Carnegie Mellon University

The Gay Warrior and the Untroubled Comrade: The Rhetoric of Identity Categories in Public Discourse

Author: Doug Cloud

Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2014

This dissertation explores the ways in which identity categories (e.g. woman, gay, soldier) function rhetorically in public deliberation and how the meaning of those categories can shift over time with important consequences for cultural attitudes and public policy. To document a surprising shift in public views of gay people in the military, I undertake a close, systematic analysis of congressional hearings held by the House Armed Services Committee in 1993 and 2008. Using a new method developed for this project, I track and analyze six rhetorical archetypes that helped shape the contentious debate over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Rhetorical archetypes are widely circulating, prototypical representations of individuals who fall within an identity category or categories—a kind of rhetorically potent stock character. I show how these archetypes can be found, named, and described in a way that makes them recognizable in texts. One result of this process is a reliable coding scheme (i.e. a set of well-described archetypes) that can show how identities-in-discourse actually shape public deliberation. I argue that the ascendancy of a particular archetype—the gay warrior—demonstrably reshaped the debate over gays in the military in the United States. The findings of this project have implications for the study of gay rights discourse, but their broader value lies in what they can tell us about how identity categories functioned in a live public controversy. In particular, a critical appraisal of the gay warrior suggests that even an ostensibly “good” archetype may entail serious tradeoffs on the part of a marginalized group.