For the past year or so, I have been drafting my first academic manuscript, Queering the English Language Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers, which is currently under contract with Equinox Publishing, U.K. and will be out in 2020. Drafting that book has been one heck of an experience that has led to a lot of other opportunities and projects. Most importantly, it has fed the updates to this blog for the past year.
However, with the wrap up of the book manuscript, and the need to hand it over to my editors next month, the time has come to refocus this blog. So, it’s back to the old formula of Applied Linguistics RE-coded, where I will summarize and respond to the latest (last 5-years) ALx research and scholarship that I come across in my activities as faculty member and scholar. As LGBTQ+ issues have emerged as my central research focus, there will still be a very queer slant to the focus of this blog. But going forward, you can expect more range in the topics covered.
I will still shoot for a Tuesday/Friday update pattern, as work and life allows. However, as this is a hobby for me–and I’m facing a heavy teaching load–that will change as needed. But, thank you for reading a long as I draft my book. I’ll be sure to post updates about it’s publication status as we finalize the project. Cheers and be well!
So, the 2019 meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics is wrapping up. It’s been a great weekend in Atlanta, Georgia meeting and talking to scholars from all over the globe on issues language use, teaching, learning, and acquisition. The exchange of knowledge has been thrilling, energizing, and exhausting (especially for this introvert!). Now, unlike other major organizations, AAAL does not have a SIG or strand dedicated to LGBTQ+ considerations in the discipline. Depsite this, however, there was some representation of LGBTQ+ concerns on the agenda. And, it was wonderful to see.
The queer fun, for me at least, kicked off with a panel organized by Katrina Thompson (Professor, UW-Madison) and James E. Coda (Ph.D. candidate, UGA) on LGBTQ+ considerations in language teaching and learning. The panel consisted of three presentations that shed light on issues in English language teaching. James and Lie Jiang (Ph.D. student, UGA) talked about how LGBTQ+ teacher/student interactions played out in the Spanish and Chinese language classrooms; and, Kris Knisely (Asst. Professor, ASU) provided an in-depth look at how gender non-conforming/genderqueer communities of French speakers are driving linguistic change to represent their lived experiences better. A lively Q & A session encouraged us to consider what happens when queer pedagogies backfire. A frightening and essential question for researchers, scholars, and practitioners to consider.
Beyond the pedagogy-focused sessions, there were also some exciting new research directions that began to address gaps identified by myself and others in the past two years. Ozge Guney (Ph.D. student, USF) shed light on a queer-inclusive approach to teacher education in Turkey. Her work, based on an earlier Master’s thesis, marks a critical step forward for three reasons: (1) it reminds us that using local materials is maximally impactful when we try to queer our practice, especially in overcoming resistance; (2) queering can happen (and be successful) even in traditionally conservative, frigid contexts, and (3) by queering teacher education, we can drive meaningful change that will trickle down to our students in classroom settings. It was fantastic work, and I look forward to seeing more from this bright, young scholar.
Finally, at a research roundtable, Liang Cao (Ph.D. student, SFU) talked about his early work on how LGBTQ+ immigrants and migrants acquiring language and navigate their often marginalized queer identities in Canada. The work, while nascent, is promising because it can shed light on how place, bodies, voices, and queerness intersect. Also, if his final data follows the trends of his pilot study, he would also bring representation of bisexual and transgender individuals, their struggles, their voices, and their lived experiences.
There’s even more excitement happening at TESOL in just a few days, and I’ll be sure to post about that. After TESOL, I’ll be off to CCCC in Pittsburgh, but won’t be at enough of the conference to offer any commentary.
With a better understanding of what heteronormative materials might look like, it is now time to turn our focus to how to address the problems presented by normative texts and textbooks when we encounter them or are required to use them in our teaching. To aid in this conversation, I want to begin by directly addressing pre-made curricular materials—things like extensive readers, textbooks, and other OERs—and offering some actionable strategies for making these often-normative materials more inclusive. Then, I will share some guidance on developing your own inclusive curricular materials using the queer inquiry-based framework that was discussed in section two of this blog. Before continuing, however, it is essential to keep in mind that troubling normativity in our curricular materials is an ongoing process and one on which we must reflect on our efforts from time to time (see Deploying and Revising Queer Materials, below).
