AAAL 2023: Invited Colloquium

The politics and practice of allyship in queer applied linguistics and language education


James Coda, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, University of Tennessee

Ashley R. Moore, Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, Boston University 


Stephanie Vandrick, University of San Francisco

Colloquium Abstract

Though queer applied linguistics is diverse in terms of the questions it asks and the methods it employs to answer them, Knisely and Paiz (2021) note that a key shared concern is “to critically address issues of equity, access, and representation” (p. 21) for 2SLGBTQ+ people in language classrooms. Though many leading the work toward this shared goal transcend and challenge cisgender and heterosexual ideologies, we cannot do it alone. Like many equity-seeking groups, we need allies. We need allies in classrooms to make sure queer lives and concerns are no longer erased, marginalized, or only tolerated when they coincide within dominant systems of gender, sex, and sexuality (Moore, 2020). We need allies to challenge transphobia and homophobia when they encounter it (West, 2021). We need allies to rectify the continued erasure of trans and gender non-conforming people in applied linguistics research (Knisely & Paiz, 2021). 

However, critical tensions emerge and pose uncomfortable questions as those who occupy privileged social locations engage in allyship from both outside and within the 2SLGBTQ+ acronym. The four presentations and discussion in this 2-hour colloquium explore answers to the following questions: How can ally educators and researchers work with queer language learners in ways that center those learners’ diverse epistemologies and resist brute essentialism? How might we react when we receive critiques from the very communities for which we see ourselves as allies? What are the pitfalls and obligations that obtain when we work as ally researchers with queer participants? How can we ethically and faithfully represent queer voices in our work? Within the knowledge economy of academia, at what point does ally research become appropriating research? What are the consequences for notions of allyship when we take the complexifying and destabilizing perspectives offered by queer theory, trans knowledges, and intersectionality seriously?

Repositioning to work with queer youths in English language classrooms: Let’s drop the knowledge

Ethan Tinh Trinh, Georgia State University,

Abstract: Queer pedagogy does more than merely propose good instructional strategies, practices, and related themes to fit in or normalize the representation of queer in the curriculum (Britzman, 1995; Luhmann, 1998; Talburt, 2000). Rather, queer pedagogy explores the “messy process of learning and teaching, reading and writing” (Luhmann, 1998, p. 128). Queerness is always on the move, in the making, in partiality, in contestation; therefore, I cannot offer something fixed, stable, totalized, or universal, to work with queer youth, particularly queer English language learners (i.e., ELLs, SLIFE). Simply put, I cannot provide a framework or techniques because its rigidity will continue to perpetuate “normative frames of thinking” (Kumashiro, 2002, p. 8) of/about queer students in the classroom. Therefore, in this presentation, I offer a dialogic space to think queer with me and consider what would/could happen when sexuality and language education meet.

Talburt (2018) suggests the idea of “dropping the knowledge” to turn queer reading practices into free exchanges of ideas, attempting to encourage adults (i.e., teachers, administrators, policymakers, etc.) to reposition themselves, and to challenge the hierarchical relationships between teachers and students that are historically, pedagogically, and socially fixed. Talburt (2018) asks adults to reposition themselves to listen to queer youth deeply. As such, this paper extends the three steps for the adults to drop the knowledge. They are: acknowledging students’ identities, adding the discourse of differences, and building community-based projects to co-construct an inclusive curriculum for all identities. By dropping the knowledge, both students and teachers are co-erasing the hierarchical relationship, co-challenging the power in the student-teacher relationships, and refining what allyship means and looks like in English language classrooms.

Building networks beyond backlash in Japanese language education

Claire Maree, University of Melbourne,

Abstract: Anti-gender movements and backlashes against queer theorists and gender studies are garnering popularity across the globe. This is occurring in the contemporary moment when global sustainable development goals to “leave no-one behind” are understood as encompassing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Rather than theorising backlash as time-bound reactionary movements, recent research urges us to look to questions of relative privilege and intersectionality (Winter, 2020) that normalize “the exclusion and condemnation of certain groups” (Murib, 2020, p. 299).

