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Queer Theory and the Writing Center


Joleen Contillo
21 March 2016
Introduction
The concepts of queer theory and the Writing Center are not ones that seems to be related
at first glance. Indeed, it seems to be the case that queer theory is often thought of as an other
discipline, a subtopic that is only taught is specialty courses or studied by queer individuals
exclusively. However, there is a growing a growing body of work that covers how queer theory
can be related to the field of compositional studies. In particular, there is emphasis on how queer
theory can be used to queer thought, and how that can be directly applied to instructional and
tutoring sessions. The following bibliography examines several articles that discuss queer theory
in relation to the field of composition and rhetoric, and includes ideas and suggestions for how
these ideas can be directly and practically applied to the Writing Center.

Banks, William P. "Queering Outcomes: Hacking the Source Code of the WPA Outcomes
Statement for First-Year Composition." Writing Program Administration 36.1 (2012):
204-08. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
Banks opens by using the example of the movie Magic Mike to demonstrate an issue with the
idea of audience. He describes how all of the individuals involved with the film had an extremely
narrow view of the audience for the film, believing that only women would watch it, and being
shocked to discover that gay men were also very interested in the film. Banks extends this idea to
writing and compositional studies. He describes how many students often have an extremely
narrow view of audience, and struggle with getting past very strict and stereotypical views of
male and female audiences for their writing. He believes that queering writing standards and
compositional studies is a step to solving this problem. He proposes what he sees as an ideal set

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of future composition standards for the outcomes statement of his own organization (WPA): a
technologically advanced interactive web-based application where users could click on concepts
and be taken deeper and deeper into the research, including not only the more famous queer
theorists but also the newest emerging authors as well. He sees this as a way to bring diversity to
the outcome standards for all subfields of composition and rhetoric, not only queer theory. He
refers to this as an Outcomes Statement-as-portal and sees it as a way to rethink the current
standards in a framework that is more changeable and adaptable, as well as one that everyone is
able to participate in and learn from. We as tutors in the writing center can take from this the idea
of viewing audience with a queer eye. By viewing audience in a more complex way, we can add
a layer of depth to a piece of writing that wouldnt otherwise be there. Thinking about audience
in a queer manner can help with that, and we can help pass this along to our tutees, especially in
situations where the audience theyre writing to is more complicated than just their professor.
Audience is a subject that weve discussed to some degree in class, and one that is likely to come
up in our sessions, so this is a unique and useful way to approach it.

Doucette, Jonathan. "Composing Queers: The Subversive Potential of the Writing Center."
Young Scholars in Writing 08 (2011): 5-15. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.
Doucette writes about how he hopes to take queer theory and queer writing pedagogies and apply
it directly to writing center practices in hopes of working to help combat the absence of
queerness in compositional studies. He views the writing center as a potentially subversive space
and place to begin combating the standard heteronormative rhetoric that is abundant in the field
of composition and rhetoric. He uses personal experience to illustrate the struggle of using queer
discourse in a predominately heterosexual academic community. He proposes that the concepts

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of interdisciplinarity (engaging with a text in multiple and intersecting ways) and


intersectionality (the study of the overlapping aspects of different social systems and identities
such as gender, race, sexuality, etc.) should be used to help bring queerness in to compositional
studies. He further directly relates this to the writing center, and asks what tutors can do to ensure
they are creating a safe and inclusive atmosphere for non-straight students that come to the
center. He concludes by stating that he believes this responsibility rests on the tutors shoulders,
and it is our job to make sure we queer the writing center and make sure we recognize all
students different identities and ways of thinking as legitimate, so that we can give them as
much help and support as possible. Our class can work to make this idea a reality at our writing
center. We can pull from this the idea of queering our thoughts to help make the writing center a
safe space for everyone, which I think is absolutely a goal of our center. We should always try to
consider how our biases might affect students who come in to the writing center, and actively
combat those biases if they have the potential to be invalidating and hurtful to any tutees. This
will enable students who come in to feel safer and more welcome, and therefore hopefully get
more out of their tutoring sessions.

Koski, Frank F. "Queer Theory in the Undergraduate Writing Course." ERIC Document
Reproduction Service (1995): 1-12.. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
Koski uses four different teachers as example to illustrate different ways to bring queer theory
into undergraduate writing courses. She describes the benefits of doing this, including helping
students become more experimental and imaginative with their thinking, improving their critical
analysis of historical texts, and allowing them to better analyze and write abut their own personal
experiences. While we are tutors and not professors, and therefore many of her suggestions in the

