The pedagogy of 'coming out' : teacher identity in a critical literacy course

Govender, Navan N. (2017) The pedagogy of 'coming out' : teacher identity in a critical literacy course. South African Review of Sociology, 48 (1). pp. 19-41. ISSN 2072-1978 (

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Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed, queer or asexual is a highly contested issue. In an educational context there are arguments about the role of coming out to students and learners, yet it is still difficult to say decisively whether or not declaring one's identity is pedagogically necessary or effective. The decision to come out, or not to come out, relates to 'the closet' as an 'open secret', where the boundaries between identity and private/public spaces can be negotiated. Using arguments that see the closet as a fixed space associated with shame, fear and falsity, this article seeks to present the closet as a constructive space for identity formation and social negotiation. Such an understanding of the closet is related to how gender is marked and read in socio-cultural context. I then use these arguments about the closet to explore my own pedagogical decision not to come out in a critical literacy course for pre-service teachers. What emerged from my own 'open secret' are three conversations with students that brought into question my identity as gay, male, an English lecturer and an academic. A critical reflection of these conversations reveals how students read my identity during lectures, and how these readings initiated concerns about my gendered performance, and my investment in the field. Furthermore, my analysis also considers how my 'closeted' identity may have created the space for openly discussing students' perspectives on sex, gender and sexual diversity.