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Embedding the complexities of gender identity through a pedagogy of refusal: Learning the body as literacy alongside our students

By sj Miller, 2018

Students with non-binary gender identities enter into our schools with gender identities they seem to already readily understand. These students are highly attuned to how schooling practices mostly speak to binary gender identities and reinscribe cis-and-gender identity normativity. Considering that access and recognition shape and inform students’ identities, those with nonbinary gender identities are positioned by their gendered relationality to school-based relationships, which are co-constitutive of the other. Their bodily awareness enables them to dislodge from the norms that many students are vulnerable to inheriting and embodying. As they move back and forth between their in-and-out of school lives, their bodies are generating different forms of literacy. Outside of school of-school, their gender identities are always in conversation as they simultaneously question its construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. When they are recognized through the eyes and/or words of another, their validation confers gender identity selfdetermination, and this legitimization generates emergent language, positioning them as agents of literacy. Their gender identities then are complex and indeterminate, and provide the field of education an opportunity to have a different relationship with the body that is expressed through different manifestations of refusal. Expressions of their refusals that resist assimilation and enculturation, posits them as both dexterous and agentive as they move from context to context. The body then as literacy, is a source of learning literacy. This research shares how a group of students with non-binary gender identities spoke to teachers, counselors, principals, school personnel, peers, and family members about what they needed to feel safe, included, and legitimized at school. Dr. Miller has included an extended and rich set of resources from these findings and additional appendices which can be used in teacher education as well as in pre-K-12 classrooms.

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