In the United States, rural culture is frequently thought of as traditional and \"authentically\" American. This belief stems from settler colonial histories in which Native lands are stolen and \"settled\" by white colonial communities. Through this process, the rugged \"frontier\" becomes a symbol of American identity, and rural communities become the home of \"real\" Americans. Because settler colonization is invested in maintaining systems of white supremacy, sexism, and heteropatriarchy, these \"real\" Americans are figured as normatively white and straight. This dissertation analyzes the rhetorical construction of rurality in the United States, specifically focusing on the ways in which settler colonial histories shape national discussions of rural sexuality. I theorize a rhetorical practice I call rural drag, a process by which individuals in settler society can assert membership in white heteropatriarchy by performing \"rurality.\"
I trace the development of this rhetorical practice through three case studies. In the first, I analyze 19th-century Texan legislative writings during the creation of Texas A&M University. These writings and related correspondences reveal a baseline of white supremacist and settler colonial rhetorics upon which the university established its ethos. In the second, I look at how these rhetorics continue to inform performances of sexuality and gender at Texas A&M. These performances derive from earlier rhetorical practices designed to create a space for white settler privilege. Together, these two case studies suggest that rhetorical practices shape and are shaped by the spaces in which they are practiced and the rhetorical histories of these spaces. In my final case study, I interrogate national discourses of rurality through an analysis of country western music to show how rhetorics of rurality are simultaneously local and national. I conclude by challenging scholars of rhetoric and queer studies to recognize that the relationship between rhetoric and place is key to recognizing our relationship to privilege and oppression in the United States. To further this, I propose a decolonial queerscape pedagogy that accounts for the multiple overlays of sexual identities and practices that travel through the academy while challenging the colonial histories and actions upon which the academy is built.
- Griffin, Robert Associate Professor