Being voluntarily childless (i.e., “childfree”) is a growing trend in the United States and around the world. Although most childfree people know early in life that they do not wish to become parents, the decision to forgo having children is an ongoing process that requires childfree people to construct a life that deviates from the normative family life cycle. Increasing rates of voluntary childlessness is a trend spurred by a variety of shifting social, economic, and environmental factors. Yet despite the increasing normalcy of voluntary childlessness, childfree people (and especially childfree women) face social sanctions for deciding not to become parents, being broadly perceived more negatively than childless people (who do not have children but want them) and parents. Such sanctions include social confrontations in which others (e.g., family members) question or contest the legitimacy of their childfree identity. Media coverage of voluntary childlessness forwards the notion that motherhood and femininity are inseparable and that voluntary childlessness is an issue that primarily concerns and affects women. Furthermore, childfree people face discrimination in health care contexts when seeking voluntary sterilization and in workplace contexts when “family-friendly” policies create unequal distributions of labor for those without children. Members of the childfree community use the Internet to share resources and seek support to navigate challenging interactions with outsiders. Beyond this, although some studies have begun to interrogate the roles of geographic location, race, and sexual orientation in shaping the experience of voluntary childlessness, at present, a largely White, wealthy, able-bodied, cisgender, heteronormative, and Western view of this topic is still perpetuated in the literature.
Perceptions of the Childfree
Elizabeth A. Hintz and Rachel Tucker
Queer melodrama utilizes and reimagines the conventions of melodrama to tell stories by, for, and/or about queer people. Melodrama has been studied by scholars of communication, especially scholars of media and rhetoric. Itis also a transdisciplinary area of study with scholars in film, literature, media studies, cultural studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies as well as disciplines associated with specific languages, cultures, geographies, and identities. The scholarship of queer melodrama coalesces around two primary areas of inquiry and research. First, queer melodrama scholarship engages substantially with the taxonomization and theorization of the genre. As a storytelling genre, melodrama appears in various types of media and rhetoric including film, television, literature, theater, and music. Scholars conceptualize the genre of queer melodrama in three main ways: generically in terms of characteristics, formulaically in terms of plot, and stylistically in terms of affect and aesthetic. Most definitions of melodrama focus on the portrayal of extreme emotions paired with a tragic climax—one ultimately resolved with a sudden, simple happy ending. Second, queer melodrama scholarship regularly grapples with the purposes, impacts, and weaknesses of the genre. Queer melodrama’s central purposes are storytelling, disruption, and critique. The genre has the potential to impact audiences by facilitating or encouraging emotional responses, awareness, empathy, hope, and imagination. While much queer melodrama scholarship focuses on defending the genre against dismissive, sexist criticism, scholars also critically examine the potentially negative and harmful political work of certain aspects or examples of queer melodrama. These scholarly critiques have established various problems with queer melodrama including exclusion, normativity, and assimilationism. Taken together, these areas of inquiry attest to the richness of queer melodrama for scholarly inquiry, audience consumption, and political work. Queer melodramas are vital sources for queer communication and rhetoric scholarship about media, affect, aesthetics, and genre.
Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Communication in Africa: An Intersectional Perspective
Kristin Skare Orgeret
When examining diversity in mediated spheres of communication, crucial questions to be asked would be whose stories are told and through which voices, to be relevant for the widest spectrum of a society and secure an informed citizenry. Approaching questions of access and representation in media and communication, it is valuable to allow for intersecting perspectives. Instead of the binary terms associated with power relations and oppression the intersectional model references the ability of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation (oppressions) to mutually construct one another and ensures a broader scope of relevant representations and mediated stories. Hence it is necessary to combine knowledge from several sources, such as the Négritude movement, feminism, and queer theories. An intersectional approach proves relevant when discussing African contexts where specific historical, cultural, and economic/political contexts play together and the populations are often complex and manifold, as, for example, the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and the media coverage of athlete Caster Semenya show.
Memorable Messages in Families
Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Ellen Jordan, and Jinwen Yue
Families are (one of) the first and most influential socializing agents of our lives. Among the innumerable messages family members convey to each other, a select few are regarded as “memorable.” Memorable messages are “distinct communication units considered influential over the course of a person’s life.” Those messages that are most memorable are typically brief, direct, oral messages delivered by a higher-status, older, and likable individual to the recipient during their teen or young adult years. Although memorable messages were initially regarded as having positive implications for the receiver’s life, newer research has provided space for the negative implications and perceptions of these messages. Nonverbal communication elements and relational contexts and qualities are influential to the receptivity of memorable messages. Although memorable messages often originate from a family member, the sources of memorable messages can also be friends/peers, teachers, coworkers, or, in some cases, the media. Research on memorable messages has been largely concentrated in health and interpersonal/family communication contexts; organizational and instructional contexts have also been explored. Memorable message research in families has focused much on health topics (i.e., mental health, sexual health, body image and weight), socialization (i.e., around school, work, race, other topics), and coping with hardship. In these studies, memorable messages have largely been investigated through mixed-method survey-based research, but also through purely quantitative (i.e., survey-based) and qualitative (i.e., interview) methods as well. This research has been largely atheoretical but has been grounded in control theory and, more recently, the theory of memorable messages and communicated narrative sense-making theory. Future research and practical applications of family memorable message research include informing health campaigns and family life education programming.
Estrangement and Impact on Family Communication
Kristina M. Scharp
Family estrangement occurs when at least one family member voluntarily and intentionally distances themselves from another family member because of an often ongoing negative relationship. Similar to divorce, parent–child estrangement can be an intergenerational issue; this means that adult children who distance themselves from their parents might eventually be distanced from their own children. Although it can be a healthy solution to an unhealthy environment, research suggests that estrangement can be complicated (e.g., marked by on-again/off-again cycles), uncertain, disenfranchised, stigmatized, and unsupported. Considering families are interdependent systems, the impact of family distancing can affect each and every member of the family, regardless of whether a person is directly involved. Nevertheless, parents, children, immediate family members, and siblings have varying and nuanced perspectives. For example, parents often desire reconnection and reconciliation, whereas adult children often do not. Siblings often face a different dynamic considering the power relationships between siblings are more horizontal than vertical. This means that siblings often have the same amount of power (i.e., horizontal) compared to parents and children (i.e., vertical), in which there is a greater power difference. Overall, the study of family estrangement is relatively new regardless of discipline; more research will be needed to characterize this experience and test related outcomes. Indeed, even though there is hardly any research at all, there is even less quantitative research. Continuing the study of family estrangement is important, however, considering it calls into question the inevitability of family relationships, which, albeit concerning to some, opens up the possibility to reconceptualize family to de-emphasize biological ties and emphasize care and communication.
Ryan M. Lescure
Although queer theory was profoundly influenced by the womanist feminism of the 1980s and its emphasis on the ways in which intersectionality affects lived experience, popular queer theorizing generally lost this as it became more popular in academic contexts during the 1990s. Generally, the popular queer scholarship that was being published in the 1990s did not pay much attention to the diversity of queer experiences and subjectivities. Because many popular queer theorists at the time were White, affluent, cisgender, and based in the United States, their scholarship, while anti-heteronormative, tended to reflect their privileged racial, socioeconomic, gendered, national, and cultural standpoints. Subsequently, this scholarship tended to construct a singular, definitive, and universal queer subject position as White, affluent, cisgender, and based in the United States. Wenshu Lee’s kuaer theory is an example of one of the first significant theoretical challenges to queer theory’s problematic universalizing tendencies. Initially advanced in 2003, kuaer theory is influenced by postcolonialism, womanism, and E. Patrick Johnson’s quare studies, which Lee characterizes as having advanced queer theory in a similar way that womanism did for feminism. Finding inspiration in the writing of Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, and Gloria Anzaldúa, kuaer theory applies womanist concepts to expand on the foundation built by Johnson’s quare studies, which calls for queer theorists to focus on the particularity and diversity of sexualities as well as the ways in which sexualities relate to and are shaped by race, gender, socioeconomic class, and culture. Kuaer theory agrees with and advocates for all of these things, but it notably adds a transnational perspective and emphasizes that queer theorists must also highlight the relationships between sexualities and nation, nationality, power, and culture at the local, national, and transnational levels. Kuaer theory notes that queerness, queer activism, and queer knowledges are not exclusive to the United States or to the Western world. Because of this, kuaer theory encourages queer theorists to emphasize the local and intersectional particularities of people’s sexual experiences and subjectivities while simultaneously being critical of the ways in which queer theory itself often reproduces imperialism and cultural hierarchies at the global level. Kuaer theory continues to be influential among queer theorists, especially for its critique of queer theory’s often implicit reproduction of hierarchies. Like quare studies, kuaer theory is often cited by queer theorists who challenge queer theory’s continued general inattention to intersectionality and to the multiplicity of queer subjectivities. Finally, kuaer theory’s emphasis on transnational and transcultural perspectives as well as its criticism of queer theory’s imperialistic consequences has proven to be a substantial influence on critical intercultural communication and the emerging field of queer intercultural communication.
Queer Men’s Bodies and Digital Media
The politics of queer men’s bodies as they relate to digital media are fraught with ambivalence. A very narrowly defined body type is considered the ideal form of beauty in queer men’s cultures in the Global North: white, masculine, able-bodied, lean, muscular, youthful, and hairless. Other body types are also considered beautiful or desirable or both, but this ideal is the norm against which these other types are defined. The politics of this ideal change across contexts. In some, they render anyone who deviates from it less-than-human. In others, the ability to safely express the desire for this body has provided the basis for networks of belonging, pleasure, and experimentation in an otherwise homophobic and transphobic world. The various developments that digital media have undergone since the penetration of the internet into everyday life have not fundamentally altered the ambivalence of these politics. They have, however, rearticulated them anew in various ways. The exponential proliferation of networked spaces that the internet has provided for minorities to share information and to produce and consume culture has meant a number of different queer male beauty ideals have been given room to flourish. But so too have their related constraints and ambivalences. These ambivalences have intensified as the internet, once defined by amateurish user-generated content, has been captured by the interests of global capitalism. One result has been that its increasingly visual culture has become as normative and aspirational as possible in a bid to increase its profitability. However, room for critical or deconstructive body projects still persists. The hegemonic struggle over queer men’s body politics may have started long ago, but it continues, and digital media is now the terrain where much of it occurs.
Representations of Drag Culture
Drag may be understood as performing a gender other than one’s self-identified gender. Drag is therefore underpinned by the concept of gender performativity, or acts that naturalize constructs of gender, yet drag complicates gender performativity by imitating and parodying such “natural” performances of gender. Drag is also underpinned by camp, a sensibility combining incongruity, theatricality, and humor emanating from the 1960s gay liberation movement and more recently appropriated by heteronormative culture industries, bringing forth the need to differentiate queer (political) from gay (mainstream) camp deployment. In American popular culture, the focus of this entry, drag most closely approximates cross-dressing as a mainly humorous narrative trope involving a duplicitous cross-dresser (and knowing viewer) and a duped (and often amorous) “victim.” Cross-dressing therefore should be discerned from transvestism, which involves greater subjective investment in performing a gendered other, and from the antiquated terminology of transsexualism, which implies the desire to become a gendered other. In these differences, drag can invoke gender, race, and ethnicity with different levels of performative consequence, such that women and Black men performing drag assume historical and institutional significance differently from (white) men role-playing as women. Lastly, RuPaul’s Drag Race, the American reality/competition television series, has brought drag into global, commercial mainstream culture by establishing drag as a paradigmatic, professionalized set of performances. While Drag Race has moved queer politics into public discourse with greater visibility for LGBTQ+ peoples and communities, the reality series has circumscribed “winning” and “losing” versions of drag and, by consequence, versions of gender performativity, most notably by circumscribing the boundaries of drag between gender performativity and transgender identities.
Dawn Marie D. McIntosh
Homonormativity emerged as an interdisciplinary theory that rendered valuable understandings of power relations within and beyond the LGBTQ community. Homonormativity is a discursive and embodied practice, or set of practices, by sexual minorities that aligns with and reinforces power constructs. The transitions from macro-orientations (political strategies and movements) to microstructures (aesthetics and embodied performances) of homonormativity are arguably best located within the communication studies field. This article examines how communication studies contributes to and directs the workings of homonormativity. To accomplish that goal, the article articulates four trajectories of homonormativity: intersectional homonormativity, homonormative whiteness, transnational homonormativity, and homonormative possibilities. Embodied and/or intersectional homonormativity considers the theory of intersectionality in relationship to homonormativity. Next, homonormative whiteness details the role whiteness plays in homonormativity. Whiteness depends on the erasure of difference, and this erasure is critical to how sexually marginalized individuals as a community acquire power through racism, sexism, and classism. Homonormativity, then, is dependent on workings of whiteness to acquire power. Following this, transnational homonormativity explores the relationship between homonationalism, homo-colonialism, and homonormativity. Homonormativity is grounded in the understanding of queer bodies in relationship to nationalism, transnationalism, and xenophobia. Finally, homonormative possibilities articulates the potentialities that exist in the embodied critiques of homonormativity and possibilities provided by academic work that deconstructs it.
Queer Sexualities in Latin America
Héctor Domínguez Ruvalcaba
As a field of study constituted by contributions coming from various disciplines and methodologies, queer studies in Latin America can only be understood as a multiplicity of discourses that discipline, regulate, vindicate, or bring into critical view dissident expressions of gender and sexuality. These discursive formations have given rise to moral, scientific, political, and aesthetic conceptualizations through which sexually diverse bodies in this region have been understood. Notable academic texts published since the 1980s have studied the diversity of sexual identities in different modes of representation, including the fields of history, ethnography, and literature, as well as performance, journalistic, cinematographic, and television discourses. The selection for this multidisciplinary review was based on the following thematic axis: colonial studies of Latin American queerness; modern history and literature on sexual dissidence; ethnographies of sexual diversity; and the studies of film, media, and performance.