The Heteronormative Classroom: Questioning and Liberating Practices

Oct. 10, 2010

Source: The Teacher Educator, Volume 45, Issue 4, pages 244 – 256. (October 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article is a critical examination of the ideologies and practices that educators bring to bear on their classrooms in order to create inclusive, safe, and welcoming environments for all children, but particularly for children with gender variant behaviors and interests.

The authors contemplate the following questions:
What motivates children and adults to ostracize, tease, bully, and even murder gender non-conforming children?
Why are children feeling the need to police and respond so violently to the gender behaviors, interests, and expression of their peers who “break the rules” or “cross the boundaries” of what they think is the right way of being a boy or a girl?
How can we help educators and students understand that the rules and boundaries are socially constructed, and that there are multiple ways of being a boy or a girl?
Using a feminist perspective, this article offers a new conceptual lens with which to examine classroom practices that reinforce the heteronormative classroom and, as such, restrict and constrain alternate forms of gender expression.

The authors contend that children with gender variant behaviors and interests are not an alternate or pathogenic form of masculinity or femininity, but rather a healthy expression of a gender continuum. In order to support and nurture these expressions of gender, educators must be able to interrogate their own biases and how they manifest themselves in the language, processes, and expectations in and of their classrooms. In this way, they can create learning environments in which gender is a dynamic and elaborated phenomenon where boys and girls, men and women, are encouraged to express themselves fully.

The authors propose ways in which teachers could begin to reflect on and examine their own beliefs and practices in order to disrupt the heteronormative practices that reign in their classrooms and that contribute to the creation of a “gender closet” based on stereotypical conventions.
The authors also, think that we need to come out of the gender and queer closets, to deconstruct them and to promote opportunities for children and young adults to have space to be themselves. We need to come out to our colleagues, our bosses, our friends, family, and neighbors. We need to come out to our politicians and to their constituents. We need to come out for our children, for our friends, for our relatives, for our students, for ourselves. We need to teach all that we are the queer folk, folk who go to work every day, who teach, who lead, who raise children, who volunteer, who play sports, who go to the gym, who are scientists, who police our neighborhoods, and help the world become a better place. We need to help them understand that the division between “us” and “them” is not such. That we all are “we”; that they are not a pathologized or deviant version of ourselves.

Underlying this is the deep belief that teaching is transgressive and that it is only through creating and questioning the discomfort that comes from challenging the status quo that true learning takes place (hooks, 1994).

Finally, the authors contend that the classroom is a place of liberation where there is no false dichotomy between mind and body, between rational and emotional. Our classrooms must be places where children with non-conforming gender interests and expression are given the opportunity to take risks and test their unique ideas and ways of being.


Hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge , New York.

Updated: Jan. 11, 2011