To queer Open is to imagine it as an emergent space always in process. Open Education is not confirmed by courses, platforms, syllabi, hierarchies, but exactly resists those containers, imagining a space for marginalized representation -- a space that recognizes our unique embodied contexts and offers opportunities for liberation from them.
The 2017 OpenEd conference recently announced a keynote
from the Global Education Initiative of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
A few clicks away from information about the Global Education
Initiative on LDS.org are words (which I will not quote) that
suggest LGBTQ people are subhuman, and that, while they
encourage compassion, the church's doctrine (this part I will
quote) “will not change.”
The community response to the OpenEd announcement was
swift, and the keynote was changed. But the conversation that
arose in the wake of the announcement continues.
Academia can be deeply hostile to gay, queer, and trans
people. And I'm continually unsettled by how infrequently this
Sadly, far too many academic projects, events, and publications
driven by LGBTQ people or issues are marginalized as niche or
What I see as most essential is a willingness to be human with
humans, talk things out, and learn every second.
I'm also unwilling to quote from Donald Trump's recent (and
vile) tweets proclaiming a ban on transgender soldiers in the
U.S. military. We shouldn't help his bigotry by amplifying it.
Retweeting abuse is abuse. Headlines quoting abuse are
abuse. We need to talk about this, but must be careful not to
do more harm as we do.
Trump's tweets have been called a “distraction” and yet a
recent Nation article (https://www.thenation.com/article/
points out why it can be deeply problematic to call his tweets
about the transgender ban a “distraction.” Richard Kim writes,
“Being at once anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT is
not a diversion from some secret Trump/Republican agenda;
neither is pitting us against each other. It’s what they do. It’s
who they are.”
For many LGBTQ folks, the fear of being shot, beaten up,
screamed at, is a constant nagging dread. Just being ourselves
puts us at risk.
On June 12, 2016, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, 49
people were killed and 58 wounded. It was the deadliest mass
shooting in U.S. history. Shortly after, a piece was published in
the Washington Post called, “How to talk to a queer person
who is afraid of dying.”
Carlos Maza writes, “If you have queer people you care about
in your life, talk to them. Always, but especially now. Maybe
they seem fine ... Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you
love them. Tell them your love doesn’t come with caveats. Tell
them it’s okay to cry. Tell them they don’t deserve to be
scared. Tell them that it’s okay to be scared anyway. Tell them
it’s okay to be afraid of dying. Tell them that they matter to you
— and that you want them here, alive, now. None of that will
stop an LGBT person from being afraid of dying.”
In February, The Trump administration and Betsy DeVos
rescinded President Obama's 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter
that recommended specific protections for transgender
students in U.S. public schools. The letter specifically outlined
the responsibility schools have “to provide a safe and
nondiscriminatory environment for all students, including
Increasingly, I think the work of education is activism not
My queer lit. course was once singled out by a national
conservative group as a "dishonorable mention” in their list of
“America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College
A sound, a whole sound is not separation, a whole sound is in an order.
Suppose there is a pigeon, suppose there is.
Looseness, why is there a shadow in a kitchen, there is a shadow in a
kitchen because every little thing is bigger.
The time when there are four choices and there are four choices in a
difference, the time when there are four choices there is a kind and
there is a kind. There is a kind. There is a kind. Supposing there is a
bone, there is a bone. Supposing there are bones. There are bones.
When there are bones there is no supposing there are bones. There
are bones and there is that consuming. The kindly way to feel
separating is to have a space between. This shows a likeness.
~ Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
In the Introduction to Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes,
“any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is
“As a high-school teacher, I kept quiet about my sexuality
because I didn’t want to draw attention to it. Instead, I created
a deafening silence, a vacuum that tugged on everything
around it and demanded attention by its absence.”
~ Christopher R. Friend, “Finding My Voice as a Minority Teacher”
Critical Pedagogy asks us to rethink our approach to the
classroom in fundamental ways, but it can also start in smaller
gestures, the choices we make when assembling a reading list,
the language we use in our syllabi when we present it, our first
words in a classroom.
Danielle Paradis writes in “The Pleasures, the Perils, and the
Pursuit of Pedagogical Intimacy,” “I’m speaking at the very
edge of what I’m trying to say. Learning is uncomfortable, and
the trouble with letting someone teach you is that it leaves a
mark — an impression.”
In 2014, I co-authored an abstract for that year's OpenEd
conference with Danielle. The title of our proposal was
“Queering Open,” and in it, we write, “Our work responds to
the frustrated conversation about the meaning of Open by
altogether challenging the impulse to neatly contain Open.”
Danielle and I continue, “To queer Open is to imagine it as an
emergent space always in process.”
And, “From this vantage, Open Education is not confined by
courses, platforms, syllabi, hierarchies, but exactly resists those
containers, imagining a space for marginalized representation
— a space that troubles distinctions between student / teacher
and formal / informal learning — a space that recognizes our
unique embodied contexts and offers opportunities for
liberation from them.”
“It does not seem possible to think of oneself as normal
without thinking that some other kind of person is
~ Michael Werner, The Trouble with Normal
For me, “queer” is more useful as a verb than as a noun. Nouns
are often fixed and immutable, whereas verbs imply movement
and action. It makes less sense to think about what “queer”
*is* and more sense to think about what “queer” does.
“A word so fraught as ‘queer’ is—fraught with so many social
and personal histories of exclusion, violence, defiance,
excitement—never can only denote; nor even can it only
~ Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “What’s Queer?”
“The story of identity in a learning space can’t be told by one
person, or even seven people, but only by a cacophony of
voices, a gathering together — of sounds, of ideas, of
~ Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, “CFP: Pedagogical
Alterity: Stories of Race, Gender, Disability, Sexuality”
bell hooks means something very specific when she talks of
Radical Openness, and so far the Open Education movement
has failed to tread that particular water.
In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “for me this place
of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge. Locating
oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a 'safe' place.
One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.”
For hooks, the risks we take are personal, professional,
political. When she says that “radical openness is a margin,”
she suggests it is a place of uncertainty, a place of friction, a
place of critical thinking. This is not an Open pedagogy neatly
defined and delimited.
Radical openness isn't a bureaucratic gesture. It has to be
rooted in a willingness to sit with discomfort.
What if dialogue were the stuff of open pedagogy and not
content? Radical openness means asking hard questions and
having hard questions asked always of us.
Teaching is always a risk. Learning is always a risk. But that risk
is not distributed evenly. A gay male administrator experiences
the classroom differently from a black teacher, a disabled staff
member, or a female student.
“We act—at our peril—as if 'open' is politically neutral, let
alone politically good or progressive. Indeed, we sometimes
use the word to stand in place of a politics of participatory
democracy.” When we use a word like “open,” or ones like
“agency” and “identity,” these should not be just empty
signifiers. We should be transparent, and even partisan, in our
politics. Especially as educators.
~ Audrey Watters, “From 'Open' to Justice,
“Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.”
~ Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”