Homonormativity

Imagine the perfect gay couple. They live together. They are not criticized by the public. They are not marginalized. They are accepted by their family. They are able to adopt not one, but maybe even two children. While most of the LGBT community would dub this scenario as a “too good to be true” dream, ABC’s Modern Family depicts this “perfect gay” couple. While I never paid attention to the standards the television show sets upon gay people, I started to look more into the show after I received an email from Montclair University’s LGBT community inviting me for the season premiere of the show. At first, I was a bit confused, and I could not clearly make the connection as two why the LGBT club would be sponsoring the show. It was not until I was sitting in the Rath, when my homosexual friend mentioned, “If only I could find someone like Cam.” That is when it clicked. Cam, who is a successful, homosexual lawyer in the show, is the dedicated boyfriend to his partner. I immediately burst with enthusiasm, “So that’s why they are showing the premiere tonight!”

On the way home, I kept thinking about the concept of the perfect gay couple. Most television personalities who have become open to the public have also brought with them a dedicated lover: Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Parson, Rosie O’Donnell, etc. While I am not denying the fact that perhaps even more single gay celebrities (I am including lesbians in my usage of the term “gay”) have “come-out” in recent years, I am particularly focused on this concept of dedicated homosexual lovers. In the show for example, Mitch and Cam, two of the main characters, are shown to define the modern, conventional family. However, sometimes these characters are too ideal. They fight and make up, they raise their daughter like any normal couple, and they share the same respect for one another. While I do like the portrayal of a gay couple as a “normal” couple, after learning the concept of “heteronormative,” I now wonder if there is also such a thing as “homonormative.”

By “homonormative” I mean the gay man or the lesbian woman who comes out to their family early in life, who brings home a single, devoted lover, who plans on getting married to his partner, and who eventually raises a family. In expecting the homosexual community to perform in such an ideal way, are we not creating a marginalized group within a preexisting marginalization? In expecting this normalcy in the homosexual couples, we tend to ignore the possibility of transsexual, transgender, and even people who are still questioning their sexuality. Is the model portrayal of gay individuals in Modern Family not defining a structure for the entire LGBT community? As I have mentioned many times before, particularly because it is an idea that bothers me immensely, do all homosexuals have to place marriage at the top of their priorities? And even if not that, do all of them have to conform into societies expectations and maybe even get married themselves?

Mitchell and Cam’s relationship in Modern Family reminds me of Mcruer’s argument about liberal reformists tradition emphasize on “sameness.” Mcruer mentions in his article Composing Queerness and Disability that some liberal reformists go by the catch phrase, “gays and lesbians are just like everyone else” (163). This can become extremely problematic because it strips the LGBT community from the idea of individualism. If some people start accepting the idea that being homosexual is ok as long as these individuals continue to “act like everyone else,” then the idea of “normativity” still has not left society. People will continue to expect certain qualities from the gay community, and instead of following the “heternormative” structure, society will begin to impose a new standard on the LGBT community: one which I would like to refer are “homonormativity.” 

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Alison’s Emotion to Her Father’s Death

Throughout her account, Allison mentions her detachment about her father’s death. She claims that she was “numb” of all emotion after his death and perhaps even happy at times. While her actions are described as unusual and unordinary, we as readers can see that Alison does feel empathetic towards her father’s death. This is specifically noticeable in chapter five of the graphic novel when Alison makes a remark about her father’s death to one of the mourners at the funeral.

In the first panel, when the mourner remarks, “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” Alison responds with an outburst. She makes the claim that her father killed himself because he was a closeted fag (Bechdel 125). For the first time in the novel, she also brings into the reader’s attention that the Bechdel family lives in a “small-minded” town, which could have made it more difficult for her father to be open about his sexuality. Through this outburst, readers can clearly see that Allison does, in fact, have emotion for her father’s death. While she might feel resentment towards her father, she also feels pity for him. She is determined to believe that his death was a suicide. She gives her own explanation for why this must me the case.

Allison feels as though her father being a “fag” became the ultimate reason for his death. Allison’s choice of words is notable in this panel. She doesn’t refer to her father simply as a “gay” or a “homosexual” but rather a “fag.” This term, offensive to most of the LGBT community gives a negative connotation to the queer community. Perhaps that is the reason as to why Allison chooses to refer to her father in such a way. She describes him in a way that the small-minded town would be more likely to describe him. This outburst, which takes place in Allison’s mind, gives insight to the readers about Allison’s reasoning for her father killing himself.

