Negotiating the Self: Identity, Sexuality, and Emotion in Learning to Teach
reviewed by Laurel Lampela - 2003
Title: Negotiating the Self: Identity, Sexuality, and Emotion in Learning to Teach
Author(s): Kate Evans
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415932556 , Pages: , Year: 2002
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How does a lesbian or gay man negotiate her/his identity as a preservice teacher? Do teacher education programs confront issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people? Kate Evans addresses these issues in Negotiating the Self: Identity, Sexuality, and Emotion in Learning to Teach. Using case studies of four preservice teachers including three lesbians and one gay man, Evans illustrates the difficulties each has experienced and the ways each has negotiated her/his queer self at home, at the university and as a member of a teacher education cohort.
I highly recommend that all supervisors of student teachers, cooperating teachers, and preservice teachers read Evans” book since it will provide an excellent framework for understanding the heteronormativity prevalent in our universities, teacher education programs, and public schools today.
Beginning with the first chapter Evans confronts and acknowledges her own biases in conducting her research and in writing about it. As an out lesbian in a life-partnership with another teacher, Evans clearly positions herself as a strong ally and supporter of recognizing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students in teacher education programs. Evans notes that
to reveal these lenses is not to claim a researcher’s essential qualities but to be explicit about the markers that point to a researcher’s values, background and experiences” (p. 8).
In Chapter Two, Negotiating the self and emotional work, Evans characterizes how exhausting it can be to negotiate one’s identity as a lesbian or gay man. She shows quite clearly how queer preservice teachers must “engage in emotional work” when they enter the educational arena. Evans notes that
conceptualizing the self as not static but as continually negotiated, not as a thing but as a process requires that we take into consideration the possibility that we are both connected to and separate from one another (p. 184).
Chapter Three provides the reader with an unusual yet effective discussion of homophobia. Evans goes to some length to explainoretic prejudice as prejudice that “serve(s) to rid ourselves of bad stuff in order to maintain a guiltless, good self,” (p. 53). Oretic prejudice makes purification possible through the denigration of the abject. In this case the abject is homosexuality, heterosexuality’s deviant other. Evans notes that to construct homosexuality as shameful helps to maintain heterosexuality as the opposite. In order to elevate the status of heterosexuality, one must repudiate homosexuality.
Throughout Chapter Four Evans points out how the participants continually negotiated their queer selves. Each personal story highlights the difficulties of being a lesbian or gay preservice teacher. Evans illuminates how lesbian and gay students, often through no choice of their own, make political statements to siblings and parents by being who they are. Evans notes that
to be a lesbian is to make a political statement, to have a political agenda … to attend a family event with her female partner is to say (that) family is not just heterosexual...such a position ignores, however, that being heterosexual is also political … to attend an event with one’s heterosexual partner is to say (that) family is heterosexual (p. 82).
Chapter Five illustrates the participants” experiences as students at the university and as observers and student teachers in public schools. One of the participants clearly articulates how she saw her teaching career as outside herself rather than as part of her life precisely because she was a lesbian and could not see how homosexuality could be embraced by the teaching profession. Reading how the four participants negotiated their identity at the university and in the public schools seemed like reading about a competitive sports match or armed conflict. One participant used the term “preemptive strike” to articulate how he outed himself to his cohort of preservice teachers before putting himself in the position to test others’ feelings about queerness. Evans referred to another participant as taking a defensive stance with her cohort. The preservice teacher was unaware of how the group would react to her being a lesbian and thought she would need to be closeted in the teacher education program.
One of the more instructive sections of Evans’ book focuses on how some university professors provide either an inclusive or exclusive atmosphere for lesbian and gay students. One professor wanted students to imagine what it would be like to be gay and included the film Growing Up Gay during one class session. Another professor distributed information on gay and lesbian related children’s books. What was most interesting and helpful for me as a professor in a teacher education program was to read how two very similar statements can have far reaching impacts. In attempts to acknowledge that there were gay and lesbian students in class one professor made an inclusive statement saying that “some of us here are probably gay” while another professor made an exclusive statement by saying that “there are probably gay students in your cohort” (p. 143).
Evans begins the final chapter with a remarkable answer to the question that plagues many lesbian and gay teachers. When Evans life partner, a middle school art teacher, was asked by a student if she was a lesbian she responded with the question “Do you think this school is a place in which someone could answer “yes” to that question and feel safe?” (p. 175). Evans notes that her partner’s response illustrated how her feelings of discomfort about responding to that question were related to “larger social structures” (p. 176).
The wealth of information on the polarities of public-private, inside-outside, natural-unnatural, personal-professional, and neutral-political that Evans presents should prove quite helpful to teacher educators and preservice teachers in recognizing the difficulties of being gay or lesbian and being a preservice teacher. Yet, several points that Evans illustrated would have been more forceful had she not always dissected them and reiterated them for the reader. It would have been more helpful to allow the reader to make those leaps which were not that difficult. In addition, some of the analysis discussed throughout seemed repetitive which contributed, at times, to an exhausting reading experience.
Although the book provides the reader with a clear understanding of some of the difficulties lesbian and gay preservice teachers encounter in the home and at the university, there is not much discussion about how the preservice teachers negotiated their queer identities in the public schools where they completed their practicum. Evans suggests a variety of ways that straight-identified people in education can serve as allies for queer-identified people and work constantly to critique heteronormativity. Many will find these suggestions helpful. This book is a must read for all teacher educators and preservice teachers. It begins to break the silence that has been condoned for too long.