Inviting queer ideas into the science classroom: studying sexuality education from a queer perspective
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Science education has been pointed out as fact-based and built on reliable knowledge. Nevertheless, there are areas that include other aspects. Sexual education is, according to the Swedish syllabus, such an example and it involves aspects as love, sexuality and relations. These aspects suggest a possible tension between the biological and well-established definition of sex and later non-dichotomized perspectives. Teachers need to take both of these aspects into account as they work. Equality work aiming at providing equality for people that are not part of the prevalent norms for doing gender and sexuality is another endeavour to teachers in science education. To be able to study prevalent norms a queer perspective has been used. The hetero norm is defined in this perspective and it is explained as the expectation that everybody is heterosexual and wishes to live in hetero pair-ship. This perspective also involves the normative construction of man and woman. The different ways to approach sex and sexuality is the research object of this study and the research question is formulated as follows: How can the construction of the hetero norm be visualized by queer theory to challenge the norm in sexuality education? A framework that visualizes the hetero norm and that could elicit attempts to question the norm was chosen for the analysis. The applied framework can be summarized using the following descriptions: repetition of desirability, dichotomization of sexes, differentiation of sexualities and hierarchy of positions. The data constituted of observations made in two classes with 14-year-old students during sexuality education lessons. The results illustrate how the hetero norm was reconstructed in all of the four parts of the applied framework. The analysis provides four examples of how the norm was challenged, first, by expressing the unexpected and uncommon, second, by an orientation towards uncommon positions, third, by eliciting the communalities of sexes and fourth, by an illumination of the queer. It is concluded in the paper that a challenge of the hierarchy of positions is subsequent to the challenge of the initial parts of the framework. Furthermore, the part of the framework called repetition of desirability could benefit from being part of a different level compared to the following parts of the framework. The excerpts used in the analysis were chosen because of their applicability to the framework. However, the biological content does not stand out in the chosen excerpts. The analysis cannot point out if this is a coincidence and it is open to further research to illuminate whether the biological content is diminished, or if teachers might focus on the biological subject content separately from the questions referring to love, sexuality and relations. To conclude, the framework seems to be fruitful to illuminate equality issues regarding the hetero norm both by visualizing the reconstruction of the norm as well as visualizing attempts to challenge the same norm.
KeywordsHeteronormativity Queer theory Sexuality education Norm challenge
I am grateful to the board Nämnden för lärarutbildning och utbildningsvetenskap (NLU) at University of Kalmar for providing the support for the data collection. I am also grateful to Linnaeus University and Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University for providing time to write. Many thanks to my colleagues and to the reviewers for the helpful comments on this manuscript.
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