Be prepared with supplemental materials. Perhaps the primary tool at your disposal is coming to class prepared with additional materials that you can deploy alongside existing curricular materials. Admittedly, this requires advanced planning and knowledge of the resources available to you to find quality LGBTQ+-inclusive material. And, here we arrive at a critical challenge for the modern educator. Except for a very small sub-set of university educators, many full-time ELT professionals, myself included, face heavy teaching loads in high-contact, intensive classes (see Kubota & Sun, 2013). Couple this fact with the high number of part-time, adjunct professionals in TESOL, and you have a group of caring, professional educators with very little time on their hands to hunt for resources. And, while there is currently no clearinghouse for LGBTQ+ inclusive materials, there are organizations (such as GLSEN and the HRC’s Welcoming Schools Initiative) that have begun compiling handy resource kits for educators, albeit they are often targeted at mainstream, native speaker classes. To start addressing this issue, I will include references, and where possible links, to specific tools that you can use to help find supplemental materials. This brings us to two important questions that we must ask as we seek to trouble normative materials: (1) how do I know when I should bring in supplemental materials and (2) what kinds of materials should I consider using. To explore the answers to these questions, I will use examples from popular ELT reading/writing and speaking/listening textbooks.
Hartmann and Blass’s (2007) Quest Intro: Reading and Writing series is a popular commercial textbook in many EAP contexts because it covers a range of academic literacy skills while also exposing students to scaffolded academic discourse designed to be of interest to the students. In the intro level book of the series,’ there are a handful of readings that address various stereotypes, which would seem promising because of their potential to push against normative discourses. For example, the reading on children, gender, and toys summarizes recent psychology studies on how young boys and girls are socialized into their respective gender roles. It even recommends that parents should be encouraged to buy their children toys that are typically played with by the opposite gender. However, it doesn’t provide any detail on how playing with a “‘girl’s toy’ [can] help him (a son) prepare for future relationships” (Hartmann & Blass, 2007, pp. 119-120), nor are there any activities in the text that are designed to get students thinking about this advice more critically. That means that even this well-intentioned text can end up reifying normative discourses about gender and sexuality, as it suggests what the students may see as non-normative behaviors without space for students and educators to discuss the implications of this and how it can be done in a way that meaningfully challenges the normative gender/sexual stereotypes that the reading is trying to push against. This may lead some students to disparage boys that play with girls toys as “gay” (see also Moita-Lopes, 2006).
To queer this reading further and to make it less heteronormative, it may be paired with an exercise like GLSEN’s (n.d.) “That’s a (Gender) Stereotype” or Teaching Tolerance’s “What are Gender Stereotypes.” Particularly helpful is that both of these exercises extend the existing materials in ways that can support ESL/EFL students by including scaffolds like words lists that explain key terms in more accessible language and by directly addressing LGBTQ+ concerns such as gender expression, gender fluidity, and how stereotypes about gender and sexuality may often intersect. Alternatively, you could bring in level appropriate real-world materials, for example, Hogan’s (2018) Detroit Free Press article on legal challenges to gendered toys in fast food for children or Chack’s (2014) list of products that are marketed at a specific gender group when they really don’t need to be. Bringing in these real-world items reinforces concepts from the main reading while also extending in a direction that can be used to trouble normative views towards gender and sexuality.
Have inclusive activities planned. If you have no control over the texts/textbooks that get used in your class, or if you do not have limitless free time to hunt down and adapt online material to meet your needs, you can plan to deploy LGBTQ+-inclusive activities to augment the more normative readings and textbook activities. These activities can take many forms depending on available time, linguistic proficiency, goals of the course, and so no.
For example, elsewhere I have discussed the use of narrative illustration activities as powerful tools to help uncover the heteronormative assumptions that we and our students may make about the world around us (see Paiz, 2020b). In these narrative illustration activities, students are provided with a 1-3-page, proficiency-keyed short story and must illustrate a key passage from the story. These stories all have LGBTQ+ themes but use gender-neutral language and rhetorical ambiguity that require students to have mainly cultural knowledge and ideological orientations to decode. Therefore, in many drawings, their assumptions about race, gender, and sexual identity come out and become the starting point for in-class conversations about language and our preconceptions about things like sexual identity.
