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Queering Paradigms IV

South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms


Edited By Elizabeth Sara Lewis, Rodrigo Borba, Branca Falabella Fabrício and Diana de Souza Pinto

South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms is composed of research presented at the fourth international Queering Paradigms Conference (QP4), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In line with the QP project ethos of bringing together diverse epistemological and geographical allegiances, this volume intends to contribute to building a queer postcolonial critique of the current politics of queer activism and of queer knowledge production and circulation. However, rather than perpetuating the North-South dichotomy, the papers gathered here are an effort to establish global dialogues that crisscross those axes, as well as attempts at queering epistemologies, socio-political bonds, and bodies, embodiments and identities. They endeavour to trouble unequal geographies of knowledge – namely the North as an exporter of theories and the South as their importer; the North as a producer of knowledge and the South as its object of study – hosting enormous potential for reinvention.

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Queer Literacies in the Brazilian Public School EFL Classroom: Performing Action Research


Queer Literacies in the Brazilian Public School EFL Classroom: Performing Action Research


Variations of the autonomous literacy model based on written canonical texts (Street 1984) still frame reading lessons in many Brazilian schools. The colonial idea of school literacy leading to progress is usually evoked when language teachers reproduce such a model on the basis that it provides students with better chances in the job market. This traditional model is stronger in the foreign language classroom, and the authoritarian status of the text is reinforced by a commonsensical belief in the linguistic and cultural hegemony of the countries located in the rich North of the world.

Literacies in the English Foreign Language (EFL) classroom in Brazil are commonly related to an autonomous model guided by a colonial enchantment towards the American Empire, despite the fact that contemporary conditions have dethroned the USA (Hardt and Negri 2005). The focus of such practices is language as an abstracted system, a resource that is there waiting to be used, and EFL classes in Brazil are usually seen as an aseptic moment of learning linguistic structure and “culture”. This means that English is rarely regarded as a topic for reflection (Santos and Fabrício 2006), or as a semiotic practice in which we engage when we put ourselves on display (Pennycook 2007, 2010).

This way of understanding the foreign language classroom is in accordance with what schools traditionally legitimate in relation to the production of identities. School literacy practices frequently reinforce heterosexuality by means of silencing performances that are different from it. In most Brazilian school official curricula, for example, discussions about sexuality ← 95 | 96 → are restricted to science/biology lessons on the heterosexual act of generating offspring (Silva 1999). Not talking about non-heterosexual performances does not mean they have vanished; it means that schools are producing them as marginal (Epstein and Johnson 1998). Concerning EFL classrooms, openly discussing non-heterosexual performances may be considered a very queer thing to do.

The aim of this chapter, which is part of my PhD thesis in Applied Linguistics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, is to present how necessary (but silenced) discussions about performances of sexuality were introduced into my own EFL classroom. Queer literacies are understood as practices that put traditional school literacy into crisis by questioning the officially presented heterosexual version of sexuality. A queer pedagogical framework is centered on inquiry, on “examining how language and culture work with regard to all sexual identities” (Nelson 1999: 371). This querying stance is taken here not only in relation to identity categories, but also with regards to classroom organization, teachers’ and students’ roles, responsibilities for the learning process, and ways of producing knowledge (Fabrício and Moita Lopes 2010).

Literacy practices related to Japanese popular culture were chosen as queering practices. Brazilian schools usually consider the use of some comic strips as part of a reading canon, but mangas (Japanese graphic novels) are avoided, probably because of the violence and sexuality presented in most of them. As the Japanese popular culture fandom has increased considerably in Brazil since the beginning of this century (Luyten 2005), it is not hard to find many “otakus” (male fans) and “otomes” (female fans) in the classrooms, eager to share their commitment to manga and anime (Japanese animated productions) series.

What makes such productions even more interesting, besides the specific literacy necessary for reading them (Yui 2004), is the wide range of sexualities presented. There are special mangas devoted to homoerotic relationships, and Brazilian fans are not ostracized in the community if they enjoy reading stories about two girls or two boys dating. These characteristics (banned at school and depicting several sexualities), in addition to the fact that I have always had many otakus and otomes as students, led me to consider introducing queer literacies in my EFL classroom by working with mangas and animes.

← 96 | 97 → This kind of proposal is prone to receiving much criticism. Showing a manga (even if it is in English) in which a young man falls in love with a boy who became a girl is unimaginable to many colleagues. Despite the hegemonies still in action in relation to foreign language teaching, an understanding of language as performative makes the kind of work presented here possible. The next section shall discuss this understanding of performative language, followed by the research design and data analysis. The final remarks highlight the idea that it seems fallacious to offer modern schooling, based on crafted certainties and truths, when the world is increasingly contingent, fluid and vertiginous. Our students deserve better than that.

Performative Language and Queer Thinking

J.L. Austin’s philosophy of language ([1962] 1990) has fueled discussions that have been of great relevance to queer thinking, such as Jacques Derrida’s iterability. When studying speech acts, Austin rejected the ones spoken while playing a part at the theater or while telling jokes, for he considered them non-serious or parasitic uses of language. Derrida (1977), however, regarded these as important to explaining the way language works. If parasitic speech acts could be identified as such, they must have been compared to a naturalized repertoire, one that has been established by means of repeating their non-parasitic counterparts over and over. The speech acts discarded in Austin’s analysis are the ones that help us understand how language can be invested with new meanings, despite the repetition needed for operatory intelligibility. The parasitic speech acts are thus important because they are explicit rebellious repetitions that open up new discursive possibilities.

Language is understood here as performative, i.e. it produces that which it names, which brings us to the idea that existence and discourse practices are intertwined (Butler 1997). Subversive speech acts may thus constitute living possibilities for those who have been allocated a less-than-human position in naturalized discourses about identity. The natural condition of such discourses is the effect of a repetitive citation that has ← 97 | 98 → disguised the subversive power of repetition itself. The idea of performative language has important implications for identity and for language learning. If language is performative, it is not possible to consider an ontology of being, or of a language system, if they are produced in performance.

This perspective may lead to a belief that volition reigns and that anyone can enact any gender or speak any language s/he pleases. However, performance implies limited freedom; one cannot act freely without suffering the consequences of transgressing sedimented performances (Pennycook 2007). Even having constrained freedom as its condition of possibility, the idea of language as performance is fruitful in working towards the mitigation of human suffering. Since the heterosexual matrix has been established as a matrix of intelligibility, people who do not conform to it become less than human. The same is true in relation to other regulatory ideals, for instance, race and social class. If Brazilian public opinion usually shows relief, and not grief, when poor black children are murdered, or when travestis (a specific gender and sexuality category in Brazil that describes people assigned a male gender at birth who embrace naturalized female performances, including dressing as women and surgically “feminizing” their bodies, but choosing not to undergo vaginoplasty [see Kulick 2008; Borba and Ostermann 2008]) are gunned down while working at prostitution sites (Baptista 1999), this probably means such categories of beings are not regarded as human, or as livable lives (Butler 2009).

The centrality of performative language in circumscribing what counts as human gives us a hint of the notion of the queer stance taken in this chapter. Following Nikki Sullivan (2003) and Guacira Lopes Louro (2004), Queer Theory is understood here as an epistemological positioning, a way of standing in the world that is guided by a drive to question traditionally constituted normative and violent concepts. The kind of relationship established is thus more relational than oppositional (Jagose 1996).

Therefore, the notion of queer literacies relates to such a positioning by taking traditional school literacy as a locus of thinking, and not by completely abandoning it. Queer literacies aim at asking questions, not at giving answers (Gibson and Meem 2005). In other words, queer literacies are not ready-made substitutes for school literacy; in fact they only exist as queer because traditional literacy is kept in the scene as an operative way of working.

← 98 | 99 → Queering School Literacy

Discussing different sexuality performances is not the only aspect of a queer literacies project. All ideas about knowledge production, school functioning, and classroom dynamics should be put into question. In such a project, classes are not teacher-centered, and the teacher is not regarded as the source of all relevant knowledge. The idea of legitimate knowledge is also queered when literacy practices usually banned from school are brought into scene as part of the curriculum, and not just as a “plus”, an extra class activity to offer students a break between a grammar lesson and a writing project.

