Notes: Jonathan Alexander “Queer Theory for Straight Students: Sex and Identity” in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

Alexander, Jonathan. (2008). Queer theory for straight students: Sex and identity. Literacy, sexuality, pedagogy: Theory and practice for composition studies. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 102-126.


In this chapter, Alexander asks how straight students can engage in a critical literacy of straightness to confront the discourses that shape identity. To do this, he provides an example of his website in which he performed as a straight man with a secret and asked his students to analyze and respond to the website.

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


Monson, Connie & Jacqueline Rhodes. (2004). Risking queer: Pedagogy, performativity, and desire in the writing classroom. JAC, 24(1), 79-92.

Smith, Lauren. (2000). Staging the self: Queer theory in the composition classroom. In Calvin Thomas (ed.) Straight with a twist: Queer theory and the subject of heterosexuality. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 68-85.


“Beyond simply including queer voices into the mix, I think that queer theories and scholarship offer us a chance to critically examine the ways in which gender and sexuality are constructed, narrated, and deployed in the creation of identities, modes of being, and community…. As such, queer theoretical critique can help to underscore the intertwining of literacy and sexuality throughout our culture” (p. 102).

“Butler’s critique, combined with Plummer’s assertion of the centrality of the narrative of sexuality as central to many people’s identity, prompts me to ask, what is the story of “straightness”? With such a question, we can see how the critical examination of identities is also inevitably a rhetorical examination. More specifically, we might ask, how does one compose oneself or become composed as a “straight” person? And how does the repitition of a certain story or performance of “straightness” naturalize it…” (p. 106).

“[P]erforming a narration of straightness, inhabiting its story, might work its weakness from the inside out” (p. 107).

“I think it was revelatory for all of us to consider that straightness may be dependent on not calling it into question. As such, straightness–and its privileges–remain unexamined, normative: it just feels so normal because we don’t have to think about it” (p. 119).

“Indeed, students began to develop a sense of how narrations of identity depend as much on certain silences as they do on certain annunciations. In this sense, I think students developed a crucial understanding of an important dimension of being literate; that is, what is not articulated shapes our perception of the meaningful as much as what is articulated” (p. 121).

Questions and Reflections:

To what extent can the performing of the hoax be asked to be done by students as a reflective practice to engage with the limitations of their narratives? Is there a way to get students involved in the hacking of normative narratives and their production or curate artifacts to help with this?

Notes: Laura Klein, “Hacking the Field: Teaching Digital Humanities with Off-the-Shelf Tools”

Klein, Laura. (2011). Hacking the field: Teaching digital humanities with off-the-shelf tools. Transformations, 22(1), 37-52.


Klein works toward an understanding of where the digital humanities lies in education and links the digital humanities with educational technology. Klein works through several “off-the-shelf” or open-access technologies utilized within a classroom and analyzes this link.

Keywords: digital humanities, digital literacy, hacking, literacy, new materialisms, pedagogy, technology


Bianco, Jamie. (2007). Composing and compositing: Integrated digital writing and academic pedagogy. Fibreculture, 10.

Drucker, Johanna. (2009). SpecLab: Digital aesthetics and projects in speculative computing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Neary, Mike and Joss Winn. (2009). Student as producer: Reinventing the student experience in higher education. The future of higher education: Policy, pedagogy and the student experience. London: Continuum.


“By offering material models of openness and access, by fostering community and facilitating collaboration, and by illuminating the importance of process and method, these tools also offer an opportunity to address the increasingly hierarchical relationship between the fields of the digital humanities and educational technology” (p. 38).

“If the field of digital humanities is truly to define itself, as Drucker proposes, as “the study of ways of thinking differently about how we know what we know,” and about how the “interpretive task of the humanist is redefined” in the “changed conditions” of the present age, the field must focus on how ways of knowing are linked to the institutional structures that support scholarly work, and how those structures shape interpretive—and pedagogical—tasks. By facilitating collaboration across classrooms and disciplines, by emphasizing the contributions of free, open-source, and/or off-the-shelf tools, and by foregrounding the process of teaching—and learning—that takes place within the university, the creative application of platforms and design of projects, such as those described in this essay, are poised to challenge, to redefine, and to reintegrate ways of teaching and knowing in the digital age” (p. 48).

