Radical Desires: Education as Queer Work

Why shouldn’t desire factor into our work as educators?

Since starting this blog, a few people have asked me why I decided to give a queer title and framework to a blog where so many of the discussions and posts are related to education. I have tried to answer these questions by stating that education, to me, is unavoidably queer work. This statement, I have found, tends to make people uncomfortable.

In my time working amongst educational collectives as a workshop leader, classroom teacher, tutor and after school coordinator, conversations about the links between queerness and education have been brought up many times, and have often been met with discomfort by many members of those same collectives. When people hear ‘queer’ and ‘education’ uttered in the same sentence, they tend to think it means teaching youth about being TLBG, or else that it implies a vision for education which is exclusively by and for TLBG people. While I am not strictly opposed to either of these potential transformations, I am attempting to think on a broader scale when I refer to a queer education.

Perhaps the the thing which most worries people when the idea of “queer education” is introduced is that it links two things that most of us accept as fundamentally separate: Sexuality and teaching kids. I have also learned from years of working with youth that queer mentors and educators are plagued with suspicion and read as dangerous in ways that their straight counterparts rarely ever are. Since queerness and all the identities included within it are usually understood to be inherently sexual, and often perverse–an understanding which, in my experience, originates amongst adults far more often than it does with children–queer people become marked as sexual in ways that no one else does, ways which are often deemed inappropriate for kids, sometimes to the extent that we are not allowed around younger members of our own families, or are fired from positions as teachers and mentors. These reactions from parents, family and community members, which I have experienced many times as a queer individual and educator, are part of the true and sometimes heartbreaking realities which all transgressives come up against in the efforts of revising our community’s traditions. Yet this is still not the primary point which a queer education brings up for me.

One the reasons why I have always loved teaching is because I see it as an extending bridge between all the fractured sections of my life. For me, there is no way to separate my work as an educator from any other part of my existence, because the areas in which, at any given time, I am trying to strengthen myself “professionally” are the same ones I am working on and struggling with personally; Being a voice of protest in the face of adversity and injustice; Advocating for myself while simultaneously acting on behalf of my community; Finding the balance between acceptance and resistance; Listening and being a more effective communicator; Trying to explain and to see things from perspectives other than my own. Just as I am always fighting to be my whole self within my family, amongst my friends, as a Black man in the queer community, a queer man in communities of color, a radical amongst politically and economically mixed circles, so, too, I am always struggling to be my whole self within a given learning community, to be as honest and authentic with my students as I intend to be with myself. For me, this does mean being out, it does mean illuminating queer histories and identities in the classroom, it means forging special bonds with other queer members of my school community, and it means challenging the oppressive traditions of every community with which I identify. Yet all of these acts and commitments, I believe, fall under a larger understanding of queerness and its relationship to public education.

When I speak of queer education, many seem to fear some kind of perverse melding of sex and the nurturing of kids. Yet to me, more than sex, more than sexuality, more than gender transgression, queerness at its heart is about desire: The desire to be whole, to live in liberation, to tear down the borders and boundaries which prevent richer interactions, to celebrate and locate joy where joy has been disbanded. Why shouldn’t these kinds of desires factor into our work as educators? After all, it is the same systems which render desirous teachers inappropriate which also segregate the learning process into the ghettos of Math, English, Science and History. The same bodies which tell us there is no place for our queerness in education also glorify quantifiable skills, swear by test scores, and value obedience in place of question asking and creativity. A queer education–one which which imagines students as community members instead of numerical products, which gives voice to the oppressed over the master’s narratives, which struggles for human rights and rails against privatization, and which equates love with learning–is precisely what is required if we are to labor in the direction of a global vision which is truly justice-oriented.

While queerness as a sensibility may be born from TLBG experiences and activism, the quality of investing in one’s outsider status is one with which all marginal people should gain familiarity, including radical educators. For ultimately, being a public educator means engaging in a deeply natural and inherently radical process within the confines of a profoundly unnatural and definitively conservative structure. And we realize, even as we are continuously devising new ways of surviving and navigating that structure, that the only way justice will be possible is if the structure itself comes down, and that it is exactly those of us who are silenced by it who must take on the responsibility of dismantling it. What could be more queer than that?

6 responses to “Radical Desires: Education as Queer Work

    • Thank you for reading, and for your feedback. Word, rewriting the acronym is a very small shift, but I’m glad if it’s one that’s meaningful. Power to you!

  1. this is so empowering and incredible–having to grapple with your identity and the process of helping to empower both yourself and your community does add significantly to one’s ability to empathize with and teach others. thank you so much for showing one of the myriad ways in which being queer is an asset to individuals and society. stay rad!

    • I think you touch on some things that were actually not in this article, so thank you so much for sharing your ideas. Engaging learning and empowerment as collective processes–things done for yourself along with your community–rather than as top-down or charitable, is necessary for a radical and liberatory education. Thank you for connecting that to queerness as a collective identity and community struggle.

  2. This article is very interesting, I admit I am not very familiar with queer / TLBG issues, but I agree with your view on education when you say it should be one which ‘imagines students as community members instead of numerical products, which gives voice to the oppressed over the master’s narratives, which struggles for human rights and rails against privatization, and which equates love with learning.’ I wonder though if this makes education inherently queer work? It would seem that this worldview would be found in people of all different gender identities, no?

    Kind regards,
    Pablo Arias

    • Yes, I hope that this worldview is one which can bind all different kinds of people together in imagining a radical kind of education, not only queer/LGBT identified people. I do think that queer perspectives and activism could provide some unique ideas and resources in helping us figure out how to get there, but the goal is to create a form of learning which incorporates all of our voices. Thanks for pushing for some clarification.

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