This means that mangas and animes were used to teach language as a central part of the EFL classroom, and not just as quick “warm-up” or “follow-up” activities. Students’ knowledge about the stories was welcome, and it was usual to have them explaining in long turns why characters acted this or that way in the story studied in class. They could also produce mangas or write fanfiction (texts written by fans based on an “original” story they like; a complex remix practice, for they can mix characters and plots to create new stories) in English as part of their course assessment.

As I worked with a 10th grade high school class, the focus group was quite familiar with school literacy and culture. This could be regarded as an advantage, because all of them already knew how to work in groups, in pairs, and individually. They were also aware of turn-taking dynamics in the EFL classroom, because the group had been learning English since the 6th grade.

Even with all these advantages, the process was hard to realize. The sharing of responsibility for the learning process, the greater number of opportunities the students had to talk, the switching of physical spaces for the classes (multimedia room, computer laboratory, video room) and the changes in the placement of the desks in the regular classroom (in a whole-class circle, in pairs, in groups), and all of these occurring simultaneously with discussions about sexualities, made it difficult for students to understand that we were still in an institutionalized learning process. The talk about sexuality at school is usually framed as a moment for joking or for performing empirical knowledge about the matter (Epstein and Johnson 1998), and with the present project it was not different.

← 99 | 100 → In relation to the queering of EFL teaching hegemonies, the fact that the school’s English Department decided to focus on reading skills, and not oral proficiency, can be considered very queer by many traditional English teachers in Brazil. This means that the reading class is conducted in Portuguese, for we believe that demanding students to speak only English at this moment would impair participation, as the orally proficient students could be privileged. Besides, the classrooms in Brazilian public schools are usually composed of approximately 35 students, which makes it very hard to work effectively on oral proficiency. Following this institutionalized approach, including genres such as mangas is perfectly appropriate for the diversity of text genres to be considered. Nonetheless, the use of animes, as well as the themes presented in the Japanese productions used, might be considered quite queer for an EFL reading lesson at this school, especially because foreign language teaching is generally oriented towards both an autonomous literacy model and an understanding of language as a system prior to the social practices in which we engage. The discussion about performative language in the previous section, however, leaves us with no possibility of teaching language as only mastering grammar rules or practicing “native-like” pronunciation when language performance is central to determining who is human and who is not.

Most of the focus group, a 10th grade class, had been my students in the 8th grade, which means they already knew how I stood on the policing of sexuality performances at school. Despite being against any kind of punishing or policing of non-heterosexual performances, however, my practice as a teacher lacked a queer understanding of the matter. Whenever I tried to discuss sexuality, it was tentatively, unsystematically, and thus ineffectively, usually making the common mistake of scolding the students. They would listen and forget, not questioning their prejudices. It was necessary to undergo an action research process (McNiff 1988; Noffke and Somekh 2005) to face the question seriously and encourage changes. Such a process involved taking university courses on Queer Theory, for simply engaging in an action research project would not be enough. The ways in which the discussion about sexuality takes place can be harmful depending on how teachers position themselves (Epstein, O’Flynn and Telford 2001). If the classes end up reinforcing heteronormativity, this turns out to be hazardous to the non-heterosexual students. Action research implies making changes. However, considering the rigid sedimentation of the notions of sexuality ← 100 | 101 → in common sense, my idea of change is very specific. Any tiny movement towards new meanings is regarded as a change, and the friction between sedimented performances about sexuality and performativity is taken as the focus of the process.

The action research process took place in 2010. The group had three 45-minute classes a week, and 36 of them were audio-recorded. With the help of some former otaku students, I selected the material to be used with the group. As the discussion about performances of sexuality was meant to be guided by a queer understanding, I followed these guidelines for dealing with discourse in order to have students consider the crafting of some “natural” facts (questions based on Wallace 1992; Moita Lopes 2002, 2006; Fabrício and Moita Lopes 2010):

1.What’s the manga/anime subgenre (shonen, shoujo, yaoi …)?