In the next panel, however, reality is shown. Allison’s truthful remark to the mourner is simply, “Yes, he does.” The blank expression on Allison’s face resembles the expression her father is shown with in many of the previous pages. She wears a rigid, unemotional expression, merely to hide what she truly feels. Perhaps this reiteration of facial expressions between Allison and her father show a similarity between the two characters. While they both struggle to say what they genuinely feel, they end up putting on a fake outer appearance for others, which seems more “appropriate.”

Aside from the facial expression, one should also consider the closing statements she makes inside her head in this panel. Allison claims, “I’d kill myself too if I had to live here.” This line brings Allison even close to her father. While we do not clearly see an emotional expression from Allison at the funeral, as readers we are able to see that Allison identifies with her father. She understands the struggle of living in a homophobic, or a “normative” society. Allison realizes that if she had not moved away for college, she could have easily been in her father’s position. This realization shows that while she might not share a strong emotional bond with her father’s death, Allison does realize his struggle of being a closeted gay in a unwelcoming community. Her understanding helps readers see the importance of the LGBT community’s expression of their sexuality. An incomplete coming-out process can mean a destructive future for the gay individual along with the people who surround him/her. 

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The Importance of Gay Marriage for Homosexual Equality

As I mentioned in class when discussing the “who you love” component of Obama’s presidential speeches, it seems as though the promotion of gay marriage has become the central topic in politics of the LGBT community. While there are clearly other political actions that can be taken towards homosexual equality, specifically mentioned on page 172 of Sullivan’s article, both liberals and conservatives tend to focus on the issue of gay marriage. Sullivan believes that “the most powerful and important elements are equal access to the military and marriage” (173). If we take into consideration the two elements Sullivan focuses on in her article, we can better understand why Obama is clinging to the marriage issue during reelection time. Since Obama has already repealed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Act,” he is bringing forward an even bigger issue that is being talked about in the gay community.

                Initially, I was critical about Obama’s constant use of gay marriage as a political strategy in time of reelection. My first reaction after reading In Charlotte, Democrats no longer talk about “sexual orientation.” It’s about “who you love,” was cynicism towards what Obama has to say. I felt that he was essentializing the gay community by saying that the most important action on their agenda is the legalization of gay marriage. For me, there are issues relating to homosexual equality which are on top of the list right next to gay marriage such as work-place discrimination, adoption rules, and other public forms of discrimination towards the LGBT community. However, after reading Sullivan’s argument as to why gay marriage is the next step after accepting gays in the military service, I have a better understanding as to why Obama is choosing to emphasize this concept more than anything else in his campaign.

                As Sullivan mentions, “[Legalizing gay marriage] does not legislate private tolerance; it declared public equality” (186). What Sullivan is trying to say through this is that homosexual marriage is not just an issue of private matter but it is also a step towards public equality. She explains the many effects of this “healthy trend” throughout her article, including role models for the younger gay community, acceptance into the traditional family, and hope for gay children for a better future. While I still do not believe that all children should always look at marriage, be it homosexual or heterosexual, as a bright option for the future, I do understand the symbol of marriage as hope, which is what Sullivan is trying to say in reality. She is not saying that marriage has to be the path for these homosexual children, but seeing such an institution being legalized for the homosexual couples can be a relief for the struggling child, who at such an early stage of his/her life does not understand the societal implications of his/her identity.

                Seeing that legalizing gay marriage can have such a big impact on other areas of LGBT equality, I now understand why Obama would want to repeatedly bring that into the public attention. After all, in the end, he is running a political campaign, and as Sullivan mentions in her article, be it a liberal or conservative, legalizing gay marriage can easily be justified (or at least not refuted). Recognizing homosexual marriage should, in Sullivan’s opinion, be unproblematic for political leaders, which is exactly why Obama is strongly promoting it.

                Although I still do not agree with Sullivan’s closing statement about ninety percent of political work to be complete by legalizing gay marriage, I do understand the priority for gay marriages to be legalized. It is, after all, the most accessible and the most achievable goal in the modern day political environment. However, once gay marriage is legalized, the political fight for the LGBT community is not over, contrary to what Sullivan would like to believe. By legalizing marriage, problems of social security or adoption for a homosexual couples are not eliminated. While legalizing gay marriage can be one of the first steps towards LGBT equality, I do not believe it is ninety percent of the steps needed to be taken.

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Elimination of Personal Writing: The Result of Homophobia

                Peer revision is probably one of the most uncomfortable experiences for college students. When a student is new to an environment, he/she feels embarrassed about his/her writing. It is impossible to predict how other students, or even the teacher, will perceive one’s writing. For this reason, universities impose controlled writing in the class. Through my four semesters at Montclair as an English major, I have done numerous amounts of writing. In actuality, I have written about two personal essays. This is because all my classes enforce a rigid criterion, which helps students become a “better” writer. As Mcruer points out, college writing is mainly preparation for “professional” writing (Mcruer 148). While I understand this purpose for other majors, I have always wondered why English majors also follow the same format as other university writing classes. With the exception of Creative Nonfiction, there are very few English courses offered at Montclair that allow students to become the subject. After reading Truth or Consequences, I now understand it is partially homophobia that disinvites the concept of personal writing in college courses. Aside from homosexuality, teachers and other students fear the possibility of reading about the unknown. For the same reason, students fear writing about the unknown. How will his/her text be received? Will there be disapproval for expressing one’s inner opinions? Or worse, will his/her peers be judgmental? This fear, instilled by cultural expectations of writing, causes many students to censure their work. Personally, one of the easiest subjects I find to write is about me. Perhaps this is because my writing is considered “heteronormative.” But what about my friends who are part of the LGBT community? While their writing probably has the most diverse experiences embedded in them, they are nervous about expressing these ideas in a classroom setting. As Malinowitz mentions, the more freely the LGBT community writes, the more homophobia will multiply (42). For this reason universities do not take action about the lack of appreciation for the work of the queer and disabled, but instead, they eliminate the problem altogether. With structured writing, there is limited room for students to express personal emotion. With other topics being the subject, the focus is shifted off oneself. One wonders, however, is this the best way to deal with the problem of homophobia in universities? As Malinowitz points out, “Lesbian and gay studies has much to offer enlightened writing programs because it exposes in unexpected ways our modes of making meaning and the ways systems of signification structure our thinking” (43). If colleges, especially ones who pride themselves in practicing liberal arts, remove such works of experience from their curriculum, are they not holding students back from a well-rounded education? After all, it is true what Mcruer expresses in his work; no work is truly unoriginal. Every piece of writing is in itself queer or disabled because it is different than anyone else’s experience. Why, then, is there this scare for writing about topics of homosexuality. Like race and ethnicity, it is just another distinguishing factor that needs to be incorporated in university writing, not eliminated. 

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The Congresswoman is Still Not Listening

US Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson-Lee, is often criticized for being “an ignorant moron.” One of the biggest controversies related to her took place when Lee attended to a phone call during one of her town hall meetings. While she was being asked a question by a cancer patient, Sheila Jackson-Lee, with no regard to her audience, began to talk on the phone. After this incident, many people accused the congresswoman of being extremely rude and inattentive to her audience.

As a politician, listening-rhetoric is probably the most important form of rhetoric followed by spoken-rhetoric. While it is important that politicians convey their thoughts and their positions on certain matters effectively, it is also important that they are receptive of their audience’s views, for the audience is who makes up the voting body of America. In this case, Congresswoman Lee was a representative of the Obama administration, and by ignoring the one person, she alters people’s perception of their new president and his administration. By doing what she did, Lee allows criticism by opposing candidates of the Obama administration.

For American voters, one of the biggest concerns is that they are being listened to, and their problems are given attention by the government. Rudely attending a phone call in the middle of such a huge platform not only shows inconsideration but also a lack of ethos. It shows that Sheila Jackson-Lee lacks credentials, and she is not professional in her attitude. This proves that Booth is correct when she says that paying “full attention” is necessary for rhetoric to exist (10). A lack of this attention can create misunderstanding, which rhetoric is notorious for.

In this case, the misunderstanding is created between the US citizens and the congresswoman. They automatically mark her for being rude and ignorant. When asked to come on the show, the congresswoman does not do any better of a job trying to defend her position. Rather, she once again shows that she is not listening to the conversation going on around her. It seems like Lee’s main exigency is to come on the show to prove her innocence rather than actually address the concerns the interviewer is expressing. Every time the interviewer is asking her if she understands why her actions were inappropriate given the situation, the congresswoman seems to speak over the interviewer and address a question not being asked.

