I am a rhetoric and writing researcher who uses qualitative methods to understand how internet-based cultural communities share knowledge about their sexual health. I work from a disciplinary throughline between technical communication, health and medical rhetorics, and digital rhetorics, with focuses in health communication, Black/Indigenous studies, and settler colonial studies. My research interfaces the confluences of neoliberal medical policy related to HIV/AIDS, white supremacist and ableist public health practices, and cisheteronormative biomedical models. The critical edge of my work is tempered by my deep commitment to the lifeways, knowledges, and problems of queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). I attend to issues of medical racism, sexual health justice, and inequitable clinical experiences.

In my projects, which you can read about below, I work to interrupt settler colonialism and push against its marginalizing forces (i.e., the holdovers of European colonization in North America and the concomitant strains of white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy). I orient my work toward interrupting settler colonialism because it innervates white supremacy through anti-Blackness, Indigenous subjugation and erasure, and institutionalized ableism (which functions on the former two), all animating many of the contextually disparate, wicked problems that leak into the domains of my work. I wrangle settler colonialism as a rhetorical problem in my projects, surfacing the confluences of biopower that lend to the staying power of marginalization regarding queer and trans BIPOC. I work to disrupt abuses within biomedicine and public health (as the scientific and social faces of care, respectively) through my research projects and community engagement as a health organizer.

As a community-engaged scholar whose training in technical and professional communication and health and medical rhetorics begins in community settings, I am attuned to the social justice turns of the sister fields. As an organizer and activist who has worked some time for and with Latinx, Indigenous, and queer/trans communities in Lansing, MI, my experiences in these settings activate and steer my overall research agenda. Having worked with partners, such as The Salus Center (Lansing’s first and only queer resource center), Casa de Rosado (a Latinx arts and community space), the Ingham County Health Department, and the Michigan Public Health Institute, I have learned a central, energizing maxim: community knows best for itself. I therefore follow the protocol of an insurgent researcher—via Indigenous methodologies—to leverage findings from my research projects to advance knowledge about health and wellness born in queer and trans communities of color within healthcare and public health settings. And so, my community engagement and my research are deeply entangled.


Toward a Virulent Community Literacy: Constellating the Science, Technology, and Medicine of Queer Sexual Health

Toward a Virulent Community Literacy: Constellating the Science, Technology, and Medicine of Queer Sexual Health is a qualitative study (informed by Indigenous and decolonial methodologies) of how queer and trans people of color generate and share knowledge about their sexual health on Twitter with regards to HIV/AIDS. With a Twitter archive of 15,000 discrete tweets built with the keywords “Truvada,” PrEP,” and “HIV,” three datasets were derived comprising general utterances from queer users of color, public health officials using social media for outreach, and organizations sharing research findings. Focusing on the data subset comprising 300 discrete users of color and relevant media (i.e., news articles, public health advertisements, other emergent artifacts from the data), this dissertation recounts three case studies focusing on: the rollout of HIV prevention advertisements within queer-centered media; the patent breaking of Truvada, a once-daily medication for preventing HIV; and the use of social media to take to task bad actors and misinformed healthcare providers.

The data are used as part of an argument that the manner by which medicine and public health interface with queer and trans people of color hinges on ongoing colonization via the medical and outreach practices derived from colonial practices. Moreover, using a theoretical argument derived from Black and Native technology studies (as well as Black Feminist Thought, Anishinaabe cosmology, settler colonial studies, and digital rhetorical theory), the data was reviewed through a protocol for understanding identity construction amid technology use. The results revealed three rhetorical strategies: 1) continuing community-born public health practices created during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s by deploying descriptive hashtags to challenge stigma; 2) creating emergent whisper networks for sharing information about dealing with healthcare providers, navigating insurance networks, and communicating the symptoms of taking the medication; and 3) recognizing and countering the complex systems of late capitalist biomedicalization that prioritize profit over life.

To contribute to ongoing commitments within writing and rhetoric studies to create equitable healthcare experiences, an HIV/AIDS health literacy framework follows the data results, which allows for outreach in non-clinical settings through relational design, or a participatory communication design process that incorporates community voices via an attunement to social media such as Twitter. This dissertation contributes to ongoing incursions within technical and professional communication, as well as the rhetoric of health and medicine, to upcycle disciplinary savvy into building better public health and clinical experiences for queer and trans people of color.