2.What’s the source of the text?

3.Who’s the mangaka (the author)?

4.Why did s/he write about this?

5.What’s the subject?

6.Could we talk about the same topic in a different way?

7.What’s the importance of the visual elements in telling the story?

8.Is it possible to say the story is being told from the point of view of a specific character? Which one?

9.How are the other characters seen by this one? How does this character position him/herself towards others?

10.What linguistic hints can justify the previous answer? (systemic, visual, and sound choices)

11.What sexual identity is highlighted in this text?

12.How can it be noticed?

13.What other sexual identities are presented in the text? Why are they there?

14.In what social space is the discursive practice taking place? Could these identities be different in other spaces? How?

It must be noted that the word “identity” is questionable. Although I was aware that such a word might suggest a vision of identity as pre-discursive and fixed, rather than performative, I kept the word in the ← 101 | 102 → material used with the class, since these guidelines were used with teenagers and therefore needed to be expressed in a palatable and intelligible way.

Anticipating that some students might not be used to reading mangas, the first ones were chosen strategically – they did not deal with sexuality, because the aim was to introduce manga literacy practices to those who were not familiar with them. This first phase was necessary because Japanese graphic novels are read differently from Western ones. The order of the reading is determined by the size and placement of the drawings, and the mangas are read from right to left, following “an imaginary inverted arrow” (explanation by A. Orange, a student from the focus group), or “backwards” – if we consider the Western reading of graphic novels.

It is important to mention that the school has pedagogical norms that I had to blend in with the queering of school literacy, especially the rule concerning the final test: the last institutional assessment had to be identical for all groups in the same grade. This is the reason why not all of the classes were devoted to reading mangas or watching animes, as the following chart shows:

12 Mar. 2010 I–Death Note Seeing if students were already familiar with manga literacy and working with EFL reading awareness.
26 Mar. II–Death Note (women in society) The official school EFL material presented critical reading, with different texts dealing with women in society in different ways. Parts of the manga were used to bring another point of view to the discussion, as one of the characters is an FBI agent who quits work to become a wife.
7 May III–School Rumble Introduction to the plot of the manga whose anime dealing with performances of sexuality was to be watched. Discussion about naming systems as ways of labeling people.
21 May IV–School Rumble anime Discussing performances of sexuality by watching an anime hinting at a romantic relationship between two girls. The language used in the anime was also used to review for a makeup test.
24 May IV–School Rumble anime
28 May V–School Rumble anime
← 102 | 103 → 30 Aug. VI–Naruto – “Oiroke no jutsu” attack Compulsory institutional reviewing for the makeup test. Discussion about different performances of the character Naruto, who can momentarily turn into a naked girl to seduce his opponents.
3 Sept. VII–Naruto – Anime Music Video (AMV) and anime Presentation of two other moments in which Naruto executes the previously mentioned ninja attack. Especially in the AMV, an alternative story is told, and Naruto and his friend Sasuke discover new feelings for each other.
4 Oct. VIII–webquest – abusive relationships Work with the theme presented in the official EFL school material by using hypertexts, as part of the queering of school literacy. The theme of abusive relationships appears in the manga No Bra. The main character forces his transgender friend to submit to conditions for sharing his apartment: having her hair cut like a boy, wearing boys’ outfits, and so on.
22 Nov. IX–No Bra Discussing performances of sexuality, as the manga’s plot is about the emotional involvement between a young man and his former male friend who is now a girl. Students shared the man’s confusion towards her. The use of pronoun reference was of special importance, because the character in the story and the whole class referred to the transgender person as “she” before knowing she had a penis. After discovering this, the man began using “he”, while the class jokingly switched to “it”, which was a point of heated argument.
5 Dec. X–movie: School Ties Reviewing important themes discussed during the school year, such as sexuality, race and religion – it is important to say that this last theme was selected by the group.

