Becoming Me At School/Becoming Me Online

Year: 2015

Author: Bansel, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Despite the heteronormative regulation of sexual subjectivity at school, and the silence and invisibility of knowledge of diversity, students are always already learning about sexuality in other spaces – including digital social media. Despite teachers’ best efforts to normalise and regulate students’ expressions of sex, gender and sexuality in the classroom, possibilities for non-normative identities are in constant production through the labour that young people undertake online.

In addressing the labour through which young people produce gendered, sexed and sexualised subjects in neoliberal times, I foreground the obligation of subjects to be self-reflexive; to labour, to learn and to discover and express the inner truth of themselves. In so doing, I articulate a constitutive relation between the truth of the ‘self’ produced in the heteronormative practices of schooling, and the multiple and possible truths and selves produced in young people’s engagement with digital social media. In considering the practices through which young people are engaged in the ongoing negotiation of their own sexual subjectivities, I re/articulate Foucault’s insistence that sexuality is not a natural biological and fixed truth of the self, but rather, constituted and regulated through historically specific and variable discourses and practices.

Yet if, as Foucault suggests, new realms of possibilities for sexual subjectivities are constantly being produced, where might we find these new possibilities in the hetero/normative practices of schooling? I take up this question by looking at the introduction of a new taxonomy of gender produced by Facebook (USA), and read it against accounts of experience collected from young people in the study Growing up Queer. Drawing on qualitative data collected in a national Australian online survey, and interviews and focus groups with young people at Twenty10, a Sydney-based service for people of diverse genders, sexualities and sexes, I consider the labour young people perform to produce the truth of themselves through digital social media and classroom pedagogies. In pointing out the extent to which queer young people labour online to manage the material impacts of the heteronormative practices of schooling, I suggest that schools/teachers have an ethical responsibility to all young people to ensure that heteronormative curricula and pedagogies do not re/produce homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination.