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Running Head: CLOSET IN THE CLASSROOM

The Closet in the Classroom: Re-positioning queer identity as a ‘non-issue’ in TESOL instruction

Marlen Elliot Harrison, MA

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

kmym@iup.edu

Second Language Teaching, Summer 2007

Dr. David Hanauer

The Closet in the Classroom: Re-positioning queer identity as a ‘non-issue’ in TESOL instruction

Abstract

Perhaps before non-heterosexual or queer identities can be incorporated into the larger corpus of TESOL teaching materials and practices, these identities need to first be positioned as “issues”, evident of an initial stage (or starting point) where they are included in the curriculum along with controversial or special topics. Subsequently, the field will be in a position to progress to a stage of inclusivity (evidenced by the presence of these identities in a variety of teaching texts and practices, not merely as taboo issues). Awareness of these identities by the TESOL community as valid and commensurate in importance with issues of race, class, gender, etc is a starting point to moving beyond the positioning of queer identities as simply an “issue”. This is a risky position however, due to not only the hegemony of heterosexism or heteronormativity prevalent in the field, but also because queer identity is not yet universally accepted due to political, religious, cultural, or moral ramifications. Through a review of the literature and personal narrative, this paper explores the attempts by researchers and educators to address queer identity in the ESL/EFL classroom and offers recommendations for both a re-positioning of such identities as “non-issues” and suggestions for further study.


Inclusion of gay and lesbian characters in our ESL materials and textbooks also allows other students to begin to notice that heterosexuality, while perhaps the majority in romantic relationships, is not the only possibility, and that gays and lesbians are in fact a part of the multi-colored fabric of our lives. We need to be sure that the diversity which our students see around them is also reflected in its full spectrum in our classrooms (Kappra, 1998).
Introduction

There currently exists a marginalization of non-heterosexual identities in the TESOL community as evidenced by their exclusion in instructional materials and classroom practices (De Vincenti et al, 2007; Kappra, 1998; Nelson, 1993; Nelson, 1999; O'Mochin, 2004; O'Móchain, 2006; Schweers, 1997; Spurlin, 2000; Vandrick, 1997; Vandrick, 2001). Arguably, this exclusion results in a denial of the existence of this population simply by ignoring it (Vandrick, 1997). How teachers and materials creators position this subject a) reflects their generalized widespread beliefs about it, overt or covert, and b) transmits these beliefs to students.

Language teaching offers a unique opportunity in that educators teach not simply language, but culture, behavior, and philosophy, etc. (Gee, 1994). The question then arises, “Do teachers have a responsibility to their non-heterosexual students, and likewise to themselves, in that a full range of diverse identities could be more effectively represented in their classrooms?”

Nearly 15 years after Cynthia Nelson’s (1993) groundbreaking speech at the 26th annual TESOL convention concerning heterosexism in ESL, it is time to both look back and look forward and to once again examine the issue of alternative identities in the TESOL classroom. Throughout the remainder of this paper, I will refer to non-heterosexual identities as “queer” in order to avoid using terminology that would position such alternative identities as something less than heterosexual, and with respect to the wide diversity of expression and identities addressed herein (Curran, 2006; Kopelson, 2002; Nelson, 1999). In addition, EFL and ESL practices will be referred to as TESOL to encompass all English language learning contexts.

A recent review of teaching materials (in the Japanese context) as well as discussions with representatives from two major TESOL publishing houses has revealed the following: Although queer identities are currently included in specific teaching materials, they are limited to being addressed as an “issue” for discussion. They are grouped with such topics as euthanasia, television violence, or abortion, if included at all (Ahlstrom, 1999; Joritz-Nakagawa, 2000; Leather, 2003, Phillips, 1991). Positioning queer identities thusly, what message are we sending our students (for more on identity as “issues”, see Hall & Eggington, 2000) and how are we perpetuating homophobia? While some would argue that the very existence of homosexuality is either still debatable or simply too controversial for the classroom, many of us understand that homosexuality is a reality, whether we approve of it or not (Sears, 1997; Spurlin, 2000; Summerhawk, 1998).

