For Use in the Classroom

Notes on Teaching outside the Rainbow

In: Expanding the Rainbow
Author: Andrea Miller
Free access

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

The three co-editors are fully aware that we teach in our classrooms, interact with our colleagues, engage with several levels of administrators, and produce research that is contested in what sociologists Kristin Schilt, Tey Meadow and D’Lane Compton have called doing “queer work in a straight discipline” (2018). This is also why we decided to create this volume—what is the existing work that not only expands the rainbow but also questions the current rainbow? Is there a place for kink, ace, BDSM, etc. in the rainbow or has the rainbow itself become sanitized and heterosexualized in its presumed queer space? These are the questions that we believe that this volume has addressed.

With that being said, there is always more work to do in our “straight discipline,” but we hope you agree that this is a satisfying place for readers to begin, refresh, or expand their knowledge and that of their students. Like this book, this final chapter is not a traditional “resources for additional research” but a look at how instructors and alternative academics might approach the idea of what “Expanding the Rainbow” looks like in the classroom itself. First, we consider how those of us who teach outside of the rainbow often invite (purposeful or not) discomfort for our students. Second, we review some of the strategies that instructors use to teach about the relationship between sexuality, gender and other power-driven work. Third, we consider how we (or should we) normalize discussions of alternative sexualities and genders with our students by asking if creating a “safe space” in classrooms is warranted or even possible. Lastly, we provide a discussion of teaching strategies and activities to incorporate into the classroom.

Discomfort is something that most all sociology instructors are aware of. Anyone teaching critical pedagogy, whether it centers on race, class gender, sexuality or some combination undoubtedly invites discomfort into our lives—it is part and parcel of our “profession.” While making students purposefully uncomfortable has been the subject of many teaching essays (see Ludlow, 2004; Valerio, 2001) the editors and authors in this volume add multiple layers of uncomfortability as our entire curriculum or semester may center around alternative sexualities and genders that we have situated as outside of the rainbow.

In their essay “From Safe Space to Contested Space,” Ludlow (2004) asserts that LGBTQIA faculty are always teaching in “contested spaces,” spaces marked by a privileging location (as instructor) and simultaneously in an oppressed one where students carry and live out their heteronormative expectations (p. 52). Many students have become impervious to acronyms like LGBTQIA because many of these acronyms find their way onto syllabi (if even for a week). However, we contend that discussions that appear in this volume are non-normalized and thus create a sense of unease for many students and instructors.

This embodied unease is echoed in Tre Wentling’s essay “Critical Pedagogy: Disrupting Classroom Hegemony” (2016). Here Wentling describes how they invite unease or disruption because to engage in critical pedagogy means to re-situate taken-for-granted norms and “invite disruption” (p. 231). By “destabilizing all that is familiar” Wentling (2016, p. 231) reminds us that this can cause outrage not only by those students who hold more normalized worldviews, but it may throw their entire identity structures into question. As instructors, we no-doubt take some pleasure in undermining students’ heteronormative belief systems but we are also always aware of the social and psychic cost to not only our presentations of self as we stand before the classrooms engaging in (and oftentimes with) our own alternative genders and sexualities. Meadow too is also highly attuned to the costs Wentling discusses. In their aptly titled essay “The Mess,” Meadow (2018) specifically speaks to the discomfort of queer bodies doing fieldwork. They also acknowledge the “corrosive forces” that lead researchers and professors to “undertake tremendous emotional and intellectual labor” (p. 153), corrosive because we are often cajoled to present and embody our own genders and sexualities in “palatable ways” (p. 153).

To be clear, some students will be angry, irritated, or even indifferent when learning and critically engaging in classrooms centered around alternative genders and sexualities. All of the contributors in this volume are expert at doing what is the first task in any alternative genders and sexualities classroom—deconstructing popular understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality as well as re-socializing students, so to speak, away from the inherited hegemonic discourses around genders and sexualities in U.S. society. Doing this is necessary if authentic (if there is such a thing) or at least critical discussions that challenge traditional worldviews are to be met. Some of us tell our own stories so that students and colleagues can feel free to tell their own. Drawing on hooks (1994), Kunkel (2016) reminds us that storytelling has unexpected benefits as it provides an outlet for the assumed “expert” professor to decenter authority (p. 168).