← 103 | 104 → It is important to highlight how demanding an action research project is. I had to write research diaries and listen to the audio recording immediately after the classes so that I could plan for the following steps. Interviews with selected students from the group were frequent as well, as there were points that needed to be clarified during the process. Students were also invited, in class, to offer their interpretations of the recorded data.

Students gave themselves fictitious names, and I am identified as “Luciana” in the analyzed excerpts. There are discussions about the naming of research participants (Garcez 2002), and calling myself “teacher” could highlight my privileged institutional position. Surely not naming myself this way does not magically mitigate the power games involved. However, the queer literacies project demanded the troubling of naming systems, as they constitute ways of producing “facts” about people in specific manners. The queer orientation should apply not only to the classroom but also to the research as a whole. Even knowing that this could make the excerpts reader-unfriendly, I decided to continue calling myself by my first name, as all the students are called. The transcription key can be found at the end of the chapter, and was based on Schegloff (1997). As the reading classes were conducted in Portuguese, I had to translate the excerpts into English for this publication.

Queer Literacies in Action

In order to be established as a matrix of intelligibility, heteronormativity has been repeated over and over again, together with other regulatory ideals of what counts as human (whiteness, able-bodiedness, Bible-centered religiousness). As such, the appearance of naturalness of some performances is strong enough to allow me to design some expectations about common sense discourses in class, as the following excerpt shows.

The group had watched an episode of the anime School Rumble in which a new student comes to school. As a foreigner, she does not feel comfortable in the new environment and becomes friends with another ← 104 | 105 → girl who is regarded as “weird” by her classmates. This friendship is presented in a way that could easily be interpreted as lesbian to Western eyes. It does not matter whether they eventually become lovers, or whether the author really wanted to present them as lesbian: what is of interest is the way students in this class make sense of the story.

At the moment of the excerpt, we were talking about the two girls being best friends. It is important to say that A. Orange openly presents himself as gay to the class, and for this is ostracized by some of the boys.

Excerpt 1 – May 24th, 2010

1 A. Orange two girls (together) can only lead to one (.) one certain thing
2 Luciana what do you mean A. Orange? I don’t get it
3 A. Orange (it’ll lead) to one thing
4 Patrick it depends
5 Luciana what do you mean?

Patrick ((talking to A. Orange)) if you and I are put in a room I’ll beat you to death

Luciana but the fact that you are inside the room already suggests something is going to happen?

Patrick in A. Orange’s case in A. Orange’s case (.) you are in the room with him (.) he’ll touch you (.) what you gonna do?
12 Luciana but just a moment=
13 Patrick =A::H!
14 Class ((all speaking at the same time))

Luciana why have you got this idea about people who have something like (2.0)
17 Patrick sexual preference

Luciana yeah (.) different from the majority making a pass at everyone all the time?

Astolfo Ma’am! It’s not about who’s homosexual! (.) it’s about A. Orange (he makes passes at us!)
22 Night even at Dumb ((nickname chosen by student)) Ma’am!

Luciana do you keep on making passes at everyone all the time? ((A. Orange shakes his head)) so you are all joking (.) I knew it!
← 105 | 106 → 25 Class ((unintelligible))

Luciana folks this is very:: embarrassing you keep on saying these things (.) it’s not like that

A. Orange this is humiliating (.) I’m going to the restroom (.) I got depressed
30 Patrick felt the word cutting?
31 A. Orange yeah it did it did hhh ((A. Orange leaves the room))

In the beginning of the school year, before the mangas and animes were used, I wrote an excerpt of Madonna’s song “Words” on the board (“Words / they cut like a knife / cut into my life / no I don’t wanna hear your words”) and we discussed the injuries caused by language. If language is our condition of existence, then the ways in which people talk about us are central to placing us inside or outside humanity. Dehumanization plays out in language, especially in the use of pejorative or offensive lexicon (Butler 1997). Surely the repetition of the matrix might have led them to ignore such a discussion, and the class, especially Patrick, Night and Astolfo, all three of whom are male students, use this moment to disqualify A. Orange because of his homosexual performances. In saying he “makes passes at everyone” they echo a common sense assumption about gay men being sexually interested in any man they approach, which construes them as a menace. Interestingly, boys usually value hyper masculinity performances of making passes at each and every girl, but when it comes to a supposedly hyper “gayness”, instead of being self-critical about their own “macho” performances, they feel threatened.

