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  • Sexuality and the Politics of Ethos in the Writing Classroom
  • J. A. Rice (bio)
Goncalves, Zan Meyer . Sexuality and the Politics of Ethos in the Writing Classroom. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. 181 pp.

In many ways, Sexuality and the Politics of Ethos in the Writing Classroom articulates a central interest for feminist pedagogues: how can we, as educators, engender a classroom environment, space, or practice that best promotes critical awareness of and social action against such social ills as sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.? For Goncalves, this question is best answered through a pedagogy that helps students use various identity performances (especially those identifying as feminist and GLBT) and rhetoric/writing practices based on a revised understanding of ethos. This emphasis on ethos, she claims, helps us understand "how writers and speakers regularly craft identity performances for rhetorical effect" and how these identities are informed by/inform local and classroom contexts for social change (xii). By situating ethos and identity at the core of her pedagogy, Goncalves builds upon and extends much feminist and queer studies scholarship—most notably, those theories and practices that desire a more discursively pragmatic social strategy and/or politic. Sexuality and the Politics of Ethos in the Writing Classroom speaks to these concerns and others through five chapters and an extensive appendix of practices and activities for the writing classroom.

In the first half of the book, Goncalves situates her argument in an ethnographic study of the various rhetorical strategies used by five student speakers of the Stonewall Center Speaker's Bureau, a GLBT resource center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The Speaker's Bureau meetings offer unique strategies for GLBT speakers to construct a progressive and effectual ethos when speaking to an audience that presumably participates in "compulsory heterosexuality—a component of heterosexist discourse that literally demands only heterosexual expressions" (23). In contrast to compulsory heterosexuality, these Speaker's Bureau members offer a more nuanced conception of how identity is formed, maintained, and circulated within a heterosexual epistemology; that is, these students construct [End Page 254] a discourse and an identity by reconstructing or reconceptualizing ethos as a fluid and discursive method. Goncalves broadens the students' rhetorical practices by emphasizing how these rhetorics traverse boundaries of knowledge, values, etc. and produce specific identity performances for each particular audience and context. Thus, the importance lies in recognizing and teaching students how to become conscious of their specific identity performances given their particular context.

Particularly interesting here is Goncalves's notion of "outlaw discourse": to act as a gay man or woman "is to participate in a 'false' or 'illegal' expression of sexuality and gender that in turn upsets the gender hierarchy" (9). The very illegality of these "outlaw discourses," always grounded in concrete social situations (legalizing gay marriage, civil unions, equal pay, privacy rights, healthcare, etc.) not only implies the contingency and fragility of gender hierarchy and discourses, but also rightly politicizes identity performances as such. By teaching and practicing rhetorically fluid ethos in concrete situations, "outlaw discourses" or identity performances lay claim to "the 'truth' of various normative social discourses and in turn assert subjugated 'truths'" (18).

But, argues Goncalves, creating spaces for these "outlaw discourses" and "subjugated truths" does not include a radical systemic social deconstruction. Instead, these spaces encourage "student speakers [to] focus on creating allies who claim very different identities rather than finding allies who share a sameness of identity" (89). This subtle struggle between creating allies and finding allies is where Goncalves locates ethos as an invaluable tool for performing identities. For example, rather than forcing a heterosexual discourse to take into consideration any and all outlaw discourses, participants of the Speaker's Bureau utilize commonalities between the discourses to establish a common ground. The speakers therefore describe struggles with parents' acceptance; ridicule suffered from those demanding compulsory heterosexuality; desires and efforts to foster community, values, and family; etc. In short, these speakers used ethos as a space to actualize a progressive synthesis of differences within democratic exchange.

In the second half of the book, Goncalves employs the performative ethos of the Speaker's Bureau participants in the writing classroom. Her pedagogy focuses on fostering...


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pp. 254-256
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