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"Keep it confusing" : gender nonconforming youth resisting structures of legibility in a high school Slovin, LJ 2021

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“KEEP IT CONFUSING”: GENDER NONCONFORMING YOUTH RESISTING STRUCTURES OF LEGIBILITY IN A HIGH SCHOOL by  LJ Slovin  B.A., Wesleyan University, 2008 M.A., The University of British Columbia, 2013  A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF  DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE AND POSTDOCTORAL STUDIES (Curriculum Studies)  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)  March 2021  © LJ Slovin, 2021  ii  The following individuals certify that they have read, and recommend to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for acceptance, the dissertation entitled: “Keep it confusing”: Gender nonconforming youth resisting structures of legibility in a high school  submitted by LJ Slovin in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum Studies  Examining Committee: Lisa Loutzenheiser, Associate Professor, Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC Supervisor  Sarah Hunt, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair, Environmental Studies, University of Victoria Supervisory Committee Member  LeAnne Petherick, Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC Supervisory Committee Member Blye Frank, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Education, UBC University Examiner Cynthia Nicol, Associate Professor, Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC University Examiner  iii  Abstract  Scholarship on the cisheteronormativity of schools predominantly focuses on risk discourses and the experiences of binary trans youth. In response, this dissertation uplifts the lives of specifically gender nonconforming youth who challenge and complicate narratives of binary gender. I spent a year moving alongside six gender nonconforming youth as they went to classes and activities, performed in plays and band concerts, passed time in the hallways, and navigated their daily lives in a high school. In our relationships, we invited capacious forms of gender, an expansiveness that often did not feel possible at school. While it is important to recognize the challenges these youth encountered, I am not interested in adding to scholarship that remains tethered to thinking through how hard it is to be gender nonconforming. Rather, this study underscores three forms of labour that youth engaged in while moving through their days to resist, ignore, and mitigate cisheteronormativity. First, youth worked to understand adults’ transphobia. Second, gender nonconforming youth laboured to make themselves legible (or not) within adults’ narrow conceptions of gender nonconformity. Finally, youth created both physical and fantastical escapes where they could exist in relation to their genders in ways that adults in the school either did not see or could not understand. Importantly, ideas about gender legibility have never been exclusively about gender. Therefore, an interlocking thread of this study is an interrogation of the broader normative landscape of East City High. Throughout this study I examine how cisheteronormativity is always already entangled in whiteness, settler colonialism, and ability. Gender nonconforming youths’ existence upends the naturalness of the categories and systems that schools rely upon to know students. Yet, gender is not a stable, categorizable entity; neither are gender nonconforming youth. Gender nonconforming youth live in productive iv  incoherence: they are illegible, ambiguous, and fluid, and the intention of this dissertation is not to make them knowable. Researching, thinking, and writing alongside gender nonconforming youth necessitates inviting and honouring their incoherence. This dissertation moves with the youth as they work to trust and create space for their genders regardless of others’ refusal to see them.    v  Lay Summary  This study focuses on the conditions that participated in creating challenges and possibilities for six gender nonconforming high school students. Over the course of a year, the youth worked to navigate the dominance of binary gender in adults’ expectations, the school’s physical structure, and the curriculum. This project offers that the study of gender is also the study of settler colonialism and ability. Therefore, this research engages with the overlapping forms of power that shaped ideas about gender nonconformity in the high school. Importantly, the youth did not just work to survive school, they thrived. Through their work, the youth created escapes within the school that allowed them to relate to their genders in expansive and often unnoticed ways. The youth’s work is valuable and offers opportunities for educational research to rethink current approaches to engaging with and addressing the existence of gender nonconformity in schools. vi  Preface  All research contributions here are my own, including: the identification and design of the research project, performance of all parts of the research, and analysis and writing of the research data. The research conducted in support of this dissertation was approved by the UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board (UBC BREB Number H17-03430). An early version of Chapter 2 was previously published: Slovin, L. (2020). What grade are you in? On being a non-binary researcher. Curriculum Inquiry, 50(3), 225-241.   vii  Table of Contents  Abstract ......................................................................................................................................... iii Lay Summary ................................................................................................................................ v Preface ........................................................................................................................................... vi Table of Contents ........................................................................................................................ vii List of Abbreviations ................................................................................................................... xi Acknowledgements ..................................................................................................................... xii Dedication ................................................................................................................................... xiv Chapter 1: Introduction ............................................................................................................... 1 1.1 Developing ideas about youth in schools ........................................................................ 9 1.1.1 Growing up is risky ................................................................................................... 13 1.2 Traps and doors ............................................................................................................. 16 1.3 Three types of labour .................................................................................................... 19 1.4 Welcome to East City High .......................................................................................... 21 Chapter 2: Studying Incoherence .............................................................................................. 27 2.1 Ethnography as movement ............................................................................................ 28 2.1.1 Knowing and not knowing ........................................................................................ 29 2.1.2 Inviting incoherence .................................................................................................. 32 2.1.3 Six different projects ................................................................................................. 35 2.1.4 Virtual communities .................................................................................................. 40 2.2 Being a non-adult researcher ........................................................................................ 42 2.2.1 Theorizing adulthood ................................................................................................ 44 viii  2.2.2 Becoming a non-adult ............................................................................................... 45 2.2.3 Age, gender, and whiteness ...................................................................................... 47 2.2.4 The ethics of non-adulthood ..................................................................................... 50 2.3 Mapping incoherent data ............................................................................................... 51 2.4 Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 54 Chapter 3: East City High's Culture of Niceness ..................................................................... 55 3.1 Language of concern ..................................................................................................... 56 3.1.1 Step into my office .................................................................................................... 57 3.1.2 Risky concern is a trap .............................................................................................. 59 3.2 Nice spaces are safe spaces ........................................................................................... 61 3.2.1 As safe as a rainbow ................................................................................................. 62 3.2.2 "I am concerned about safe spaces" .......................................................................... 64 3.2.3 Niceness is not controversial .................................................................................... 67 3.3 Theatre Company by any other name ........................................................................... 72 3.3.1 Opening a can of worms ........................................................................................... 72 3.3.2 Keep it confusing ...................................................................................................... 77 3.4 Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 80 Chapter 4: East City High's Normative Landscape ................................................................ 82 4.1 We would like to acknowledge diversity ...................................................................... 86 4.1.1 Whiteness and settler colonialism ............................................................................. 87 4.1.2 The Indigenous Awareness Week assembly ............................................................. 91 4.1.3 The trouble with one-offs .......................................................................................... 95  ix  4.2 The staff meeting .......................................................................................................... 99 4.2.1 Building a generation beyond prejudice ................................................................. 101 4.2.2 Quit stalling ............................................................................................................. 104 4.3 Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 108 Chapter 5: The Work of Gender Legibility ............................................................................ 110 5.1 Accommodations and inclusion .................................................................................. 111 5.1.1 There's a test for that ............................................................................................... 114 5.1.2 The trouble with fitting in ....................................................................................... 116 5.1.3 The right to be included .......................................................................................... 122 5.2 Trans-inclusive policies as easy as (SOGI) 123 ......................................................... 123 5.2.1 Creating policies is the safe choice ......................................................................... 125 5.2.2 Constructing legibility ............................................................................................ 129 5.3 The bureaucracy of the binary .................................................................................... 131 5.3.1 The need to know .................................................................................................... 133 5.3.2 Trans enough? ......................................................................................................... 135 5.3.3 How to be convincingly trans ................................................................................. 137 5.3.4 Trans: it's science .................................................................................................... 140 5.3.5 It's just a pause ........................................................................................................ 145 5.3.6 Got trans? ................................................................................................................ 149 5.4 Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 151 Chapter 6: Trapdoors ............................................................................................................... 153 6.1 The tech booth ............................................................................................................. 155 6.1.1 The tech booth is gay .............................................................................................. 156 x  6.1.2 The tech booth is for guys ....................................................................................... 160 6.2 Writing ........................................................................................................................ 162 6.2.1 Writing queerness ................................................................................................... 163 6.2.2 K-pop made me gay ................................................................................................ 165 6.2.3 What's the problem with writing? ........................................................................... 169 6.2.4 Reading out loud ..................................................................................................... 171 6.3 The band hall ............................................................................................................... 173 6.3.1 Band hall is the new GSA ....................................................................................... 174 6.3.2 Meet me in the in-between ...................................................................................... 178 6.3.3 Band hall is for gay shit .......................................................................................... 180 6.4 Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 183 Chapter 7: Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 185 7.1 Is gender still non-binary if no one sees it? ................................................................ 187 7.2 Making space .............................................................................................................. 190 7.3 What works and what does not ................................................................................... 193 7.4 What would you like to see happen from this project? ............................................... 195 7.5 Letting go of the need to know ................................................................................... 199 References .................................................................................................................................. 201    xi  List of Abbreviations  BCFN – British Columbia First Nations  D&D – Dungeons and Dragons   GSA – Gender and Sexuality Alliance  HRT – Hormone Replacement Therapy  IRSSA – Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement  K-pop – Korean pop  LGBTQ2S – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit  MSP – Medical Services Plan  PE – Physical Education  RPDR – RuPaul’s Drag Race  SOGI – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity  TDOR – Transgender Day of Remembrance  TRC – Truth and Reconciliation Commission     xii  Acknowledgements  I have been living and learning on the unceded, occupied, and ancestral lands of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish) Nations. This research is informed by my relationship as a white, queer, non-binary settler to these lands and the deep entanglement of queer/trans activism and decolonization. I am indebted to all those who have pushed and challenged me to continuously confront these solidarities.  I want to express my deep appreciation for my doctoral committee, Drs. Lisa Loutzenheiser, Sarah Hunt, and LeAnne Petherick. Lisa, as my supervisor you have been on this journey with me for years now. Thank you for continuously challenging me. Sarah and LeAnne, thank you for supporting me through this experience. I am grateful for the ways that both I and this project have grown in response to all of your questions and encouragement.  