This shows the extent to which regulatory ideals of sexuality are naturalized, as these three boys cannot bear any breaking of the rule. Desiring other boys is enough to construe A. Orange as sexually uncontrollable, untrustworthy (he denies everything but the boys still view him as a threat) and deserving a beating. Patrick’s threatening turn in lines 6–7 functions as policing of A. Orange’s performances, telling him that he should control his advances. Strangely, Patrick reminds the class of Madonna’s song in line 30, even after having threatened his classmate with more than words before. A. Orange frames Patrick’s commentary as a joke when he laughingly leaves ← 106 | 107 → the room, but the fact that Patrick threatens him and afterwards puts the knife metaphor into action could very easily be interpreted as another warning towards the policing of A. Orange’s performances.

My turn in lines 15–16 may be considered the effect of the performative school silence about non-heterosexual performances. It is worth mentioning that silence can be a powerful speech act, as it reproduces the status quo (Sedgwick [1990] 2008). Even having studied the discursive construction of sexualities and being aware of the need for discussing them at school, I cannot confidently do so, and my hesitating pause is filled with Patrick’s suggestion in line 17. Educators who talk about sexuality are in a touchy position, for sexuality is “very dangerous territory for teachers” (Epstein and Johnson 1998: 123). It is no easy task, and not only may the naturalized performances be brought to class in very violent ways, but performative silence can also be strong enough to affect the queering literacies project, as this excerpt shows.

As was said before, commonsensical discourses about sexuality were expected to emerge in the process of queering school literacy. What is of notice here is the way I acted – or did not act – during the class on May 24th. Despite all the planning, the moment of putting the project into practice demands a draining attitude of being attentive to each and every possibility of shaking the sedimented discourses brought by the students. The following excerpt shows how such shaking could take place.

The four-student group was working together on an exercise about Naruto’s Oiroke no jutsu attack. As the group was composed of three otakus (Henry, Boss, Arcanjo) and an otome (Aiacós), one of the recorders was left near them. At this moment, Arcanjo performs a “good student” role by telling me his classmates are talking about the unspeakable: non-heterosexual performances.

Excerpt 2 – August 30th, 2010

1 Arcanjo Ma’am! people are saying a bunch of bullshit here!
2 Aiacós oh damn it!
3 Arcanjo they’re here saying something about a traveco ((‘traveco’ is an offensive word for ‘travesti’ in Portuguese, similar to she-male))
4 ← 107 | 108 → Henry he’s the one who’s saying so
5 Boss it’s him!
6 Henry he’s the one saying this
7 Luciana you guys are very (silly) what’s up?
8 Arcanjo I’m thinking like this (.) how old are they?
9 Henry and how old [are you? ]

Aiacós [seventeen]

I’m eighteen!
12 Boss I’m fifteen [but I’m more mature than you]
13 Arcanjo [you look like a 12-year-old ]
14 Luciana technically he’s not a travesti but a transsexual
15 Henry he gets transformed
16 Arcanjo there was the rumor about me seeing someone here in Lapa ((Rio de Janeiro neighborhood famous for its bohemian nights and great variety of openly enacted sexuality performances))
17 Henry sorry?


