Notes: Jonathan Alexander, “Transgender Rhetorics: Sex and Gender” in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

Alexander, Jonathan. (2008). Transgender rhetorics: Sex and gender. Literacy, sexuality, pedagogy: Theory and practice for composition studies. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 127-150.

Summary:

Alexander advocates for a transpedagogy for students to not only encounter transgender voices, but also to attempt to grapple with the embodied reality of gender. Alexander includes a paired-fiction writing activity in which he asked his students to attempt a narrative gender transition with their writing partners, sharing out with the group to discuss the gender-narrative tropes and constructs that go into the composition of gendered realities.

Keywords: composition, literacy, literacy studies, LGBTQ, pedagogy, queer, queer rhetorics, sexuality, transgender

Sources:

Houle, Brian R., Alex P. Kimball, & Heidi A. McKee. (2004). ‘Boy? You decide; girl? You decide’: Multimodal web composition and a mythography of identity.” Computers and Composition Online.

Prosser, Jay. (1998). Second skins: Body narratives of transsexuality. New York: Columbia University Press.

Rubin, Henry. (2003). Self-made men: Identity and embodiment among transsexual men. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Quotations:

“Without a doubt, gender is a compelling, even controlling construct in our narration of identity to ourselves and others. An attempt to understand how our narrations of gender are formed, how they circulate socially and politically, and how they can be productively challenged when found to be too constricting should be an important component in becoming literate about the discourses of gender in which we are immersed and enmeshed” (p. 128).

“It strikes me that the exploration of  ‘harmful myths’ is a key part of a sexual literacy project, one that undertakes a close analysis of (with the ultimate aim of provoking productive resistance to) controlling and normalizing narratives and tropes of gender” (p. 130).

“[H]aving students write about gender, particularly to excavate the narrative tropes in which conceptions of gender and identity are embedded, fosters a sense of how discourse and normative rhetorics of gender are conduits of power, shaping our sense of what kinds of identities are “normal,” appropriate, and allowed” (p. 148).

“But moreover, such work is about writing, about looking at gender through the critical work of writing about gender, and about understanding writing, particularly narrations of self, as not just the “recovery” of a self but the construction of self” (p. 148).

“But we must also remember that gender is never purely discursive. It is experienced as a material reality, even as such realities may be discursively enabled, and I maintain that working with students on the narration and construction of gender is perhaps better served by metaphors and tropes that capture some of that lived and embodied complexity of gender” (p. 149).

Questions and Reflections:

I wonder what sorts of reflections and hacks can be made on harmful myth explorations particularly about gender and sexuality issues which so often play on our bodies, if an activity centered on hacking these harmful myths might be a productive way in to discussing a sexual literacy. If, through composing narratives, we can identify the tropes and gendered constructs, I wonder what would come of asking writers to attempt a history of those tropes, to identify the signifiers and how they are reproduced.

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