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Christopher Beavers
Dr. Rounsaville
ENC 3372
5 April 2012
Freedom, Faith, and Flesh: A Case Study of Homosexuality,
American Ideals, and Intercultural Rhetoric
For progress to occur there inarguably must be some sort of asymmetry to correct;
construction requires the clearance and leveling of a site, muscles require microscopic fissures to
build, and gold must be melted to remove impurities. Social inequities exist between boundaries
of power and are resolved through manners of discourse. The Crusades, the Slave-Trade, the
Holocaust, all blemishes upon the face of time. In each instance ideologieswhether religiously,
economically, or politically manifestedare sources of propulsion and justification. Literally
words about ideas (ideologies) provide the fuel for widespread cultural movements. While
people typically think very little of opinions or ideas, in a discourse community such things are
powerful tools of persuasion and possible emissaries of sinister intent. Whether it is immolation
in Medieval Zurich, crucifixion in Rome, concentration camps in the Nazi empire, castration
under Visigoth law, or incarceration in America, homosexuality has been, and continues to be,
demonized by the ideologies of societal spheres that are cognate of the persecution of historical
minorities on the basis of difference. Looking to history, it becomes obvious that ways of
thinking in the majority stream of discourse have direct correlative effects. That is, there exists a
connection between verbal ideologies and actual consequence. For rhetoric, especially
intercultural rhetoric, where inequity exists between a victimized minority and a suppressive
mainstream culture, has palpable and tangible outcomes; effecting psychological, affective, and
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behavioral mindsets, often serving as an agent of destruction, despite potentially providing a
catalyst for evolution.
Framework for Analysis: Contact Zones and Psychology
Adopting Mary Louise Pratts concept of contact zonessocial spaces where cultures
clashand the psychological principles found in the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis, Jane Elliots
experiment, and language acquisition theories, I will attempt to show the detrimental effect
language has had upon members of the gay community and give consideration to solutions for
rhetorical redemption. Pratt clarifies that a person living in a "contact zone" is immersed in
differing cultures, one usually dominating the other subordinating, with their own languages and
struggles to maintain cultural identity (1). Pratt calls attention to the error of assuming that
people in a community all share the values or histories, which often prove to be factors dictated
by the culture in power. In reality the subordinate or marginalized people live without their
identity being recognized by the whole is a typical landscape of intercultural rhetoric(3).
An Introduction to Intercultural Rhetoric
Intercultural rhetoric deals with discourse between cultures different in language,
ideology, customs, values, norms, etc. (Connor, 4). It can be thought of as opposition or tension
between a powerful majority and a dissenting minority with majority being a mainstream cultural
opinion. Metaphorically one could visualize discourse in intercultural rhetoric as a river or
current (majority or mainstream) traveling over rocks or encountering undercurrents that oppose
the flow of motion (the minority or victimized). In a meeting between current and undercurrent
typically whirlpools form, this is the action of discourse: an amalgam of whirling ideas and
language that are not always aligned. The purpose of intercultural rhetoric as a discipline, seeks
not only to understand how to navigate upon these strange tides, but also why these differences
are important to human oriented thought and equity. Considering American culture and
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homosexuality, it becomes quickly apparent that intercultural rhetoric is applicable. An
argumentfor the sake of this paper argument refers to any communicative channel with a
purposeis not homogenous. The scientific community debates over nature or nurture,
politicians considerations over rights to marriage, religious concerns of morality, and social
expectations all circulate with various rhetorical strategies; unfortunately such arguments often
prove alienating and isolating to populations.
Rhetorical Artifacts: American Views Towards Homosexuality
Below are some rhetorical artifacts that echo common sentiments and illustrate several
mainstream opinions that indicate a prominent argument that homosexual men, and women, are
threats to children and communities:

The first image above is a Boy Scouts of America (BSA) derivative of a sign commissioned by
the U.S. government in 1917 (National Archives). Symbolically it plays with gender roles by the
presenting of a sword, a traditional phallic symbol, being given to an American hero to fight
against the necessarily godless sodomites. The justification for the eradication: a Christian
America. In this artifact, the homosexual is presented as a sodomite, thus drawing upon biblical
implications that are echoed by the notion of a Christian America. Furthermore the image
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explicates that those of a certain sexual orientation are inconsistent with not only Judeo-Christian
beliefs, but also American ideals and masculinity. Coupled with the 2004 statement of the BSA
that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law
to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed a more damaging argument is made:
homosexuals are not only not fit for the appropriations of manliness but also unclean or dirty.
Homosexuals are not only removed from a society for moral reasons but for a concept of a
diseased mind or body. This notion of a diseased mind was a commonplace held by the
psychological community until 1973 when the American Psychological Association declassified
it as a mental disorder leading to its removal from diagnostic manuals (Bayer). Further research
illustrates that quasi-ubiquitous institutions that teach an anti views on homosexuality to
children increase maladjustments and acculturations in unaware homosexual children that are
later manifested in life through self-destructive reactance, lowered self-esteem, and social and
intimate anxieties (Kitzinger). One could not imagine a more pervasive entity than a national
government, which denies certain liberties to homosexuals thus equating them as less than
traditional heterosexuals. The danger of rhetoric in this instance exists between the idea that a
child (or adult) is being told by his or her federal state that their biological basis is not only
abnormal but is something to be combatted, resulting in a dissonance of self.
