Southerners and the City: Queer Archives, Backward Temporalities, and the Emergence of AIDS

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


Charles E. Morris III


AIDS, Performance, Queer archives, Southern culture, Temporality

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This project is a rumination on the rhetorical stylistics of queer men who performed southern culture in New York City during the first and second waves of the American HIV/AIDS crisis (1982-1992). I examine “the transplant archive,” a self-compiled assemblage of archival fragments representing the lives of three unrelated American southern transplants who lived in NYC and were in some way affected by the emergence of HIV/AIDS. Methodologically, I bend the boundary between archival and critical ethnographic research by placing myself – my own sensory experience and positionality – within the archive. I argue that collectively these texts create cultural memories of AIDS via a stylization of southernness, which illuminates the performative potential of “doing” southern culture as a way of discombobulating the predominant logics of futurity and resisting the effects of a heteronormative linear temporal order brought about by the larger United States public sphere. I infer that each of the figures I analyze illustrates a southern style that productively functions as a backward temporal regression, simultaneously a backwardness in time and a backwardness that culturally functions as a signifier of southernness. More specifically, I insist that through their southern performances, each featured transplant rhetorically constructs their own temporality against the ominous risk of HIV/AIDS.


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