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Rhetoric, Sport, and Queer/Theory: Gender and Athleticism in Queer Sports
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This dissertation examines three case studies that draw on the queer potential of performances of gender and athleticism that challenge the gender binary in sport. For generations, sport has served as a social institution that divides athletes based on social constructions of sex and gender. In doing so, performances of gender in sport have come to be equated with performances of athleticism. This means that male athletes are expected to perform male athleticism and female athletes are expected to perform female athleticism. This dissertation looks for places within sport that represent a queer potential for disruption of the gender binary. By viewing individual performances of gender and athleticism that do not meet socially accepted performances of male and female athleticism as unstable differential relations, we can begin to destabilize the gender binary in sport. Using the case studies of Outsports, the sport of quidditch, and figure skater Johnny Weir, I argue that although there are places in sport that function as antagonisms, which have the potential to destabilize the gender binary, to some extent, they are still bound by normative understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality. Within each case study, I explore the ways in which gender norms are constantly policed by the sport community and work to establish difference as a determinate identity, rather than unstable differential relations. The work in this dissertation reveals the strength of the hegemonic discourses that surround sport, particularly in relation to sex, gender, and sexuality. Despite the queer potential of each case study, the male perspective dominates sports and reinforces the commitment to a gender binary. The commitment to the gender binary in sport will remain the downfall of most attempts to queer sport because we are always limited to gendered and sexed categories of male and female. This is further compounded by the addition of sexuality to athletic identity. As the narratives used by Outsports show, coming out as a gay athlete is not novel or even disruptive. The inclusion of gay athletes into mainstream sports confines sexuality to the already gendered structure of sport. By participating in these hegemonic institutions they are further entrenching the negative impacts of the system, privileging those LGBTQ athletes who can serve as token examples of inclusion. With that in mind, I offer three critical implications for this research. First, I argue that these case studies suggest a move towards a queer understanding of athleticism. Second, as I have already eluded to, even in moments of queer resistance, sport still privileges the male identity. Third, I explore the implications of moving sport research into the field. Using the sport of quidditch, I argue that sport research could benefit from expanding the scope of the text by examining identity construction at the level of performance.
Rigda, Ryan S (2018). Rhetoric, Sport, and Queer/Theory: Gender and Athleticism in Queer Sports. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from