The second artifact is a picture taken amid the eighties of a t-shirt saying thank god for
aids (National Archives). This once more brings to mind Judeo-Christian evocations, implying
that AIDS is a tool of divinity. It further indicates a subliminal question as to why a benevolent
and righteous God would implement a deadly disease as an exercise of will. The argument it
makes is that the population associated with AIDS (homosexuals, specifically homosexual men)
deserves to be punished because it is a blemish upon society. Once more arguing that beliefs
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incongruous to mainstream values are to be eradicated and that thanks is to be given for the
removal.
While the other two artifacts are relatively historic examples, the last is a contemporary
argument, printed in 2008 by Westboro Baptist Church, demonstrating that these ideas are still
very present and widespread in culture. It is a vitriol explicitly states thank God for dead fags.
Once more homosexuals are viewed as a moral disease justly plagued by the botch of Egypt.
While many may contest that this view is a radical example, it is not. All one must do is employ
an internet search engine to find similar sentiments on signs, posters, shirts worn by children,
television shows, billboards, commercials, music, and art. Rhetorical analysis of this flyer
illustrates that the pathetic response is a moral alignment that homosexuals are threats to
character, family, children, and traditional patriarchal structures. But the artifact offers no sense
of redemption. Even programs such as Exodus claim to pray the gay away in an effort to cure
or convert homosexuality. The artifact relies heavily upon pathetic appeals, abandoning an
important ethical consideration. When constructing ethos classical rhetoricians taught that a
rhetor must establish a sense of goodwill toward the audience (Crowley and Hawhee). However
this argument presented gives no indication that they are interested in helping or saving the
dissenters. For in their minds they have already rejected the considerations that anyone of
difference is worthy of salvation.
What all three of these possess is quite blatantly an element of hate and ignorance; the
sentiments most deadly to constructive discourse, as they discredit and are disinterested in
societal progression for all audiences. It is interesting to note that while many of these artifacts
rely upon Christian values, not once did Jesus condemn homosexuality in the Bible (Negy). Thus
these are culturally contingent arguments, and that is frightening as they are constructs of the
human mind. Prejudice begets prejudice. Hateful discourse is lethal; historically it has been a
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medium for genocide and slavery on the basis of difference, which is a core consideration for the
student intercultural rhetoric.
A Case Study: Rhetoric and Reality
In intercultural rhetoric the adage sticks and stones may break my bones but words can
never hurt me is a farce. Even so, many fledgling rhetors forget that the ideologies behind
arguments are not bound to intangible results and overlook the idea that thoughts possess
physical consequences. Not only do rhetorical artifacts have real psychological results but also
shape behaviors that have destructive qualities.
If one doubts the effect rhetoric may have outside the realm of theory, consider an
interview conducted with David and Jonathan
1
: two middle aged men in a homosexual
relationship for the past twenty years. Both grew up in the Bible Belt in the late 50s and early
60s. Their sexuality was always forefront in their mind. Davids earliest memory was of his
mother combing his hair before church, saying we dont want you to look queer. His mother
used to tell him he was wrong for not playing with other boys on account of them teasing him.
During adolescence David and Jonathan were often called fag or queer at school. David, in an
effort to conform with members of his gender and social expectations, tried joining the
basketball team, but was told there was no room for his sort. Once the pastor of his church
came and took him to [a] creek to wash away his sins. He though he was going to be drowned
until his mother came and ended the event by saying if [he] is going to hell, [there is] nothing
you can do. He was eventually excommunicated from his church. During the AIDS epidemic,
Jonathan tried to overdose, thinking he had AIDS after contracting pneumonia, believing it was
Gods punishment.

1
For privacy the actual names have been withheld upon request of the participants.
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Today both men associate the term faggot or queer being followed by a fist or rock.
They further expressed that one of the most hurtful things was when their female friends would
indicate that they are so glad they have shopping partners, which they said reinforce their
notions and regrets over not being real boy[s].
What we see here is a very real example of how rhetoric has a direct effect upon the
world. The tension between religion and sexuality was always present; despite wanting to
reconcile faith with flesh, David and Jonathan found themselves ostracized from their home,
school, and church. In essence they were being ejected from their communities based on
opinions or frames of mind that had been perpetuated by rhetoric and passed along as reality.
One study shows that such rejection leads to various tensions of esteem and self and can manifest
itself as self-loathing, low self-esteem and self-worth, depression, and aggression (Romero,
Vilches, and Kimber). Indeed, Jonathans suicide attempt indicates the result of these audiences.
Rather than live with the consequences of the sin of Sodom, he would rather die.
Another major perception felt is shame. Being constantly driven away, evoked feelings
of not being a real boy, thus feeling lesser or artificial in comparison to patriarchal demands.
An additional sentiment was that they were wrong, reinforced by jargon and pejoratives. In this
case the confliction between faith and social reaction to gender roles and sexuality led to a
cognitive dissonance, a perception of conflict of feeling and behavior (Myers, 108).
