Queering the classroom: a study of performativity and musical engagement in high school
Shane, Susan Lynn
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Creating inclusive environments that are safe and respectful of all students in the spectrum is paramount to students’ success and well-being in music (Carter, 2011). When students feel safe and supported, they may express themselves more freely and participate in music more fully (Hill, 2019). Yet, freedom to express oneself is inhibited by heteronormative beliefs and practices that perpetuate gender stereotypes, suppress queer thinking, and form the origins of homophobia and transphobia (Butler, 2004; Sedgwick, 1990/2008; Warner, 1993). This study featured a narrative inquiry design which utilized the lens of queer theory and Butler’s (1990/1999) concept of gender performativity to examine high school musical engagement through the recollections and perceptions of three trans young adults. The purpose of this study was to explore ways that gender and music intersect in high school, as well as illuminate behaviors that constrained or enabled the participants’ abilities to participate fully in school music. Data was gathered through interviews with the participants during which they recounted past musical experiences in school, family, and community contexts. Findings from a comparative analysis revealed eight areas that were crucial to the participants’ affirmation of identity and musical engagement: supportive people, singing alone and with others, negotiating traditions, meaningful performing experiences, safe spaces and safe people, role of media, personal agency, and role of the music teacher. This study contributes to a growing body of music education research rooted in queer theory that dismantles the binary gender categories of “male” and “female” and, instead, considers the entire spectrum of gender. Results of this study may help educators remove barriers between gender identity and musical engagement by informing practice that opens channels for learning and builds stronger connections to music.