Another strategy can be found in Hidalgo’s (2016) essay “Teaching Spaces of Possibility” where they outline a strategy called “making the sensational mundane”—otherwise, normalizing classroom discussions of sexualities. Hidalgo details how they treat every topic as “worthy of discussion” by refusing to sensationalize or “other” a topic, as well as tending to each topic equally by “requiring just as much extensive reading (on say, erotica) as any other topic” (p. 200). This equalizing discourse allows Hidalgo to “make the material accessible by making it mundane.” Earlier work by Valerio (2001) also discusses using a “non-defensive demeanor” whereby Valerio discusses not making herself out to be an authority and finds it important to disclose her personal identity to ease possible vulnerabilities. Echoing Hidalgo and Valerio, in her remarks on her essay “Porn is good pedagogy,” Penley (2013) advises the reader/teacher that uses sexually explicit material in the classroom (in Penley’s case, teaching porn) to “never make an exception for pornography “in terms of issuing disclaimers or warnings.” Penley goes as far as to note that these warnings may be seen as “disrespectful and patronizing to students…” (p. 197).

Contrasting Hidalgo’s quest for “hope” through “normalizing” techniques, we are also met with the pedagogical query of “who” and “what” can be normalized in the first place. Here we are referring to the question(able) technique of building a “safe space” in alternative sexualities and genders classrooms. In thinking about pedagogical spaces, Allen (2015) is forthright in claiming that even musing that a lecture might provide a safe space for students and faculty is an outright “fantasy” (p. 767). Before we might be able to “normalize” or make alternative genders and sexualities “mundane,” Ludlow challenges the “safe space” framework by asking us to define the space in question and who is in the space—in other words, what bodies are in the classroom and where bodies are in the classroom. Who is in the seats and who is front—what sort of space do they embody and how are their bodies are rendered (as powerful or powerless)? Teachers like Ludlow present the reader early on with her conclusion—“a ‘safe space classroom’ that serves both feminist inquiry and any question of diverse individuals is neither possible or desirable.” Drawing on Harris (1998), Ludlow reiterates that a “safe space” is not feasible in a space where inequalities exist among students.

We are aware these “normalizing” practices may be more practical at some universities than others, for example private universities may have different codes of speech than public ones. In this case, we point you to scholars like Baber and Murray (2001); Davis (2005); Galbreath (2012); and Wagner (2017) who make an equally persuasive argument in favor of the possibility and productiveness of working toward “safe space” classroom settings, especially for sexual assault survivors who welcome content warnings and appreciate boundary settings. For example, Penley’s (2013) practice of admonishing those who make “exceptions for pornography” may not be possible at universities that are governed by local and State laws with regard to course content.

Ludlow (2004) examines her own privilege by stating, “I have learned that I cannot offer my less-privileged students, students of color, LGBT students…safety, nor should I try” (p. 45). Ludlow understands that it is from privileged lenses that “safe” environments are even possible. Hierarchies are fields of power and many students (and professors) may never feel safe. Attempting to make classrooms “neutral” places is a fiction that many of us may have attempted and prioritized. Following Ludlow, however, we think considering a “contested” space might be more fruitful as we attempt to “expand the rainbow.” If we start with the premise that alternative sexualities and genders are not neutral but fraught with inequalities, then perhaps we could better serve ourselves and our students. And let’s be clear, by “contested” we do not mean rage-full or ill-serving, but following Ludlow, we mean critical with room for (respectful) conflict. To “contest” something is to call into question its stability as a concept, norm, identity, etc.—the work that sociologists are always doing regardless of whether they are teaching alternative sexualities and genders.

For Ludlow, in the “contested classroom” instructors recognize and teach that knowledges are always marked by power and privilege. To mark the difference between “safe” and “contested” spaces, Ludlow concludes that in a “safe space” classroom the goal is an “environment free from domination and authority;” while in a “contested space” classroom everyone knows that “no space is free from domination” (2004, p. 48). And because no space is “free from domination,” we question the fields of power and the hierarchies of privilege to seek better understandings. Like Ludlow, Henry (1993–1994) knows that “there are no safe spaces” and points out that as a Black feminist woman her “pedagogy is not only a political act, but an act of courage” (p. 2).

Kimberly Kay Hong (2018) begins her essay “Gendering Carnal Ethnography with a discussion of Loïc Wacquant’s (2005) concept “carnal sociology.” Indeed, we each put ourselves and body in front (and center) every-time we teach our students, communicate with colleagues or even enter the field. In this final section, we provide some active resources that may help alleviate some of the anxieties and friction that are bound to arise when we expand the rainbow. At the recent 2018 American Sociological Association pre-conference meeting “Sexualities: Race, Empire: Resistance in an Uncertain Time,” I (Andrea) had the privilege of organizing a panel on how to incorporate trans and intersex concepts and activities into the classroom. Claire Forstie (2018) discusses her use of a pronoun activity during the first day of class. She states, “sharing pronouns is a radical act, but for whom?” In other words, Forstie invites us to interrogate our own teaching practices when we call on students’ identities and bodies to educate others.” To alleviate “who we are using to educate,” Forstie never requires her students to state their pronouns out loud in class but instead asks them to think about ways they have been misgendered in the classroom.

Coston (2018), too asks their students to think about places or social situations where they can imagine being uncomfortable expressing their gender. Using primers like Serano’s Whipping Girl (2016), and her more recent essay “On Transgender People and ‘Biological Sex Myths” (2017) as well as Nik Moreno’s “Queer and Trans: A Primer (2016)” to explain the idea that identities are fluid and that problems will undoubtedly arise when social actors assume that one’s gender identity is based on the sex assigned at birth. Coston also uses the popular teaching graphic “The Gender Unicorn” developed by Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) (http://www.transstudent.org/gender/) to encourage students to ask what their unicorn would look like if they viewed their gender identity as fluid? How would students gender identities look if their gender was based on the multiple axes that the “unicorn” activity provides versus a binary, either/or system of understanding gender? (Conston, 2018).

Costello (2018) (also see Chapter 18 this volume) and Becker (2018) both talk about how they use their own bodies to talk about transgender, intersex, sex, gender, and sexuality but often look to other bodies as well to use as exemplars. Becker questions whether we have enough “diverse bodies” in the room and asks, “who is allowed in the room in the first place?” Costello follows up some of Becker’s concern with providing various vignettes on intersex persons and bodies so students are aware that intersex bodies and persons exist as well as using their blog “The Intersex Roadshow” as an invitation to students to explore transgender and intersex identities in more detail (https://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com).

Finally, Sarah Hemphill and Dan Copulsky (see Chapter 16 for activity) re-situate students’ understandings about intimacy and relationship structures through their activity “Relationship Yes/No/Maybe List.” Instead of focusing on type of sexual activity, relationship options are instead highlighted. Asking students to define what “being romantic would look like,” and giving students the option to choose “no preference” to types of sexual activities expands their understanding that sexual activity is not always central to one’s relationships and that asexual folks may prefer various types of relationships that may include (or not) any physical touching or physical intimacy. Probing students to contemplate that they may not want any types of sexual activity is key to this activity and furthers socio-cultural understandings of the varying aspects of what it might mean to be asexual.

Expanding the Rainbow compels us to stretch our teaching, decide how we comport ourselves in a “straight discipline,” and investigate how our bodies and the bodies of our students are situated alongside ours. This chapter is offered as inspiration to the ways we can (and already do) engage our teaching praxis with our students and colleagues. The activities and classroom etiquette issued here will no doubt be contested as our discipline tries to keep hold to its boundaries and boxes; all the while, we, the teacher-agitators unapologetically shake it up, stretch it out, and contort it into different configurations. We invite you to join us!

References

  • Allen, L. (2015). Queer pedagogy and the limits of thought: Teaching sexualities at university. Higher Education Research & Development, 34(4), 763775.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baber, K., & Murray, C. (2001). A postmodern feminist approach to teaching human sexuality. Family Relations, 50(1), 2333.

  • Becker, J. (2018, August). Using trans and intersex scholarship in a non gender/sexuality course. Paper presented at the sexualities pre-conference meeting of the American Sociological Society. Philadelphia, PA.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Coston, L. (2018, August). Using trans and intersex scholarship and activities in the intro to sociology classroom. Paper presented at the sexualities pre-conference meeting of the American Sociological Society, Philadelphia, PA.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Costello, C. G. (2018, August). Introducing intersex issues and advocacy in the sociology classroom. Paper presented at the sexualities pre-conference meeting of the American Sociological Society, Philadelphia, PA.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davis, N. J. (2004). Taking sex seriously: Challenges in teaching about sexuality. Teaching Sociology, 33, 1631.

  • Forstie, C. (2018, August). What do you mean, my pronouns? First-day activities in the classroom. Paper presented at the sexualities pre-conference meeting of the American Sociological Society. Philadelphia, PA.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Galbreath, B. J. (2012). An argument for teaching a human sexuality course within the context of a women and gender studies program. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 7(1), 6277.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harris, J. (1998). ‘Rock the boat, don’t tip the boat over’: A classroom activist’s perspective on women’s studies. Conflict, and Community Building, Atlantis, 22, 2.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hemphill, S., & Copulsky, D. (2019). Relationship yes/no/maybe list.

  • Henry, A. (1993–1994). There are no safe spaces: Pedagogy as powerful and dangerous terrain. Action in Teacher Education, 15, 4.

  • Hidalgo, D. A. (2016). Teaching spaces of possibility: Cultivating safe, relaxed, and challenging classrooms. In K. Haltinner & R. Pilegram (Eds.), Teaching gender and sex in contemporary America. Springer.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hoang, K. K. (2018). Gendering carnal ethnography: A queer reception. In D. Compton, T. Meadow, & K. Schilt (Eds.), Other, please specify: Queer method in sociology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

  • Kunkel, C. A. (2016). From protest to praxis or being real in the classroom. In K. Haltinner & R. Pilegram (Eds.), Teaching gender and sex in contemporary America. Springer.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ludlow, J. (2004). From safe space to contested space in the feminist classroom. Transfromations: The New Jersey Project Journal, 15, 1.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meadow, T. (2018). The mess: Vulnerability as ethnographic practice. In D. Compton, T. Meadow, & K. Schilt (Eds.), Other, please specify: Queer method in sociology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miller, A., & Lucal, B. (2009). The pedagogy of (in)visibility: Two accounts of teaching about sex, gender, and sexuality. Teaching Sociology, 37(3), 257268.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Penley, C. (2013). A feminist teaching pornography? That’s like Scope’s teaching evolution. In T. Taormino et al. (Eds.), The feminist porn book: The politics of producing pleasure. New York, NY: CUNY Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schilt, K. (2018). The ‘not sociology’ problem: Identifying the strategies that keep queer work at the disciplinary margins. In D. Compton, T. Meadow, & K. Schilt (Eds.), Other, please specify: Queer method in sociology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schilt, K., Meadow, T., & Compton, D. (2018). Introduction: Queer work in a straight discipline. In D. Compton, T. Meadow, & K. Schilt (Eds.), Other, please specify: Queer method in sociology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Serano, J. (2016). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. New York, NY: Seal Press.

  • Valerio, N. L. (2001). Creating safety to address controversial issues: Strategies for the classroom. Multicultural Education, Spring.

  • Wacquant, L. (2005). Carnal connections: On embodiment, apprenticeship, and membership. Qualitative Sociology, 38(4), 445474.

  • Wagner, L. M., et al. (2017). Teaching philosophies guiding sexuality instruction in U.S. colleges and universities. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(1), 4461.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wentling, T. (2016). Critical pedagogy: Disciplining classroom hegemony. In K. Haltinner & R. Pilegram (Eds.), Teaching gender and sex in contemporary America. Springer.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Expanding the Rainbow

Exploring the Relationships of Bi+, Polyamorous, Kinky, Ace, Intersex, and Trans People

Series: