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  • Unlearning the Violence of the Normative
  • Benny LeMaster (bio)

In this reflection, I explore queer worldmaking through a collective I founded on my campus called Trans Empowerment Group (TEG). TEG is a politically focused support group for transgender and gender nonconforming students. In this space, we voice embodied systemic traumas and work collaboratively to draw on “enfleshed” experiences as points of departure for political engagement.1 From here I discuss the theoretical and praxiological ground that constitutes TEG. In particular, TEG is informed by a queer deconstruction of normativity and a feminist commitment to consciousness raising.

First: Normativity. Yep argues the violence of cisheteronormativity2Injury—manifests in four coconstitutive sites: external, internal, discursive, and institutional. Healing from these types of violence includes unpacking and critiquing cisheteronormativity. One hopes that the result is queer worldmaking or “the opening and creation of spaces without a map, the invention and proliferation of ideas without an unchanging and predetermined goal, and the expansion of individual freedom and collective possibilities without the constraints of suffocating identities and restrictive membership.”3 Thus, Yep projects a movement from injury through healing to queer worldmaking.

Second: Consciousness raising. I quote bell hooks at length. hooks describes consciousness-raising groups: [End Page 123]

It was the site where they [women] uncovered and openly revealed the depths of their intimate wounds. This confessional aspect served as a healing ritual. Through consciousness-raising women gained the strength to challenge patriarchal forces at work and at home. Importantly though, the foundation of this work began with women examining sexist thinking and creating strategies where we would change our attitudes and beliefs via a conversion to feminist thinking and a commitment to feminist politics. Fundamentally, the consciousness-raising group was a site for conversion.4

TEG is modeled on second-wave feminist consciousness-raising groups with a queer focus on deconstructing normativity in all its intersectional iterations. The black radical lesbian feminist Angela Bowen trained me to facilitate consciousness-raising groups when she served as my undergraduate mentor. Bowen taught me to listen intimately and to embody vulnerability. As an Audre Lorde scholar, Bowen taught me to “ride the edge of each other’s battles” and to “forge coalition in our differences.” As a result, I seek to embody a pedagogy that affirms difference and that embraces the uncertainty of meeting difference.

In what follows, I draw on fiction writing as research practice to performatively script the collective and individual movement from injury to healing to queer worldmaking in TEG. Writing on fiction as research practice, Patricia Leavy argues, “The practice of writing and reading fiction allows us to access imaginary or possible worlds, to reexamine the worlds we live in, and to enter into the psychological processes that motivate people and the social worlds that shape them.”5 Drawing on the social scientific goal of verisimilitude, I seek to craft “realistic, authentic, and life-like portrayal[s]” that “come from real life and genuine human experience.”6 In this regard, all references to people or places are fictionalized and based on experiences working with/as transgender and gender nonconforming students over a number of years in TEG.

Injury: Enduring Exclusion, Evasion, Erasure

Internalized Violence

“Internalized [cisheterosexism], in the form of self-hatred and self-destructive thoughts and behavioral patterns, becomes firmly implanted in the lives and psyches of individuals in [cis-heteronormative] society . . . [and is in part secured through the normative framing of gender and sexual non-normativity as] anxiety-ridden, guilt producing, fear-inducing, shame-invoking, hate-deserving, psychologically blemishing, and physically threatening . . . [Cisheteronormativity] is so powerful that its regulation and enforcement are carried out by the individuals themselves through socially endorsed and culturally accepted forms of soul murder.”7 [End Page 124]

Student: I just don’t want to inconvenience my family any more than I already have after coming out as trans. I mean, like my mom says, it would have been easier if I were just gay. But I’m not even gay. I just feel like, you know, I made things pretty bad for my family.

Student: I just feel so behind. Like perpetually behind. I wasn’t supposed to live past 21 so here I...


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pp. 123-130
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