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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Queering US Public Mourning Rituals: Funerals, Performance, and the Construction of Normativity

  • Author(s): Baron, Michelle Renee
  • Advisor(s): Glazer, Peter R
  • et al.

The state uses public funeral practice and large-scale national mourning as an opportunity to affirm cultural and sexual norms as state values, as evidenced in state and military funerals. My dissertation, "Queering U.S. Public Mourning Practice: Funerals, Performance, and the Construction of Normativity," argues that funeral practice in fact exposes the precarity of traditional kinship and sexual practices while simultaneously constructing the heteronuclear family and heterosexuality as norms. I argue that public funerals appropriate practices and aesthetics coded as abject, socially excessive, and queer in order to demonstrate their distance from these national "others." My investigation divides loosely into two parts. I begin by juxtaposing the funerals of national heroes (Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan and fallen soldiers of the Iraq war) with the funerals and mourning practices of LGBT people and people of color within these sites. These first chapters propose a politics of visibility which calls attention to the relationship between the invisible and the hypervisible. In the second half of the dissertation, I turn to funeral and memorial practices already framed by difference: New York's African Burial Ground and the virtual altars devoted to the memory of Gloria Anzaldúa. With these two chapters I argue that the normative operates as a performative tool wielded to gain access and rights or as a foil to mourning practices that contest borders of memory and death.

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