Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies

Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies

Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies

Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies

Synopsis

Despite its centrality to much of contemporary personal and public discourse, sexuality remains infrequently discussed in most composition courses, and in our discipline at large. Moreover, its complicated relationship to discourse, to the very languages we use to describe and define our worlds, is woefully understudied in our discipline. Discourse about sexuality, and the discourse of sexuality, surround uscirculating in the news media, on the Web, in conversations, and in the very languages we use to articulate our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. It forms a core set of complex discourses through which we approach, make sense of, and construct a variety of meanings, politics, and identities. In Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy, Jonathan Alexander argues for the development of students' 'sexual literacy.' Such a literacy is not just concerned with developing fluency with sexuality as a 'hot' topic, but with understanding the intimate interconnectedness of sexuality and literacy in Western culture. Using the work of scholars in queer theory, sexuality studies, and the New Literacy Studies, Alexander unpacks what he sees as a crucial--if often overlooked--dimension of literacy: the fundamental ways in which sexuality has become a key component of contemporary literate practice, of the stories we tell about ourselves, our communities, and our political investments. Alexander then demonstrates through a series of composition exercises and writing assignments how we might develop students' understanding of sexual literacy. Examining discourses of gender, heterosexuality, and marriage allows students (and instructors) a critical opportunity to see how the languages we use to describe ourselves and our communities are saturated with ideologies of sexuality. Understanding how sexuality is constructed and deployed as a way to 'make meaning' in our culture gives us a critical tool both to understand some of the fundamental ways in which we know ourselves and to challenge some of the norms that govern our lives. In the process, we become more fluent with the stories that we tell about ourselves and discover how normative notions of sexuality enable (and constrain) narrations of identity, culture, and politics. Such develops not only our understanding of sexuality, but of literacy, as we explore how sexuality is a vital, if vexing, part of the story of who we are.

Excerpt

Sex and sexuality, and the complex personal and political issues surrounding them, are a powerful part of our daily lives. They form part of the most intimate moments we share with one another. But moreover, far from occupying a purely personal dimension in our lives, they saturate our public conversations and permeate the media. They lie at the core of some of our most pressing sociocultural and political debates, substantively informing how we think of ourselves and our identities, how we understand ourselves to ourselves. a brief scan of cnn.com on any given day at any time of the day will reveal that at least one (and usually two or three) primary news item is explicitly about sex or sexuality. Newsworthy topics include issues of gay marriage, sexual predation, reproductive issues, sex education, gays in the military, and sex among the famous. Debates about marriage, in particular, cut to the core of any number of intersecting issues, such as the meaning of marriage as a personal, social, and political institution. Without a doubt, sex and sexuality are key components of how we conceive of ourselves personally, organize ourselves collectively, and figure ourselves politically.

More significantly for us as writing and literacy specialists, sexuality— or the varied ways in which narratives of intimacy, pleasure, the body, gender, and identity become constructed and disseminated personally, socially, and politically—is itself a complex literacy event, evoking narrations of self, connections with others through complex discourses, and political formations mediated through ideological investments. Anthony Giddens, in his highly influential work The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies, defines sexuality as “something each of us 'has,' or cultivates, no longer a natural condition which an individual accepts as a preordained state of affairs…. sexuality functions as a malleable feature of self, a prime connecting point between body, self-identity and social norms” (1992, 15). That connecting point—between our most personal, deep-seated senses of self and the “social norms” that organize democratic societies—is often story, narrative, and ideological discourse. in basic ways, when we talk about ourselves, when we define ourselves, we almost invariably use gendered . . .

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