This paper will examine the current positioning of queer identities in EFL/ESL instructional materials and practices, the deeper ramifications of how we as teachers approach such an issue, and the resulting messages we send to our students. I will begin with both a brief summary of current scholarship examining identity in the language classroom and in a specific teaching context, TESOL in Japanese universities, before illustrating my own struggles with integrating alternative identities in my own teaching practices. I will conclude with the questions raised within this paper and their relative calls for further study.

The Hegemony of Heterosexism

There exists in the field of social sciences a hegemony of “heterosexism” (Kappra, 1998; Phillips, 1991) or “heteronormativity” in instructional texts and teacher philosophies (Ellwood, 2006; Nelson, 1993; Snelbecker, 1994), evidenced by the infrequent presence of topics or characters that represent alternative identities. Considering the rather short period in which queer identities have emerged as an accepted reality, this paradigm of a monosexual pedagogy (O’Mochin, 2004) is not exactly surprising. Throughout the last two decades, a number of researchers have examined this paradigm and sounded a call for inclusion; heterosexuality is not the only identity, but rather one amongst a variety (Sears, 1997). The question has then been raised as to how to shift this paradigm within the field of TESOL specifically, and though queer identity in TESOL now has a presence (as evidenced by such professional organizations as TESOL’s LGBTF Caucus and JALT’s GALE sig), very few studies have actually ensued (O’Mochin, 2006). I use the term “few” pejoratively, not to criticize the writing that has already been published, but to accentuate the need for additional scholarship.

The following sections attempt to briefly trace the origins of this call for inclusion, examining the roots of inclusivity in issues of gender, feminist pedagogy, and critical pedagogy.

Gender, Feminism, and Critical Pedagogy

Discussed in much of the writing about queer identities in TESOL materials and practices are the issues of gender and feminist pedagogy in language teaching (see Cochran, 1996; Norton & Pavlenko, 2004 for a discussion of gender and feminist theory in the EFL classroom; Schenke, 1991; Schenke, 1996 for a discussion of feminist theory in ESL). Having already questioned representations of identity, both of these fields have paved the way for questioning what instructors teach, how they teach it, and why. Discussions of diversity, representation, and social identity suggest that teachers need to be aware of who their students are and how they relate to them inasmuch as they also need to be aware of their own identities (McNamara, 1998; Melnick & Zeichner, 1998; Zamel, 1995; Ojeda & Cecilia, 2005; Ojeda & Cecilia, 2007; Vandrick, 1997). Moreover, the post-method, critical pedagogy paradigm encourages the consideration of queer identity in language education through its accent on inclusion, reflection on practice, student-centered learning vs. method, and awareness of student needs and local cultures (Hall & Eggington, 2000; Hoodfar, 1992; Kumaravadivelu, 2003; Pennycook, 1999).

Kostogriz, drawing on Gee, envisions the creation of a semiotic, ESL “Thirdspace” as a way of “reconceptualizing literacy pedagogy in/for conditions of multicultural life (2002, Abstract).” Kostogriz recognizes the politics of the language learning environment as a multi-cultural arena and reimagines the classroom as a collective of diverse identities “whose learning is related to the practices, discourses, and ‘funds of knowledge of other communities (2002, Hybrid literacies and a pedagogy of Thirdspace).”

A Thirdspace pedagogy of literacy can, then, play a modest role in a broader attempt to subvert oppressive practices in teaching minority students. It endeavours to construct a new vision and practice of classroom literacy learning; one that leads to the development of intercultural competence in classrooms communities of difference (2002, Conclusion).
The question then becomes “Whose culture is important/valid?” For example, in some settings, homosexuality is illegal, while in others there is a growing acceptance (for example, as evidenced by legislature). Kumaravadivelu (2003) asserts that in a postmethod critical pedagogy, referencing Canagarajah’s earlier writing, language teachers have a responsibility to understand and act within the local conditions in which they teach. What are our responsibilities then as teachers? To teach within the accepted norms of the host culture or to teach reflective of the target language culture? Perhaps the answer is to address students’ needs as they arise. This is also a difficult conclusion as it echoes a “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” approach, and deserves further scrutiny.

If critical approaches to teaching rely on the instructor to develop them as such, then the next subject for examination is teacher identity and development. Ultimately, the teacher is the class leader; his/her philosophy/perspective pervades the classroom environment and transmits overt/covert beliefs. Is there room in TESOL instructor training to examine the full range of learner identities and teacher beliefs? Ojeda and Cecilia suggest a critical, anthropological perspective and advocate the use of multicultural literature in TESOL teacher training programs in order to raise cultural awareness, specifically with regards to issues of gender and identity (2005; 2007).

Okazaki advocates a critical approach to instruction and cites Freire’s work in order for teachers to help their “learners become the creators rather than the recipients of knowledge” (2005, p. 177). As an example, he cites the story of a student engaged in his “critical consciousness raising” curriculum whereby through reflection and information/education, the student’s perspective on homosexuality had shifted, in her words, from one of “disgust” to in Okazaki’s words “empathy” (p. 193).

There have been a number of examples of approaches to including queer identities in TESOL classroom practice (Curran, 2006; Ellwood, 2006; Nelson, 1999; Noritz-Takagawa, 2000; O’Mochain, 2006; Schweers, 1997; Summerhawk, 1998; Vandrick, 2001). One may take note that many of the examples provided above are representative of the Japanese TESOL context or Japanese language learners, specifically. It’s a curious phenomenon worthy of further research – what is it about the cultural and political climate in Japan that should allow for or accept such research? - but also a topic for another paper. For example, In 1995, Wakabayashi Reiko, an English teacher in Japan, confronted the NHK (one of Japan’s largest media companies and publishers) for including a story for use in a speaking contest that she considered homophobic (Riley, 1997). As a result, the story was removed. In 2005 the Japan Association for Language Teaching’s GALE (Gender Awareness in Language Education) special interest group collaborated to jointly write an intermediate English level textbook that would provide an introduction to gender issues to non-native speakers, Gender Issues Today.

In the next section, and in keeping with this examination of the Japanese context, I will explore my own struggle with queer identities in the TESOL classroom as they relate to teacher and student identity, inclusion in the curriculum (or exclusion), and almost total absence from instructional materials. My hope is that by sharing my story, readers will see themselves in the situations I present. The simple reality is that inclusion of queer identities as an “issue” for occasional discussion may be a starting point, but is in no way sufficient to fully address the socio-political ramifications and individual needs of queer identities. With seemingly such a strong start at introducing the idea of queer identity as a valid topic in the classroom, I would like to once again put forth the main question in this paper – “How do we move beyond sexual identity as a special “issue” to a place of it being a “non-issue”, or can we?
A Personal Narrative

The Teacher

On my first day as a university teacher in Western Japan, I entered the classroom and felt both a flurry of excitement and wave of heated fear. “Would they like me?” I wondered. “Will they accept me?” I continued. After all, this would be my first time to be alone and completely autonomous in a university setting. I had taught before, but as a university teaching assistant, and as a private and small group teacher. In my previous experience at a well-known eikaiwa (English conversation school), I had struggled with questions like “Are you married?”; “Do you have a girlfriend?”; and “What kind of women do you like?” These questions were difficult because when it comes to my sexual orientation and gender identity, I have lived my life in an honest manner. My belief is that it is useful to be self-revelatory if the issue arises if only to illustrate that gay men are not all mentally ill pedophiles and sex addicts. Moreover, I don’t believe in the coming out proclamation; just as heterosexual people needn’t announce their heterosexuality, I don’t believe it a necessity to announce my homosexuality. My mode of everyday communication is infused with authentic commentary about myself without a need for spectacle or apology. I believe that disclosure also illustrates an absence of shame and it has been my experience that such revelation has led to acceptance, questioning, and ultimately informed perspectives. Now, all this being said, I do not wish to hold myself as an example; I believe to each his/her own. We all have our own ways of discussing our identities as dictated by our own emotional and developmental needs. So, when asked the questions above, it was difficult for me to be purposely vague. I had no idea what the repercussions would be should I disclose my identity to my students. Would I be fired? Would I be questioned? Would I be told not to talk of such things? This reticence is a sad reflection on my internalized homophobia, my being still uncomfortable enough with my identity such that I had to worry about keeping it secret.

As I approached the teacher’s podium in the classroom that first day, I was immediately met with the comment “Teacher is handsome.” I was flattered to be sure, but the fact that the comment came from a young man made the situation more than a little confusing. I can’t imagine a heterosexual male student in an American university who meeting his teacher for the first time would announce “Teacher is handsome.” Not even a minute had passed and already I was faced with my first challenge – what should I say? I said thank you, smiled, and continued unpacking my bag. I went into my usual shtick of saying “hello” and “welcome” and proceeded by handing out my course syllabus. On the front of the syllabus was a list of questions for students to ask one another, a warm-up that would allow me to actually hear my students and get a feel for their abilities. Upon completion of this activity, students were asked to work together in small groups to brainstorm questions for their teacher. Again, immediate difficulty arose when the first group asked “Do you prefer Japanese or American women?”

Two hours later, I had been wandering the campus looking for a place to eat lunch when I saw two of my students from my morning class. They motioned to join them and I hesitantly did so. I asked them if they enjoyed our first class together and they replied yes, they had, but that it seemed like the course would be challenging. Yoko, the first of the two young women to initiate conversation with me actually used that word, “challenging”. The wide range of student abilities had surprised me. Without further ado, Yoko continued her line of questioning, no doubt eager to practice her English, illustrate her skills, and to earnestly get to know me better. I looked around the room and concluded that I must have been the only teacher present. “Maybe teachers didn’t socialize with their students,” I pondered. Yoko asked me the standard questions about my hometown, hobbies, where I was living and then of course came my own challenge, “Do you have a lover?” This caught me off guard. Surely if she had used a word like “challenge” she would understand the difference between asking about a wife and asking about a lover. Or would she? And if she did, how would she have guessed that I was the kind of man who would have a male lover?

Such situations were typical over the next four years. “Purposely vague” became my modus operandi, and with each dishonesty came a sting of betrayal. I was betraying not only myself by withholding my identity, but betraying all of those who had struggled with hiding their own identities. A friend of mine, a fellow student in my PhD program, once wrote, “If certain identities are never spoken of, it may create the impression that there is something shameful about that identity.” I knew this despite my vagary; how could I champion honesty and yet not be honest about myself? It seemed that I was not the person I had earlier characterized myself to be. At least, this was how I felt at the beginning of my experience.

The real issue was that I was a stranger in a strange land. I don’t mean to suggest that Japan is an odd place, but that to me, so unsure of my footing on a daily basis, my sexuality was at the bottom rung of the ladder of daily challenges. From language, to train schedules, I was constantly faced with successfully accomplishing the everyday tasks of living. And so I decided that self-betrayal was the least of my worries.

With my friends, I was different. I was honest, open, and wholly myself. But the classroom was an extension of employment and though I had never been worried about my identity with prior employers (mental health settings and hospitals), I did question whether or not the classroom was a place to come out. I likened it to a therapy session, as I had previously worked as a counselor: The identity of the therapist is not relevant to the needs of the client, and this was the position I would take while in Japanese classrooms. Unfortunately, this was almost equal to “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in my mind. I reasoned that my professional world was separate from my private world, although with colleagues, I was myself. This interpersonal space was not a realm in which I was willing to compromise. So, this was my approach to creating my teacher identity in the early days as a TESOL instructor in Japan.

Towards the end of that first school year, I was discussing metaphors with one of my classes of English majors. They were bright, affable, and enjoyable students (most of my students were) and I almost thought of them as family. Afterall, they were the ones I had cut my teeth on, the first to teach me how to be a teacher. One of my male students joined the discussion, practicing making metaphor by offering “Marlen is a pansy.” He smiled, and the other students sitting in his group apparently liked this metaphor. Similar to that first day of class, I was struck by the comment, wondering if he realized the connotation of the word pansy. I felt embarrassed, suddenly thirteen years old again and being harassed at school. Amazing thing, the power of words. I wish I could tell you that I pressed him and asked for explanation. I didn’t. I tried to cover the flush of embarrassment by quickly moving to another student’s metaphor, which thankfully this time was about the mountains being sleeping giants. A learning opportunity had been missed.

