Chapter 2: Narrative practice, queer theory and language

In this second chapter we are introduced to some of the foundational language and ideas for queering narrative practice. We’ll dive into the gender binary, queer theory and it’s relevance to narrative practice, fluid and imperfect allyship, pronouns and ways to avoid misgendering others. 


Watch this video of Mary Heath (she/her) sharing some of the things she has learned about sex, gender and sexuality:


Vikki Reynolds (she/her) reminds us that being an ally is not a static identity, we are always becoming allies through imperfection and fluidity. Wherever we stand, there will be opportunities through this course to practice ally-ing. This article includes some important reflective questions for exploring.

Fluid and Imperfect Ally Positioning: Some Gifts of Queer Theory– Vikki Reynolds.

So what is Queer Theory? Julie Tilsen (she/her) will introduce us to Queer theory and how it aligns with Narrative Practice. Julie has also included segments of a conversation with Jayson (he/him), a young trans man who talks about his experience of navigating the gender binary and rigid norms within the LGBTIQ community.


This article by Julie Tilsen and David Nylund (he/him) extends on the concepts in the video and helps consolidate our understanding of heteronormativity and homonormativity.

Resisting Normativity: Queer Musings on Politics, Identity, and the Performance of Therapy — Julie Tilsen and Dave Nylund

Zan interviews David Nylund about how his thinking and practice has evolved over time: problematising allyship and being a co-conspirator, reflections on his own gender, trans theory and materiality of the body. 


David mentions this video, a snippet of Janet Mock’s (she/her) trans activism.

Suzy Stiles (she/her) reminds us of the power and pitfalls of language in this discussion of the terms homophobia, heterosexism and heterosexual dominance.

The power of language— Suzy Stiles in Queer Counselling and Narrative Practice.

Aproximately 1.6% of the worlds’ population are intersex. Intersex people have innate sex characteristics that don’t fit medical and social norms for female or male bodies, and that create risks or experiences of stigma, discrimination and harm.’ [Intersex Human Rights Australia]

Intersex is often included within umbrella terms describing gender and sexual diversity and while there are overlapping experiences of discrimination, especially for intersex people who identify as gender and sexually diverse or who are visually gender non-conforming, there are also significant material differences. Transgender folks the world over are fighting for the right to access gender affirming surgeries, while intersex movements are fighting against harmful non-consensual surgeries and medical intervention.

In this powerful video, co-chair of Intersex Human Rights Australia Steph Lum (she/her) describes dominant and alternative stories of intersex bodies and lives. 


To learn more check out the resources for allies from Intersex Human Rights Australia.

Thinking about pronouns:

In English, as in many other languages, gender relations are articulated through language including pronouns. This is a significant realm of oppression and resistance for folks who are gender expansive (gender non-conforming, gender queer, transgender, and gender diverse). Gendered language isn’t exclusively weaponised against gender expansive folks, consider black cisgender men being called ‘boy’ and adult cisgender women being called ‘girl’. And the pronoun ‘it’ has been used to dehumanise many marginalised folks throughout history.  Language is powerful. 

It can take practice being more intentional about how we use gendered language rather than relying on assumptions and defaults. This article provides some helpful context and tools for practicing that. 

She/he/they/ze/hir: Talking about pronouns and gendered language Rosie Maeder (they/them), Tiffany Sostar (they/them) and David Denborough (he/him)

Perhaps you come from a culture or linguistic background other than English (maybe you speak multiple languages).

How are gender differences conveyed in those languages? Is there a strong linguistic distinction in how men and women are referred to?

What language is used to describe folks who exist outside of cultural norms of “men and women”?

Language isn’t the only way we relationally gender others- think about greetings, how close you stand, the level of eye contact, who gets included and who gets excluded from different spaces. If you usually use a language that does not use gendered pronouns, what other cultural indicators are used to gender people?

How do you avoid misgendering others?

We would like to invite you into a project of sharing stories of how we are trying to avoid misgendering others. Misgendering — referring to someone by the pronouns or honorifics of a gender that is not theirs — is a daily event for most trans people. How are we — as practitioners, as organisations, as friends, partners, siblings — trying to avoid misgendering others? No doubt this will be really different depending on our contexts.

We would love to hear the stories of the initiatives that you are taking, no matter how small.

Post them below in the forum or send them to Zan:



Reflection questions:

  • What do these resources have you thinking about the dominant ideas of gender, sex, sexuality, bodies or families that the folks you are working with experience? 
  • What dominant ideas of gender, sex, sexuality, bodies or families have you grown up with that you have resisted in some small or large way? What stories come to mind? 
  • What were the repercussions of that resistance?
  • How were you able to resist those ideas? What skills, knowledges or connections did you draw on in that moment?
  • What did that resistance make possible in your life? What did it make possible for others in your life?

Optional activity:

Plot your acts of resistance to norms of gender, sex, sexuality, bodies or families on a visual timeline (it doesn’t have to be a line!) Trace the histories of those acts- what movements, legacies, cultural traditions, relationships do they link to and include this on the timeline. What stands out? Where does it take you?

Perhaps as you continue on with the course, other memories might be sparked that you will want to add to this timeline.

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