Another powerful tool is simulation games for language and communication learning. These can be particularly useful in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) classes that focus on intercultural communication in the workplace. Simulations, or sims for short, are structured communicative events that are tied to specific learning outcomes, during which the communication is real and tied to a particular goal (e.g., getting across an unfamiliar town, uncovering patient history, etc. (Jones, 1982; Coleman & Yamazaki, 2018)). During sims, student encounter communicative environments that are closely modeled on the real world. So, if a student is in a simulation where they are ordering food at a restaurant, the classroom will be set up to mirror either a fast food, fast casual, or fine dining space, with some students taking the roles of wait staff and others of patrons. Additionally, the communication is functionally real, with participants needing to produce language as they would if they were really in the context. The functional reality of language in a sim means that communicative breakdowns have real consequences (e.g., not getting what you ordered; not getting the right medication, etc.). Finally, sims are highly structured to help guide learners through the experience and to uncover the critical learning points once the simulation ends (Jones, 1982).
Simulations can also be used to make the ESL/EFL classroom more LGBTQ+ inclusive. Muckler, Leonard, & Cicero (2019) describe a training simulation that they use in medical schools to increase students’ awareness of transgender issues, ethical care, and respectful language. In their sim, participants take turns taking on the roles of nurses and trans patients during a pre-anesthesiology consultation and must respectfully engage with one another to uncover current medications and other medical history that may out the patient participant as transgender, and they must do so while being respectful of the rights and special care needs of the transgender patient (Muckler, Leonard, & Cicero, 2019, pp. 45-46). This simulation is one that could be easily modified for the ESP course by beginning with a briefing on trans-inclusive language and discussions on engaging respectfully with LGBTQ+ individuals. During the briefing, specific linguistic items and rhetorical moves would be presented by the teacher and discussed to ensure clarity. Then, during the simulation, the students would attempt to deploy what they have learned in a sheltered, but functionally real communicative encounter. Afterward, the teacher would lead a debriefing that highlights both communicative successes and failures while uncovering persistent misunderstandings and sharing strategies for future communicative success.
Use other instructional tools to scaffold and queer heteronormative materials. Another option is to use the other instructional tools at your disposal to present students with non-heteronormative examples and materials. For example, you might use a PowerPoint slide like the one in figure 8, below. This image shows a slide that has been used in a basic ESL tutorial on families, and it draws direct attention to some of the different forms that families can take by including both gay male and lesbian families, one of which is also a mixed-race couple. In the original presentation, students had engaged with a textbook chapter on families to read before coming to the workshop. The chapter presented the English names for different family members and an explanation of their relationships (Carlson, 2018). To help supplement the instruction, the workshop facilitator created this slide using open-access images that were available through Wikimedia.org and allowed for commercial use and remixing. During the workshop, they pointed out that families can take other shapes beyond the ones discussed in the textbook and showed the image in figure 8, above. Afterward, the facilitator asked students to take time to map their families using a rough family tree-like structure.
Other instructional tools may include items such as classroom posters and instructional design elements around the classroom. For example, some classes may include classroom posters and infographics about respectful relationships and dealing with relationship abuse while working through units on dating and relationships. In many cases, these kinds of classroom posters serve an instructional purpose, in that they provide class-related information to students, but they often include heteronormative presentations in the form of only having heterosexual statistics reported or just using heterosexual iconography in depicting relationship pairings. For the linguistically and culturally diverse students who may find themselves in a mainstream health class with such posters, these serve to reinforce the notion that only heterosexuality is valid and valued. So, including infographics from organizations like Teaching Tolerance (teachingtolerance.org), GLSEN (glsen.org), or Facing our Histories Facing Ourselves (facinghistory.org) can help to include LGBTQ+ voices and to shed light on queer concerns and to equip L2 English students with the language, and information, necessary to discuss relationship and sexual health in linguistically appropriate ways while also showing them that LGBTQ+ lives have value and should be respected.
Bring in community partners and realia. Another option for combating the effects of heteronormative texts is to follow the example in Ó’Móchain (2006) and to partner with LGBTQ+ individuals and organizations in the local community to bring in guest speakers and community-related realia. An excellent example of a place to bring in local community partners is during career days. Inviting in LGBTQ+-identified EMTs, teachers, dentists, engineers, and clergy can highlight the diverse career options that successful LGBTQ+ professionals can take. It can also push back against normative discourses that suggest that LGBTQ+ individuals are best suited for creative careers like professional dance, hair styling, and interior design. Moreover, it creates space for students to learn about the unique challenges that can be faced by LGBTQ+ professionals that may not be faced by heterosexual professionals. Doing so can help provide exposure to the language necessary to respectfully engage with LGBTQ+ populations and to advocate for themselves and for others. This can be facilitated by planning out questions to ask of all guest speakers about their jobs such as the following: • How did you decide on your career? • What specialized training did you need for your job? • What do you like about your job? • What challenges do you face in your job? • What do you do if people think you can’t/don’t do the kind of work that you do?
This final question can uncover answers that may be of interest to linguistically and culturally diverse students. For example, a lesbian, Hispanic professor from the local university may share an experience where she was confused for a secretary or where a colleague thought she didn’t need maternity leave because they felt that lesbian couples can’t have children (for similar stories, see Equality Challenge Unit, 2015). These stories can help raise student awareness about the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ professionals and help them to better understand the need to advocate for our LGBTQ+-identified friends and peers.
Another option is to look for opportunities to bring in LGBTQ+-themed realia to help support curricular materials and to make lessons more inclusive. For example, in a class that has a civics focus, the teacher could bring in flags from the LGBTQ+ community when discussing locally important symbols, which may more traditionally include national, state/prefectural/county, and local flags and seals. The LGBTQ+ flags can be used to extend classroom discussions about how flags and seals are used to help build local identities and function as powerful community symbols. So, in the case of the United States, we might discuss the meaning behind the colors of the U.S. flag or the heraldic banner that makes up the U.S. state flag of Maryland. We can then extend these lessons to discuss the meaning behind the colors of the LGBTQ+ and Transgender pride flags, underscoring the importance of these symbols as identity markers and how they often travel beyond official functions to become commercialized as bumper stickers and bookmarks that extend their identity functions.
Model and deploy critical close readings. Another option available to you is to engage in a critical close reading of course texts with your students. Very often we tend to consume assigned readings and textbook passages and activities for the content the present and how they tie to course learning objectives or assignment requirements before moving on to the next unit. And, indeed certain structural constraints encourage this behavior—such as preparing for a standardized examination, the need to move students through units of instruction to prepare them for matriculation to mainstream classes, and so on. However, taking a moment to model and deploy critical close readings of the commercially available classroom materials that we use in our classes—whether by choice or requirement—can be very helpful for our students. To begin with, it forces them to slow down and really engage with the language and rhetoric of the texts that we are consuming. It shows them how to consider the interplay between text, context, and images to consider how we make meaning from what we read. Moreover, by modeling critical close reading for our students and making it a part of regular practice, we aid our students in acquiring the critical thinking skills that are valued in many educational contexts in the global west (see Atkinson, 1997).
For example, in an intermediate reading/writing class in an intensive English program, we might assign extensive reading for our students. Often, this takes the form of a short novel graduate reader, such as the Doctor Who readers available through Pearson ELT or the post-apocalyptic romance Not Without You available through Oxford University Press. We would begin to ask questions like: • What relationships do we see represented in the text? • What do we notice about the structure of these relationships as it related to gender, age, race, etc.? • What does this suggest to us about what the text values? • How are these views supported by the graphic elements of the text? • Do the pictures that go with the text reinforce these ideas or others? • Who is ignored by this view? Who is given preference? • What would alternatives look like?
By deploying questions like these in our reading, or by focusing on two or three of them during group readings, we show our students how to critically engage with the text and to begin uncovering normative stances that may be reflected them in it. When we make this kind of activity a regular part of our practice, we show that this kind of engagement with a text is essential to understand not only its meaning but its social relevance. Moreover, we expose to habits of mind that allow them to uncover normativity on their own in future classes, and we equip them with the linguistic and rhetorical skills necessary to respectfully engage in conversations about these matters that they might have in future discussions both in and out of the classroom.
Each of the strategies discussed above provides us with the necessary pedagogical tools to take problematic resources, ones that reify heteronormative worldviews, and to make them work more inclusively. No matter what mix of strategies you choose to deploy, there are a few points to keep in mind that will help make them more effective. First, and foremost, always invite student perspectives, experiences, and voices. Create space for student contributions to your efforts to queer the classroom space and to make it more inclusive. By purposefully making space for student voices, you help to further queer the classroom by troubling traditional, normative views of classroom roles and power dynamics. Moreover, you give yourself a sort of pedagogical springboard when it comes to queering heteronormative materials by having a ready access point for students and LGBTQ+-focused conversations. Second, always be on the lookout for normative worldviews in your curricular materials and work with students to challenges these views together. You should engage in this critical work with your students throughout the curriculum and be looking for normativity as it relates to gender, success, expertise, and so on. Don’t focus solely on sexuality and sexual identity, as to do so is to fall short of the goals of queering ELT, which is to equip our students with the habits of mind and linguistics tools needed to problematize all normative discourses. Finally, keep in mind that you will be working to inculcate a spirit of restive problematizing in your classroom (see Pennycook, 2001). By creating value around asking questions of the social fabrics in which we find ourselves implicated, we prepare our students to deploy their multilingual and multicultural resources to be more aware and capable global citizens (see Appiah, 2007).
Throughout this section, curricular materials will refer to the texts, textbooks, handouts, worksheets, PowerPoint decks, YouTube videos, etc. that we bring use to extend and scaffold our classroom teaching. A critical difference between texts and textbooks is that textbooks are purpose-built for use in educational contexts and often combine instructional material with learning support tips and reinforcement exercise, while texts are extensive readers that may or may not have been specially created for the classroom. Irrespective of the kind of curricular material that we chose to focus on there are three givens that we can safely assume: (1) these materials, especially commercially available ones, almost always reflect heteronormative, cisnormative, and ableist world views (see Grey, 2013; Paiz, 2015; Shardakova & Pavlenko, 2004); (2) the reality of given one is unlikely to change because of the conservative nature of textbook publishers (Apple & Smith, 1991; Paiz, 2015); and (3) commercially available, mass-market curricular materials are essential support tools for educators—both ones that are early service and that are established practitioners (Collopy, 2003; Nicol & Crespo, 2006; Richards, 2001). Given this fact, and that students see them as essential tools to facilitate learning (see De Vincenti, Giovanangeli, & Ward, 2007), we cannot underestimate their potential impacts on our teaching, on our classrooms, and on how our students come to view the target language, cultures, and values.
This, of course, means that we must be cognizant to the potential negative impacts of curricular materials that reify a heteronormative world view. And, make no mistake, normative resources, are everywhere. In earlier research, both Grey (2013) and I showed that most of the items in our samples of ESL/EFL textbooks reflected heteronormative orientations because of how they chose to either include or, more commonly, exclude LGBTQ+ narratives, characters, and topics (Paiz, 2015). In a sample of 45 ESL reading texts and textbooks, I found that all by one or two were dominantly heteronormative in their representation of mainstream Western society. Even more troubling is that when language textbooks do often include LGBTQ+ content, it does so in ways that either fetishize it by making it merely a subject of debate or by presenting LGBTQ+ individuals as diseased or socially maligned and malignant (see De Vincenti, Geovanangeli, & Ward, 2007).
This adverse representation creates an environment that contributes to the replication of heteronormative discourses by showing our students that only cisgender, straight lives matters and are valued in English-speaking societies. This means that for our students to imagine ourselves in our classrooms, they must envision for themselves a cisgender straight identity, as anything else will marginalize them in a classroom space that is supposed to be supportive and inclusive (see Shardakova & Pavlenko, 2004). By ignoring LGBTQ+ voices and bodies, heteronormative curricular materials make it so that our students, regardless of their actual sexual or gender identities, feel compelled to take on a cisgender, straight identity if they want to fit into the imagined world of the native speaker as it is presented to them in course materials (Kanno, 2003; Pavlenko & Norton, 2007). Speaking to the power of these imagined identities in the language learning context, Pavlenko (2001) underscored how seeing themselves as part of a larger communicative community—participatory, integrated, and welcomed—played a crucial role in students’ overall progress and perseverance as language learners.
Moreover, curricular materials serve a vital support role for practitioners of all stripes, but even more so for early-service practitioners. As mentioned previously, the research continues to show that early-service educators tend to rely on textbooks and other prepared curricular materials, both commercial and open access, to help with tasks such as lesson planning, assignment design and scaffolding, assessment, and so on (see Richards, 2001; Ball & Feiman-Menser, 1988). This means that publicly available materials, whether commercially available like LEAP Advanced from Pearson Education ESL (Beatty, 2013) or open access ones like those available through OER Commons (https://www.oercommons.org/browse?f.keyword=esl), hold the potential for considerable influence over ELT interventions. Take, for example, the early-service educator who is teaching a new course for the first time. At this stage in their career, these individuals have emergent teaching philosophies and classroom practices; that is, they are still discovering their voice and professional selves as educators (see Deters, 2011). To help fill in gaps in knowledge or experience, and to ensure that minimal instructional needs are met, they may rely on published curricular materials to a greater degree than their more experienced peers. Moreover, they may be less likely to actively problematize these materials because they are either time-strapped, needing an immediate solution to a pedagogical problem, or because they have not yet had the time to reflect on the content and its use in their classrooms. Our students, however, seriously engage with this material—even if we, their teachers, are just testing it out—and see it as a reflection of acceptable language use, social interaction, and worldviews of the target culture. Taken together, this all contributed to the reification of heteronormative discourses in our classrooms.
It should be noted that the same can happen for seasoned teachers who are facing heavy workloads because published materials allow us to offload a part of our prep work on to the textbooks or web-based educational resources thereby allowing us to focus on other kinds of labor (e.g., grading, meeting with parents, committee work, etc.). Therefore, if we do not build in time to reflect on the materials that we use, or if we are not encouraged to do so by institutional or programmatic policy, it is easy for these materials that scaffold our teaching to become a crystallized part of our educator’s toolkit and for their normative influence with students to be perpetuated across student cohorts from year to year. So, when we uncritically use the chapter in the textbook on family relationships, we are signaling to our students that in our classrooms and in English-speaking society only heterosexual, preferably nuclear, families are true families and any other arrangement is something else, something less than.
The ways that our curricular materials reflect heteronormative discourses and their values are myriad—ranging from very explicit to very subtle. But, all of them can have profound impacts on contributing to heteronormative practices and educational spaces, ones that leave our sexual and gender minority students feeling marginalized, out of place, and without a voice. To help reinforce this point, I will now provide brief analyses of three examples of heteronormative ELT materials. These examples will range from explicitly to surprisingly heteronormative, explanations of each category will be provided in the following sections. While these examples come from open educational resources (OERs), they mirror very closely the same moves that we see being made in heteronormative materials that are commercially available and mass produced (see Paiz, 2015).
Explicitly Heteronormative Materials. Explicitly heteronormative materials are those materials that either expressly state that heterosexuality is the only acceptable way of life, or that strongly seem to suggest it through repeatedly referencing only heterosexual relationships throughout the entire text. Paiz (2015) showed that this kind of explicit heteronormativity often happens in units on the family or in extensive readers that focus on dating and relationships, such as Leather’s (2003) Bad Love or Hancock’s (2008) Love in the Lakes. In both extensive readers from Cambridge University Press, the focus is solely on heterosexual romances, even the “bad romance” of Leather (2003) is in dating a rebellious boy that does not conform to the female protagonist’s family’s view of a good boyfriend. Moreover, the heteronormativity reflected in these materials is often perpetuated through illustrations in the book and through cover art, as seen in figure 6 (below).
Explicitly heteronormative texts most often function by making it appear that only heterosexual relationships are valid, valued, and permissible in the target culture. Explicit heteronormative can also occur through repeated references only heterosexual couples throughout a text. This repeated reference serves to continually reinforce for the student the idea that only heterosexual lives exist in the target culture, and it works by through the almost willful omission of LGBTQ+ lives and bodies. Take Krause’s (2018) OER book Home and School: Ten Easy Picture Stories for Beginning Students of English. Three of the ten stories mention couples, mainly married couples. And, each of these stories only indexes heterosexual couplings through explicit mentions in the text to husband/wife pairings. This heteronormative—the view of monogamous, reproductive heterosexuality as valid and valued—is further reinforced by the marital status of the characters in the stories and the images that accompany them (see figures 7a & b, below).
Subtly Heteronormative Materials. Texts that are subtly heteronormative may make no mention to heterosexual pairings, opting instead to use gender-neutral makers such as spouse or partner any time that they index a romantic or marital relationship. While moving towards being inclusive, this linguistic move is often coupled with graphical elements that only feature heterosexual couples, such as in Brenner, Ford, and Sullivan’s (2007) Celebrate! Holidays in the U.S.A. produced and distributed by Office of English Language Programs under the auspices of the United States Department of State. In a short essay on birthdays and anniversaries, the text-only references “married couples” in text (p. 103), but the only accompanying graphical element is a full-page, full-color image of an elderly, white man and woman sitting in front of yellow cake with two lit candles in the shape of the number “50” (p. 102). This coupling of gender neutral, ostensibly inclusive language, with an image of a straight couple, works to more subtly reinforce heteronormative social discourses through an unequal tension between text and image. Often, it is the image, which often carries more rhetorical weight with the reader, that wins out as the reader seeks to use the multimodal input of the text to construct socially situated meaning (see Hassett & Schieble, 2010). This means that even well-intentioned texts that opt for a more neutral approach can reinforce heteronormativity in our classes.
Surprisingly Heteronormative Materials. Occasionally, even curricular materials that we use because we believe that they directly subvert heteronormative discourses can end up reinforcing hetero- and homonormative ideologies. These surprisingly heteronormative materials share some of the following properties. They (a) typically represent LGBTQ+ issues as grounds for debate; (b) reduce LGBTQ+ issues to “gay” issues, thereby ignoring the diversity in queer lives and experiences; (c) encourage students to consider LGBTQ+ lives, bodies, and desires as merely extensions of heterosexual ones by relying on what Duggan (2002) refers to as homonormativity; or (d) make it appear that LGBTQ+ topics are sensational ones because they either only reference celebrities or the health and legal challenges facings LGBTQ+ communities across the globe (see Paiz, 2019; Moschenbacher & Stegu, 2013).
Take, for example, the exercise provided in Banville (2017), which focuses on “gay rights.” The exercise takes the form of a series of questions that students should ask each other about gay rights, their understanding of them, their knowledge of local gay rights, and the experience with gay rights conversations in their home countries. While a potentially good starting point, this exercise can reflect heteronormative and homonormative discourses in rather unexpected ways. For example, questions 9 and 10 for Student A ask, “What do you think of same-sex relations and the raising of children?” and “Is marriage a relationship between only a man and woman?” (Banville, 2017). These two questions occurring in rapid succession primes students to consider the end goal of gay rights, at least as it is presented in this curricular material, to be monogamous, child-rearing, marriage for members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for gay men and lesbians. This reinforces a homonormative discourse of “us gays, we’re just like you straights” that is deeply tied to heteronormative ideologies about marriage, family, and procreation (see Duggan, 2002; Stryker, 2008). Moreover, this excises also reinforces heteronormative discourses by potentially casting LGBTQ+ concerns as Western concerns by asking questions like “Which nationalities do you think are the most homophobic?” (Banville, 2017). Taken together, these kinds of questions, their wording, and their ordering all work to reinforce normative discourses in somewhat surprising ways, especially when there is a lack of support materials for educators who chose to use these curricular materials.
With a better understanding of how heteronormativity may creep into our classrooms and our practices, it is now time to turn our attention to curricular materials. Previous research has shown rather resoundingly that much of the material that we bring to class with us to support our teaching—things like textbooks, extensive readers, worksheets, assignment prompts, assessments, and so on—reflect heteronormative worldviews (see Erlman, 2015; Gray, 2013; Paiz, 2015). Moreover, many students view curricular materials to be dependable representations of cultural norms/values and of language use (see Mustapha, 2013). While educational materials may seem like a low-stakes concern, they are actually powerful, salient representations of a target culture’s perceived values and the identity options that are available to language learners (see Paiz, 2015, 2019; Shardakova & Pavlenko, 2004). Not only are textbooks powerful representations to learners, but they are also an essential educational aide to teachers—both novice and expert—because they can scaffold lesson planning and reinforce key learning objectives (Ball & Feiman-Menser, 1988). When we stop to consider how time is often at a premium for many ELT professionals—whether K-12 educators, private sector tutors, or adjunct/contract professors—the importance of mainstream, published curricular materials becomes all the more salient.
Given the critical role of textbooks and other curricular materials, it is essential to consider how to integrate them into an LGBTQ+-inclusive classroom, especially when the vast majority of commercially available materials remain consistently heteronormative in their reflection of society (Grey, 2013; Paiz, 2015). Here is the where the queer inquiry-based pedagogical approach advocated for in the last two segments of this blog can become particularly useful as you attempt to improve the effects that these normative texts might have in your educational spaces. To make the connection between queer inquiry-based pedagogy and curricular materials more explicit, this segment will begin by outlining the myriad issues presented by the use of normative curricular materials and their impact on our students. This will include a description of normative elements and an explanation for why so many mainstream materials reflect heteronormative values. Then, this series of posts will move on to discussing various ways that you can address the issues presented by normative materials by providing you with specific strategies for queering both commercially available materials and for developing your own. The series will then close out by giving some advisories on deploying and revising queered curricular materials.