- Teaching Queer: Radical Possibilities for Writing and Knowing by Stacey Waite
In Teaching Queer: Radical Possibilities for Writing and Knowing, Stacey Waite analyzes student writing, class discussions, and assignments in her undergraduate first-year writing courses, to illustrate the possibilities of queer pedagogy to disrupt the normative composition classroom. Waite’s project is simultaneously memoir and theoretical exploration, weaving together the personal, political, and pedagogical experiences of her 17-year teaching career. Operationalizing queer as a verb (e.g., to queer), she advocates pushing beyond queer topics (e.g., LGBTQ-themed texts) or queer subjects (e.g., teachers and students who identify as queer) toward a pedagogy that queers approaches to teaching, learning, and writing in the classroom. Teaching Queer forwards queer pedagogy as both an orientation and practice, exploring “the terrain where queer theory, writing, and pedagogy overlap, intersect, and move into one another” (5).
Waite considers the complex relationships between pedagogy, masculinity, and identity in Chapter one, “Becoming the Loon.” Waite mobilizes the loon—the only species of bird that both swims and flies—as metaphor for the refusal of queerness to be categorized. The chapter unfolds in (queerly) fragmented paragraphs that alternate between descriptions of the loon, personal and pedagogical narratives, and high theory. Drawing on Jack Halberstam’s Female Masculinity1, Waite reflects on how her own embodiment of queer butch lesbian materializes discomfort and opportunity when students are encouraged to question what counts as normal. When a student response to Kate Bornstein’s Gender Terrorist2 invokes women wearing ties as ridiculous, Waite must straddle her dual role of both catalyst (teacher who assigned the reading) and object of study (the woman wearing the tie). Embracing vulnerability, Waite theorizes the body itself as pedagogical and underscores the precarity often encompassed in “becoming the loon.” “Courting Failure” becomes the central focus in Chapter two, and Waite uses Halberstam’s Queer Art of Failure to position failure as inevitable and integral to queer pedagogy. She explores the failure of language systems to discuss writing [End Page 221] form and process, and notes that writing in “the ‘right’ way” (61) is traditionally taught as a five-paragraph outline: introduction and thesis, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. During one writing workshop, Waite’s students question the utility of the standard thesis. The class responds by renaming the parts of an essay using the metaphor of the body: the thesis transforms into a heart, pumping energy to each part of the body; the connecting sentences become muscles, flowing and extending from the heart; the essay takes on a sexuality that wants and desires. As the parts of the essay are renamed—queered—students reorient to writing practices and format. Waite offers this activity as an example of queer form that, when deployed as a method of queering the classroom, attends to failure as the moment of opportunity to think, read, and write differently.
These “Alternative Orientations” to thinking, reading, and writing are expanded in Chapter three, as Waite sifts through myriad ways that education, and the classroom itself, is as a “house made of norms” (87). Syllabi, due dates, university policies, and assessment are peppered throughout the chapter illustrating the embedded rigidity of higher education. Using the metaphor of dolphins, animals that must consciously remember to breathe, Waite theorizes “habits of mind” (89) as intentional orientations toward uncertainty, inquiry, and destabilizing normativity. She draws upon policy statements and syllabi excerpts to showcase how alternative orientations of queer pedagogy—habits of mind that bend toward uncertainty—can permeate even the most rigid documents. For example, Waite resists the convention of the classroom as “safe space,” instead inviting students to embrace the discomfort of interrogating “the norm.”
In Chapters four and five, Waite connects habits of mind to pedagogies of practice that ask teachers and students to imagine queerer (e.g., nonnormative) futures. In “Becoming Liquid” (Chapter four), Waite reflects on how queer habits of mind turn into “queer literacy” (125), the ability to apply queer lenses to their lived...