Psychologically humans tend to resolve cognitive dissonance through any means necessary
(Myers, 106). In many instances coping methods can be self-destructive and in the case of David
and Jonathan deadly. What is so significant about this is that the dissonance felt is driven by
social expectations for gender and arguments about sexuality. In essence it is driven by
commonplaces, community opinions. And the arguments that pervaded were inherently
destructive. Beyond psychology, the intercultural rhetorical situation is evident: a disparity
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between a persecuted minority and a mainstream culture. From this, an exigence appears. That is,
the need for human dignity, respect, and social progression from rhetorical arguments that while
procuring freedom can also be used as limits.
Rhetorical Isolation
What David and Jonathan experienced is a typicality of homosexual men: rhetorical
isolation. Rhetorical isolation occurs when arguments not only neglect but alienate populations.
Pratt suggests in Arts of the Contact Zone that it is detrimental to assume audience members are
similar (3). Yet rhetoric plagues the gay community: assumptions as to the preference of
heterosexuality are seen in billboards, ads, movies, commercials, television, and music. In fact
every fourteen minutes children hear derogatory phrases or sentiments towards homosexuality
(Bart). In accordance with the Sapir-Wharf hypotheses these linguistic arguments have a direct
effect on perception (Myers, 77). By seeing these images and hearing these words used in
negative fashions, people begin to perceive that not only is homosexuality outside the norm, but
it is also detrimental and unwanted. Indeed, for David and Jonathan, the concept of Hell lingers
overhead as a constant reminder that they are wrong or deserve such treatment. For audiences,
particularly children, to hear such arguments begins an early catalyzation of disdain for
homosexuality. This disdain develops into an aversion which leads to prejudiced attitudes. And
for homosexual members of an audience it isolates and excludes them. Psychologically, isolation
has many dangerous effects including feelings of depression and cognitive dissonance (Myers,
106). But when rhetorically isolated, the dissonance is rooted in the epistemology and
ideological basis for such attitudes. In fact some of the language surrounding homosexuals, or
even accepted by communities, are examples of rhetorical isolation. Dictionary definitions of
queer indicate that something is of a questionable nature, and coming out reinforces the idea
that there is something to be hidden. These feelings of shame or inherent incorrection are based
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upon internal confliction and external arguments that combine to rhetorically isolate individuals.
Specifically, homophobia can cause extreme harm and disruption. For example, many members
of the LGBT community have become homeless as a result of being rejected by their families
after revealing their sexual orientation. In the US, between 20 and 40 percent of young homeless
people are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force).
Not only does such discrimination against what may be a genetic occurrence serve as a
mar upon humanity, but also perpetuates the belief that discrimination is okay. Racial and
misogynistic stigmatisms prevail from similar ideologies. Why are boys taught not to cry?
Because cultural prescriptives deem it a weakness. The enthymematic element to this indicates
that girls are allowed to cry, because they are weaker creatures. Thus not only are these
stereotypes isolatory to homosexuals but also perpetuating negative views of multiple
intersecting cultures discrimination. In discourse, no meaningful progress can be made when one
is excluded or made to feel unworthy of social contribution or reliance.
Empathy and Discourse: Considerations for the Intercultural Rhetor
For the intercultural rhetor engaging in discourse it may be helpful to avoid
colloquialisms or even gender specific pronouns that may indicate a preference towards certain
members of an audience and actions. When constructing ethos or providing background
information, goodwill can be established by aligning oneself with the audience in an effort to
acutely feel their struggle of the audiences.
Effectively attacking prejudicial attitudes and discrimination in all areas of society
requires political leaders, police forces, health services, broadcasters and employers to all
positively influence the way that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are treated. How
can this be done though?
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Jane Elliot did a famed experiment in which she segregated the classroom of third
graders into blue and brown eyes, telling one group that it was superior and to be given
privileges. The results: the children who were told they were inferior performed slower on tasks
and tested poorly, while the superior group began to exercise the superiority in hostile ways,
bullying others, including their best friends. After the exercise Stanford University analyzed the
test performance of the children and found that they impossibly improved on testing after the
experiment, all of them performing better than national averages on similar or standardized tests
than other children. When interviewed thirty years later the students exhibited less
discriminatory patterns and behaviors and were more open minded despite of religious or
political affiliation. (Frontline PBS)
If rhetorical and psychological exercises like these were performed on children it could
increase an element of goodwill, or ethos, towards others in actions and words, while
simultaneously improving esteem and performance throughout life, emphasizing a mindset intent
on social progression.
Empathetic attitudes should be encouraged. Not for grades or school performance, but for
human dignity and value, for the future and resolution of the past. Perhaps then the cyclone of
discourse will be quelled and the currents will calm to reveal the glassy surface of water
reflecting the bright rays of the future.






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WORKS CITED
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Bart, M. Creating a safer school for gay students. Counseling Today, September 1998
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Boy Scouts of America. 2004 Boy Scouts Oath. http://web.archive.org/web/2010020619
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Pratt, Mary Louise. Arts of the Contact Zone: Profession 91. New York, MLA, 1991. 33-40
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