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: dcp@dulwichcentre.com.au


 

 

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.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Chantelle M

    • 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?
    These resources really open up my awareness and expand my knowledge and understanding around resisting the dominant ideas of gender, sex, sexuality and bodies. It has helped me to understand the bigger impact on individuals, when we are ignorant to changing our language and understanding. I feel the resources have really made me challenge those dominant ideas and have me wishing I had so much more enriched learnings and knowledges earlier.

    • 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?
    Growing up, it was really pushed that boys were boys and girls were girls. That each played with specific “toys”, had specific roles within a home and that if a child played with toys of the opposite gender more, or hung out more with those of the opposite gender they would be labelled e.g Tom Boy (female being more “boyish” ) or Sissy (if a boy was more emotional, preferred “girl toys”) even comments that boy is “gay” for choosing such actions. It really wasn’t about accepting someone for who they were. These conformed gender notions were forced onto you, and if you didn’t conform, you faced bullying, ridicule, abuse, judgement. It was also heavily pushed that there was only boy or girls. What you were born with, is what you were and if you did not conform to this, there was something wrong with you and you were viewed as an outcast.

    I think I really started to resist these notions (though I was never one to be worried about what others wanted to play, become, etc) as I hit late teens and moved into my 20s. I begun understanding that gendered norms/roles weren’t clear cut. That it could be and was so different. This really started emerging when I started working with OOHC young people. It was in this experience, I met the first trans-person I had really had any interaction with. She was a teenager in a foster placement, was Indigenous, and felt so alone and shunned by her community and her carer. I was one of the first who would sit with her, whilst she talked about names she would like to have for herself, what her interests were, the clothes she would like to be able to wear, and why having the anatomy of a male lead her to hating her body. She explored with me when she first felt she wanted to transition and talked through how she had been treated by her family and wider community and especially her carer. I worked closely with her carer, who very much held those “old school” values of Boy and Girl. The carer would restrict when the young person was allowed to wear her makeup and clothes, as the carer did not want to bring embarrassment or judgement. I would work with the carer to challenge her views and help advocate for the young woman’s voice and rights.

    • What were the repercussions of that resistance?
    This experience and my work with this young woman, really changed my views and understandings. It opened my eyes further to the extreme need of being inclusive, of not judging and gave me first hand experience at seeing the damage our structured and gendered norm views have, on the LGBTIQ+ community.

    In relation specifically to the young-person, she was able to access further support through Royal Children’s Hospital, to begin looking at hormone therapy and the possibility of a “Sex change”

    • How were you able to resist those ideas? What skills, knowledges or connections did you draw on in that moment?
    I think I resisted the ideas I was raised with, by allowing the young person to have open honest conversation, that was non-judging, accepting and curious wondering from myself, about how I could support her and advocate best for her within my role. The skills that were key here was the ability to just listen, not question, but simply listen and allow her to tell her story to me.
    • What did that resistance make possible in your life? What did it make possible for others in your life?
    I think for my own life, this resistance has meant that I have created my own values and beliefs, not just taken on what I was taught growing up. It has meant that my own children can be raised with an open view about gender, sex, sexuality, equality and inclusiveness. I aim for my children to be raised in a world without prejudice and with acceptance. I think by even challenging gender normed roles with myself being the main “bread winner” and my husband raising kids, has helped my own children to see that it is not man does this, woman does that. That all aspects of life are shared obligations.

  2. Avatar

    Bruna

    Awesome information about Queer Theory. It has provided me with so much knowledge.

    The information about pronouns is also very helpful and it is also a topic that needs to be discusses further as many people still not aware how to use. I have not seen many people adding their pronouns on emails until I become a Social work student in sexual health and we need to normalise knowing how people identify themselves it can be a step in deconstructing heteronormative.
    How do you avoid misgendering others? As social work student in sexual health I am aware that our Health system can not be inclusive and be gender binary in many ways such as medical forms limited to Female or Male. So when contacting clients I take care to understand how the person would like to identified and what is the preferred name instead of using birth gender name.

  3. Avatar

    Megan M. Matthews

    Hi, I’m Megan (say it: “MEE-gan”), writing from greater Cleveland, Ohio, USA; my pronouns are she/her.

    – 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?

    Many of the people I serve in my current work at a substance abuse treatment facility are African-American. It never fails to get my attention when I see examples of the differences between the dominant ideas around gender, specifically the gender roles and expected behaviors of women, that I observe coming from that culture as opposed to the ideas I felt surrounded by while growing up in the 1970s to mid-’80s in a middle-class suburban neighborhood entirely populated by White people. The African-American women who are clients where I work have – if I may put it this way – an aura or vibe about them that projects strength, pride, and dignity; this is the diametric opposite of the dominant paradigm which puts forth the notion that women must be meek, quiet, and subservient in order to be properly “feminine”. I have worked with several women at my agency who were struggling with trying to extricate themselves from abusive partners; without exception, these women were White. That really makes me think about the role that history can play in creating a culture and a dominant paradigm within that culture – that women descended from slaves can exude such pride that is visible in the way they speak, present themselves, and take up space in the world; and that this pride and self-esteem seems an order of magnitude greater than that of their White counterparts.

    – 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?

    I grew up as a second-wave feminist raised by a second-wave feminist; as such, I was studying the significant drop in young girls’ self-esteem in the areas of math and the sciences by the time I was fourteen years old. When I was very young, I observed the family of one of the neighbor girls and her four brothers, who despite their family size had a stay-at-home mom; my mother, in contrast, started college when I was eleven. She later earned a master’s degree and worked outside the home, thus proving to me that the dominant paradigm wasn’t the only available option. I also grew up surrounded by “nuclear families”: Parents (always two parents, and always a man and a woman) and one or more children, and nobody else. In contrast, from the age of seven I had extended family in my home-of-origin: my maternal grandmother, until she died when I was fourteen; and my mother’s sister, from around that point until I moved out on my own at age twenty-two. Because of that, I grew up thinking of extended families under one roof, and non-nuclear families in general, as perfectly normal.

    – 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?

    I have spent my life resisting a dominant paradigm around gender-role stereotyping; not merely the dominant paradigm of woman-as-wife-and-mother-and-very-little-else, but the dominant paradigm of women not having a choice about whether or not to take on that role. I have, in my life, been a stay-at-home housewife; I have been (and am now) a wife working outside the home. The important factor for me is that when I was embracing the paradigm of woman-as-housewife, it was by my own choice. Similarly, I have spent my entire adult life surrounding myself with family-of-choice, in my living arrangements as much as in my affections; My personal definition of “family” has gotten more expansive over the course of my life, to the point where it can be stated this simply: “My family is who I say it is.” My resistance to dominant narratives has made it possible for me to understand that simply rejecting dominant gender role stereotypes does not serve to address the deeper paradigm of having no choice. My resistance to narrowed definitions of what constitutes a “family” has made it possible for me to welcome people in my life into my family *as I define that term*, when those people were in many cases healing from toxic relationships in/with their families-of-origin; they, and I, would never have had the gift of each other’s presence as family otherwise.

  4. Avatar
    Jake Peterson

    I remember receiving the She/he/they/ze/hir resource in the Masters and found it an excellent introduction. I remember the first workshop I attended in which I noticed folks writing their pronouns on their nametags – this was in 2017. It’s becoming more common in Melbourne.

    ——————————————–
    Genderless language or gender-neutral language is intriguing to me … when you mentioned folks from diverse cultural backgrounds it got me thinking about some languages that might not have gendered language like Chinese or (I think) Tagalog

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