External links open in a
new window. Close the window to return to this document.
The Transgendered and Transgressive Student
Rhetoric and Identity in Trans-Queer Ethnography
This instructor/student co-produced webtext examines the challenges and benefits of creating a
trans-queer ethnography in the context of the computer-mediated writing classroom, in academia, and in the cultural
terrain of contemporary America. By juxtaposing personal
reflections, course materials, theoretical reflection on
gendered identity, and research on gender in the electronic
composition classroom, this web text unravels and
reconstitutes perspectives on the value of creating transgressive transgendered texts in the computer-mediated
- What difficulties does a student encounter when constructing a text that
transgresses academic notions of ethno-methodology traditionally held by many social science instructors?
difficulties does a student encounter when constructing a text that
transgresses binary notions of gender typically held by classmates in a
computer-mediated writing classroom?
- In what ways does a student have to
navigate social pressures of family, peers, faculty, and administrators in
order to produce a self-reflective, self-exploratory text about
transgendered identity that will be
posted on the web?
In the Winter of 2002, the authors participated in a pilot course called
Ethnography. This web text unravels the experiences of
Marshall Kitchens, the instructor who directed the course
and mediated student interactions with each other and with
the institution (such as through the Human Investigation
Committee), and Lindsey Larkin, at the time a senior in sociology who
chose to investigate drag king culture from an auto-ethnographic perspective
in a project titled "Performing
Gender: Drag King Culture in Metro Detroit." Larkin explains her purpose in
constructing a trans-queer ethnography: "It was about self-
exploration. I definitely didn't write it to persuade
anyone, except myself. And, that is a point I want to focus
on . . . the way I choose to separate myself from the 'lens
of straight culture' and at the time, in order to find power
and identity in queer culture I felt like it had to come
through me. I think that's why it often times felt so
scandalous...transgressing... because I hadn't allowed
myself, or been given the opportunity in the academic realm
to explore these issues on my own terms."
observation engages the questions raised by
Suzanne De Castell and
(1998): "What might the ethnographic field
colonized by queer subjects, the ethnographic text written
from its margins, look like?" Their claim is that the goal
of queer ethnographies is to "reveal the wires and pulleys
and supports of the everyday context within which 'the
normal' is invented and stage-managed, rendering its strange
artifices and carefully wrought illusions evident, naming
the ways in which social and cultural life are selectively
re-presented to members as stable, reliable, necessary."1
While to some degree this revelation is directed toward the
reader of the ethnography, we argue that the most
significant revelation is to the student
investigator herself about her own understanding of gendered
identity. Rather than choosing a classical Aristotelian
rhetorical construction that might more effectively move
classmates, faculty members, and others to a more
sympathetic understanding of transgendered identity, Larkin
chose an impressionistic, self-reflective rhetorical style
that assisted her in understanding, accepting, and
celebrating her own views of transgendered identity.
This web text, like
the student project itself, employs
entertaining and playful methods to examine a
difficult/painful issue. In an email exchange with Kitchens,
Larkin explains, "I see drag now more as a way to criticize
relations of power in a patriarchal and heterosexist
society. During the same time I was working on the
ethnography I organized the clothesline project (a visual
display of tee-shirts made by and for survivors/victims of
sexual violence) and wrote a
for the Oakland Post disclosing one of my own stories of abuse (I was
raped/assaulted, targeted as an out lesbian) and for the first time I
thought about how I actively rejected and limited my queer identity for many
years. For me, engaging in this project was very much about regaining power
and voice that I didnít think was mine as a queer woman." Gender
explorations such as drag king shows are seen as semi-temporary, and
therefore feel "safer."
As Larkin explains, any one can dress up, and
then leave, although it's hard to watch a drag show and then remain exactly
the same person as you were before. In the same way, this web text will
shift identities, trying on different personas, exploring different
perspectives, and leaving the reader with an unsettled sense of identity and
a greater understanding of the relationship between student research and
self- constructed identity.
Student Auto-Ethnographic Project on Drag Kings
Course Web Site
Student Column in Oakland Post: "Breaking Silence"
Alexander, Jonathan. (1997).
the closet and into the network: Sexual orientation and the
computerized classroom." Computers and Composition, 14
De Castell, Suzanne and
Bryson (1998). "Queer
Ethnography: Identity, authority, narrativity, and a
geopolitics of text." In J. Ristock & C. Taylor (Eds.),
Inside the Academy and Out: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Studies and
Social Action (pp. 97-110). Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.
Ekins, Richard and King, Dave. (2001). "Tales of the
unexpected: Exploring transgender diversity through
personal narrative." In Tarquam McKenna and Felicity Haynes
Unseen Genders: Beyond the Binaries (pp. 123-142).
New York: Peter Lang.
Namaste, Viviane K. (2000).
Invisible Lives: The Erasure of
Transsexual and Transgendered People. Chicago: University of
Plummer, Ken (1995). Telling sexual stories: Power, change,
and social worlds. London: Routledge.
Van Maanen, John (1988).
Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography. Chicago: University of
Wright, Janet. (1993). "Lesbian instructor comes out: The
personal is the pedagogy."
Feminist Teacher, 7(2), 26-33.
Yescavage, Karen and Alexander, Jonathan. (1997). "The
pedagogy of marking: Addressing sexual orientation in the
classroom." Feminist Teacher, 11 (2), 113-122.