“Hello America, I’m Gay!” : Oprah, coming out, and rural gay men
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Recent queer scholarship challenges the academy’s longstanding urban and adult oriented trajectory, pointing to the way such studies ignore rural and heartland regions of the country as well as the experiences of youth. In this thesis, I craft a limited ethnographic methodological approach together with a textual analysis of The Oprah Winfrey Show to deliver portraits of gay men living in various rural or heartland areas who use their television sets to encounter and identify with LGBTQ people across the nation. The overarching aim of this project is to explore the ways in which religion, rurality, and Oprah coalesce in the process of identity creation to form rural gay men’s conceptual selves and how they are then informed by that identity formation. I will focus my textual analyses through the frames of six of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate viewers” to elucidate how they receive and interact with her star text, how they use television sets in the public rooms of their homes to create boundary public spheres, and how they are impacted by the show’s various uses of the coming out paradigm. In so doing, this thesis seeks to contribute to the scholarship of rural queer studies, television studies, and Oprah studies.