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article are impractical for us in the writing center, we can still pull some concepts from here and
apply it to tutoring. We arent teaching queer theory, but we are likely to come across students
who are working on a writing assignment about it. We can remember to be open and encouraging
in these situations, and not make any student feel like they are being judged or cannot adequately
express themselves. Educating ourselves on queerness, even (and especially) those in our class
who arent queer, can help us better interact with and help all of our clients at the writing center.
I believe this goal can in part be accomplished simply through familiarizing ourselves with the
literature on queer theory and introducing ourselves to the major concepts. Furthermore, we can
bring these concepts into practice by being mindful of both the idea of queering our thoughts and
of the potential queer identities of our students. The prior will enable us to look at our sessions in
a different and more subversive manner and help create more adaptable sessions for all of our
clients, queers or not. The latter will enable us to be more sensitive to the different identities of
our tutees. We can be mindful of our words by actively trying to use less heteronormative
language, such as not assuming all clients are straight until proven otherwise. For example, if the
situation was appropriate and the question came up, we might refrain from asking a female client
if she has ever had a boyfriend and instead ask the question in a gender-neutral way by asking if
she has ever dated or has ever had a romantic partner. These small, mindful changes in our
language can go a long way to hopefully help foster a more accepting and comfortable in our
writing center.

Murphy, Christina, and Steve Sherwood. "Queering the Writing Center." The St. Martin's
Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011. 263-84. Print.

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This article argues that those working in writing centers should work to queer their thought to
help engage with the various identities and structures in the writing center. They describe
queering thought as using sexuality as a lens to look out of, to help analyze and interpret things
in another way. It is another way to view the nonstandard, which includes all identities outside
of the standard white, middle-class, and male academic identities. They write that we can queer
tutoring sessions by finding subversive methods to move past conventional and ordinary
practices. By thinking critically about our use of language and trying to find ways to queer our
tutoring sessions, we can benefit from the added layer of inclusivity and subversiveness that
queer theory offers. This critical thinking can help us engage with and invoke the different
identities of individuals we work with, and better foster a safe and knowledge-inspiring
atmosphere. The goal of this atmosphere would be to better interact with all of our clients,
whether they identify as queer or as another nonstandard identity (which I think the vast
majority of clients at our writing center do, UH being as diverse of a campus as it is). We can
queer our sessions to find unique and better ways to work with each different student we
encounter.

Nelson, Cynthia. "Sexual Identities in ESL: Queer Theory and Classroom Inquiry." TESOL
Quarterly 33.3 (1999): 371. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.
Nelson discusses the benefits of teaching queer theory over gay and lesbian theory, and combines
it with teaching ESL. He defines queer theory as analytical and useful for more inclusive
teaching practices in a classroom setting, as opposed to more civil rights oriented like gay and
lesbian theory. He believes it is useful for a teaching setting because it helps be more inclusive of
all minority identities. In this way he relates it to teaching ESL. We as a class can especially learn

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from this concept as we deal so much with second-language writers in our writing center. By
considering queer theory in general, we can help ourselves be more inclusive for both queer
individuals and ESL individuals. Considering how language and culture affect identities can help
us when working with tutees and their writing, and enable us to help them to our utmost
capabilities.

Peters, Brad, and Diana Swanson. "Queering the Conflicts: What LGBT Students Can Teach Us
in the Classroom and Online." Computers and Composition 21.3 (2004): 295-313.
Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Peters and Swanson discuss the benefits of teaching queer theory in a classroom setting. They
argue that it is necessary in order to have the most complete and beneficial rhetorical repertoire
for teaching, and that it helps instructors better understand and therefore help their students.
While the article has an emphasis on teaching online, it discusses teaching writing in an
applicable way. They discuss how queer theory can help students reflect on texts, particularly
argumentative ones, and therefore strengthen their own understanding of the arguments and their
writing about it. They emphasis that it strengthens students use of ethos in particular. While our
class is not an online one, and we are tutors instead of teachers in a classroom, we can still pull
some ideas from this article. We can consider queer theory and how the language and rhetoric of
it can help in our tutoring sessions. We can use this more inclusive language, especially when
working with a client who has an argumentative paper, and share these ideas and language with
them to help them improve their argument and understanding.

Spurlin, William J. "Theorizing Queer Pedagogy in English Studies after the 1990s." College

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English 65.1 (2002): 9. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.


Spurlin defines queer theory as a mode of critical pedagogy that looks past the normative
ideologies and practices, not only in regards to sexuality, but in a larger context that includes but
is not limited to the family, politics, nationality, imperialism, and censorship. He describes it as a
way to analyze the use of language and what it means to be in the academic community. He
believes this has an especially important place in undergraduate English classrooms. He draws a
connection between the shift towards incorporating queer theory and to the study of postcolonialism. Our class can draw from this the importance of teaching queer theory, because even
though we arent teaching it in the same way, we can keep in mind how it connects to the various
disciplines that Spurlin describes, and use it to help negotiate these topics. It can help us think
about what our place is in the academic community and in the writing center, and how that
affects how we relate to the students that we tutor. It can add an added layer of complexity to our
tutoring sessions that will hopefully benefit the tutees by helping us relate to them and
appropriately work with them.
Conclusion
While initially queer theory and compositional studies dont seem to have much to do
with each other, there are many concepts that can be pulled from the former and applied to the
latter. However, there is still an unfortunate lack of discourse surrounding queer theory in
relation to the Writing Center specifically. This is a shortcoming that will hopefully be remedied
with time, as the field grows and is studied more. In the mean time, below is a table that
introduces many of the major topics that are covered in the above articles, with added
commentary that gives suggestions on how these ideas can be applied to tutoring in the Writing
Center.