I was immensely fortunate to receive support throughout my studies. The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council made it possible for me to spend an entire year at East City High with the youth. I would also like to thank the The Faculty of Education and the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy for their additional funding opportunities as well as the Pat Clifford Award for their recognition of this work.  I have been (and still am) taught, inspired, and encouraged by numerous educators in a variety of forms. I am grateful to the friends, colleagues, teachers, instructors, professors, and mentors who take the time to nurture my curiosity and share their passion for learning. xiii   Dissertations are undoubtedly community efforts, and I have a tremendous community that stretches continents. This year in particular has been a testament to friendship and the connections that endure. Thank you especially to Danica for being a partner, a friend, and all-around joy and to Rachel who is truly a friend for the end of the world. I love you both. Thank you to the friends who went before me and answered countless questions about this process: Hélène, Sam, Paulina, and Harper. Thank you to Margaret and Naomi – how would I have written my dissertation without our weekly meetings, your overwhelming encouragement, and stunning brilliance? Thank you to all the friends who cheered me on, distracted me, followed this project over the years, and even sometimes learned what a PhD means just to support me – I am forever grateful for your friendship and love. And to my family of origin, Donald, Helene, and Marieke: l’dor v’dor, so much of who I am is because of you. Thank you for nurturing, among other things, a care for learning.  And of course, thank you to Fievel, who may have slept through the majority of this experience but always manages to make his presence known.     xiv  Dedication  I dedicate this dissertation to Barry, Ms. Man, Ostrich, Raeyun, Scarecrow Jones, and Vixen. Going back to high school would not have been the same without you.   1  Chapter 1: Introduction  It was January and rehearsals for the Senior Theatre Company’s main stage production had just started ramping up. When I got to the auditorium for class, I headed to the steep narrow steel staircase in the back that led up to the tech booth. Raeyun1 was carefully navigating the stairs down and paused midway. He2 was looking for me. Raeyun was the main tech person for the play. He was the only one who knew how to program the lights and reset the gels. Most lighting work had to be done during blackouts, so often Raeyun did not have much to do during regular rehearsals. Instead, we sat in the tech booth and hung out. Sometimes he wrote fanfiction, which he referred to as his ‘gaymances,’ other times he drew on his phone. Mostly, we talked. Up in the booth, Raeyun pulled out his phone and started scrolling through photos of his favourite K-pop3 artists. He wanted me to see what he saw: beautiful, idolized, masculine men who were wearing skirts, crop tops, and eyeliner. Raeyun loved K-pop. He had a singer from NCT4 as the backdrop on his phone. Raeyun’s adoration was not just about the music. Raeyun described K-pop as a world in which men of colour could engage with their gender expression and each other in ways that felt distant and not quite possible to him. As he was flicking through photos of all the fashion styles he admired and limning the possibilities of femme masculinity, I  1	All	of	the	participants	chose	their	own	pseudonyms.	I	have	created	the	pseudonyms	for	the	adults	and	other	students	who	appear	in	this	text.		2	Many	of	the	participants	used	more	than	one	pronoun	and	their	pronouns	changed	over	the	study.	At	the	end	of	fieldwork,	I	asked	all	of	the	participants	which	pronouns	to	use	in	the	dissertation.	3	K-pop	stands	for	Korean	pop	music	and	is	a	genre	of	pop	music	that	originated	in	South	Korea	in	the	1990s,	though	its	popularity	extends	far	beyond.	4	A	famous	all-male	K-pop	group.	2  felt acutely aware of my recorder tucked into my backpack downstairs in the auditorium seats, turned off and unhelpful. I wanted to remember this moment, the look in his face as he shared his dream of one day being a drag queen and the brilliant ways he described his complex desires for masculinity. Later I quickly typed out notes onto my phone of what I remembered from our hour-long conversation in the booth. This story was part of Raeyun, a part that he increasingly opened up for me to see over the course of the year we spent together, especially in moments when we holed up in the tech booth or slinked away to the periphery during Physical Education (PE) class or in the brief snippets of a rant shared in the hallway while walking to next period. This part was a complicated, tricky identity that Raeyun held in a school where most people often resisted the expansiveness it would take to see all of him.  *** I began this project by asking: how do gender nonconforming youth perform their gender identities in school? How do gender nonconforming youth construct, shift, and play with their gender identities through and amongst their relationships with teachers, students, administrators, the curriculum, and the school culture and climate? What spaces (physical, emotional, intellectual, and fantastical) do gender nonconforming youth create through their relationships with schooling? Throughout the project, I was fascinated with how hard the youth worked to believe in and trust their genders regardless of others’ refusal to see them. Therefore, in this dissertation, I honour their labour by attending to the work gender nonconforming youth performed in schools as they navigated cisheteronormative structures of legibility and created other spaces to exist outside, in rejection of, and/or unseen by adults’ constrained understandings of their genders. My intention with this analysis is to move from the acknowledgment that 3  schools are cisheteronormative spaces to consider how gender nonconforming youth interact with this cisheteronormativity, negotiating the doors and traps entangled with adults’ notions of gender legibility at East City High (Gossett et al., 2017a).  There are interlocking elements involved in this type of interrogation because ideas about gender legibility have never been exclusively about gender. To begin, the construction and reproduction of the gender binary is inextricable from settler colonialism (Hunt & Holmes, 2015; Million, 2013; Morgensen, 2011; Simpson, 2017). Hunt and Holmes (2015) explain, “Inherent in this [colonial] project of erasure was the imposition of a binary system of gender which simultaneously imposed Indigenous rights and status along heterosexual lines and suppressed Indigenous systems of gender that went far beyond the gender binary” (p. 159). Understandings of modern sexuality that stabilize gender into binary categories and presume a fixed sexuality emerges from these distinct identities “came into being…as a method to produce settler colonialism and settler subjects…” (Morgensen, 2010, p. 117). As I explore throughout this dissertation, the study of gender is likewise the study of settler colonialism, racism, and ableism. It is not possible nor productive to disentangle the systems of power that structure and police gender legibility. Eli Clare (2015) explains, “gender reaches into disability; disability wraps around class; class strains against abuse; abuse snarls into sexuality; sexuality folds on top of race…everything piling into a single human body” (p. 123). Normative expectations for bodies intersect and inform each other, creating standards of recognition and social hierarchies of humanity along lines of gender, race, sexuality, and ability. Furthermore, forms of disciplinary power, such as settler colonialism, racism, transphobia, and ableism, “operate through norms that produce ideas about types of people and proper ways to be” (Spade, 2011, p. 104). These normative imaginings of the body create and regulate ideas of the healthy, productive settler 4  citizen (de Leeuw, 2009; Lesko, 2012; Spade, 2011; Sykes, 2011). To count as a proper, contributing member of the nation (and school), a person must adhere to normative standards of ability and health that have always been inextricable from whiteness and cisheteronormativity (Baynton, 2005; Bychowski et al., 2018; de Leeuw, 2009; Gill-Peterson, 2018; Lesko, 2012; Sykes, 2011). The Canadian colonial government has continuously relied upon these restrictive criteria in order to establish the nation as white, for instance by removing Indigenous peoples from their lands, taking Indigenous children from their homes, and regulating immigration (Baynton, 2005; de Leeuw, 2009; Libesman, 2013; Thobani, 2007). These practices of removal and prohibition deploy the language of (dis)ability to enact racist and colonial strategies.   Bodies that transgress normative expectations by being Indigenous, racialized, queer, trans and gender nonconforming, disabled, and/or fat threaten the order of schools (Slater et al., 2018). These bodies are threatening for they upend the normalized categories and ways that educators and other adults come to know youth. When bodies do not adhere to normative expectations, they become unruly and more difficult to control. While gender nonconforming bodies may be incoherently unruly in schools, ideas about gender nonconformity, I argue, have been constrained by the same normative logics that restrict gender conformity. Scholars have critiqued the reproduction of whiteness alongside the increased attention to trans theories, topics, and bodies (Gill-Peterson, 2018; Stryker, 2008). However, drawing on Jules Gill-Peterson (2018), “in its invention gender was a form of race” (p. 122). The racialized, settler colonial processes informing the establishment and maintenance of the gender binary also shape the conventional ideas regarding what it means to reject or fall outside of this system. Notions of recognizability, visibility, and coherence serve to collapse the expansiveness of gender nonconformity by tethering it to the hegemonic structures of legibility. For instance, in this 5  dissertation, I explore ‘trans enough’ narratives that policed the youth’s performances of their genders, a surveillance process informed by racialized, ableist, and settler norms and conditions that narrowly imagine a particular form of transness as the only possibility. As a thin, white, andro-masculine person, I adhere to the conventional expectations for a non-binary person. Moving through East City High, I was visible as gender nonconforming while most of the youth in the project were not. They were not seen because of the ways they were racialized, their fatness, and because of how they expressed their genders outside of adults’ expectations. To understand the tendrils of youth’s unruly unknowability, it is imperative to acknowledge their differential relationships to privilege and power as well as the structures of schooling at East City High. In this dissertation, I focus on the myriad ways gender nonconforming youth exceeded the bounds of knowability at East City High while centring how performing legible gender relies upon adherence to white, ableist, and settler colonial logics.  *** At East City High, there was a nearly ubiquitous culture of niceness that assisted teachers, counsellors, and administrators in distancing themselves from the possibility of transphobia. Castagno (2014) argues, “Niceness compels us to reframe potentially disruptive or uncomfortable things in ways that are more soothing, pleasant, and comfortable. This avoidance and reframing are done with the best intentions, and having good intentions is a critical component of niceness” (p. 9). Adults relied on the presumption of their ‘good’ intentions to divert attention away from the prospect of their own transphobia. As I will explore, niceness reproduces normative logics, and an important facet of East City High’s niceness was educators’ 6  intentions to be ‘good’ settlers and promote diversity and inclusion. Ms. Spensor5, an Indigenous woman who taught British Columbia First Nations (BCFN), Continuing Indigenous Studies, and English, took an active stance against East City High’s discursive niceness. Ms. Spensor worked to intervene in the normal day-to-day life at East City High, in small and significant ways. For example, Ms. Spensor operated a chip store out of a filing cabinet by the door in her classroom. She kept it stocked with small bags of chips so students could pop by whenever they were hungry, drop in fifty cents, and take a bag or five, as was one participant’s favourite move. Partway through the year, during a prolonged standoff between Ms. Spensor and one of the vice-principals over possible cuts to the First Nations curriculum, the administration shut down the chip operation. One day when I walked into BCFN, I noticed that Ms. Spensor was painting onto a gigantic sheet of yellow paper: “niceness is not anti-racism.” Ms. Spensor’s classroom was covered in anti-racist posters and inspirational quotes from activists and writers. She had a big, framed poster above the whiteboard quoting Rosa Parks as saying: “Nah.” She loved Prince and had multiple gender-bendy posters and memorabilia of him around the room. Early in the year, Ms. Spensor leaned against the table at the front of her classroom. Most days she started class with a conversation. On this day, Ms. Spensor acknowledged that what students learned in her course might be unsettling. She discussed how it was uncomfortable to reckon with the idea that the educational system we have all been participating in was not set up for everyone to succeed. Ms. Spensor, arms out to the class, named this lesson: difficult knowledge.   5	Given	the	violent,	ongoing	history	of	colonially	imposed	language	and	naming,	I	did	not	create	pseudonyms	for	the	Indigenous	teachers.	They	chose	their	own.	7   I come to this work as a white settler and a queer, non-binary person engaging with how to be accountable to this land, these thoughts, the young people who shared their time with me, and the difficult knowledge of this research. Part of being accountable means acknowledging that as a white settler, I inherit the privileges of the historical and ongoing occupation of this land. Confronting inheritance is "A practice whose outcome is not guaranteed in advance, the work of inheritance is an inescapable consequence of the actions of another who has sent you something...that implicates you in the necessity of a response… " (Dean, 2015, p. 7). Implicatedness is not about the recognition of the suffering of others; rather, it draws us into a relation that “must be at once affective and critical, reflexive and political, then, in order to escape the empathetic traps that invite a collapsing of others’ stories into our own” (Dean, 2015, p. 17). Taking implicatedness seriously must extend beyond the individual level of the research project. It entails acknowledging that white supremacy and settler colonialism are not just part of my inheritance as a settler but also part of the inheritance of queer theory and trans studies as fields. Since “settler colonialism is the historical, institutional, and discursive root of heteronormative binary sex/gender systems on stolen land” (Driskill et al., 2011c, p. 217), research on gender and sexuality are especially accountable to integrating an analysis of settler colonialism (Morgensen, 2011). It is not possible to exclusively focus on cisheteronormativity, as if the frameworks shaping notions of what it means to be gendered are not mired in the Canadian colonial project.  Interrogating implicatedness is a continuous process of grappling with knowledge and relationality; it does not centre arriving at certainty. This openness to uncertainty aligns well with thinking alongside gender nonconforming youth, making possible the incoherence, fluidity, and liminality of their relationships to gender. Gender is not a stable, categorizable entity; neither are 8  gender nonconforming youth (Nicolazzo, 2016). Gender nonconforming youth live in productive incoherence: they are illegible, ambiguous, and fluid (Airton, 2018; Nicolazzo, 2016; Richards et al., 2017; Slovin, 2020; Travers, 2018). Researching, thinking, and writing alongside gender nonconforming youth necessitates inviting and honouring their incoherence.   