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Queering the Body; Queering Primary Education A free one-day seminar presented by the No Outsiders research team Sponsored by the Society for Educational Studies for the Education and the Body seminar series Tuesday 16th September 2008, 12.00 – 6.45 University of Exeter This seminar is timed to follow the Queer in Europe conference at the University of Exeter from 13th – 15th September. For details of Queer in Europe, see www.sall.ex.ac.uk/centres/cissge/ Since September 2006, the No Outsiders research team (a collaboration of primary teachers-researchers, university researchers and equalities facilitators) has been breaking new ground in equalities education by exploring approaches to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the primary school. The 28-month ESRC-funded project supports primary teachers in three regions of the UK in challenging heteronormativity, homophobian and transphobia in their own schools and classrooms. Practical approaches within the project include the use of stories, drama and the visual arts, as well as revisions to school policies and the development of guidance on challenging homophobia at primary level. Underlying these activities, however, is a much deeper interrogation of the discourses which keep the heterosexual matrix (Butler, 1990) and its elision of sex-gender-sexuality in place. One of the most fundamental questions the research team has been addressing since the start of the project concerns the problematics of the body. The team is concerned to interrogate the desexualisation of children’s and teachers’ bodies, the negation of pleasure and desire in educational contexts and the tendency to shy away from discussion of (sexual) bodily activity in No Outsiders project work. The danger of accusations of the corruption of innocent children, particularly in the context of the world-wide media attention the project has received, has led team members to make repeated claims that this project is not about sex or desire – and that it is therefore not about bodies. Yet, at a very significant level, that is exactly what it is about and to deny this may have significant negative implications for children and young people. Through ongoing debate and exploration during the project, members of the project team have challenged the pervasive images of romantic love and life-long monogamy portrayed by the lesbian and gay characters in the children’s books used in project schools; have questioned the denial and/or repression of their own sexual identities, pleasures, desires and investments; have explored the underpinning cultural and religious discourses which banish sex from sexuality; have raised the need for and purpose of strategic essentialism in relation to sexualities and gender identity; and have challenged each other to go beyond imagined possibilities into queer practice. In addition, the team has explored the multi-layered ways in which sex/gender/sexuality are written on and performed through the body through the repetition and appropriation of specific social and cultural codes and symbols; and ways in which such performativity might be interrupted/disrupted in order both to queer the norm and normalise the queer. The seminar continues this process, aiming to trouble us – and the seminar participants – out of our comfort zones and to question the taken-for-granted of the supposedly sexless, bodiless (except for running noses, leaking bladders and untied shoelaces) and desire-less primary classroom. Drawing on project data, the seminar will address these questions: What sorts of border work (Thorne, 1993) do children and teachers engage in as they work (consciously or subconsciously) to maintain the heterosexual matrix and keep the body in its place; and what shifts and negotiations does this border work require? How might we create primary classrooms where gender-queer bodies and queer sexualities (for children and teachers) are affirmed and celebrated? What would it take to teach queerly? How would teachers’ and children’s bodies be implicated in this? What sorts of subversions and reversals might it entail? At what cost do we deny children’s and teachers’ sexuality? What do we lose if desire and pleasure are banned from the classroom? In what circumstances is strategic essentialism regarding the sexed, gendered and sexualised body necessary for change to principles and practice, and who might be harmed by an insistence on fluidity and non-unitary identities? What is the place of the research team members’ own bodies, desires and pleasures in this research?

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