I use any pronouns, and I'm questioning everything else': Transgender youth and the issue of gender pronouns.

Year: 2017

Author: McGlashan, Hayley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation reports on a critical ethnographic study with queer youth in a co-educational secondary school in Auckland, New Zealand. The focus of this research was to explore how LGBTQ students actively negotiate their queer identities within the performative space of the schooling environment, and how the school supports them in so doing.
In this presentation, I am particularly interested in how students who identify as trans are expressing their identities in school, and how they experience school sites. The rainbow group at this school provides a cogent site for exploration of these issues. Rainbow support groups in schools are, however, not new. Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or Queer- Straight Alliance (Quinlivan, 2015; Quinlivan, 2013) groups have been around for some time. They vary considerably in their makeup and intention (See Quinlivan, 2015; Quinlivan, 2013; Talburt and Rasmussen 2010; Kosciw et al 2010; Youdell 2011; Mayo 2009) but are commonly extracurricular, student-centred groups where (LGBTQ) students, along with their heterosexual and questioning allies, gather for conversation, learning activities, and mutual support (Mayo Jr., 2013). Quinlivan (2013) discusses some of the tensions that school-based QSA's can encounter, both within the QSA and in relation to wider school politics. She argues that, if the intent of the QSA is to provide a safe space for queer youth who need support, then this can position students as 'abnormal' or 'at risk' and further increase the divide between heterosexual and queer. However, Quinlivan (2015 & 2013) and others (For example see, Mayo Jr., 2013; Mayo, 2009; Talburt & Rasmussen, 2010) have also highlighted how critical approaches to learning in QSA's can allow for the exploration of fluid subjectivities and non-normative understandings of gender and sexuality. While there is a body of work on sexuality support groups in schools (see, for example, Elliot 2016, Mayo 2013, Quinlivan 2013), there are few examples of the specific experiences of trans students within these groups.
In this presentation, I consider how the practices of a school QSA opened up new possibilities for the trans students, but I also explore how the group provided particular identity challenges. I will use the example of pronouns to explore these tensions. Drawing on the theoretical tools of Foucault (power and resistance) and Butler (the heterosexual matrix, intelligible subjects and performativity) I explore how the QSA at this school was at once a site of support and a site of contestation for transgender students.