Refusing the pull of coherence is likewise a rejection of normative temporality and settler common sense. Mark Rifkin (2017) offers, “Positing a ‘natural’ time that underlies any ‘cultural construction,’ then, implicitly casts non-Euro-American forms of temporal experience as a form of belief, rendering them less real than dominant accounts of a shared, linear time” (p. 20). Youth are often understood as inchoate versions of their future selves and trans youth are especially connected with notions of futurity (Castañeda, 2002; Stryker, 2008). As I delve into later in this chapter, developmental theories posit that youth grow into stability and self-knowledge along prescribed trajectories that are always already enveloped in norms of whiteness, settler colonialism, and cisheteronormativity. I aim to invite youth’s capacious relationships to gender by not requiring them to grow up into concrete gender identities according to settler notions of “compulsory heterotemporality” (Rifkin, 2017, p. 39). Rejecting the coherence of linear growth likewise welcomes youth’s gender incoherence. *** In my year at East City High, I accompanied youth to their classes, joined in during their extracurricular activities and clubs, ate lunch with them, attended their performances, and hung out in hallways, tech booths, and on the peripheries of classrooms. Sometimes we skipped school together and met up in cafés or just roamed the halls. We texted (often). They taught me how to play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), introduced me to the world of K-pop, schooled me on what TV shows I really should have been watching all along, and read me their writing. I moved 9  through East City High alongside several youth, grades 9-12, who all identified as gender nonconforming in some way, though those ways differed quite considerably. Raeyun, for instance, had a complicated relationship with his gender nonconformity. He was a Filipino trans guy and aspired to pass. He also experienced the world, especially the world of East City High, as a gender nonconforming person much of the time. Raeyun once encapsulated this complexity to me, saying: “I’m not like completely [gender nonconforming], but I’m also not like a cis guy, so, kind of like midway. Like I’m part of the binary but I’m also like part of the binary in a weird way.” This dissertation centres on gender nonconforming youth, who have often been excluded or neglected in scholarship on trans youth.   1.1 Developing ideas about youth in schools Youth are framed as always in the process of becoming (Castañeda, 2002; Lesko, 2012); yet they are also understood exclusively within stable, concrete identity categories (Rasmussen, 2006). Although adolescence is theorized as a time of constant change, struggle, and growth (Hall, 1904; Kibler, 2011), youth are simultaneously expected to transition from one knowable category to another along a prescribed trajectory. This is not a contradiction. Developmental frameworks explicate the normative path toward becoming an adult, highlighting key obstacles, moments of reckoning, and progress (Dyer, 2017; Savin-Wiliams, 2005). These developmental frameworks are always already shaped by norms of whiteness and settler colonialism, with growth toward adulthood imposed as a metaphor for the evolution of humanity (Castañeda, 2002). According to this perspective, the child represents the ‘savage,’ and the adult is the epitome of civilized modernity. These frameworks rely on and create a progress narrative that imagines cultures, like children, become more complex, educated, and civilized over time. The 10  Canadian colonial nation deploys this narrative when positioning Indigenous peoples as ‘childlike’ and thus ‘in need’ of government, medical, or other systemic interventions (de Leeuw, 2009; Haig-Brown, 1988). The guise of state protection has been and remains one of the reasons for removing Indigenous children from homes.  In the past couple of decades, scholars have expanded developmental frameworks to include the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBQ)6 youth (Savin-Wiliams, 2005). However, despite the incorporation of non-normative identities, developmental frameworks still position youth as growing along a predictable trajectory that culminates in stable adulthood. Gilbert (2014) argues that “In positioning the normative as the ideal, if fictional, centre of developmental theory, children and youth are monitored according to their proximity to or distance from the ideal” (p. 30). The tasks of education rely on the notion that youth are always in the processing of becoming within stable forms of knowing and that education can therefore play an integral role in guiding children and youth along the path of becoming toward became (Biesta, 2010; Greteman, 2018). Importantly, developmental theory informs pedagogical practices and understandings of ‘normal’ for youth in schools (Silin, 1995). Normative expectations for development and growth govern educators’ perceptions of youth as fitting in (or not) academically, socially, and physically (Lesko, 2012). Schools are “social institutions charged with the task of preparing and socializing young people for adult roles…They do this by teaching social conventions through implicit and explicit means and by  6	Developmental	research	largely	focuses	on	lesbian,	gay,	bisexual,	and	queer	youth;	therefore,	I	have	used	LGBQ	in	this	instance.	However,	moving	forward,	I	will	use	an	expanded	version	of	this	acronym,	referring	to	lesbian,	gay,	bisexual,	transgender,	queer,	and	Two-Spirit	youth	(LGBTQ2S).	Two-Spirit	is	a	term	exclusive	to	Indigenous	peoples	that	“affirms	the	interrelatedness	of	all	aspects	of	identity,	including	sexuality,	gender,	culture,	community,	and	spirituality”	(Wilson,	1996,	p.	304).	11  instilling a sense of what it means to be ‘normal’ in students” (Noguera, 2003, pp. 343-344). Therefore, it is integral to interrogate how ‘normal’ is constructed in terms of race, bodies, genders, and sexualities in educational spaces. Marker (2009), de Leeuw (2009), and Haig (1988) have demonstrated how education has a particularly enmeshed relationship with the colonial project, one that has historically been inextricable from the violence of assimilation. As Sarah de Leeuw (2009) explains:  Colonial education, which transpired within residential schools and through the pedagogies delivered in the schools, was motivated by a highly embodied and child-focused goal: the (re)production of Indians starting at childhood. The production of Indians rested on a fundamental assumption that children could be molded and transformed from one state of being to another, namely from a colonially undesirable Indian to one who conformed to colonial expectations. (p. 130)  This violent approach to education reflects the racialized plasticity of how childhood is understood generally (Gill-Peterson, 2018). Informed by developmental theory, childhood and adolescence are framed as malleable moments, times when, with ‘proper’ guidance and instruction, young people can be reared into (or out of) what is desired of them (Lesko, 2012). This project of creating adults out of children has been historically entangled in the colonial project of building a specific type of nation (Lesko, 2012; Million, 2013; Raby, 2005). In Canada, residential schools were developed with the explicit purpose of decimating Indigenous cultures by separating families and prohibiting children from growing into Indigenous adults (de Leeuw, 2009; Haig-Brown, 1988; Million, 2013). In these schools, settlers deployed binary gender to violently discipline children out of their cultures and force them to behave according to white, colonial standards (de Leeuw, 2009). Settlers specifically targeted Indigenous children, falsely believing it was possible to erase Indigenous adulthood and thus erase Indigenous peoples’ ability to hold land and to live into the future. This practice was not exclusive to 12  residential schools and remains a distressing element of the child welfare system (Libesman, 2013). Scholars have documented the many ways that public schools, in their ushering of children toward adulthood, enforce and police binary gender, from the built environment to the curriculum to the language used in classrooms (Airton, 2013; Gilbert, 2014; Kehily, 2002; Loutzenheiser, 2015; Rasmussen, 2006; Woolley, 2015). East City High was no exception. Cisheteronormativity was everywhere. In the words of Mr. Davidson, a sub for Raeyun’s PE class in March: Gender? “There are two of them.” Mr. Davidson gestured behind him at the class of 15- and 16-year-olds playing basketball when he said this, as if the truth of his statement was apparent and indisputable. Even when cisheteronormativity was not as proudly announced as it was by Mr. Davidson, it was always present as a basic organizing framework of the school. Raeyun offered his analysis: I feel like there’s a lot that I’ve noticed about the school education system and how gender is sort of integrated into it in a really weird way so that they’re kind of codependent on each other in a weird way…I kind of feel like sometimes, well not sometimes, a lot of the things in the education system are inherently gendered for some reason, um, and, like, I guess that, like, genderness, I guess that genderedness is based on the idea of, like, gender roles and stuff, like, that and sometimes the school can get a little dependent on the idea of those gender roles and “oh yeah, as a guy you have to be this, as a girl you have to be this.” And, like, sometimes, like, that kind of, like, intertwines with what they’re teaching to certain genders and stuff like that.  At East City High, teachers referred to students as boys and girls or ladies and gentlemen, created groups for class activities with an eye toward (binary) gender parity, relied upon gendered standards for fitness testing in PE class, and had subtle yet insidiously normatively gendered expectations for students. Even in theatre class, which is often positioned as a haven for LGBTQ2S students (Allen Carter, 2013), youth were prohibited from auditioning for roles outside their perceived gender identity. “Schooling,” as Woolley (2015) suggests, “is an 13  important site for learning the possibilities and limitations of gender” (p. 379), and at East City High, educators consistently privileged cisheteronormativity.   1.1.1 Growing up is risky The desire to stabilize gender nonconforming youth into legible identities is rooted in scholarship that positions youth as always already ‘at-risk.’ In fact, it is challenging to find scholarship on LGBTQ2S youth that does not position them as ‘at-risk’ (Airton, 2013; Greteman, 2018; Hackford-Peer, 2010). While it is important to recognize the challenges they encounter, I am not interested in adding to scholarship that remains tethered to thinking through how hard it is to be gender nonconforming. Educators predicate campaigns for inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ2S youth on the promotion of their vulnerability, using their struggles as arguments that they deserve protection in schools (Halberstam, 2018; Rasmussen, 2006). This framing is intended to inspire others to fight for these youth and care about their safety. In the introduction to Youth and Sexualities, Rasmussen et al. (2004) assert, “A certain common sense has overtaken public and professional discussion about queer youth, a common sense that frames them overwhelmingly in terms of oppression and victimization” (p. 2). This commonsense perspective is an intentional strategy to bolster support for the cause of LGBTQ2S youth. This type of advocacy promotes the use of research that can demonstrate the struggles of LGBTQ2S youth, and the gathering and then recitation of dire statistics on their lives is a salient feature in a plethora of current scholarship (Fetner et al., 2012; Greytak et al., 2009; Meyer & Pullen Sansfacon, 2014; E. Payne & Smith, 2013; Taylor & Peter, 2011; Veale et al., 2015). Thorpe and Greteman (2014) offer a warning regarding the, 14  rhetorical deployment of quantification in order to open up space for scholarship to grapple with not only the violence of homophobia exposed by statistics but also the lived experiences of GLBTQ persons that are covered up by a ‘safety in numbers’ that exists in our defensive numerical citations. (p. 75)   While access to empirical research enumerating heightened levels of violence, suicidality, school leaving, depression, and drug and alcohol (mis)use, for example, can facilitate the creation of policies and garnering of support on behalf of LGBTQ2S youth, the over-emphasis on this type of research participates in constructing youth as inherently ‘at-risk.’  Notions of risk are not evenly distributed among youth. Racialized, Indigenous, migrant, disabled, and gender nonconforming young people are positioned as more ‘at-risk’ of violence, substance (mis)use, and suicidality than their more hegemonically privileged peers (Loutzenheiser, 2015; Million, 2013; Native Youth Sexual Health Network, 2012; Pritchard, 2013). While it is critical to interrogate how young people positioned at the intersections of race, Indigeneity, sexuality, gender, class, and ability experience higher rates of violence, it is likewise integral to acknowledge and question the ways this framing reproduces youth as inherently vulnerable to violence (Hunt, 2016). Furthermore, this epistemological approach as well as the reliance on these statistics can position some youth, especially migrant, Indigenous, and racialized youth, as requiring government, medical, or other systemic interventions, which are often violent. Research is never just research. Youth are removed from their homes into state ‘care,’ forcibly confined under the Mental Health Act, and imprisoned due to ideas about risk and harm.  Risk is likewise a restrictive framework for approaching the experiences of youth in schools. It positions youth as perpetually in a state of chaos and upheaval, so protecting them from looming dangers, which are often understood as inherently linked to their identities, takes 15  predominance over a focus on other elements of schooling (Gilbert, 2014; Mayo, 2004; Talburt, 2004). Little room is left for conversations that recognize the complexity of the ways youth enact their identities in relationship to schooling (Fields et al., 2014; Gilbert, 2014; Gordon, 2004; Talburt, 2004). Additionally, resilience, the counterpart to risk, locates ‘success’ within a young person’s identity and, thus, is similarly narrow in its positioning of youth (Rew, 2005). Both risk and resilience discourses position students as the problem and neglect to interrogate the role of systemic oppression (Loutzenheiser & Moore, 2009). In recent years, many scholars have turned a critical eye on the tendency of scholarship to foreground the suffering of LGBTQ2S young people, advocating instead for research that attends to the complexities of their lives without privileging solely experiences of risk, danger, and harm (Airton, 2013; Boatwright, 2020; Brockenbrough, 2015; Fields et al., 2014; Greteman, 2018; Mayo, 2017b).  The pervasive assumption that in order to advocate for youth, adults need to know their gender reproduces the idea of youth as stable and coherent. In an effort to oppose homophobia and transphobia, “educators have based appeals for inclusion and educational equity on descriptions of the characteristics, problems, and needs of gay youth. In other words, they have had to make LGBT students a knowable population to justify change in schools” (Talburt, 2004, p. 117). Educators and advocates, in attempting to protect students, create categories of knowability which rely on concretizing incoherent genders into stable terms.  A focus on risk may be based in good intentions that are meant to foster safety and inclusion within schools, but these approaches rely on students being knowable within narrow structures of legibility (Halberstam, 2018). By legibility, I am referring to the socio-cultural standards of intelligibility which govern how people become understandable as people. Butler (1990) explains, “‘persons’ only become intelligible through becoming gendered in conformity 16  with recognizable standards of gender intelligibility… ‘Intelligible’ genders are those which in some sense institute and maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire” (pp. 22-23). A person’s legibility is dependent upon their performance of binary gender, a process which is always racialized.  1.2 Traps and doors In the decade following the “transgender tipping point” there have been many moves toward trans-inclusivity and increased representation (Gossett et al., 2017b; Keenan, 2017; Meadow, 2018; Travers, 2018). Gossett et al. (2017a) describe our current cultural landscape, contending:  trans people are offered many “doors” – entrances to visibility, to resources, to recognition, and to understanding. Yet...these doors are almost always also “traps” – accommodating trans bodies, histories, and culture only insofar as they can be forced to hew to hegemonic modalities.  (p. xxiii)  In this dissertation, I examine how educators at East City High attempted to open doors for trans youth by providing accommodations, such as name changes and their choice of changeroom in PE. However, only certain youth could ever access these opportunities. As I interrogate in Chapter 5, accommodation practices remain invested in a binary gender system and, as such, are only tenable for gender nonconforming youth who are, intend to, or can transition to another stable, legible binary gender identity.  