Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

In my Writing Pedagogies class this week we’re reading chapters from Jonathan Alexander’s Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies (2008), which is also on the CCR Exam List. The book calls our field to consider teaching sexual literacy, “the knowledge complex that recognizes the significance of sexuality to self- and communal definition and that critically engages the stories we tell about sex and sexuality to probe them for controlling values and for ways to resist, when necessary, constraining norms” (5). Central to this approach is the consideration of narrative since (1) it is the primary means of the “discursive turn” in sexuality studies (see Foucault) and (2) as Butler reminds us, gender performances are repetitions that (hetero)normalize and socially construct sexuality and sexual identity. By revisiting these normalized scripts through carefully designed curricula and instruction and drawing from insight of queer theory, Alexander proposes that we work with our students to interrogate our sexual “self and subjectivity” since it is central to a 21st century literacy. Sexual literacy thus means “knowing how to talk and communicate about sex and sexuality” and “coming into an awareness of the norms that figure sex and sexuality in certain prescribed and culturally normative ways” (63). Although Alexander doesn’t exactly offer up his ideas as a full fledged course in FYC, he does argue for at least portions of our curricula to incorporate objectives that would make our students sexually literate.

While I haven’t drawn from queer theory in the comp classroom, I did collaborate with Emily a few years ago to develop a unit in WRT 205 (our sophomore-level research course) centered on sex work and labor. In that unit our students had to synthesize diverse texts on gender and sex work such as Alexa Albert’s researched nonfiction text, Brothel (about the comings and goings of a brothel outside of Reno, NV), as well as her more scientific texts from the American Journal of Public Health. It wasn’t as comprehensive of a curriculum as Alexander advocates in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy, but I do remember the unit was an easy sell and the class discussions were fascinating. I don’t remember any students feeling uncomfortable with the content either, so I’m not sure why I didn’t reprise it (though Emily has since developed and enhanced the curriculum since her MA dossier focused specifically on the narratives of sex workers, and specifically trans sex workers). I’m not sure if I’ll revisit a sexual pedagogy in the near future, and I wonder why that is. It’s not like I’m unconvinced by Alexander’s arguments; I do see value in drawing from queer theory especially to engage all students with narratives of sexuality. And I’m not too concerned with making a mess or mockery of sexual pedagogy, though I’d definitely show this amazing clip from SNL last year (trust me, it’s worth sitting through the commercial):

I suppose part of it is figuring out how to avoid the add-on, supplemental approach to this pedagogy when I’m not committed to going whole hog with the curriculum. Alexander has kindly agreed to Skype with us today, so perhaps I’ll ask if he has ideas on this.