“In short, we want to move beyond the essentialist act of situating ourselves as scholars authorized to speak about specific issues; we want instead to argue for a kind of universal authorization of discourse.”
–Gibson, Marinara, and Meem
In this article, Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem argue for a fluidity of a teacher’s identity in the classroom. They advocate for engaging with contradiction, for speaking from the social margins, and for acknowledging the “changing shapes of difference–so we can locate ourselves within/as the process of negotiating class and sexuality” (474). They call for composition scholars to be self-aware and self-critical, examining their own positions and identities within the classroom. “We must think seriously about the identities we bring with us into the classroom, remain conscious of the way those identities interact with the identities our students bring, and insert ourselves fully into the shifting relationships between ourselves and our students at the same time that we resist the impulse to control those relationships” (486). They discuss the shifting nature of identity, the “paradoxical nature of power in the academy,” and the difficulty of negotiating that identity within those power structures (486).
“Bi: Playing with Fixed Identities”
Opening with a discussion of the complex and shifting way that stories can represent identity, “Bi” moves quickly to address the concept of “authentic voice” in writing. She addresses the problem of trying to express oneself from within a fixed political identity: “But the communal voice that is created tends to deny those voices their differences within those communities and ignore the complex, intertwined relationship between public and personal narratives” (468). Comparing this to the tendency of writing students to see the authentic self as “safe, static, inherent, and inviolate,” the authors reject treating the individual psyche as either completely unique or fixed within a particular political landscape. Instead, they note that “identity, the writer’s story and voice, includes the writer’s shifting relationships with the peculiarities of our culture” (469). Further, as identity is shaped by experience, the “Bi” section contrasts the reality of shifting identities with the “American dream” narrative of “rags to riches.” In reality, it argues, one can neither return to a working-class past once one has entered into a professional career, but neither can one fully leave it behind (469-470). Identity models such as our students may encounter in the classroom or as they enter into professional roles, the text asserts, may force students to give up aspects of their identities in order to fit within prescriptive social binaries, such as working/professional class, hetero-/homosexual, etc. (471-472).
“Butch: Personal Pedagogy and the Butch Body”
This section opens with a series of personal vignettes, offered together to invite the reader to consider privilege as fluid and variable. For example, the author notes that her identity as a “butch” lesbian has afforded her certain particular opportunities within the academy. She notes that a major error in assessing the nature of identity and its connotations is “assuming that identity categories are fixed, both in themselves and in the experience of privilege or oppression attached to them” (479). While, she admits, identifying oppressed groups may be necessary for them to attain recognition and political power for change, within the academy she calls for more complex consideration and examination of these identities and contexts. Instead, she suggests (adapting a concept from Judith Butler) that the move to complicate individual identity may be an implicitly revolutionary act. She concludes, “The stories I have told here have been intended to problematize [a simplistic schema of identity]. In my classes, in my college, and in the world, I will insist on owning, and performing, all of my incongruent identities; I’ll continue to be butch with the kids” (479).
“Bar Dyke: A Cocktail Waitress Teaches Writing”
The third section calls for the importance of “performing memory, especially as it relates to the construction of identity” (480). She recalls her experiences working as a cocktail waitress and emcee in a drag bar, how this prepared her for teaching and taught her to ‘work a room,’ as well as how describing this in a self-evaluation earned her warnings from a representative of the College Reappointment, Promotion, and Tenure Committee–discussing her past made the writer seem “not worthy of membership in the academic community” (481). Citing the lack of representation for issues central to her own life in her undergraduate career, the author explains her sense of obligation to “authorize those experiences by giving them voice and performing them” (482). She goes on to explain that her choice to identify with past experiences of marginalization and struggle was a calculated one: “I wanted to perform for those administrators an identity they usually associate with students they characterize as ‘not college material’ and then complicate it with an identity they usually associate with professionals they characterize as ‘successful'” (484). She then reflects on whether this act was successful or if it might be seen as, in its own way, an act of silencing–and here she closes on the idea that “without consistent interrogation, over time acts that originate as political resistance can become familiar and institutionalized, thereby losing their power to create change” (486).
Gibson, Michelle, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem. “Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality.” Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa E. Kirsch, Faye Spencer Maor, Lance Massey, Lee Nickoson-Massey, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. Print.