Gender nonconforming youths’ existence upends the naturalness of the categories and systems that schools rely upon to know students. As such, teachers, counsellors, and administrators frequently struggled to see and recognize gender nonconforming youth as gender nonconforming. Since the coherence and legibility of a person’s gender is integral to others’ 17  understanding of them as human (Butler, 1993; Stryker, 2008), being unrecognizably gendered can have profound implications for youth in schools. Butler (1990) argues, the ‘coherence’ and ‘continuity’ of ‘the person’ are not logical or analytic features of personhood, but, rather, socially instituted and maintained norms of intelligibility. Inasmuch as ‘identity’ is assured through the stabilizing concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality, the very notion of ‘the person’ is called into question by the cultural emergence of those ‘incoherent’ or ‘discontinuous’ gendered beings who appear to be persons but who fail to conform to the gendered norms of cultural intelligibility by which persons are defined. (p. 23)  Socially constructed norms of legibility inform understandings of what it means and looks like to be gender (non)conforming, and the incoherently gendered person reveals these normative logics. In Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter, Butler (1990/2011) theorizes performativity to disrupt the dominant notion of gender as a coherent identity that remains fixed throughout a person’s life, arguing instead that gender gains coherence through repetitive, constitutive acts that reproduce an illusion of naturalness (Butler, 1990, p. 200). Performativity contends that a person’s legibility is achieved through adherence to socially normative gender and sexual expressions (Butler, 1990, pp. 22-23). As such, this theory facilitates an analysis of the regulatory processes that police bodies who fail to perform recognizable genders within acceptable heterosexual relationships.  In Bodies that Matter, Butler (2011) goes further to query “the [political] cost of articulating a coherent identity-position if that coherence is produced through the production, exclusion and repudiation of abjected spectres that threaten those very subject-positions?” (p. 113). While Butler (2011) references how gender, sexuality, race, and colonialisms are “conditions of articulation for each other” (p. 117), she does not focus her analysis on situating performativity within the processes that participate in socially constructing the normative logics of coherence. In this dissertation, I interrogate gender legibility through the other power 18  structures that inform it. As I mentioned earlier, ideas about gender are never solely about gender. If the processes by which people are recognized as people are governed by social norms, then it is crucial to acknowledge and deconstruct the historical and ongoing reproduction of these norms (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012; Simpson, 2017). Therefore, I attend to the ways that thinking about, interacting with, and policing gender legibility are processes that are always entangled with settler colonial, racist, and ableist logics and material realities. I theorize Butler’s (1990/2011) work on performativity alongside Gossett, Stanley, and Burton’s (2017a) conceptualization of doors and traps to explore the conditions that structured legibility and informed youths’ relationships to their genders while at East City High. There exist many tensions between queer theory and trans studies. In this dissertation, I draw on queer theory’s origins in anti-normativity. Hunt and Holmes (2015) remind us that, “As a verb, queer is a deconstructive practice focused on challenging normative knowledge, identities, behaviors, and spaces thereby unsettling power relations and taken-for-granted assumptions” (p. 156). Queer theory is poised to interrogate how normative gender expectations shape schooling practices and cultures (Mayo, 2017a; Ringrose & Renold, 2010; Sykes, 2009; Travers, 2018; Woolley, 2015; Youdell, 2006). In bringing Gossett, Stanley, and Burton into conversation with Butler, I hope to generatively draw on, expand, and complicate queer theory’s many offerings. In particular, by connecting these frameworks, I intend to situate youth’s navigation of schooling within the politics of legibility and knowability at East City High. Education is a key technology of power that reproduces norms of legibility, enforcing gender as a primary category to classify, group, and define students (Spade, 2011). The doors that adults found and created were not arbitrary; rather, they aligned with established understandings of binary gender and its role in schools. Examining youth’s interactions with these doors and the traps they obscured underscores the 19  white, settler, cisheteronormative organization of the school. At East City High, only gender nonconforming students who performed nonconformity according to adults’ expectations were recognized as gender nonconforming.   1.3 Three types of labour In the already extensive research on the cisheteronormativity of schools and schooling, North American schools are positioned as dangerous spaces for trans youth, with scholars enumerating the many harms that can befall a young person in a school just because of their genders (Cover, 2013; Fetner et al., 2012; Greytak et al., 2009; Taylor & Peter, 2011; Travers, 2018). However, much of this scholarship focuses on the experiences of binary trans youth. Though there were many instances of direct, intentional, and violent transphobia during my year at East City High, I am interested in the ways that a culture of niceness obscured the less explicit, more insidious workings of transphobia in relation to specifically gender nonconforming youth. How did East City High’s culture of niceness present doors to gender nonconforming youth and what traps were obscured underneath? I focus on the labour this cultural context required of youth, attending to three forms of labour that gender nonconforming youth performed at East City High. First, within the framework of East City High’s culture of niceness, youth became responsible for appreciating adults’ intentions rather than their experiences of those aims. The culture of niceness obscured the existence of transphobia, compelling youth to do the work of recognizing and affirming the ‘good’ intentions of educators who consistently misgendered them, misunderstood their identities, and collapsed the possibilities of their genders. They interacted with educators’ good intentions on a daily basis by putting in the work to understand and forgive 20  adults’ transphobia. Teachers, counsellors, and administrators placed the onus on gender nonconforming youth to reframe oppressive moments as misunderstandings or even acts of care.  Second, gender nonconforming youth worked to make themselves legible (or not) within adults’ narrow conceptions of gender nonconformity. Nice educators at East City High responded to the existence of gender nonconforming youth by investing in accommodation and inclusion strategies that relied on and reproduced gender nonconformity as a visible, knowable identity. The structures of knowability and legibility that operated at East City High obscured the myriad ways gender nonconforming youth imagined, constructed, performed, and navigated their genders. Since gender nonconforming youth cannot be stabilized into concrete identity categories, they can elide recognition and legibility within schools. Adults’ limited and limiting understandings of gender prevented them for seeing these youth: the complexities of their genders, the work they did to negotiate the dynamics of the school, and the innovative worlds they constructed for themselves within an institution that could not quite grasp them. I explore this form of work through the many moments in which youth negotiated their genders in relation to schooling. In these often-mundane interactions, gender nonconforming youth navigated unseen complexities and made challenging decisions, often fully aware of the cisheteronormative constraints and conditions of schooling.  However, gender nonconforming youth did not just work to survive schools; they thrived and flourished (Gossett et al., 2017a; Greteman, 2018). Frequently unseen is the labour youth performed to construct ways of existing that were unrecognizable to the adults at the school. This labour is the final type I explore. As Gossett et al. (2017a) explain, “in addition to doors that are always already traps, there are trapdoors, those clever contraptions…that take you someplace else, often someplace as yet unknown” (p. xxiii). At times alone and at times collaboratively, 21  gender nonconforming youth at East City High worked not just to understand and resign themselves to the circumstances and limitations of the school, but to create trapdoors – spaces that did not require them to show up the same way from hour to hour or day to day. These were spaces where they could be flamboyantly gay trans men who gushed about wearing halter tops or long-haired non-binary mixed kids who sometimes did not know if they were having a boy day until they went to bed that night. Gender nonconforming youth created both physical and fantastical trapdoors where they could exist in relation to their genders in ways that adults in the school either did not see or could not understand.   1.4 Welcome to East City High Before moving forward, I would like to welcome you to East City High. East City High is an imposing building that expands a full city block with around 1,800 students. It has four floors, several outbuildings, an auto shop, a turf field, a track, and tennis courts. A local non-profit runs a community gardening program from the grounds, and, in the spring, local elementary school children could regularly be seen gathered outside learning about seeds and plants. East City High occupies the unceded lands of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish) Nations. This area, which is now known as the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, has been split into several neighbourhoods and at times simplified into the east side and west side. The west side is associated with wealth and understood as having better schools and opportunities. In March, Ms. Man, a grade 12 student in the study, participated in a sister school exchange program with Campus College High, a school that is as far west as it is possible to go in without ending up in the Pacific Ocean. The goals of the exchange program were, “To foster friends and break down 22  barriers between East and West Side schools and provide students with the experience of another school’s culture so they can potentially adopt the other school’s practices as their home school” (Rossi, 2014). The sister school program was a cultural exchange intended to help students living on the east and west side better understand each other, founded upon the assumption that students in the two sides lived in different worlds. Though Ms. Man volunteered for the sister school exchange, they made sure I understood that it did not mean they were a girl. “You know, sister, like Jeffree Star7,” Ms. Man said, flicking their wrists and twisting their hips. “Do you get it?” I got it.  In 2019, the day of the exchange was also the day of the spicy noodle contest at East City High, an annual competition run by the grad committee. It was a beloved fundraiser held all week with different grades competing each day at lunch. Students paid $2 to enter. Then they gathered around a cafeteria table and raced to eat two cups full of spicy noodles followed by a jalapeno pepper. They got a slice of wonder bread to calm their senses after. Ms. Man was competing, so they asked me to watch their backpack, sketchbook, and entertain their exchange students during the contest.  While the grad committee microwaved all the spicy noodle containers and placed them in front of eager participants, I chatted with Ms. Man’s exchange students at the far end of the competition table. They ate their lunches and raved about the quality of the food at East City High, which was one of the last places that had students prepare a hot lunch for the school. In general, the exchange students were thrilled to be at East City High, mostly because they found it to be much “chiller” than their school. They explained that Campus College High was far more  7	Jeffree	Star	is	a	famous	non-binary	YouTube	make-up	artist,	known	for	their	androgyny	and	glamour.	23  academic, had fewer electives, and way worse food. Then they asked if I took Cafeteria because they wanted to know if I had made their lunch. I realized that Ms. Man had not told the students who I was when they asked me to hang out with them during the contest. I explained that I was not a high school student and then we all awkwardly sat waiting for Ms. Man to return.  Soon the competition started, and we turned to watch grade 12 students shovel noodles into their mouths, vying for the prize of a gift card. The contestants were mostly East Asian students, like Ms. Man, along with three white students. Ms. Man finished middle of the pack, though ahead of Mark, their friend from band, which had been their only goal. When they finished, Ms. Man walked back over, sweating, and confessed that they felt ill. Together, we watched the rest of the students desperately try to finish their noodles. Some started crying while many looked on the verge of vomiting. I wondered how those two exchange students would describe the school once they returned to Campus College High. Did the exchange program work, had barriers been broken down?  Throughout the year, I witnessed teachers frequently position the east side against the west side of the city. Teachers, administrators, and students all elevated East City High by framing students on the west side as spoiled and entitled. By contrast, east side students were described as understanding the value of work, caring about progressive ideals like diversity and inclusion, and rejecting normativity.   East City High was a unique east side school, though. It was differently positioned than the other neighbourhood schools, many of which were facing the possibility of being shut down in the coming years. When the district released the list of schools slotted for closure in the area back in 2016, all but one of the schools was located on the east side of the city (Goble, 2016). However, East City High was protected from closure because it offered several special programs 24  that were not available at other east side schools, such as French Immersion and an elite science and humanities track. These specialized programs attracted wealthier settler families and thus brought additional money and resources to the school. East City High also had a mainstream program, and students who lived within the catchment were guaranteed space within it. People who lived on the east side but did not want their children attending the school that was in their catchment had to apply for and enroll their children in special programs. These programs were thus an avenue out of the underfunded, under-resourced neighbourhood schools.  *** When I first arrived at East City High, I got lost all the time. I was constantly exiting a staircase, unsure of which part of a hallway I was about to enter or frantically arriving to a class as the bell rang because I had gotten turned around. I had to become comfortable with having no idea where I was going most of the time. I eventually learned the shortcuts and established a level of familiarity with the place that surprised me. By the second term, I felt nearly at ease moving through the vast expanse of the campus. I learned East City High by moving alongside the six youth in the study. I walked with youth, letting them lead me where they wanted to go. They showed me where to sit, instructed me on which teachers to be careful around, invited me into the spaces they considered special, and taught me how to navigate the school. I learned how to exist at East City High by moving alongside these youth and that is how I framed the chapters in this dissertation. As you read, you will likewise move through East City High guided by where the youth decided to lead me and the ways they interacted with the school.   In the next chapter, I situate the project within my relationships with the youth, movements through East City High, and (il)legibility as a researcher. This project encompassed six iterations enveloped within the larger ethnography, and I attend to the uniqueness of how the 25  study unfolded with each young person. Inviting and honouring their incoherences was a key aspect of the research. I consider why this intention is paramount in research with gender nonconforming youth, how we created this space in the projects, and the ways I carried this ethic through my analysis.  