In this paper, I argue that the normalisation of practices of exclusion and condemnation is often replicated in performative “allyship” that purports to nurture “safe(r) spaces” when relative privilege lies unchecked and intersectionality is not centered. Allyship, like safe(r) space, is inherently unstable and inadequate. As such, critique from those who experience the injustice of exclusion is key to any allyship that seeks to counteract the global backlash as it manifests in our language learning and teaching spaces.

Grappling with cisgender positionality in applied linguistics research with trans participants

Julia Donnelly Spiegelman, University of Massachusetts Boston,

Abstract: Cisgender researchers can and must take action against transphobia within our sphere of influence: combatting bias by educating one another, removing barriers to access within institutions, and increasing equity in representation. These processes, while necessary, can be fraught and problematic. Trans scholars have challenged the exploitative, cisnormative, and appropriative nature of much academic research by cisgender people on transgender people (e.g., Knisely, 2021). Radi (2019) outlines a taxonomy of epistemic violence done in these contexts: “including de-qualifying and disapproving trans epistemic subjectivity; objectifying; canceling epistemic authority, as well as a division of intellectual labor; instrumentalization; academic extractivism; misreadings; and colonial appropriation” (p. 52). If cisgender researchers engage in the necessary work of combatting systemic transphobia in our discipline and institutions, is it possible to do so without perpetuating the cycle of epistemic violence?

In this paper, I offer critical reflections as a cisgender researcher on designing a collaborative research project with trans and non-binary youth. I will first discuss my own socialization, positionality, proximity, and assumptions relative to my participants and my process in determining whether I could ethically undertake this research. I will then discuss several epistemological and methodological considerations grounded in work by trans and non-binary scholars (Nicolazzo, 2017; Radi, 2019) and collaborative research methodologies (Jourian & Nicolazzo, 2017). These include: centering participants as epistemic authorities and “scholars of their own experience” (Mayo, 2017, p. 533); fostering and illuminating participant agency (Cruz, 2011); privileging diversity of experience and perspective; providing explicit, immediate, and desired benefits for participants; building relationships of trust, honesty, and accountability with in-community consultants (Puckett et al., 2018); and eliminating barriers and promoting structural change. I close by discussing the limitations of my positionality and approach, and by proposing a procedure for critical self-reflection for cisgender scholars engaging in research with trans and non-binary participants.

Beyond ally and accomplice: Relational frameworks of care and collaborative inquiry in trans applied linguistics

Kris Aric Knisely, University of Arizona,

Abstract: Trans applied linguistics is inseparable from trans knowledges: It is realized via engagement in distinctly trans approaches, which are imbricated with limitless possibilities for gender and its modalities (Knisely, forthcoming). In keeping, to engage with the field requires divestment from and disruption of cissexism and normativity in all of their forms. This task, by its very nature, cannot be left to community insiders alone (Knisely & Paiz, 2021) nor can one parachute into trans studies and its allied fields without meaningful connections to those whose lived experiences reverberate with their foci. In trans applied linguistics and across forms of social justice inquiry, there is a need to ethically conceptualize, name, and engage in work with and alongside communities to which one does not belong. This has often entailed calls to move from a model of allyship to accomplice or toward other ways of languaging that upend identity labels and focus on the ongoing nature of taking action at the direction of community insiders (Knisely, 2022; Mackenzie, 2014). Critiques of ally social justice activism also entail inadequate engagement with intersectionality and the dichotomizing positions this engenders, dovetailing with critiques of applied linguistics (see Paiz & Coda, 2021). The importance of these efforts is thus not a find-and-replace shifting of co-opted terminology, but in a shifting orientation to thinking about the ways that intellectual and affective solidarity work must attend to both relationships and power structures. This paper thus discusses how efforts that overlook the relational can often recreate the very inequities they seek to redress particularly in what has been a “less-than-attractive home for trans scholars,” (Zimman, 2021, p. 423). Tending to themes of interrelatedness, interdependence, instability, and incoherence, this paper puts forth alternative, relational and dialogic frameworks of care and collaborative inquiry in and on the edges of trans applied linguistics.

>>>Back to AAAL 2023 Invited Colloquia