Chapter 1: Storying a Virulent Project: Three Threads for Narrative Ignition. In this chapter, I recount three stories that resonate with how digital rhetorical theory, health and medical rhetorics, and technical and professional communication respectively manifested in my experiences with HIV/AIDS-focused public health outreach as a queer Chicano. These stories model the approaches I took to disciplinarily constellating and organizing the dissertation.

Chapter 2: Queer Refusal: Insurgent Paradigms and Methodologizing Amid Settler Colonialism. This chapter outlines an insurgent methodology of refusal, wherein I detail the limitations of Western science and meaning making to advance an Indigenous protocol for thinking relationally about community-born data. I review the protocol for gathering data and organizing them into subsets, as well as the coding schema, to provide an overview of the 300 datapoints used for case studies in Chapter 5.

Chapter 3: The Intersectional Internet as Land: Theorizing Digital Rhetorical Socio-Materiality via Black and Indigenous Studies. This chapter outlines a theoretical intervention in current digital rhetorical theories of identity and technology. In it, I advance a cyborgian method of attuning research projects to the human users of technology and the technological user of the human via Black and Native studies, using this theoretical model to outline my coding protocol regarding the gathered data.

Chapter 4: Unsettling Epistemic Hubris: Rupturing Risk-Informed Health Literacy, Reframing Risky Living. In this chapter, I locate the settler colonial machinations of current public health and biomedical models to prime an epistemic rupturing of risk-informed health literacy. In so doing, I use this approach to outline an interpretive stance for the case studies in the following chapter.

Chapter 5: Blood Cells, Drag Queens, and Digital Faggotry: Three Case Studies (Or Toward a Community-Based Framework of Health Literacy). In this chapter, I review the three case studies I derived from the data analysis, using each to outline key components that together comprise a community-based framework of health literacy. In advancing this model, I argue that this framework serves as a viable tool for understanding how public health officials might more equitably attune outreach to queer and trans communities of color.

Chapter 6: Conclusion: Relational Design and Public Health: Hotwiring Technical and Professional Communication in the Third University. To conclude, I outline a method of hotwiring technical and professional communication practices (namely, user-centered design, communication design, and participatory design) to create equitable experiences for queer and trans people of color. I revise a public health campaign conducted by Gilead in 2019 to correspond to data analysis results, arguing that technical and professional communicators are primed to do this work in healthcare and public health settings.

Book Project

Virulent Rhetorics: HIV and the Politics of Digital Sexual Health

Following up the primary takeaways from my dissertation data analysis, I am drafting a proposal for a book project, comprising six chapters, tentatively titled Blood Cells and Drag Queens: Storying Virulent Sexual Health, that expands on the case studies of my dissertation. With this monograph, I do the double work of informing queer and trans BIPOC on how social media can be a health literacy tool while nudging public health officials toward respectful approaches for honoring community health practices. I plan to submit this proposal this January to New York University Press’ “Queer / Trans / Digital” series.

For the introduction, I recount both popular practices of sexual health advocacy and outreach during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis leading to the advent of pre-exposure prophylaxis. The following chapter discusses the mediation of such practices through digital technology use, and I focus on Twitter as a rhetorically versatile sites wherein new understandings of health literacy might be best understood given the site’s communicative capacity for a visual, textual, and audio confluence along the lines of queer of color sensibilities. The subsequent chapter recounts how health literacy might be understood in these ways by reviewing how users of color have used the site, different communication modes and popular media to build emergent networks of care as users post and ask questions about their sexual health. The next chapter details why users often take to social media to create these networks as they contend with the material realities of increasingly neoliberal medical and healthcare policies, which adversely affect marginalized communities and especially, as I argue, queer and trans BIPOC, whose identities become wound up in a capitalist regime of care. The penultimate chapter offers a guide for users of color on how to disrupt epistemic hubris in healthcare and clinical settings, highlighting rhetorical strategies for leveraging their experiences in both online and offline settings to combat medical racism. The final chapter does similar work but for public health officials and healthcare providers, advancing a reformed health literacy framework to build better healthcare and public health experiences for queer and trans people of color.