“Just as instructors and scholars must train themselves to harness the power of “constraints-based approaches” and off-the-shelf tools, they must also acknowledge the limits of tools, access, and knowledge itself. This way of knowing must be conveyed to students in the form of engaging classroom discussion, flexible assignments, and opportunities for personal exploration and growth. Only then can students arrive at their own understanding of their “interpretive task” as students—and as scholars— in response to the range of media forms that they encounter in the cultural fabric of their everyday lives” (p. 49).

Questions and Reflections:

In what ways can we get students to engage with open-source or off-the-shelf resources to invent stakes for student writers, to put them in a position that invites them into the inventive process through risk? In what ways can these sites become sites of hacking and disrupting of normative literacy practices?

Notes: Jonathan Alexander, “Beyond Texbook Sexuality: Students Reading, Students Writing” in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

Alexander, Jonathan. (2008). Beyond textbook sexuality: Students reading, students writing. Literacy, sexuality, pedagogy: Theory and practice for composition studies. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 75-98.


Alexander analyzes the ways in which student writers engage in the development of their own sexual literacies outside of the classroom, pointing out that the means by which they construct their literacies informs them in turn, by examining student newspapers, social media, blogs, etc. Alexander holds this saturated extracurricular circulation of discussion of sex and sexuality in contrast to the overwhelming lack of sex and sexuality within the composition classroom.

Keywords: composition, cultural rhetorics, literacy, literacy studies, LGBTQ, pedagogy, queer, queer rhetorics, sexuality, writing studies


Jordan, Jay. (2005). Rereading the multicultural reader: Cross-cultural composition readers and the reconstruction of cultural identities.” College English, 68.2.


“[W]e also need to keep in mind that the ‘ecologies’ in which those discourses [of sex/uality] take place are significant in constructing their ideological contents and shaping their reception” (p. 75).

“Certainly, the very act of talking in public forums about sex in direct, explicit, and even engaging ways seems boundary-pushing for many in our culture. These students are ‘outing’ sex as a not-so-strictly private issue, and their open discussion suggests their investment in providing information about sexual health and safety and sexual pleasure” (p. 85).

“In writing in these ways about sex, these students are participating in the construction and dissemination of discourses about sexuality that advocate for open exchange of information about sexual health as well as the right to enjoy actively sexual experiences, desires, and encounters. Participating in the shaping of such discourses constitutes these young writers’ sexual literacy” (p. 84-85).

“Moreover, queer authors are rarely identified as such—an omission we find disturbing since it contributes to the ongoing erasure of LGBT identities in our culture; while race and ethnicity are deserving of marking, queerness often isn’t considered relevant—or as worthy” (p. 91).

“[T]heir willingness to discuss sex in its social contexts… reveals an awareness of what I have been calling sexual literacy, a sense of sex not just as a private act but as connected to fundamental dimensions of identity, issues of social ideology, and aspects of political reality. Further, the sheer diversity of topics covered suggests a rich engagement with sex, sexuality, and sexual literacy. In many ways, then, the treatment of sex and sexuality in composition textbooks seems impoverished by comparison” (p. 92).

“When we think about, feel, and experience our gendered bodies, we have the opportunity to become aware of how we are called into specific gendered and sexual roles. When we think about marriage and our intimate relations with one another, we inevitably evoke difficult debates about the connection between personal happiness and public citizenship, and whose lives and relationships are honored—and whose are not. In each case—how we articulate our identities, how we annunciate and inhabit gender roles, how we describe the personal and political nature of our relationships—we are engaging in complex literacies that are inevitable wrapped up in sex and sexuality” (p. 98).


In what ways does encouraging the construction of sexual literacy discourse within the composition classroom shape their content? To what level does assessment influence the ways in which sexual discourse is discussed? Are there means by which assessment and the what we might call interior of the composition classroom be shaped in such a way to engage its exterior?

How might developing a critical sexual literacy allow help combat LGBT identity erasure? Would the spread of a greater language to discuss issues of sex and sexuality create a space in literacy to create markings and ways of talking about sex and sexuality that would be less uncomfortable? Would that contribute to a different kind of erasure? Or would a sexual literacy help create a means of discussing and articulating queer issues in compelling and critical ways that would allow queer issues to be met and discussed on their own terms?

Notes: Jonathan Alexander, “Discursive Sexualities: Bridging Sexuality and Literacy Studies” in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

Alexander, Jonathan. (2008). Discursive sexualities: Bridging sexuality and literacy studies. Literacy, sexuality, pedagogy: Theory and practice for composition studies. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 33-74.


Alexander develops his critical sexual literacy by exploring literature of sex studies, queer theory, and composition studies. Alexander puts these in conversation with each other to develop a pedagogy of sexual literacy, which he then demonstrates through a case study.

Keywords: composition, literacy, literacy studies, LGBTQ, pedagogy, queer rhetorics, queer theory, sexuality, sex studies, writing studies


Bell, David & Jon Binnie. (2000). The sexual citizen: Queer politics and beyond. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Cameron, Deborah & Don Kulick. (2003). Language and sexuality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Plummer, Ken. (2003). Intimate citizenship: Private decisions for public dialogues. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Turner, William B. (2000). A genealogy of queer theory. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.


“In this way, then, the movement of queering is more than just resistance, more than just negation; it’s recognizing possibilities that the forces of ‘authorization’ do not expect–it’s potentially taking advantage of the excess signification of language to envision and articulate modes of being, ways of being in the world, that exceed the expectations (and limitations) of authorizing discourse” (p. 47).

“… the cultural divisions through which we know ourselves and communicate intimately about our lives and identities–man/woman, hetero/homo–tell the story of our lives. Learning that story, learning how to communicate those stories and roles and thus articulate alternative life (and possibly collective) narratives of identity, community and agency–these are all part of what queer theory seeks to examine and critique. Queer theory understands that these stories are intimately taken up with issues of gender and sexuality, with the binarisms we construct around gender and sexuality, and it attempts to reveal those binaries for what they are: attempts to foreclose upon alternative narrations of identity and community. In this way, then, our literacies, our ability to imagine and articulate ourselves, is wrapped up in our sense of sexuality and the stories that we individually and collectively tell about it” (p. 48).

“… it [sexual literacy] means coming into an awareness of the norms that figure sex and sexuality in certain prescribed and culturally normative ways” (p. 63).


In what ways might a pedagogy of sexual literacy help create a space that Ahmed (2014) refers to as a “relief space”? By being able to articulate one’s sexual self and their narrative and being aware of culturally prescribed, normative narratives, can we create spaces in which people, particularly gender and sexual minorities, do not have to insist to be?

Are there ways in which the critical sexual literacy that Alexander is developing can provide a pedagogical frame for issues of sexual violence, rape culture, and provide spaces for survivors?

Notes: Jonathan Alexander “Introduction: Toward Sexual Literacy”, in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies

Alexander, Jonathan. (2008). Introduction: Toward sexual literacy. Literacy, sexuality, pedagogy: Theory and practice for composition studies. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1-30.


Alexander, in the introduction to his book, defines a critical sexual literacy that he argues is essential for the furthering development of a writing instruction after the social turn in composition studies that can acknowledge sexuality and literacy as interconnected. Alexander demonstrates, through scholarship in both queer theory and studies as well as the literature of the social turn in composition studies, the grounds by which a pedagogy of critical sexual literacy can and should be founded.

Keywords: composition, cultural rhetorics, literacy, literacy studies, LGBTQ, pedagogy, queer, queer rhetorics, queer theory, rhetoric, sexuality, writing studies


Berlin, James A., and Michael J. Vivion. (1992). Cultural studies in the English classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Heinemann.

Goncalves, Zan Meyer. (2005). Sexuality and the politics of ethos in the writing classroom. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Malinowitz, Harriet. (1995). Textual orientations: Lesbian and gay students and the making of discourse communities. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


“More significantly for us as writing and literacy specialists, sexuality–or the varied ways in which narratives of intimacy, pleasure, the body, gender, and identity become constructed and disseminated personally, socially, and politically–is itself a complex literacy event, evoking narrations of self, connections with others through complex discourses, and political formations mediated through ideological investments…. That connecting point–between our most personal, deep-seated senses of self and the ‘social norms’ that organize democratic societies–is often story, narrative, and ideological discourse” (p. 1).

“Put simply, the stories we tell about sexuality are part and parcel, even central at times, to the stories we tell about ourselves, individually, collectively, and politically. As such, being literate in our society–that is, being able to work knowledgeably, engagingly, and critically with some of the dominant stories that organize our lives, individually and collectively–must necessarily take into consideration an understanding of the complex ways in which sexuality plays a significant role in our personal and public self-definitions, in the ideologically valenced stories we tell about our lives” (p. 4-5).

“I see two primary goals for writing instruction and writing studies…. First, we need methods for writing instruction that allow all students–gay, straight, bisexual, or those refusing an identification–to articulate, understand, and critique the ways in which sexuality and literacy impact one another in contemporary Anglo-American culture…. Second, we as scholars and teachers need to recognize how some students are already undertaking such analysis in their own extracurricular literacy practices, as well as how our own pedagogies might benefit productively from such an analysis” (p. 17-18).

“I believe, though, that “sexual literacy”… should also be an intimate understanding of the ways in which sexuality is constructed in language and the ways in which our language and meaning-making systems are always already sexualized” (p. 18).

“Development of a sexual literacy, then, is development of fluency with the very narrations through which our identities themselves are often achieved” (p. 19).

Notes: Raymond WIlliams, “Introduction” to Keywords

Williams, Raymond. (1976). Introduction. Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. New York: Oxford University Press.


Williams writes reflects on returning to Cambridge after WWII and uses his memories to begin theorizing how the nature of words changes, binding certain words to certain values for certain groups. Williams creates a notion of keywords, then, as a means of recording and understanding the workings of and changes in the relationship between words and meaning.

Keywords: culture, discourse, keywords, linguistics, literacy, literacy changes, literacy studies, rhetoric


Williams, Raymond (1983). Culture and society: 1780-1950. New York: Columbia University Press.


“When we come to say ‘we just don’t speak the same language’ we mean something more general: that we have different immediate values or different kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often intangibly, of different formations and distributions of energy and interest” (p. 11).

“It [development of Keywords] is, rather, the record of an inquiry into a vocabulary; a shared body of words and meanings in our most general discussions, in English, of the practices and institutions which we group as culture and society… I called these words Keywords in two connected senses: they are significant, binding words in certain activities and their interpretation; they are significant, indicative words in certain forms of thought” (p. 15).


When he speaks of intrinsic meanings between words and those relationships, is this intrinsic meaning in the relationship of those words, making those relationships more political than they are intrinsic to the words–especially in the sense that dominant groups establish the language being used? Would these relationships and changes in them be records, then? The intrinsic meaning of words would thereby be evidence of a temporal moment and shifts therein.

Notes: Maria Popova, “Umberto Eco’s Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are More Valuable to Our Lives than Read Ones”

Popova, Maria. (2015). Umberto Eco’s antilibrary: Why unread books are more valuable to our lives than read ones. BrainPickings. Web.


Popova writes about the epistemic bias implicit in library logics that privilege what is already known as certain by doing a brief reading of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and the work of Umberto Eco, and, more specifically, the creation of the “anti-scholar.” There is value, Popova argues, in problematizing this epistemic bias, focusing on the unread (and thus unknown), and the formation of an antilibrary

Keywords: antilibrary, antischolar, information literacy, library, library science, literacy, literacy studies, theory, writing studies


Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. (2010). The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable. New York: Randomhouse Trade Paperbacks.


“We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations.”

“Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.”


Would this almost deconstructionist archive–the archive of what isn’t–explored in this resist the process of archiving? In what would this way of enacting knowledge be Derridianly spectral? And in what ways would the act of reading the unread and utilizing the knowledge it provides perhaps tarnish the anti in antischolar?

Are there means of composing texts that resist the act of assuming knowledge? In what ways can we enact a writing (post post process) that is not built on what is previously known–or at the very least, doesn’t own what is already known? Is collaboration too simplistic a means of enacting this–or, perhaps, authorship that acknowledges textual interconnections as ownership?