My four years in Japan often run together like watercolors laid next to each other, one memory blends and bleeds into the next and so I can’t say for certain anymore who was the first student I actually did come out to. As I mentioned earlier, this was not generally my way; second thinking the moment, waiting to announce “okama desu”, a word that I learned from a gay Japanese friend for lack of any other Japanese word for homosexual. It was later explained to me that okama usually refers to a man who acts like a woman, onna no hito poi. Anyhow, I think the first person I admitted my identity to was Naoko, a bright 2nd year English major whose emails I had been checking one day (students were required to exchange emails with English-writing penpals). I remember turning the pages, counting them to confirm completion of the project when I saw the sentence “I think I’m a lesbian” typed at the bottom of a paragraph. “What do I do about this?” I wondered. I presented myself with a range of options: 1) Do nothing, say nothing; 2) Mention that I read this sentence and that if she wanted to talk I was there for her; or 3) Mention that I had read this sentence, make myself available to talk, and disclose my identity. It was a tough decision, but I went with option 3. My experiences coming out to Japanese friends and colleagues had thus far been positive; I was always met with acceptance, though I’ll never know what thoughts remained unexpressed. The ramifications of coming out to a student seemed immense, and as soon as I had spoken to Naoko, I found myself second-guessing my actions. Naoko never did come back to speak to me, though one day she came out to her classroom work group. Their conversation as I observed it went something like this:

Takahiro: “You are gay?”

Naoko: “Yes. Well, maybe bi-sexual.”

Chihiro: “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Naoko: “No.”

Takahiro: “Oh.”

And that seemed to be the entire conversation, accompanied by head-nodding and no further comment, in class anyhow.

I see now, after reading articles on post-this and critical-that, post-structuralism, post-methodology, and critical pedagogy, that the learning opportunities were immense, and I seemed to have missed most of them. I could have discussed the issue with my students, but would that have necessitated self-disclosure? Maybe not, but perhaps fear got in my way.

After coming out to Naoko, I came out to a few of my other students, but never in class. It usually happened while we were sitting on a train, my student and I headed in the same direction, or while eating lunch with my students, a practice that I took a liking to and so made a habit. When my relationship with my partner grew serious, some of my students were invited to my home for an engagement party. In these small ways, I was being authentic with my students. But there was something specific to the classroom setting that always seemed prohibitive of self-disclosure.

The Students

Throughout my years in Japan, there were students that while I couldn’t say for certain were queer, I pretty much assumed that they were. Assumption is a dangerous thing though, and so never did I directly confront students about their identities, with the exception of Naoko. If they wanted to talk with me, they could have. But now I question if I ever truly gave students an opportunity to do so. How did I let them know that it was ok to talk with me? I never discussed homosexuality, for example, in my classrooms. Queer identities were never present in any of the teaching materials I used and aside from Naoko, none of my students ever admitted to being queer in any of my classes, or at least not that I was aware of. Not only were queer identities not an “issue” in my classrooms, the topic never really came up, despite the opportunities for discussion as noted above.

Strangely enough, there was one event that stands in stark contrast to my otherwise reticence or fear of approaching sexual identity. A close friend of mine, also an English teacher, was a Japanese lesbian. With short hair, jeans and sneakers, and no jewelry or make-up, Minori had a difficult time finding her place in the Japanese lesbian community. She often commented that she only felt like she could be herself when speaking English, a sentiment that I would hear echoed time and time again. She was not out to her mother though most of her friends knew Minori’s true identity.

I had been teaching two sections of an advanced English seminar at a private women’s college and had developed the curriculum to be a content-driven women’s studies course the first half of the year, and a conversation-driven, task-based learning course for the second. Projects included debates on current events, character studies, and final projects related to language learning and identity, all chosen and directed by the students. Towards the end of the first semester, about the time Minori and I had become close friends, I wondered about the feasibility of asking Minori to come to my classes for an interview. Minori was a strong and independent woman who had spent time in Canada studying English and upon her return to Japan, had opened her own private language school. I felt that Minori was a successful person, a fluent English-speaker, an appropriate role model that my students could talk with and possibly take inspiration from.