Moving forward, I turn in Chapter 3 to an interrogation of East City High’s culture of niceness. This framework shaped how teachers, counsellors, and administrators interacted with gender nonconforming youth, including how they understood the idea of gender nonconformity. Cultures of niceness participate in deflecting attention from systemic oppression in schools and redirecting it toward individualized moments of misunderstanding (Castagno, 2014). I focus on how this context required significant labour from gender nonconforming youth who were burdened with recognizing acts of violence as instead misunderstandings and then working to forgive the adults who had hurt them.  In Chapter 4, I extend my analysis of East City High’s culture of niceness to consider the school’s normative landscape more expansively. Just as ideas about gender are not limited to gender, the commitment to niceness on behalf of teachers, counsellors, and administrators touched on all aspects of diversity and inclusion. In this chapter, I examine the optics of diversity work at East City High through an analysis of one-off assemblies and celebrations as well as a discussion of a staff meeting organized to address anti-Black racism. I focus on tensions between adults’ expressed support for diversity and inclusion and their lack of substantive engagement with the systemic issues that maintain inequities at the school. This analysis facilitates a deeper understanding of the normative expectations policing youth’s movements through East City High. 26  In Chapter 5, I concentrate on the labour of gender legibility. Many of the youth were never positioned as gender nonconforming while at East City High. I examine how their movements through the school and performances of their genders existed in relation to others’ expectations of what it means and looks like to be gender nonconforming. In particular, I am interested in the structures that informed adults’ notions of who is gender nonconforming, how those ideas translated into policies and programs, and, especially, how the youth interacted with these normative understandings.  Though the youth daily worked to navigate East City High’s normative landscape and their relationships with adults in the space, they also created entire worlds that were largely unnoticed by others in the school. In Chapter 6 I focus on this element of the youth’s labour, turning to the concept of trapdoors to delve into the complexities, possibilities, and expansiveness of the physical and fantastical interventions that youth created. Finally, I conclude by discussing the possibilities of this project, highlighting what the youth offered as their hopes for this study as well as ideas for what it might mean to let go of the need-to-know youth’s genders.     27  Chapter 2: Studying Incoherence  I was standing in a large, all gender washroom at a local media arts non-profit with a video camera trained on the shower curtain. I counted down and then waited. One-by-one, students streamed out of the tiny shower stall they had somehow crammed themselves into, doing their best to keep a straight face. Barry was the last one to emerge. He sashayed out in his skinny jeans and faded grey Beatles t-shirt. He paused in front of my face and gingerly placed his index finger on his lips while looking directly into the camera. He winked. I stopped the tape, yelled all clear, and then everyone burst out laughing.  Ms. Varma, Barry’s film teacher, had arranged for her classes to spend a few weeks at the non-profit learning how to produce karaoke videos. In the first session, two facilitators demonstrated how to use a variety of equipment while introducing the students to the genre’s key tropes. Then Ms. Varma instructed students to make their own versions of their favourite songs, drawing on archetypal shots and gimmicks in the process. Barry and two of his friends asked me to join their group, which is how I ended up filming students in a washroom. There were many ways in which my role at East City High was legible to the adults and students in the school. I was a researcher, and I behaved like a researcher. I presented my project at the first staff meeting of the year. I signed in at the office every morning. I attended classes, clubs, performances, and school events. I was always taking notes. However, there were also many ways that my non-binary gender and my relationships with the youth elided recognition. I frequently blended in while among students, leading adults and youth to ask: “what grade are you in?” Over the course of the year, students, both in the project and not, incorporated me into their school lives, and we developed relationships that blurred the already tenuous distinctions 28  between adult and not. As a result of this blurriness, I frequently wound up in situations I had not anticipated would be part of fieldwork, as I did during the karaoke video project. I think of this blurriness as incoherence and a complicated form of methodological possibility.   2.1  Ethnography as movement I understand ethnography as movement. When I arrived at East City High in September, I moved all over the school, attending as many classes as possible. I intentionally introduced my project as about gender, believing my nonconforming body would communicate beyond those words. It did, and non-binary, genderfluid, and trans students started to approach me in a variety of ways. Vixen, for instance, announced to their entire Social Justice 12 class that they were genderfluid and then looked directly at me; while Ms. Man, who was much less extroverted, asked if I wanted to see their sketchbook and then warned me that it was “very gay.” To be part of the project, students just had to identify as gender nonconforming in some way – the bounds of what that entailed and encompassed were entirely up to them. Whenever a student joined the project, we met and discussed how they wanted and needed the study to proceed. Some students, like Raeyun, Ostrich, Vixen, and Barry, asked that I attend as many of their classes as possible on a daily basis and wanted me to sit next to them. They invited me to their extracurricular activities, their special performances, and then increasingly into their worlds. These students will appear more heavily in the chapters that follow because of how much time we spent together. Other students were apprehensive about people in the school connecting them with my research, like Ms. Man and Scarecrow Jones. Ms. Man in particular maintained a cautious distance to the project, never wanting to meet up for an interview because they believed they had nothing important to say. Yet they were often excitedly sliding their sketchbook across the table toward 29  me and keeping their eyes locked on my face as I looked through all of their gender-bendy and queer art.   2.1.1 Knowing and not knowing An ethnography that moves with young people through their days enables the generation of layers of stories and layers of genders, as opposed to a story or a gender. Though there are a variety of approaches to and perspectives on ethnography, in its simplest form ethnography “is not concerned to describe the behavior of the members of the group, but rather to understand the culture of that group through direct engagement with its own agents and relationships” (Chang, 2005, p. 179). Ethnographers examine how their participants view their worlds and relate to each other (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007). St. Pierre (2000) suggests that qualitative methodologies, including ethnography, have historically been limited by humanist philosophy; they were either explicitly informed by humanism’s essentialist notions or constrained by responding to those ideas (St. Pierre, 2000). Scholars in queer and post structuralist methodologies theorize beyond this narrow epistemic framework by arguing for a shift away from assuredness and clarity in research to esteeming incoherence, instability and uncertainty (Brown, 2003; Lather, 2013; MacLure, 2013; Mazzei & Jackson, 2012; Pearce, 2013; St. Pierre, 1997). Within ethnography, this thinking invites expansive possibilities instead of focusing on research as stabilizing knowledge. As Britzman (2000) explains, “while educational ethnography promises the narrative cohesiveness of experience and identity and the researcher’s skill of representing the subject, poststructuralist theories disrupt any desire for a seamless narrative, a cohesive identity or a mimetic representation” (pp. 31-32). By disrupting this desire, queer and post structural 30  ethnography facilitates multiple and overlapping constructions of youth (Rooke, 2009; Youdell, 2010).  Queer and post structural ethnography underscores “the inevitable tensions of knowledge as partial, as interested, and as performative of relations of power” (Britzman, 2000, p. 38). Since “knowledge is constitutive of power” (Britzman, 2000, p. 30), queer and post structural methodologies can interrogate the systems, such as cisheteronormativity and settler colonialism, that inform the ways participants word their worlds and embody their contexts. Engaging in queer, post structural ethnography invites the complexities and tensions of gender nonconforming youths’ performances without requiring resolutions. By refusing to stabilize youths’ genders into established categories of knowing, queer and post structural ethnography is accountable to how youth do not adhere to cisheteronormative logics.  Notably, queer and post structural scholars do not always address how these practices are always already entangled in whiteness and settler colonialism. Weheliye (2014) argues that the process of racialization is inextricable from the positioning of people in relation to humanity. Deconstructing the role of human subjects in research without underscoring how race continues to be integral to the construction of the human subject elides the disciplinary processes that regulate people’s access to humanity (Weheliye, 2014). The study of the gender binary cannot be exclusively about individuals and their relationships to gender, for gendered categories and expectations cannot be untethered from racialized, colonial, and ableist logics. Therefore, an ethnography that considers how gender nonconforming youth imagine and perform their genders must attend to the ways cisheteronormativity is already entangled in whiteness, settler colonialism, and ability. 31  Tuck and Yang (2014) similarly confront the many absences in queer theory and post structuralism by interrogating “who gets to know" (p. 812). They question the meanings, ethics, and parameters of knowledge production. Rather than approaching research as the conquering of objects and knowledge, Tuck and Yang (2014) offer the framework of refusal: “the most prominent form of refusal in our work has been to resist the urge to study people (and their ‘social problems’) and to study instead institutions and power” (p. 815). By not contributing to risk discourses and rather interrogating how students interacted with forms of gender legibility at East City High, I refuse to make objects of the youth. In the introduction, I expressed a commitment to interrogating my inheritance as a white, settler scholar. Part of being accountable to the ways I am implicated in the pursuits of the academy, education, and the occupation of this land is navigating the complex balance between knowing and not knowing the youth (Cameron, 2015).  The refusal of certainty and rejection of a coherent narrative is especially important in research with gender nonconforming youth, who have historically and consistently had narratives imposed onto their lives and bodies (Gill-Peterson, 2018; Prosser, 1998; Travers, 2018). Within education, medicine, law, and literature, discursive frameworks position gender nonconforming youth as ‘at-risk’ (Rasmussen et al., 2004; Rasmussen, 2006; Talburt, 2004), too young to know their genders (Travers, 2018), and trapped within the ‘wrong body’ (Gill-Peterson, 2018; Prosser, 1998). These narratives are powerful, and they participate in shaping youths’ understandings of their transness and their bodies. Wilchins (1997) critiques the institutional focus and objectification of trans people: The earliest works were usually about people in rehab somewhere. The psychiatrists who wrote about them inspected our fetishes, fixation, and gender confusions, producing carefully distanced narratives which were couched in the obscure, analytical language of 32  dysfunction and derangement. We were patients. Then came the feminist theorists who – while erasing our own voices, and without soiling their pages with the messy complexities of our lived experience – appropriated us as illustrations for their latest telling theories or perception insights. We had become examples. (p. 20)  Wilchins also specifically denounces ethnographers for their performance of scholarly objectivity. She criticizes all these approaches as immoral, lambasting how they politicized trans bodies, choices, and desires. History is replete with scholars, doctors, and others who framed trans people as curiosities to study and understand. This discursive and material imposition likewise exists in schools. In her ethnography, Woolley (2015) observed that, “pushing students to identify as either masculine male or feminine female…worked to reproduce the gender binary and position some people as the site for examination and joking” (p. 390). Even as schools resolve to include and accommodate trans youth, schooling still aspires to socialize youth toward stable, normative adulthood and away from queerness (Greteman, 2018; Mayo, 2006). At East City High, teachers, counsellors, and administrators at times accepted, cared for, and were invested in the safety of the gender nonconforming youth they were aware of, but rarely did an adult express desire that these youth exist in their incoherence. As a non-binary ethnographer, I inherit and am implicated in all of these legacies.   2.1.2 Inviting incoherence Throughout the year, the youth and I reimagined and reworked the study to resist ideas about gender that would have forced them to concretize their identities and experiences. Gill-Peterson (2018) argues: If, in the twenty-first century, we adults really desire to learn to care for the many transgender children in our midst, we need to learn first…what it means to wish that there be trans children, that to grow trans and live a trans childhood is not merely a possibility 33  but a happy and desirable one. And we need to come into this desire now, not in the future. (p. 207)  The youth and I worked together to imagine and create a project that desired transness and gender nonconformity. Desire is methodologically complicated, especially in schools. Cultivating desire in this project meant resisting the ethnographic pull for a coherent narrative that could capture a singular truth and instead approaching knowing as a continuous process (Tuck & Yang, 2014). I had to move with them as they navigated and reimagined their gender performances in response to different contexts. I moved through East City High. I moved through hallways, through classrooms, through periods, through the year, through forms of relationships and types of intimacies. By rejecting the need to know and endeavouring to invite incoherence into the study, I was striving to be accountable to my community and honour the youth as well as my trans ancestors. The ethnography we were constantly creating together enabled this level of movement.  I worked with six youth at East City High. I attended classes with all of them and, except for Ms. Man, we regularly met up outside of school for interviews or to just hang out. With some of the youth, like Vixen and Barry, I ended up spending significantly more time playing D&D, chatting, or being read to than conducting interviews. Originally, I had thought interviews would be the moments when the students and I delved into the depths of their experiences at school. I quickly realized that these were actually just times when we could pause and have more intentional conversations while eating a lot of snacks. By moving alongside the youth every day, I was constantly learning about their lives, their genders, and the complicated ways they interacted with the school and schooling. Students did not save up their interesting stories or big reveals for our interviews; they told me whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. 