Mayan language revitalization, hip hop, drag queens, and leathermen

Showing something of the range of Rusty Barrett’s academic work, on the occasion of his being awarded by the Linguistic Society of America. Today’s announcement:

(#1) The Zwicky Award recognizes LGBTQ+ linguists who have made significant contributions to the discipline, the society, or the wider LGBTQ+ community through scholarship, outreach, service, and/or teaching. … The prize is intended to recognize distinguished accomplishments by LGBTQ+ scholars, whether working directly on LGBTQ+ issues in language or not.

My title conveys the twin foci of Mayan linguistics and language / gender / sexuality, as in

“Mayan language revitalization, hip hop, and ethnic identity in Guatemala”. Language & communication 47: 144-153 (2016)

From drag queens to leathermen: Language, gender, and gay male subcultures. Oxford Univ. Press (2017).

The cover of the book:


From a 12/11/17 interview of RB by Sandhya Narayanan on the CaMP (Communication, Media and Performance) Anthropology blog (based in the Indiana University Anthropology Dept.):

[SN] In analyzing the speech practices of each gay male subculture, you raise different methodological and theoretical issues around defining communities of practice or speech communities. How did your own ethnographic journey with each of these subcultures make you rethink about the ways that linguistic anthropologists go about defining or identifying the communities they work with, as well as labels such as speech community, language community, or communities of practice?

[RB] This is a question I have struggled with since graduate school when Queer Theory was new and pushing to reject the idea of community entirely in order to focus instead on the marginalization processes that leave some individuals “shut out” of communities. While I was drawn to the Queer Theory take on “community,” it was hard to reconcile that theory with questions of language use. Homophobic parents might exile a child from their family, but they can’t exile them from the community of “English speakers.” So, one of my first academic pieces (in “Queerly Phrased”) was about how Queer Theory might challenge prevailing ideas about speech communities. Over the years, I’d ultimately come to feel that external scholarly definitions of community were inherently limiting. So, going in to this project, I felt like I had a pretty open-ended view of what “community” might mean. However, the ethnographic research made me aware that I still had a lot of preconceived notions about community. I expected to find gender to be central to establishing social boundaries between gay men, but I came to find that in the emergence of gay male subcultures, indexing racial, class, political, religious, and even regional identities can be just as important as gender identities. I went in thinking that intersectionality emerged at points of overlap between communities, but I ultimately came to feel that it works the other way around. That is, communities actual[ly] emerge through intersectionality.

One Response to “Mayan language revitalization, hip hop, drag queens, and leathermen”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    I asked Rusty about the shirt he wears in his publicity shots — a shirt that stands out as being both beautiful and distinctive. And got this lovely response:

    the shirt is from Guatemala. Most villages have traditional clothes that are specific to their community. This is the shirt from the town where I do most of my work, Nahuala. The shirt is worn with a wool kilt. One of the local soccer teams wear the shirt and kilt as their team uniform:

    What’s so lovely here is that not only is the shirt a display of non-normative masculinity — Real Men don’t wear such beautiful clothes as streetwear — but it also grounds Rusty in the sociocultural context of Nahuala.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: