- My Gay Agenda:Embodying Intersectionality in Children's Literature Scholarship
On a summer's day in Columbus, Ohio while attending ChLA's 2016 national conference, I am sitting beside three other women of color, preparing to provide our views on the needs of minority children's literature scholars. The hotel conference room is fairly basic, chairs enough for sixty, perhaps seventy people. I look at the glass of water sitting on the table in front of me as condensation darkens the tablecloth—the cold water in the glass and the few water molecules floating around the too-dry hotel conference room attempt to reach an equilibrium. As the organizer, Dr. Katharine Slater, begins by introducing Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, then Dr. Marilisa Jiménez García, then me, and finally Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, I wonder if I belong. I wonder if I belong at the table, at the conference, in academia.
I am not unique in my "imposter syndrome" musings. Many women who choose to enter academia are familiar with feeling inadequate or as if we are unwelcomed guests. For me, being in a room full of children's literature scholars always shines a spotlight on my "otherness-es." During our individual presentations each of us talks about how it feels to be on display as a minority scholar and the irony of this, as I sit on display, is not lost on me. When we invite others to share their stories, we listen to those in the audience. None of the stories are surprising. Women share incidences of microaggressions, macroaggressions, objectifications, and outright discrimination. These stories are echoed and confirmed by others in the room, and for many it is empowering to be believed. The ninety minutes is filled with story after story of being pushed aside, silenced, and belittled, and I look down at the table in front of me and wonder, why do we do it? Why do we place ourselves into such vulnerable spaces where we are undervalued, ignored, and hurt? [End Page 104]
Professionally, I am situated as the children's literature person in a teacher education program. Teacher education is overwhelmingly White and female so I work with an overwhelmingly White, middle class, straight, and female population who are preparing for one of the most difficult and undervalued careers they could choose. I have noticed there is something about teacher education that makes speaking about, recognizing, and reflecting on people's identities off-limits or suspect. Therefore, it is not uncommon for me to be accused of having a "gay agenda." I've read the phrase on student evaluations, reviewers' comments, and heard colleagues use it to dismiss my arguments, assertions, and even my life experiences. Let me be clear, I have an agenda, and it is an out and proud agenda, but it probably isn't the one most people assume. My agenda isn't simply gay. My agenda is a race-class-gender-and-all-kinds-of-identities-that-make-people-uncomfortable-and-unsure agenda. In short, my agenda is an intersectional agenda.
In this essay I will present a blend of personal narrative and traditional academic scholarship to provide insight into the ways that I enact an intersectional agenda in the children's literature classroom. I focus on what we do with children's literature in our college classrooms. We choose the voices, stories, and narratives that are heard and silenced by the selection of scholarship and texts. If we, as a community of scholars, are truly interested in a shift in the ways children's literature enacts diverse voices, we must also enact that shift in our classrooms as instructors. I share this with fellow children's literature scholars to consider the myriad of identities that can enrich not only the stories we read but also the ways we push our students and ourselves beyond comfort—the comfort of normal, neutral, and known literature and scholarship.
The term intersectional was first used by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a law professor who published a framework that recognized the ways multiple identities such as Black and Woman had an additive effect in the erasure of specific...