"by the way i'm gay": a rhetorical analysis of celebrity coming out

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University of Alabama Libraries

Coming out, and the metaphor of the closet, is the principle organizing mechanism in the construction of LGBTQ public identity, as well as a rite of passage for LGBTQ identified individuals. With the host of recent celebrities going public with their sexuality, while simultaneously disavowing the significance of this statement, these new coming out narratives represent a fascinating shift between celebrity discourse and LGBTQ identity. The ‘coming out’ of celebrity raises both questions as to how the media constructs LGBTQ and subjectivity identity, and broader concerns related to the composition of power, hegemony, and ideology through mass-mediated popular culture. This project questions how coming out functions in the context of LGBTQ public discourse, and aims to better understand how patterns of communication in celebrity rhetoric shape what it means to be LGBTQ. Using a variety of critical rhetorical lenses – including media hegemony, critical rhetoric, narrative paradigm, queer theory, performativity hegemonic masculinity, and celebrity studies- this project analyze the coming out discourse of celebrity personae in conversation with subsequent media coverage through case studies of celebrities in both sport and media. The athlete coming out narrative is assessed through rhetorical analysis of Michael Sam, a football player for the University of Missouri in February 2014. The media figure narrative is examined through Anderson Cooper’s discourse in July 2012. Data sample for analysis is cultivated using a search in the PROQUEST Newspaper Database or newspaper articles in the month that follows each celebrity’s announcement. As a result this project argues mediated coming out narratives function as hegemonic texts that absorb and reframe the challenge of queer visibility. By erasing the political significance of queer visibility, and overcompensating masculine performance, this project offers implications for confessional rhetoric, passing, and the tokenized politics of visibility.

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Rhetoric, Communication