Arcanjo you know? (0.2) I didn’t want to bring it up but as we’re on the topic of transsexuals (.) I saw a certain someone with an almost-woman
21 Henry shut up Arcanjo!
22 Arcanjo hand in ha:(h)nd all romance
23 Boss then he said
24 Arcanjo then I said ((unintelligible))
25 Aiacós I don’t understand what this has to do with what we are doing here
26 Luciana folks this is=
27 Arcanjo =his life [Ma’am it’s none of] my business
28 Boss [is this a noun? ]

Luciana listen (.) your classmate does it and you think it’s weird Naruto does it and you don’t think it’s weird (.) why is this so?
31 Arcanjo nope (.) Naruto ((unintelligible))=

Luciana =it should be the other way around right? Naruto does it? okay! my classmate does it? okay! so it’s all okay right?
34 Arcanjo no problem! for me there’s no problem at all

← 108 | 109 → Despite the ongoing project, students at this moment still frame the topic as inappropriate to the EFL class. I try to reframe it as legitimate and central to the class in lines 7 and 14, when I tell them that: (1) mocking is no adequate frame for these matters (you guys are very (silly) what’s up?); and (2) the words “travesti” and “transsexual” are legitimate for talking about sexuality in class (“technically he’s not a travesti but a transsexual”). But my turns do not seem to be enough, for Arcanjo goes on defying the legitimacy of what is discussed in class. If it’s all right to talk about travestility and transexuality in relation to a manga character, he tries talking about “deviant” performances supposedly enacted by Henry, a “real” person. Henry seems to expect such a topic to be reprimanded, and tries to avoid being scolded by telling Arcanjo to shut up. However, as I knew about Arcanjo’s commitment to the Naruto series, this turns out to be a precious moment to shake his discourse by means of comparing Naruto’s performances with Henry’s.

It is important to mention that both Arcanjo and Henry are black students, and the first one is seen by the class as hyper masculine, while the second one is considered gay, even without enacting gayness as openly as A. Orange does. Arcanjo could be said to be enacting the same kind of disqualification played by Patrick, Night, and Astolfo in the first excerpt (May 24th). The difference is that processes of racialization have hypersexualized black people, making gayness an unauthorized performance for a black boy (Barnard 2004). As the topic of diverse performances of sexuality had been made legitimate in class, Arcanjo may have been enacting a double move to test how much I would “take”. In challenging the queering literacies project by bringing to class what he considers unspeakable performances from “real” friends, he may have picked Henry not only because he was next to him, but also because of the double deviance he performs: black gayness. Considering that the topic of non-heterosexual performances almost always leads the class to immediately mention A. Orange, the fact that Arcanjo chooses Henry and not the “openly declared” gay student allows this reading of the episode.

Given the previously discussed strong “natural” appearance of the heterosexual matrix, any reading of the transcripts should consider every little movement towards subversive speech acts. During the class when No Bra was discussed, the group was in the multimedia room. The pages from the manga were shown with the use of a digital projector, and some otaku ← 109 | 110 → students volunteered to read the characters’ parts. After reading the story, the guidelines for considering discourse were shown, as well as some transcripts from previous classes. The aim was to destabilize opinions the students had previously defended, and that now made no sense if applied to this specific manga. For example, the students used to say that men had strong biological sexual impulses and could not control themselves. In the manga, however, the boy perfectly controlled his sexual instincts, because he became aware of the biological male condition of the beautiful girl he had before him.

As part of the queer literacies project, we often had discussions about naming systems, and at this moment I am telling A. Orange to be cautious of the terms he employs:

Excerpt 3 – October 22nd, 2010

1 A. Orange don’t be (.) don’t advocate for homosexualism
2 Luciana homosexualITY watch your words
3 A. Orange sorry?
4 Luciana homosexualism (0.2) this suffix [ism  ]
5 A. Orange [homosexual]ITY::
6 Student [OUCH!  ]

Luciana [ah much better] (0.4) this suffix ism is related to illness (.) to the time when this was part of an illness list
9 A. Orange then it is really homosexualism
10 Class hhhh
11 Luciana I don’t get this boy
12 Fernando nobody does Ma’am nobody does (0.3)

Luciana no just a moment (.) slower slower (0.2) what’s the genre? Boss already figured it out
15 Boss shonen

Luciana it’s a manga for boys (.) shonen (.) next slide (0.4) what’s the subject of the story?
18 Boss travestism
19 A. Orange homosexualism

Luciana well Helena believes the subject is sexuality (.) someone else said travestism
← 110 | 111 → 22 Boss it was me
23 Luciana [someone else said]

