Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Patrick W. Berry

Second Advisor

Gwen D. Pough

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


Influenced by Black feminist and queer scholars, my dissertation focuses on how Black and queer people have made interventions through language and performance to survive larger racist and homophobic forces. Despite critical scholarship on the literacies of both Black and queer communities, there has been limited research that brings together these two perspectives and bodies of research. The foundation of my study is based on audio/video interviews and participant observation: I interviewed participants from 2013 Washington, DC, Black Gay Pride and 2017 Harlem Pride, focusing specifically on their understanding of three terms: “reading,” “throwing shade,” and “pullin’ trade.”

The central questions guiding this study are: In what ways do Black queer people rework language to create community? How and why do they engage in language practices such as reading and throwing shade? To what extent do such practices function as a rite of passage in the Black queer community? How do participants use narrative to explain a range of language practices central to Black queer people?

I argue that Black queer people practice what I call “fierce literacies”—that is, a type of oppositional consciousness that allows Black queer people to riff off of static ideas of language and literacy to both communicate with and create community amongst friends. Throughout this dissertation, I contextualize fierce literacies within a Black oral tradition. I place research participants in conversation with other Black queer and femme voices in popular culture in order to illustrate these practices as a part of a distinct literacy in the Black queer community. I see fierce literacies as an umbrella term to conceptualize the various ways Black queer people have had to reread and refashion literacy in order to navigate a system that regularly oppresses, silences, and erases their knowledges, histories, and lived experiences. Finally, my research contributes to understandings of how Black queer people use diverse language practices in order to survive.


Open Access