34  Scarecrow Jones would rant about the latest of Mr. Tremblant’s many racist, transphobic, and homophobic transgressions as they dropped their backpack into the corner of the drama classroom. Then they would disappear to their table group to entertain their friends before the bell rang. Barry would lean his head against my shoulder in the back of Mr. Hill’s classroom during a lesson and whisper his thoughts to me about education and gender or scroll through photos of nail art he was considering for prom. Vixen would divulge big life moments while a teacher was momentarily turned away, which often resulted in us getting in trouble for talking in class. I was the only non-binary adult that many of the youth knew, and our time together was important. Vixen explained their decision to participate in the project this way: “I don’t get to do a lot of things as a non-binary person, like that being the focus…I don’t get opportunities to talk about it, especially with somebody who really gets it.” The project unfolded differently with each young person, according to what they needed from the project and the type of relationships we developed. Their desires for the project were not static, so the project moved with them. However, creating space for their genders and needs was a constant aspect of the research. Together, the youth and I rejected and refused ethnographic narratives that relied on any of us knowing our genders. Instead, we created our own generative ways through the project. By generative, I am not just referring to ‘rich’ data and interesting stories, though I believe those are present. Rather, I consider the project generative for how we were able to continuously construct it together and create relationships that held meaning and persisted. These relationships were possible in part because of my non-binary gender and blurry relationship to adulthood.   35  2.1.3 Six different projects Since what the youth needed from the project was particular to them and our relationships, we worked together to imagine each iteration. Raeyun was in grade 10 and one of the busiest students in the project. Every week he took Japanese and Korean lessons downtown and guitar and voice lessons on the east side. Raeyun was involved in several clubs, volunteered as a peer mentor, and was a member of a local theatre troupe. Raeyun always had to pull out his phone to scrutinize his calendar when setting up interviews to make sure we could find time within his demanding schedule. Beyond interviews, Raeyun and I went on what he referred to as “trans field trips.” For instance, Raeyun wanted to look at packers and binders. He was nervous to order these products online and have them delivered to his house where his parents might intercept the package. There was a store in our neighbourhood that sold them, but Raeyun had not previously known about it. We walked there together after school one day. On our way, Raeyun told me, “it would be so great if there was a trans club, because the GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) is not that kind of space.” He explained that with a trans club, both youth who were out and not would be able to get together and “go take care of trans necessities.” He described getting haircuts together, shopping for binders, and braving the awful experience of buying clothes.  In the store, Raeyun tried on binders, but they were all too expensive. As we were leaving, the owner told us that they were going to announce a sale – 20% off everything in the store. Raeyun’s face lit up, and he asked if we could come back. We made a plan to return the next week after school. As I walked him to the bus, he told me, “you’re the only trans adult that I know.” He asked if we could be our own trans club. That was what Raeyun needed from the project and that was what we did. Raeyun and I bonded over shared understandings of andro-masculine gender nonconformity, like the first time you appreciate the greater pocket depths in 36  men’s jeans. “I feel like no cis guys would get that moment,” Raeyun said, “if they listen to me, they would just be like, they’re just pockets.” Our trans club ranged from silly conversations about pockets to more meaningful acts of collectivity. I brought him pronoun pins for his backpack, and we talked about trans issues on the sidelines of PE, in the back row of his Planning class, and up in the tech booth. In November, Raeyun and I observed Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) together, which was not recognized by East City High. He had never heard of it before. “It’s so cool this day exists,” he told me. We sent each other TDOR posts back and forth on Instagram throughout the day.  In September, Ostrich and I met in the library after school to discuss the project. He thought it over, and then he decided not to participate. Ostrich, a grade 11 student, was afraid that being connected to the project would out him, and he was not ready. I kept seeing Ostrich around the school as I was interacting with other students and getting my footing. A week later, Ostrich pulled me aside after Senior Theatre Company and handed me a signed consent form. He had been watching how I moved through East City High. Ostrich discerned that I was a safe person, and he wanted to join. Ostrich quickly dispensed of his initial trepidation. Most of the year, he was glued to my side. Ostrich was a white, fat, introverted student. His social anxiety would get intense to the point that he tended to skip class if he had to present in front of anyone. Ostrich asked me to attend as many classes as I could with him, and I did. Beyond joining him in classes, I saw Ostrich nearly every morning at Breakfast Club. I doubt East City High’s Breakfast Club program would have run without Ostrich. Teachers told me this fact all the time, praising how indispensable Ostrich was to the early morning space. Ostrich’s family life was complicated and often challenging. He lived with his dad and two sisters. His abusive mother left the previous 37  spring, and the family was still recalibrating. Ostrich preferred to spend his time at school. Since grade 8, he had opted to come to school at least an hour early every day to lead Breakfast Club, preferring to be there instead of home. Most days I arrived early as well, so we could hang out and chat. Not generally loquacious, Ostrich more often communicated through sharing memes and videos. In between his tasks, like restocking the yogurt and milk, slicing banana bread, and toasting bagels, we spent a lot of time hunched over his phone. Ostrich’s favourite topics were movies, YouTube musicians, snakes, spiders, and video games. In the half hour to forty-five minutes before school started that I shared with Ostrich at Breakfast Club, we sat together, scrolling, laughing at content, and discussing what he appreciated about the material he selected.  While Ostrich and I mostly spent time together in school except for interviews, Barry and I frequently met up after school and on the weekends at a local café to drink tea, eat treats, and chat. Barry liked to introduce me to his friends by saying, “This is LJ, one of my best friends.” Sometimes he would announce that I was writing his memoir entitled: “dirty queer goes far and near.” Barry was a white, grade 12 student who played in band and sang in the choir. In his spare time, he played D&D. In February, Barry decided to inaugurate me into the world of D&D. He lent me his books and then we met up after school to start my training. Under Barry’s tutelage, I became Lucian, a Druid wood elf with a lute. I think of that time together as Barry endeavouring to share an important part of his life with me. Toward the end of the year, I asked Barry what he would like to see come out of the study. Barry responded: “Step one, a friend. My buddy LJ. I’d love to keep talking to you after this, obvs.” He continued by describing his thoughts about shifts in the education system in relation to gender and sexuality, but Barry’s first priority was our friendship. More than any other participant, Barry thought of me as a friend. This dynamic informed our time together and the type of project we created.  38  Vixen and I cultivated our own type of closeness over the year. One day in May, Vixen and I were at a café near East City High. Vixen was white, low-income, and lived with their mom in a coop. Vixen’s dad had recently lost their job and left town to look for work. Vixen was a writer, and they often read me their work out loud during these hangouts. On this day, Vixen was in a particularly good mood because they had just finished a chapter in their novel, Light of the Revenant. They wanted to read it to me. When Vixen read out loud, they did not just read the words off their phone. They performed. Everything Vixen did, they did with flourish. Once they finished, Vixen clasped their hands atop their phone and excitedly announced that they had inspiration for a new story. Vixen plugged their earbuds into their phone and handed me the left one while sticking the right one into their ear. We scooted in close to each other and listened to the song “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry. Vixen explained that the song made them imagine two characters, though they were not quite sure how the story would unfold around them yet. We began to bounce ideas off each other, dreaming up an arc and plot. While I did accompany Vixen to classes, we spent a significant amount of time together outside of school in this manner. Though I only conducted five interviews with Vixen, we met up a few times a week. Reading out loud was the reason for us to get together but it was never our only activity. It created the space for us to develop our own relationship.  Ms. Man and I cultivated a very different iteration of the project. We only met up once outside of East City High. Though Ms. Man did not want to be involved in that part of the project, they did want me to come along to classes. Ms. Man asked me to sit next to them and look through their sketchbook, watch videos of their musical performances, and, frequently, to dish about RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR). Ms. Man, who was in grade 12, was closely following the latest season because there was finally a Vietnamese drag queen on the show. When Ms. Man 39  watched her speak Vietnamese during the season’s promo, they “basically cried.” Ms. Man did not often hear their first language spoken in popular culture, and “it was amazing to see someone represent in that way.” Sitting in Studio Art, surrounded by their cisgender and straight classmates, Ms. Man leaned their head in close to me, and we shared our favourite drag race moments together. Ms. Man did not want to hang out, meet up for interviews, or think through their gender with me. They did want a person with whom they could have a bit of queer community while moving through the cisheteronormativity of their days at East City High. Scarecrow Jones was the last person to join the project. They were in grade 9, a queer, non-binary, mixed-race young person who was begrudgingly enrolled in the French Immersion program at East City High. They identified as poor, which put them at odds with many of the more privileged students in that specialized track at the school. Scarecrow Jones loved theatre and writing and almost never got through an entire sentence without swearing. I could always spot them in a crowd by their top hat, but do not confuse it with a fedora. Scarecrow Jones had strong feelings about the distinction. They were nervous about being associated with the study, so we were careful about our relationship and being seen together. Since I had spent the first two months in as many classes as possible to normalize my presence, by the time Scarecrow Jones joined the study, I was able to casually drop into their classes without drawing attention to them. Their teachers and classmates were accustomed to my sporadic attendance in all subjects from grades 9-12.  Scarecrow Jones’ least favourite class was Mr. Tremblant Social’s course, and they appreciated having me there as a witness. Mr. Tremblant, a white, cisgender, straight man, had no idea that I was working with Scarecrow Jones, and he often asked me to stay after class to extol the virtues of the French Immersion program. I would arrive without Scarecrow Jones and 40  sit off to the side with other students I knew. When Scarecrow Jones came to class, they always nodded as they flashed me a surreptitious peace sign. During the period, when Mr. Tremblant espoused racist and homophobic beliefs, Scarecrow Jones snuck looks in my direction. We would wink at each other, exchanging little acknowledgments that we both knew he was wrong. Later, in interviews or text messages, Scarecrow Jones and I would debrief these moments from class. More than any other student, Scarecrow Jones came to our interviews with questions they could not ask other people. They wanted to know if it was okay to be unsure about your gender and feel confused about your sexuality. Scarecrow Jones had never had an out queer teacher or known a trans or queer adult they could talk to about these topics. At the end of the year, they shared that meeting me had felt important because, “it’s nice to know that queer people exist in real life, not some mythical fable on the internet…in the flesh, baby.” Scarecrow Jones did not want to hang out as often as Barry, Raeyun, Vixen, or Ostrich; the project we created was the project they needed.  2.1.4 Virtual communities While the six projects traversed a variety of spaces in and outside of the school and represented a range of closeness, certain elements tied them together. For instance, all of the students and I regularly communicated through texts and Instagram. In the beginning of the year, at the request of several students, both participants and not, I created an Instagram account for the project. Immediately, students started following me. I had initially been apprehensive about engaging with students in this manner because students would take out their phones and show me teachers who followed their clubs on Instagram and tell me it was “super weird.” However, when students repeatedly entreated me to connect in this way, I took their invitations as an indication that they 41  perceived me differently. Messaging and chatting virtually opened up an approachable path of interaction. There was little pressure for youth in reaching out online. Weeks before Ms. Man decided to join the project, they expressed their desire to get to know me by liking my photos. Moreover, through Instagram and text, it was possible for students to connect without visibly aligning themselves with the project. Scarecrow Jones and I frequently texted instead of lingering after class to talk.  While at times I used a notebook for fieldnotes, I more frequently wrote notes on my phone. The ubiquity of phones at East City High facilitated this style of notetaking. Students were constantly on their phones, and I would have stood out without doing the same. When I was with youth hanging out at lunch in the band hall, sitting in the back of Social Justice 12, or passing time up in the tech booth, we were often on our phones. We sent each other memes and photos, and we texted. If Vixen and I were not sitting directly next to each other in class, they texted me that they were bored, and we made plans to get a coffee. Even when sitting together, Barry was constantly sending me posts online, mostly of D&D dice that were particularly beautiful or nail art. Whenever possible, I shared posts from trans and non-binary writers and activists with all the youth in the project Many of the students had vibrant virtual lives: they wrote fanfiction, they maintained Tumblrs, they followed YouTubers, and they ran multiple accounts. They invited me into these spaces, sending me links to their stories and accounts, curating lists of all the celebrities they wanted me to follow, and making specialized playlists for me. Scholars have explored how the internet is a vital space for queer and trans youth to create relationships and learn about their gender and sexuality (Cavalcante, 2019; Jenzen, 2017; Robertson, 2018). In this project, we turned to the internet to escape the observation of teachers and classmates. This medium was one 42  avenue for fostering our relationships and a sense of queer and trans community. Through texts and Instagram posts, we were able to share content, ideas, and parts of ourselves without navigating the cisheteronormative logics of East City High. They were momentary virtual escapes that we had created to communicate and then maintained because it was fun. The six projects were tied together beyond our virtual community building. Throughout all of the projects, I cultivated a desire for gender nonconformity that encouraged our shared cultivation of incoherence, ambiguity, and fluidity. This work was important in order to be accountable to the youth, who not only invested time and emotional labour in the project but built community with me as a non-binary, queer person. I was the only trans adult that many of the youth knew and our relationships frequently blurred the boundaries of researcher, mentor, and friend. As I indicated earlier, this blurriness was not incidental to the project but integral to my methodology. My movement through the school and relationships with youth were informed by how adults and youth viewed my gender and my relationship to adulthood. I turn now to the concept of non-adulthood to examine how, especially for the youth in the project, their perceptions of my non-adulthood influenced what they envisioned as possibilities from our relationship and the ways I was available to support them. Navigating these dynamics were ethical questions; they were also opportunities.   