Here, we see the different form of rhetoric being applied by both the interviewer and the congresswoman. The interviewer seems to be considered with deliberative rhetoric because she wants to understand why the politician did what she did and move on from there. She wants Lee to admit her fault and then proceed to becoming a more professional congresswoman. However, Lee is too concerned with forensic rhetoric, in which all she cares about is redressing why she did what she did. Until the very end, we do not see any attempt made by her to fix what she has done for future cases. Instead, she keeps trying to justify what she already did in the past. It takes the interviewers suggestions to make Lee realize that she needs to re-invite the cancer patient to her town hall meetings and then fix any misunderstanding for future references. The different type of rhetoric being used by the two people creates a greater misunderstanding in this case.

Even though the purpose of this interview was for Jackson-Lee to acknowledge her mistakes, by failing to once again listen, she loses even more credibility in the eyes of the views. The first time people can relate to her by saying that she might have just made a mistake, but after seeing the interview, people lose any sympathy they have for the congresswoman. It seems like she is always willing to answer without thoroughly being aware of the question she is being asked. In this case, Congresswoman Lee clearly does not understand Booth’s concept of listening-rhetoric.

 

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Warnick’s Theory and Current Campaigners

Warnick begins chapter four of his book by discussing the three perspectives of online interactivity. The first approach he takes is interactivity primarily as a technological function of a medium. This view requires no interaction on the people’s part, but rather it highlights the effects of media. Opposite to this, the second perspective of online interactivity focuses on user-to-user interaction (Warnick 69). The example of emails is used by Warnick to show how every response in an email is generated by a previous statement, leading to direct interaction between the sender and the receiver of the message. The last approach Warnick mentions to online interactivity is what users experience and perceive. In this method, there should at least be a one-sided engagement on the user’s part, whether it is with another source or the computer itself (70).

Warnick then proceeds to explain how interactivity is a form of rhetoric. He uses Burke’s definition that “persuasion is generally aligned with identification between people” (70). This means that websites allow their visitors to engage in a wider sense of belonging by using persuasion. Therefore, online interactivity promotes identification, encouraging people to join together in a common cause. The best example to fit this explanation is political campaign websites. These websites are designed to appeal to voters, and by using certain forms of interactivity, campaign parties activate user responses and influence the user’s thought pattern (71). This hidden persuasion is thus, characterized as rhetoric.

As we saw in the different campaign websites shown in class, we could see the concept Warnick discusses in his article. For one, all three candidates’ sites had a form of contact whether it was “call now,” “follow us,” or “send email.” This is an example of site author(s)-to-user and user-to-site author(s) interactivity (76). By adding this type of interactivity, campaign runners show that they are willing to listen and learn from the people, which is a strong form of persuasion (72). Each candidate invites users to his cause (site-to-user interactivity) and then, allows the users to donate money to help their campaign (user-to-site interactivity).

On the other hand, there is also a limitation on how much user-to-user interaction occurs on these websites. For example, in Newt Gingrich’s page, we saw how the twitter posts were mainly from Newt himself. This creates a censorship of opinions, making sure that the campaign managers do not lose control over their campaign discourse. If all tweets were present on the website, negative views would be displayed, losing the support of some Gingrich supporters (72). Therefore, while it is important for users to communicate with site author(s), at the same time, their interaction with one another is limited for the purpose of a political campaign website.

The new concept of “text-based” interactivity was also present in all three campaign websites that we viewed in class. All candidates used their personal voice as well as present the voters with outside views of their campaign. Photographs of the candidates were displayed showing them interacting with different parties, showing them as family men, or showing them as supporters of America (73). Some sites, like Romney’s, used a balance of photographs, subheadings, icons, etc. while other websites, like Rick Santorum’s, failed to create this balance. It seemed to be more textual based rather than visual based, serving as a downfall for Santorum’s campaign site.

It is also notable how none of the three websites limited user-to-documents interactivity. This is probably smart for a campaign site to do because if users were allowed to upload any form of document to a campaign website, the campaigners can expect false information and negative comments being uploaded by the opposing parties. Therefore, most political campaign websites fail to invite its users to submit content (76).