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Queer Theory Heuristics Table


Subtopics or Concepts
Interdisciplinarity

Definition
Engaging with a text in
multiple and intersecting ways

Intersectionality

The study of the overlapping


aspects of different social
systems and identities such as
gender, race, sexuality, etc.

Queering thoughts

Using sexuality as a lens to


look out of, to help analyze
and interpret things in another
way

Queer theory in the classroom

Introducing queer theory and

Tutoring Implications
In order to foster the most
welcoming and accepting
environment were able to, we
should always try to consider
how our biases might affect
students who come in to the
writing center. By doing so,
well be better able to actively
combat those biases if they
have the potential to be
invalidating and hurtful to any
tutees
This and interdisciplinarity
can help bring queerness in to
compositional studies.
Educating ourselves on
intersectionality will enable us
as tutors to always keep the
concept in the back of our
minds and be aware of it in all
sessions, which will hopefully
help us see connections
between subjects and foster a
more accepting environment,
which is one of our ultimate
goals
This can help us engage with
and invoke the different
identities of individuals we
work with, and better foster a
safe and knowledge-inspiring
atmosphere. Queering our
thoughts is a step to queering
our sessions, which is a way to
make them subversive and to
challenge the norm. This is
one possible method to help a
client, as it is a unique way of
looking at things that can help
us see things and try things we
wouldnt otherwise.
While we arent teachers in a

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queer literature into the
curriculum of undergraduate
writing courses

Queer Theory

A mode of critical pedagogy


that looks past the normative
ideologies and practices, not
only in regards to sexuality,
but in a larger context that
includes but is not limited to
the family, politics,
nationality, imperialism, and
censorship

Queer Theory vs. Gay and


Lesbian Theory

Queer theory is analytical and


useful for more inclusive
teaching practices in a
classroom setting, as opposed
to more civil rights oriented
like gay and lesbian theory.

Queer language and rhetoric

Inclusive language that is used


in the LGBTQ+ community,
including non-standard
pronouns (such as the gender

classroom setting, we work


with many undergraduate
students and we can pull
concepts from this to help
students reflect on texts,
particularly argumentative
ones, and therefore strengthen
their own understanding of the
arguments and their writing
about it. This includes helping
students become more
experimental and imaginative
with their thinking, improving
their critical analysis of
historical texts, and allowing
them to better analyze and
write abut their own personal
experiences
By educating ourselves on
queer theory, we will be better
equipped with the skills
necessary to queer our
sessions. In addition, we will
be able to create a more
welcoming and comfortable
environment for queer
students and staff, because we
will be more informed on the
nature of queer theory and the
language used within the
community.
Keeping in mind this
distinction will be useful for
us in queering sessions and
our thoughts, because it will
help us not view queer theory
as only relating to the social
rights movement for the
LGBTQ+ community, but as a
broader concept that is
applicable to many different
situations
We can be mindful of our
words by actively trying to use
less heteronormative
language, such as not

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neutral they/them) and the
idea of heteronormativity

Heteronormativity

The dominant cultural and


social belief that
heterosexuality is the norm.
This encompasses the idea
that there are two distinct
genders (male and female)
that all people naturally fall
into, and that they naturally
are romantically and sexually
attracted to the opposite
gender.

assuming all clients are


straight until proven
otherwise. For example, if the
situation was appropriate and
the question came up, we
might refrain from asking a
female client if she has ever
had a boyfriend and instead
ask the question in a genderneutral way by asking if she
has ever dated or has ever had
a romantic partner. We can use
this more inclusive language,
especially when working with
a client who has an
argumentative paper, and
share these ideas and language
with them to help them
improve their argument and
understanding, as well as help
ensure that we are creating a
safe and inclusive atmosphere
for non-straight students that
come to the center.
The writing center is a
potentially subversive space
and place to begin combating
the standard heteronormative
rhetoric that is abundant in the
field of composition and
rhetoric. It is our job to make
sure we queer the writing
center and make sure we
recognize all students
different identities and ways
of thinking as legitimate, so
that we can give them as much
help and support as possible.
This will enable students who
come in to feel safer and more
welcome, and therefore
hopefully get more out of their
tutoring sessions

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