2.2 Being a non-adult researcher Toward the end of the year, I was sitting in the back of Social Justice 12 in my usual seat next to Vixen while the class worked on their final projects. I had been attending this class since September and had grown close with a number of the students. Earlier in the year I supported two students in an attempt at advocating for an all-gender multi-stall washroom and now they 43  had turned this campaign into their final class project. One of these students, Tamar, walked over to inquire if Vixen would write a personal statement in support of the all-gender washroom. Vixen enthusiastically agreed. Then Tamar turned to me and hesitantly said: “I feel like you’re an adult…?” Vixen and I both laughed, and I asked Tamar if that was a question or a statement. Tamar explained, “I just think of you as a student, but I guess you’re not and probably it’s better for these statements to come from students.” All three of us laughed for a moment, and I told Tamar I thought she was right. However, Tamar already knew I was not a student. She had previously asked for advice on applying to universities and expressed a desire to be a student in my class one day. I do not think she suddenly forgot. Rather, I believe her question speaks to the blurriness surrounding my presence at East City High. When Tamar walked away, Vixen and I chatted about adults’ confusion surrounding me in the school, specifically whether or not I counted as an adult. In classic Vixen fashion, they shrugged, rolled their eyes, and declared, “I mean, according to whose definition?” There is an assumption within the field of education that all researchers are recognized and treated as adults. However, being recognized as a full person relies on being legible within society (Spade, 2011; Stryker, 2008). While there is a growing understanding that gender is not binary (Airton, 2018), currently there is still little sense of non-binary adulthood. Moreover, despite increased attention to and awareness of transgender people, “…when transgender people are discussed within mainstream media, medicine, or academia, this is most often in terms of the gender binary…” (Richards et al., 2017, p. 12). Given the lack of understanding about non-binary genders generally and, specifically, the dearth of models of non-binary adulthood, being legible as a non-binary adult is complicated.  44  In the chapters that follow, I explore the unseen labour gender nonconforming youth were performing at East City High and the spaces they created to exist differently without adults ever noticing. This project hinged on my ability to be welcomed into relationships and invited into spaces that other adults did not gain entry to and, often, were not even aware existed. Moving through the school as a non-binary, non-adult was integral to the unfolding of this research.  2.2.1 Theorizing adulthood Adulthood is not a stage of life that people reach just by growing older but by growing up in a specific direction, marked by passage through recognizable checkpoints along a socio-culturally prescribed trajectory (Blatterer, 2007; Halberstam, 2005; Slater et al., 2018; Stockton, 2009). Becoming an adult hinges on the perceived success of a person within established white, settler, cisheteronormative, capitalist structures: leaving home, living independently, gaining financial security, getting monogamously married, and having children (Blatterer, 2007; Halberstam, 2005; Riggs & Bartholomaeus, 2018; Silva, 2012; Slater et al., 2018). Stryker (2008) argues “Because most people have a great difficulty recognizing the humanity of another person if they cannot recognize that person’s gender, the gender-changing person can evoke in others a…loss of humanness” (p. 6). A person’s adherence to cisheteronormative logics is paramount in being recognized by others as both a human and as an adult (Butler, 1993; Halberstam, 2005; Spade, 2011). People cannot simply claim adulthood for themselves; rather, others must also recognize them as having achieved adulthood (Blatterer, 2007; Silva, 2012). There is power in determining who ‘counts’ as an adult, for “Adulthood is a metaphor for membership in society through the attainment of full personhood” (Blatterer, 2007, p. 780). Importantly, acknowledgment of someone as an adult is not a static, immutable determination. 45  Who is labelled an adult, and when such persons acquire this label, is also a question of power. For instance, while white, affluent, and otherwise normatively positioned children have the privilege of being afforded the assumption of ‘innocent’ childhood when interacting with the State, racialized, Indigenous, and gender nonconforming children often have adulthood imposed onto them (Meiners, 2015). Their adulthood is not the recognition of full personhood; rather, it is a mechanism by which to deny them this personhood. Adulthood, if understood as a normative category that differentially bestows legibility and as a social construct conditioned by hegemonic structures that are not neutral, is ultimately about power, not age (Lesko, 2012; O’Dell et al., 2018). “Normative adulthood is produced and reified through contrast between adults and others not seen to be adult, including children, adults with disabilities, gender diverse adults, women who are voluntarily childless, and, increasingly, young adults with a focus on the notion of a prolonged ‘emerging adulthood’” (O’Dell et al., 2018, p. 350). I use the term ‘non-adult’ to signal those people against whom understandings of normative adulthood are shored up and reinforced (O’Dell et al., 2018). Non-adults, though perhaps grown in age and self-identifying as adults, are people who are not consistently recognized as adults by others in society. The pervasiveness of conventional expectations surrounding adulthood and its invisibility as a default category for education researchers are revealed through contrast to those of us who move through the world (and our research sites) as non-adults.  2.2.2 Becoming a non-adult Though I had some inclination of how I might be understood at East City High based on several years of experience as a youth worker who was infrequently seen as an adult, I could not have 46  anticipated the extent to which my non-adult status would shape my relationships with the participants and other students as well as inform the role I developed in the school over the course of the project. It became evident early on in the study that my challenge during fieldwork was not going to revolve around downplaying my adulthood in order to build rapport with youth, as is often discussed in ethnographic scholarship (Pascoe, 2007), but rather in navigating the ethical quandaries and complexities involved in being a non-adult researcher in a high school. As I observed and reflected on the ways students were positioning me and how I moved through the school, I realized that being a non-adult was a critical element of the project. I was present in the school to generate research with youth I intended to advocate for and support during as well as after the project. Given my background in youth work, I understood our relationships to be meaningful and positive for my participants. Though mentorship and research are not often combined, I believed ethical accountability in my project required acknowledging the importance of reimagining a researcher-participant relationship, especially when I was the only non-binary (non)adult that my participants knew (Slovin & Semenec, 2019). I was aware that students’ security around me as well as their informal ways of relating to me and incorporating me into their contexts in the classroom aided me in generating interesting data. I heard and saw more because I did not stand out as an adult in a youth space. Boundary work was therefore a constant, complicated task with the students. Students confided in me about their lives and welcomed me into conversations about teachers and other students with whom they had issues. Though at times these discussions revolved around fairly benign themes, several students disclosed serious matters. I was cognizant that my non-adult status invited this trust and confidence. I followed up with students, privately, after disclosures to make sure they were safe and to ascertain if further steps needed to be taken regarding reporting. By checking-in with 47  students in this manner, I distinguished myself from their peers and became an adult. I noticed this shift once when, during a hangout with Vixen, their current safety became a question. Though we had been working together for months and Vixen understood that I was a researcher and an adult, they were surprised and disappointed that I would react as such. Almost as a rule, Vixen did not tell adults what was happening in their life. At that moment, I betrayed them by becoming an adult in their eyes and caring whether they lived or died. Vixen did not speak to me for days. During our bout of silence, I wondered if Vixen would leave the study. I was concerned not just about their withdrawal from the project but about the destruction of a relationship we had been building for months. I had reacted in accordance with my ethical responsibility toward them, but Vixen, like many of my participants, did not predominantly interact with me as an adult with those responsibilities. Despite my repeated discussions with students about my role in the school, they positioned me in the ways that made the most sense to them.   2.2.3 Age, gender, and whiteness It is impossible to untether how I was consistently positioned as a student from the ways I was misgendered. Was I policed for using the women’s staff washroom because of perceptions that I was a student or beliefs that I was inappropriately gendered for that space? How would I ever know? Nearly every day a teacher shifted their demeanour toward me partway through our interaction because they had mistaken me for a student. Teachers regularly passed by me, overlooked me, or just did not meet my eye because they did not recognize me as an adult. The difference in how teachers greeted and engaged with me when they believed me to be a student versus when they realized I was an adult researcher was stark and a disconcerting illustration of how adults position youth in schools. Since adults’ inability to perceive me as an adult was 48  entangled in my gender nonconformity, these shifts in behaviour and attitude were also a challenging dynamic that I negotiated daily in order to navigate an age-striated research site that did not have space for a person who looks like me. Frequently, adults’ positioning of me as a student was intertwined with their perception of me as a teenage boy, an unstable impression that provoked in them the desire to figure out the ‘truth’ of my gender. When I explained myself as a doctoral student and an adult, they interpreted these responses as information about my gender in addition to age. Their confusion about my age was not removed from their discomfort regarding the ambiguity of my gender, and many believed if they could determine one for certain, they would ‘solve’ the other. As a white settler pursuing a doctoral degree in Canada, I am afforded countless privileges, among them moving through society with relative safety and increased ease and opportunity. At the same time, as a non-binary person, I am regularly policed regarding my status as an adult. My whiteness frequently serves as protection in these regulatory moments. My multiple privileges also served as a form of protection from the intertwined policing of my gender and age in the school. In general, I was not viewed as a threat, in large part due to my whiteness. When found to be in the ‘wrong’ space, like a staff washroom, my whiteness protected me from punishment. I was (often) afforded the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to ‘explain’ myself. As mentioned, many times, people’s confusion around my gender resulted in people positioning me as a teenage boy. My whiteness allowed me to blend in while among youth. I became just another ‘young’ person passing time in the hallways, in the back of a classroom, in the cafeteria, and on the school grounds. Teachers, counsellors, and administrators infrequently noticed me during the year because as a white, non-binary person, I could easily disappear into a crowd of students.  49  People perceived me as a person who had yet to grow up, which is a more palatable version of a non-adult, in contrast to when, informed by racist and colonial logics, non-adulthood is imposed on people in order to deny them personhood. Interpretations of me as a teenager were always tenuous, for though a person may have viewed me as a young man in one context, this understanding of me was unstable and tended to collapse over the course of our interaction. However, when people realized their ‘mistake,’ and I explained my role as a doctoral student and researcher in the school, no one questioned whether or not I was telling the truth. Frequently adults found their mistakes funny because, once they thought they knew who I was, they no longer felt as uncomfortable about me. Instead, they saw me as someone who did not understand how to be an adult. My whiteness shielded me from their fear.  Adults were not the only ones who experienced this confusion surrounding my gender and age. At the start of the study, I introduced myself as a graduate student and explained my project every time I entered a new class. There were many students who heard my spiel multiple times. However, even after months of these introductions, I could be mid-conversation with a student who would pause and ask, “Wait, what grade are you in?” or a student who understood that I was not in high school but was certain that I could not be more than twenty years old, despite the fact that I am in my mid-thirties. Once while Barry and I were walking down the hall after math class, he joked with me about how people did not think of me as an adult. Adulthood was on Barry’s mind at that moment since it was the week before his 18th birthday. He mused about the ways people interacted with me, noting that I had a slight moustache and some chin hair which he assumed would help people see me as older. Then he added, teasing, “nothing says adult like faint facial hair.” Barry’s understanding of me as a person who was not seen as an adult by others was intertwined with his perception of my gender nonconformity. However, ideas 50  about who grows facial hair are not just gendered but racialized, and the tethering of facial hair to masculinity is a specifically racialized construction.    2.2.4 The ethics of non-adulthood Research ethics are not just about preventing harm. Rather, ethics necessarily includes acknowledging our accountability to the participants in our projects as well as others who may be affected by our presence. The youth I worked with, who were often positioned as ‘at-risk’ both by the school and by scholarship (Airton, 2013; Rasmussen, Rofes, & Talburt, 2004), were also brilliant, passionate, caring young people just living their lives. They may have connected to me as a non-adult, but I did have access to resources and power that they did not. Their trust in me was important, and it was my ethical responsibility to follow through for them. For this reason, I said yes to students who asked for support over the course of the year, whether it was supporting Eliza and Tamar in fighting for an all-gender multi-stall washroom at the school or shopping for binders with Raeyun. Similarly, two weeks before the end of school, I accompanied Vixen to the vice-principal’s office to assist in a difficult conversation. In order to graduate, all grade 12 students had to complete a packet of forms and response questions. This packet was due months previously, but Vixen sporadically attended school and had not yet turned it in. Vixen was frequently labelled ‘at-risk’ in the school, in part due to their many absences. I knew many sides of Vixen, far beyond the similar tropes that get repeated about queer and trans youth in trouble. I knew they really wanted to graduate, and likewise, that they were nervous about handing in the packet this late on their own, so we went together. Our earlier standoff and period of silence may have contributed to Vixen asking me for help. Though Vixen’s understanding of me as a non-adult bolstered our relationship and invited a unique type of closeness, they also 51  came to realize that my adulthood might be useful to them. Sitting next to Vixen in the administrator’s office, I was certainly not a peer high school student. At the same time, Vixen had a relationship with a youth worker at the school, and they did not ask this adult person for support. My liminality made Vixen feel more comfortable and able to reach out in these situations. Being a non-adult certainly facilitated students’ minimization of our age differences, but it also let students call upon my adulthood when they needed an advocate. Part of my work and responsibility as a non-adult researcher was to understand the ways my participants were positioning me, acknowledging the uniqueness of being a non-adult researcher, and to then respond and be accountable to the importance of that role in the school and in their lives.  