In evaluating Bush’s website for the 2004 campaign, analysts said that the website was “unapproachable” when compared to Richard Gephadrt’s site, which included a separate column by his daughter and his wife, creating a friendlier environment (83). We saw the same thing in Newt Gingrich’s website, where there was an entire column dedicated to his wife, showing the role a future first lady must play. Once again, this grabbed the audience’s attention, while the other two websites lost credibility for not displaying such strategic columns on their site.

In the Bush campaign, there were heartfelt statements by his supporters that expressed their personal support for the candidate (84). Once again, Newt Gingrich used the same technique in his website, allowing famous figures (mostly political ones) to comment as to why they will be voting for him. This shows a limited user-to-document interactivity, in which only certain individuals were allowed to contribute their thoughts to the website. “The high-level of text-based interactivity [in Gingrich’s site] interactively buttresses the immediacy and personalization of expression on the blog” (85).

It is crucial that campaign websites utilize different types of interactivity on their website. This helps increase the likelihood of user visits as well as prolongs their stay on the website (87). By absorbing information better, users are encouraged to become voters, which accomplishes the goal of a political campaign website. At the same time, it is important to note that none of these campaign websites promote full interactivity. This limitation is because of three main reasons: “lack of sufficient resources to handle individual submissions, concerns about losing control of campaign discourse, and loss of the strategic ambiguity needed in appeals to a mass audience” (90).

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Rhetorical Appeals in Photography

The most creative way for me to express myself is through photography. People never understand why I brought a $700 camera, or why I edit all my pictures before posting them or putting them in an album. After reading Wyoski’s article, I can understand my passion better now because pictures are part of communication. By choosing different color schemes, brightness levels, and captions, I can evoke emotion through my picture.

When I find a picture of someone laughing or having a good time, I tend to add playful color schemes in the picture. For example, I might add a highlight to the picture allowing viewers to see the emotion in it. Many times, when I am having a good time with friends or family, we tend to make goofy faces, evoking positive, playful emotions. Other times, I take a serious picture of someone in deep thought, and in this case, I might make it black-and-white. By making the picture black-and-white, I automatically cause it to become serious or maybe even sad. All these techniques help me develop pathos in the pictures I take.

The obvious pathos deals with what is directly in the picture. For example, in the pictures of me making goofy faces, it is apparent to my viewers what I am feeling in the picture. However, the pathos in a picture is not always that obvious. When I develop a picture of someone in deep thought, it can mean many things. Since my audience is not visible to me, or in some cases might not even know me, they can assume the picture to mean many different things. That is where rhetorical colors of pathos come to play. “Color is analyzed in terms of hue, saturation, and brightness” (Wyoski 275). By adjusting the hues, saturation, and brightness of my picture, I can allow audiences to feel depressed, anxious, or even happy from this one picture.

Since I am only an amateur photographer, gaining ethos is difficult. However, I have learned that the way in which one takes the picture can help establish ethos. Nowadays, there is the development of a popular method of self-portrait. People snap a picture of themselves, mostly from their phones, and then post it on popular websites such as Facebook or Twitter. The problem with this method is that everyone can do it, so the pictures I take in this manner are not as appreciated. While people might like this style, they know that there is not much creativity involved to provide strong ethos.

On the other hand, when I take pictures from my professional camera, it takes a lot of time to adjust the lens, point the flash in the right direction, and find the object of focus in my picture. With this camera, I can blur the background focusing my viewers’ attention to a certain object, I can invert colors, or I can take panoramic pictures. All these features help add creativity and talent to my photos. These pictures are well appreciated by my audience, and they always end up asking me if I can take pictures of them. In fact, with my professional camera, I was even able to do a photo shoot for a wedding, which definitely helped me establish ethos as a photographers. For me, the way one takes the picture itself is enough to create ethos.

I agree with Wyoski in saying that logos are probably the hardest to develop in visual rhetoric. The pictures I take are for entertainment purposes rather than for fliers, advertisement, etc. Therefore, there is no thought pattern involved with photography. At times, I will add captions to my picture. These captions can be famous quotes or lyrics, which does provide some transfer of knowledge. However, this is very rare, and photography as a form of art rarely uses logos.

It was very interesting for me to read about the rhetorical appeal in visual rhetoric. I know people always say photography is an art, but there is never an explanation about how it is art. By showing my friends the ways in which I use ethos, pathos, and logos in my pictures I can finally answer the question of why I take so many pictures.

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