remember she said my answer was ‘kind of out there'”(65), Waite writes. Indeed, how many of us have been told our work, our desires, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams, were ‘out there?’ How many times can we hear it before we grow too weary to go on?
I wonder, in what ways can writing, composing, world-making save us, as it did for Wilbur?
Resisting Linearity, Resisting Conclusions, Resisting Death
In “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications,” Ann Wysocki asks,
How might the straight lines of type we have inherited on page after page after page of books articulate to other kinds of lines, assembly lines and lines of canned products in supermarkets and lines of desks in classrooms? How might these various lines work together to accustom us to standardization, repetitions, and other processes that support industrial forms production? (114)
Just as Wysocki likens rows of text to rows of groceries or desks, I think about the rows and rows of gravestones in a graveyard: we live and die by (hetero)normativity.
I believe one way to avoid that kind of slow, organized death is to move beyond the boundaries. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Our rows and rows of alphabetic texts are products of Western normative thought, and each neatly concluded seminar paper equates to a little death: a finished product. To avoid these little deaths is to embrace the death-defying queer possibilities of non-linear composing and creation. A resistance to neat death-like conclusions is a figurative act of defying death. But, at its most literal, an embrace of queer multimodal composing offers up a space in which queer ways of knowing are valued, and an embrace of queer ways of knowing has the potential to save queer lives.