Why Queer theories matter in academia

CRITICAL SYNTHESIS

In order to address the importance of including queer theories within feminist pedagogy, I would like to share part of my experience as a high school teacher and how relevant this issue in our schools and communities. Four years ago I was called to the main office at school to interpret for a Latino family. On my way, I thought it was Latino boy who had gotten into trouble or something similar. When I entered the conference room, I realized it was a Latina girl, her parents, and the school counselor. Soon, I realized that these parents had a problem with their daughter, so they needed somebody from the school to help them fix it. First, the girl’s mother started talking to the counselor about the problem. Her only daughter (I will refer to her as Laura) used to have a best friend (I will refer to her as Clara) who they came to love deeply as one of their own. Clara used to go to Laura’s house to hang out or to play soccer. Sometimes Clara would even spend her weekends at Laura’s house. Everything seemed to be a normal sisterhood between the two girls. However, one day Clara was caught by the police trafficking drugs from Mexico. Unfortunately, Clara’s parents used her as a mule to smuggle drugs illegally into the country. Clara ended up in jail for a couple of years, but it did not stop Laura from visiting Clara every other week. One day, while Laura’s mother was cleaning her daughter’s room she found some letters that Clara had written to Laura while she was in jail. During the conference at school, her mother showed us those letters that talked about how much in love Clara was with Laura. It was clear that Clara and Laura were having a very close relationship beyond a “normal” sisterhood. Laura’s parents confronted and interrogated her about this bizarre situation. Laura tried to be very honest and confessed to her parents her feelings for Clara. Laura tried to explain to her parents that she had been having same sex attractions since she was very little. She wanted her parents to understand that she was a lesbian, but her parents did not accept Laura’s sexual orientation. On the contrary, Laura’s parents thought that is was Clara’s influence that led their daughter to start behaving that way. As a result, her parents wanted the school to help them solve their daughter’s problem. I realized that coming from a Latino culture it was even more difficult for parents to address this problem while raising an only child (Laura) in the United States.

            At the time I witnessed Laura and Clara’s affair, I was not aware of the word “queer” as a theory. I was socially constructed that a person could either be normal or deviant, straight or gay. It was during my doctorate studies that I heard one of my professors using the expression, “I am queer.” I did not know what to do or how to analyze her confession about her sexual orientation. In “Queer theory and feminist pedagogy,” in Twenty-First century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference, Nancy Sorkin Robinowitz (2002) argues that “Queer may sound pejorative to those who are not aware or its new meaning or for those who are aware but don’t accept that usage and cringe at the echoes of shame it sets off” (p.178). In my case, it was the first time I heard the word “queer” in academia having a theoretical framework. Later on, I decided to purchase a book called “Queer Latino Testimonio, Keith Haring, and Juanito Xtravaganza” by Arnaldo Cruz-Malave. Even though this was a new topic, I found myself engaged in queer theories. As one of my summer 2010 courses, I decided to take Feminist Theories and Education with Professor Leila V. Villaverde. As part of the many topics to be addressed in the course there was one called Queer Theory.  After Dr. Villaverde’s introduction about the course and our opportunity to address any of the sub-topics within feminist theory, I decided to dig into queer theory.

In her book Feminist Theories and Education, Villaverde (2008) states that queer studies question normative practices such as sexuality, gender roles, identities, or behaviors (p.77). In other words, queer theory analyzes how discourse forces are constructed and what is behind the prejudices and misconceptions. Societies are constructed based on heterocentric molds. For example, a child who decides to wear his mother’s shoes is probably gay or a girl who decides to wear boxers is considered a dyke. Since sexuality is socially constructed, being labeled straight is even worse in traditional communities like Laura’s where even reproduction is controlled.  Rabinowitz (2002) states that a queer perspective includes many different kinds of sexualities, problematizes the subject of sexuality and reveals structures of heteronormativity (p.183). Including queer theory into feminist pedagogy allows students to discuss binaries of gender, identity, sexuality, and the assumptions of a singular self. It encourages students to realize that identities are not fixed; cannot be categorized or labeled since they consist of many components that do not allow them to be characterized as a static identity. Villaverde (2002) argues that “Queer studies offer new possibilities for theorizing the ontology of being and carving out spaces for hybridity, elasticity, and mestizaje while simultaneously pushing for a rethinking of gender and sexual norms” (p.78). None of my students, Clara and Laura had “unnatural” behaviors, behaviors that are usually socially constructed; however, they both developed their own sexual identities. Clara’s parents would probably never think that their child was a lesbian if they had never found those letters probably. Maybe Clara would never find her agency to open up to her parents and confess her sexual preference. Unfortunately, Clara’s parents thought that Clara’s queerness would be “fixed” after a couple of sessions with a family counselor.

Queer studies as part of the feminist pedagogy opens the learning spaces for the teacher and a student to theorize and expand normative and deviant identities since it is grounded in gender and sexuality. After having a brief introduction to queer studies, some questions have aroused my thinking. Is sexual orientation natural or socially constructed? Do you need to be called self- queer to teach queer theories? How important is it to include queer experiences in a classroom to theorize queerness and open new spaces for the Other to voice himself/herself? How can school teachers and counselors address queerness in schools without being labeled or criticized by others who call themselves “normal”? How can society understand that a person’s identities are not always static and singular? Using a queer theory stand point, how can people understand that there are multiple sexualities and not only two? Queer studies encourage interrogation about human identities and behaviors. Like Laura and Clara, many other students in my school are still fighting for being accepted as they truly feel not how they look in front of others. Many students hide their sexual orientations because of their fears of being rejected or bullied. Unfortunately, our school system does not address the issue of homosexuality does not exist in our curriculum or some co-workers do not feel that they need to address this topic in class. As a graduate student, I feel the need to address issues of sexuality into the program, especially feminist pedagogy where people can share their personal experiences and concerns and then theorize and develop an action plan to provoke social change.

Resources:

Rabinowitz, N.S. (2002). Queer theory and feminist pedagogy. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-

Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference. (pp. 174-200). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Villaverde, L. (2008). Feminist theories and education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

JAR

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One Response to Why Queer theories matter in academia

  1. Kristine Paterson says:

    You make a very interesting point here: “Since sexuality is socially constructed, being labeled straight is even worse in traditional communities like Laura’s where even reproduction is controlled.” Often we don’t realize how much culture and community plays a crucial role in how we identify or see ourselves. This is something that definately needs to be taken in to consideration when discussion important issues in the classroom. Good point.

    I liked the questions that you raise towards the end of your piece. “Do you need to be called self- queer to teach queer theories? How important is it to include queer experiences in a classroom to theorize queerness and open new spaces for the Other to voice himself/herself?” The question regarding being self-queer is an important one in particular because it brings up the issues discussed in class regarding the authentic self. How important is it that someone who teaches a particular subject “be” from or of that particular culture or group?? great question and one that will definately have to be explored throughout academia.

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