About a week prior to Minori’s visit to my classes, she had asked how she should handle her sexual identity while talking with the students. Thinking back to my own philosophy about communication of identity, I suggested that if the topic arose, she could, if comfortable enough, be honest about herself. She agreed that this was a reasonable approach. My students had prepared and practiced questions for Minori and when the interviews ensued, she found herself coming out to them. The process was moving and emotional due to many factors. Minori had come out to very few people at that point, and now here she was revealing herself to two groups of strangers. Moreover, my students exhibited no knee-jerk reactions. On the contrary, they openly admitted to admiring her bravery. Perhaps most poignantly, I saw her doing what I had not. In the way I had so often come out to my own friends and family, but not to my students, so did Minori when faced with questions about whether or not she had dated Canadian men, did she have a boyfriend, and were she and I dating. I dodged the bullet in Japan whereas in America I had not. And here was Minori, sitting next to me, being herself.

At the end of the semester when asked what their best experience in my courses had been that school year, my students almost unanimously agreed that meeting Minori was the highlight of their time with me. About a week after Minori came to my classes, she also came out to her mother, though not meeting quite the same level of acceptance as with my students. When I asked her why she chose to finally reveal herself to her mother, she shrugged her shoulders and stated that she had finally found the courage. I think she had it all along but just never realized it.



The Textbooks

My final year in Japan, another of my students had come out to me, thus time a young man, and Minori had fallen into a severe depression. Feeling lost and out of place, belonging to no specific community and unable to feel accepted, no not accepted, embraced for who she was, she had become hopeless. Despite her personal triumphs, Minori now only felt despair. I had met a number of queer Japanese men and women by this point and concluded that though homophobia is not qualitatively the same phenomenon as it is in the West, it still exists; in my experience, the self-repression of queer Japanese is enormous.

While browsing textbooks, it had occurred to me that never had I come across a queer identity in any of the materials I had either explored or used. Overall, diversity was never an issue, as a variety of ethnicities and ages were represented, but “Where were the queers?” I wondered.

I mentioned this to a Japanese colleague who told me that she had been using a book that indeed had a gay family in it. I was curious and asked if I could borrow it. When it appeared on my desk one day, I was eager to at last see myself in a textbook. The title was something like “Hot Topics” and the only place I did find myself was in a chapter about gay families and the question of adoption. I’m not exactly sure how I felt about this. I wasn’t disappointed; better to be included here then nowhere I figured. But then I thought that perhaps this wasn’t exactly success. I immediately imagined a scenario where a group of students were discussing this hot topic and expressing their opinion that in fact gays shouldn’t adopt. How would the student who hadn’t come out yet position him- or herself? Moreover, the family in question were two women. Was this representative of all queer identities? Not by a long shot. I told myself that progress doesn’t happen overnight and sent the book back to my colleague asking if she had taught this chapter and if so, what the student reactions were. Her reply: “I’m not sure how to teach this.”

I went to our bookshelves (I worked in the English Language Center at my university) and began searching for books that might have queer characters. Page after page turned up nothing. “Come on, this is 2006,” I reasoned. But no amount of hoping could turn up anything more than a few volumes of controversial issues, books for higher level students to engage them in conversation and debate. I looked at over 200 textbooks that week and was left feeling pretty hopeless myself. I thought about my own language learning experiences and could find no memory of either a mention or even an issue about queer identities.

A few weeks later, we were visited by the usual round of publishing representatives, a common occurrence at that time of year. They brought food, and teachers showed up to eat it. Some of us even looked at the books they brought. While browsing the numerous publications, I stopped to ask the representative if she had any books with gay characters. She cocked her head and looked to the ceiling in thought. “No,” she replied. “Why not?” I asked. “Hmmm, well…” she began, “…I think that we try to create textbooks that can be sold to as many audiences as possible. I don’t think we could get books with gay characters or themes past all the censors that view the books in consideration for purchase.”

