Transgender studies meets the first-year writing classroom

In the first-year writing course, students learn about the situations and genres in which scholarly writing takes place by analyzing published scholarship and producing their own research.

As a trans instructor who assigns transgender studies scholarship, Mary Ann Saunders’ version of the course disrupts numerous first-year student assumptions, including who students think their professors might be (cf. Jourian, Simmons, and Devaney) and the place of trans people within research culture (Stryker and Currah 9). Saunders’ course foregrounds the power relations inherent in research cultures, thus challenging typical student beliefs about the “objective” and “scientific” nature of research. While genre-based approaches to teaching research writing are well covered in composition studies (Giltrow et al.; Bawarshi and Reiff; Hyland).

While there are the beginnings of a literature about trans pedagogies and trans educators in post-secondary settings (Galarte; Harris and Jones; Malatino), no research exists on the intersection of writing studies with trans studies, and the application of “trans*formative pedagogies” (Platero and Drager) to the writing classroom.

The study by Katja Thieme and Mary Ann Saunders asks: How and when might a writing instructor overtly use their trans subject position in the classroom? How does being transgender and teaching trans epistemology shape how students take up research identities and discourse? Through weekly interviews, we trace decisions Saunders’ makes as a teacher as well as her observations on students’ development of research identities.

Our analysis of these interviews highlights the world-making work of the trans scholar who inducts first-year students into research writing. We argue that Saunders’ modeling and naturalizing of a trans research epistemology develops student researchers who understand that research discourse is simultaneously malleable and robust, and that through these qualities it serves social justice.

Conference presentation:

“Pedagogies of Social Justice: Transgender Studies Meets First-Year Writing Instruction.” Trans*Studies: An International Transdisciplinary Conference on Gender, Embodiment, and Sexuality. University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. September 7-10, 2016.