Xuxa [(sorry?)  ] travestism? ISM? travestism? (0.2) watch your wo::rds
26 Luciana °there’s no other word°
27 Helena abusi:ve abusive relationships
29 Helena [abusive  ]
30 Luciana [travestility] (.) tha:nk you Xuxa

The discussion about performative language and iterability seems far from abstract if we consider this excerpt. In previous classes, Xuxa frequently employed prosodic resources such as tempo staccato while articulating the word “homosexual” whenever I asked her to avoid “fag”, “dyke”, and similar pejorative words. In this way, she marked her disdain towards the queer literacies brought to class. In this excerpt, however, she surprisingly iterates my words to show me how careless I had been with them. Not only does she call my attention to the inappropriateness of the suffix -ism, but she also proposes a very adequate re-naming when she realizes I cannot do it. The fact that she yells at my legitimizing of the illness-related term “travestism” is related to the queering of traditional literacy taking place. Students traditionally cannot yell at nor correct teachers, and Xuxa comfortably does both, because the naturalized classroom dynamics had already been put into crisis, as well as the ways of knowledge production. The student reprimands me for not practicing what I preached, and comes up with the daring “travestility”, which was in accordance with the project developed since the first day of class.

Final Remarks

Some discourses are expected when teachers dedicate themselves to discussing sexuality with teenagers. Disqualification of non-heterosexual performances and of the discussion itself is an example, and the teacher-like ← 111 | 112 → drive to preach and scold the class needs to be avoided. Sermons about the discursive constitution of sexualities are useless to students, because we cannot expect them to learn anything if they do not become reflexively involved in the learning process. Having them interact with their own assumptions and putting those assumptions into question seems more valuable, because this way they can realize that the basis of what they had assumed is actually uncertain and not natural.

This points to the importance of regarding queer literacies as more than inserting non-heterosexual performances into the curriculum. School culture should be put into crisis by reconsidering naturalized concepts about classroom dynamics, teachers’ and students’ roles, legitimate knowledge, and power. If school literacy operatory dynamics are not queried, queer sexualities might very well be understood as detached concepts to be memorized to please the teacher and get good grades.

Surely queering literacies would be much more effective if schools embraced the project as a whole. However, getting all teachers to work on such a project is a hard task, even harder than carrying it out with a group of teenagers. As was previously discussed, sexuality is a touchy and dangerous topic for teachers. Moreover, the appearance of substance of some narratives, especially ones about sexuality, is too strong to be quickly undone.

This research also questions the insistence of schooling in ignoring literacy practices in which young people take part outside of school. If literacy practices are closely related to identity performances, ignoring out-of-school practices is a way of ignoring performances related to them that are meaningful to students. Furthermore, in limiting school literacy to few traditional practices, schooling also limits the possibilities of enacting identities, for it only legitimates certain ways of performing them.

This is why Nelson Rodriguez (1998) very appropriately suggests that schooling, associated with heteronormativity, leads to sexual fascism. I would add that such fascism is by no means focused on sexuality alone. Other regulatory ideals are produced by this traditional school literacy: good race, good social class, good religion. As was said before, just by not mentioning diverse performances for these performative axes, schooling reinforces the norm.

← 112 | 113 → Schooling based on the assumption that the borderline is not the limit, but the place from where we never leave, is more responsive to the interpellations of the contemporary world. It is worth repeating that it is quite fallacious to offer schooling based on modern certainties when the only certainty we have nowadays is contingency.


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Appendix: Transcription Key

(.)brief pause, fewer than 2 seconds; exact time of longer pauses is indicated in parentheses
[ ]simultaneous speaking
(( ))researcher comments
( )somewhat incomprehensible
CAPSlouder tone of voice
:long vowel
-sudden interruption
underlineif it is only part of a word, emphasis; if it is complete sentences, they were spoken in English
,intonation similar to presenting a sequence
(h)in the middle of a word – there was laughter as the word was being spoken
?rising intonation, as in a question
!intonation showing surprise
°word°something spoken in a low voice← 115 | 116 →