LGBTQ+ Epistolary Rhetoric/Letter Writing
- Pamela VanHaitsmaPamela VanHaitsmaCommunication Arts and Sciences; Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Pennsylvania State University
Approaching letter writing as a rhetorical practice—as epistolary rhetoric—is not an obvious priority for queer studies in communication. Yet the importance of letters to LGBTQ+ studies of rhetoric have come to the fore in two key ways. In a first approach, following the long-standing use of letters as evidence within interdisciplinary LGBTQ+ histories, letters serve as vital primary sources in histories of LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Letters act as evidence of LGBTQ+ romantic, erotic, and sexual relations within queer studies of public memory. Also, acting as so-called hidden transcripts, letters document other kinds of background information about rhetorical situations. In a second approach LGBTQ+ letters have been analyzed as rhetoric. Receiving the most attention are obviously public and political letters, such as those appearing in movement publications, the rhetoric of public officials and their political campaigns, and activist letter-writing campaigns. Especially in the case of LGBTQ+ life, however, letters often blur the lines between genres that are public and private, political and intimate. As such, even those letters considered most intimate, such as romantic and erotic letters, have been theorized as forms of epistolary rhetoric. Both approaches persist and are in productive tension with each other. Whether scholars underscore how LGBTQ+ letters are rhetoric or simply draw on them as records of information, letters are indispensable sources for the development of LGBTQ+ histories of rhetoric, studies of public memory, and research on communication.