Censors? I had never considered this before.

“There are certain places where we can’t even show images of women without their heads covered. We have to be really careful. It’s very political,” she concluded.

A week later, this scenario would replay itself with the representative from another large publishing company. This time, I was told that they had, surprise, surprise, a book called “Taboo Topics” or some such title, and that included in the book was a chapter about gay marriage. “But that book was created specifically for the Japanese market,” she added.

Discussion and Recommendations

By way of synthesizing the literature review and narrative included in this paper, I would like to begin with the following quote from De Vincenti et al.:

As linguistic structures reflect and construct social realities, the language itself represents a tool to either perform and reinforce socio-cultural values, or question them… inclusion serves to reinforce the marginalisation of non-heterosexual identities, while exclusion fails to acknowledge the existence and relevance of all sexual identities. At all times, it is essential for teachers to take a critical approach to materials and activities in order to provide a framework for exploration. Some areas for future discussion include how to further develop an enquiry based approach in the curriculum using material and activities that allow students the freedom and the choice to explore topics related to identity while at the same time developing their linguistic skills. For example, a more empirical approach, whereby specific activities incorporating heterosexual and queer roles and/or issues are used in class and are analysed in terms of the way that students interact and reflect on their choices. (2007, Conclusion).


In response, I’d like to highlight O’Mochain’s 2006 research on the use of queer narratives in the EFL post-secondary classroom, Discussing gender and sexuality in a context-appropriate way: Queer narratives in an EFL college classroom in Japan. Additionally, I believe that my own narrative has highlighted the struggle that even those instructors with the best intentions may encounter. It should be noted from my story that one’s sexual identity is not necessarily a guarantee that such a topic can be approached with either confidence or effectiveness. In fact, I might posit that a queer instructor would find such a critical approach to be challenging due to the questions of self-disclosure that may be deemed necessary to approach queer identity honestly and critically.

Much has been written about the subtle imposition of the teacher’s beliefs, or those of a mainstream culture as transmitted through educational policy or materials, upon the student learner, viewing this as an insidious process when such beliefs are not closely examined or are latent with prejudices. No doubt, I am imposing my own beliefs by asserting that queer identities be not only included in TESOL materials and practices, but that I’d like them to be seen as “non-issues” on par with the progress other minority identities are witnessing. Whether or not this call is objective and untainted by my own agenda, the literature has in fact revealed that I am not entirely alone in my suggestion.

It certainly is no easy feat to ask educators to lay aside their own personal convictions if in conflict with this call, or likewise, to implicate their own identities in classroom instruction, but like other helping professions, language education, as Ojeda and Cecilia have discussed, should ask its professionals to examine what their beliefs are and how these beliefs pervade classroom practices. I realize that Vandrick, O Mochian, and other writers, myself included, are proposing a legitimization of queer identities, a move which is perhaps to some an unpopular, even loathsome idea. But to not do so, to continue the debate on a moral level is to do injustice to the students we dedicate ourselves to on a daily basis. If the best that we can hope for is a positioning of queer identities on the fringe, it is still not enough. Just as Schenke called for engagement, (along with Nelson and Pennycook as previously cited), perhaps a critical pedagogy calling for engaged learning is the next step beyond mere inclusion of queer identities in collections of hot topics for discussion. Schenke writes, “By engagement, I refer to the willingness to involve ourselves (students and teachers) strategically in the critical analyses of the cultural/racial/gendered production of our everyday lives” (1996, p. 156).

Beyond this critical engagement, and as a way to move beyond the positioning of queer identities merely as special issues for consideration, I’d like to conclude, as I opened, with a suggestion from Kappra:

Students are sensitive to the images they see portrayed in textbooks and other classroom materials. For teachers who feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic of homosexuality for discussion, the subtle inclusion of gay and lesbian characters in examples, handouts or textbooks, will allow gay and lesbian students to feel that their teachers will be supportive and helpful if they wish to discuss issues related to their sexual orientation. (1998)
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