Composing Queers: The Subversive Potential of the Writing Center

  • Jonathan Doucette Oberlin College


Reflecting upon my first year as a writing associate in the Oberlin College writing center, I have found myself questioning the ways in which I have been taught to write academic discourse, how certain writing functions and ways of knowing have been normalized, and what possibilities might exist beyond the borders of normative pedagogical practices. In attempting to think through these theoretical ideas, I have sensed an ominous (though, until this moment, unknown) gap in both scholarly literature and practical applications surrounding conversations in the field of composition studies and academia in a broader context. This lack—or rather oversight—has found iteration through thinking about my own identity in relation to writing and the writing center as an institution: both are pretty straight (or, to use a more suitable academic term, “heterosexual”). Through my research, therefore, I hope to find ways in which to queer1 theoretical pedagogical approaches to writing, looking towards the writing center as a potential site for such queering. While many scholars in the field of rhetoric and composition have addressed the (in)visibility of queerness, both as a theoretical framework for engagement in composition studies and as a suitable topic for academic discussion amongst students and educators, little has been said from the perspective of tutors and students about the writing center’s role in resisting, (re)producing, and/or remaining ambivalent towards queer writing pedagogies (or a complex combination of the three). Scholars do cite two specific explanations for a lack of queer engagement: the “compulsory heterosexuality” and heteronormativity that institutions and American society at large demand for students’ sexual identity and the historical amnesia of the histories surrounding the LBGTQ movement. I hope to expand upon these thoughtful preliminary conversations of queerness in composition studies and academic institutions, exploring and critically engaging with the ways scholars have attempted to combat such normalizing pedagogies, which ultimately work to hinder (indeed, silence) many students’ voices. In understanding how and why queerness is noticeably absent in composition studies, I hope to offer ways to resist normalizing discourses, looking towards the writing center as a potentially subversive queer space. By employing an interdisciplinary framework both within and beyond the borders of the writing center, I hope to create space in academia through which queer (and queer-minded) students and educators might find ways to claim a sense of agency in and through writing.