2.3 Mapping incoherent data Inviting fluidity and incoherence into the study was important in order to be accountable to the very idea of gender nonconformity as well as the ways the youth moved through their lives at East City High. These intentions remained paramount when I left the field and began to grapple with analysis. By the time I left East City High on a hot day in the third week of June, I had generated ten months of fieldnotes, recorded hundreds of hours of interviews, and collected several folders worth of handouts and course materials. As I prepared to immerse myself in these data, I remained focused on a central tension of this work. Analyzing data is often oriented toward codifying understanding and producing knowledge. However, gender nonconforming youth live in productive incoherence, resisting stable categories of knowing. At times, their resistance is grounded in a fierce intention to disrupt cisheteronormative assumptions; other times, it is others who resist knowing them, unable to recognize the complexities of their genders. I had to approach analysis in a manner that honoured their incoherence and resistance.   52   In the post qualitative turn, scholars critique an overreliance on coding in qualitative research, arguing against the essentialism of this analytical practice  (Childers, 2014; Jackson & Mazzei, 2012; MacLure, 2013; Ringrose & Renold, 2010). Coding solidifies data into knowable categories and concepts. However, data is not fixed nor stable. Rather, like gender, it is fluid and changing. The anti-essentialist rejection of coding questions conventional understandings of data as representing “real and true knowledge” (Jackson, 2013, p. 742). As Childers (2014), explains, “Coding, or any other systemic, a priori structural process of analysis, is a failed attempt to discipline a world that is uncontainable” (p. 819). Tuck and Yang (2014) highlight coding as an example of “inquiry as invasion” (p. 811). Their work on the analytics of refusal underscores how coding extends from the notion that researchers can and should make knowledge claims. Tuck and Yang (2014) developed refusal to push back on the colonial logics informing coding and research desires more generally.  I was invested in rejecting coding because gender nonconforming youth are over-coded. They are regularly positioned into stable categories that impose a specific type of knowing onto them. They become known through risk, vulnerability, newness, and struggle. They are known in relation to developmental trajectories, medical interventions, safe school policies, and statistics on bullying and suicide. They are known through the adults that ‘know’ them: parents, teachers, researchers, and other people with ‘good’ intentions.    As I sat at my desk, feeling overwhelmed by all the data, I wrote out my priorities: being accountable to the young people who shared their lives with me for a year, challenging a linear retelling of the research that would provide the illusion of a coherent trajectory of growth over the project, and resisting the desire to stabilize the youth into knowable categories. I spent weeks experimenting with different approaches to analysis, searching for a practice that both honoured 53  my priorities and was practical for the amount of data I had generated. I was trained to code, and unlearning coding was, following Ms. Spensor, one of the difficult knowledges of this project. I tried and abandoned several forms of analysis before turning to mind maps. I arrived at mapping without the intention of creating a cartography of East City High or the youth. Critical geographers have used mental mapping as a method of data generation, for it augments an interrogation of “where things happen and what is important about them to the place, person, and relationship between them” (Gieseking, 2013, p. 722). Though research discusses what mental mapping makes possible during fieldwork, I extend this potential to analysis. I wanted an analytical method that was mutable and visual, one that did not force me to begin in September and end in June as if our relationships, learning, and experiences were chronological and teleological. Mapping’s multidimensionality highlighted the complexities and fluidity of how youth moved through spaces and created different relationships with their genders, teachers, and schooling as they went. I created maps for every class I attended, for hallways and lunch hangouts, and performances and events. I made maps for non-physical spaces as well, like Instagram and the stories youth wrote. Working with mind maps facilitated a focus on the spaces in which I interacted with the youth. Through mapping, I could visualize and engage with how the youth reimagined and reworked their genders as they moved from space to space and relationship to relationship. Their labour was a constitutive element of the maps, filling my documents with their interventions, refusals, and creations. The act of making and spending time with the maps underscored that certain aspects of schooling required additional labour from the youth. For instance, I could observe where they collided with issues of legibility. Importantly, mapping did not result in finite, coherent knowledge about the youth. The maps are not a cartography of a 54  year in the life; they are a way to read the myriad, complicated stories about how the youth moved through East City High. Rather than stabilizing the gender nonconforming youth into concrete categories by coding them, mapping the spaces we inhabited together allowed me to make the conditions of their lives knowable.   2.4 Conclusion For a year, I moved with the youth through their days, classes, challenges, victories, and doldrums. Our relationships were shaped by their desires from the project and what they perceived as possible given my non-binary gender, non-adulthood, and whiteness. There were many ways that our movements and closeness defied recognition and legibility in the school. These incoherences guided the project. Creating space for gender nonconformity without requiring it to be knowable was our constant, shared work.  Gender nonconforming youth resist stable categories of knowing. Therefore, research with gender nonconforming youth needs to invite their incoherence and fluidity, it needs to move with them through their days as they imagine and navigate their genders in response to the cisheteronormativity of the school. My intention was never to know them for certain or concretize their genders with language that could persist. I am honoured to have moved alongside these six-gender nonconforming youth for a year and to have witnessed how they laboured to perform their genders, to resist legibility, and to create their own spaces to exist. This project was possible because they welcomed me into relationships and spaces with them, shared their thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and invited me to keep moving alongside them day after day.   55  Chapter 3: East City High’s Culture of Niceness  Despite an overall investment in teaching, modelling, and enforcing cisheteronormativity, adults at East City High would surely rankle at the notion that transphobia existed within the school walls. A culture of niceness permeated East City High, informing the work of teachers, counsellors, and administrators as well as fueling policy related to gender nonconforming students. Niceness reinforces institutional whiteness, reframing systemic patterns of oppression as individual mistakes or incidences of misplaced hurt (Castagno, 2014). As such, niceness is likewise a settler colonial phenomenon, especially in the context of reconciliation when settlers, invested in historical closure, neglect the institutionalized factors that maintain inequities (Patzer, 2014).  East City High’s cultural niceness opened doors by encouraging adults to support and care about gender nonconforming youth’s wellbeing. These doors were always already traps, for they required youth to be legible through ‘at-risk’ discourses. When adults treated gender nonconforming youth with niceness, they were often concurrently positioning them as vulnerable. This framework assumed that educators were motivated by ‘good’ intentions; therefore, oppressive incidences were not anyone’s fault but rather the result of misunderstandings. If adults in the school had good intentions, then how could schools not be safe spaces for all students? I am interested in how East City High’s culture of niceness reframed transphobic moments, not only erasing their violence but also compelling gender nonconforming youth into relationships of understanding and forgiveness. Students became responsible for appreciating adults’ concern for their gender transgressions or recognizing the hard work they 56  put into endeavouring to remember names and pronouns. I am fascinated by this largely invisible labour that a culture of niceness demanded from students.   3.1 Language of Concern At East City High, good intentions were often enveloped in what I have come to think of as the ‘language of concern.’ Many teachers, counsellors, and administrators deployed the language of concern to, often unconsciously, displace their transphobia by imposing worry onto youth who were not actually in danger. Adults at the school expressed concern over the wellbeing of students who they perceived as not fitting in or conforming to gender expectations. For instance, in the winter, a grade 9 Indigenous student started wearing short skirts, platform shoes, and low-cut tops. Several teachers stopped me in the hall to talk about him. Ms. Varma, the film and art teacher, approached me because she had overheard teachers talking. She told me: I am worried, not about him, but about how some teachers are responding to him because he doesn’t do well with authority…I am worried that teachers are conflating his gender presentation with that behaviour. I want to make sure he is getting support.   Ms. Varma was wary of how teachers were drawing on caring language to speak about this student while concurrently pathologizing his gender nonconformity. This student was already seen as vulnerable because of his Indigeneity. As an Indigenous student in an overwhelmingly settler institution, this student was frequently labeled ‘at risk’ and thus gender nonconformity became an additional concern. This reading challenged his ability to create and express his own relationship to his gender by imposing settler notions of legibility onto his embodiment and dress. Adults at the school positioned their concern as ‘nice,’ for they were looking out for him. Furthermore, teachers anticipated that this student would be thankful for their intervention because niceness asks people to be grateful, which deflects attention from systemic issues. This 57  relationship between niceness and gratefulness is one way that niceness upholds settler colonialism. In the era of reconciliation, settlers expect appreciativeness for niceties like territory acknowledgments while hedging on questions of land, clean water, over-policing, and child welfare services. Settlers want Indigenous peoples to acknowledge and laud our good intentions. It was not incidental that educators drew upon a language of concern to protect a gender nonconforming youth they had positioned as vulnerable and ‘at-risk.’  3.1.1 Step into my office A few weeks into the school year, I was walking through the counselling suite when Ms. O’Connor, the grade 11 counsellor, called out to me. She wheeled her desk chair into the doorway and asked me if I had made contact with Ostrich, reminding me of his deadname.8 I nodded, and she beckoned me closer. Ms. O’Connor told me that she had some “concerns” and wanted to chat. I hesitantly stepped into her office. Many adults at the school assumed that I was happy to pass along information about students when they were curious.  Ms. O’Connor told me a story I already knew about how Ostrich had come to see her, requesting that she change his name and pronouns in the system and update his teachers. I thought back to Ostrich’s telling of this story. When he excitedly relayed it to me, it had been a seamless narrative: he told Ms. O’Connor about the changes, she updated his file, and then she spread the word. Ostrich believed she followed through on their conversation. However, Ms. O’Connor informed me that she had not done it. She continued, “of course I will because East  8	While	not	all	trans	people	relate	to	the	term	“deadname”	or	feel	as	if	it	accurately	describes	their	relationship	with	names,	Ostrich	felt	strongly	about	burying	his	previous	identity.	For	a	discussion	that	complicates	this	terminology,	please	see	https://legacywomenwriters.org/conversations/.		58  City is really good about that stuff, but I have some concerns.” Ms. O’Connor laid out her concerns for me: namely that Ostrich was “super vulnerable.” He had been on her radar since before high school as an “at-risk” student. “I am just worried about him,” Ms. O’Connor told me, “because this is a big change and a lot for someone who is already so vulnerable.” Ms. O’Connor did not expand on what it meant to be “so vulnerable” because the assumption was that I could make the necessary connections, piecing together who Ostrich was from the stories that were told most often about him by adults in the school. Ms. O’Connor let me know that she had set him up with a counsellor outside of East City High. “Can you ask him how counselling is going?” She wanted me to regularly report back to her. I did not agree to this arrangement. Ms. O’Connor leaned forward, hands clasped, and smiled at me, believing us to be on the same team. In this conversation, she positioned herself as a counsellor going above and beyond. She was not just nice; she was compelled by her good intentions to seek additional supports for a vulnerable youth. Ms. O’Connor suggested that she was attempting to protect Ostrich. However, her concerns were rooted in an understanding of Ostrich as “vulnerable” and therefore unable to know himself and articulate his own gender. The door, Ms. O’Connor’s concern, was also a trap that required Ostrich relent to others’ positioning of him as “vulnerable.” Those concerns made permissible the upholding of a cisheteronormative order within the school.  Though explicitly displaying unease or discomfort about gender nonconformity would be blatantly transphobic and thus not nice, expressing concern for a student functioned differently. Pervasive tropes about trans and gender nonconforming youth position them as already ‘at-risk’; therefore, concern has become an avenue for adults who are invested in protecting youth from the hardships and struggles deemed inseparable from being gender nonconforming. Ms. 59  O’Connor understood Ostrich’s gender nonconformity as intensifying his vulnerability because transness was largely not desired at East City High.  3.1.2 Risky concern is a trap Decades of scholarship positioning LGBTQ2S youth as at heightened risk of depression, bullying, substance abuse, and suicidality have contributed to the notion that being trans or gender nonconforming is inherently risky (Airton, 2013; Greteman, 2018; Loutzenheiser, 2010). Within this framework, many nice adults with good intentions responded from a place of concern when interacting with gender nonconforming youth. This hesitant reaction reinforced the way that adults generally interacted with the presence of gender nonconformity at East City High: as an undesirable, dangerous, and problematic idea. Because of East City High’s cultural imperative to promote diversity and inclusion, which I explore further in the next chapter, educators worked to be viewed as nice and committed to protecting students they perceived as vulnerable. Therefore, many adults opened doors for youth. These adults were willing to accommodate individual trans and gender nonconforming youth, for instance by finding workarounds for them to participate in PE or letting them pick their pronouns in French class. As I examine in Chapter 5, accommodations do not challenge the cisheteronormative logics of the school or schooling. Though teachers, counsellors, and administrators worked to accommodate individual students into the school, finding creative solutions that did not necessitate systemic change, few educators desired youth to be trans or gender nonconforming. Even writing a sentence combining the words desire and trans and gender nonconforming youth approaches precariously close to the perverse. As Greteman (2018) argues, referring below to queerness in an expansive sense that encompasses gender non-normativity: 60  The very idea that education might work to promote queerness as a viable decision or way of life cuts immediately too close to ideas of recruitment long used against addressing queer issues or allowing queer teachers in schools. Additionally, the idea of promoting queerness, or helping kids become queer, smacks of essentialist ideas that queerness is something that can be taught or has some essential core to its work. (pp. 2-3)  Even as schools grow increasingly tolerant and accepting of trans and gender nonconforming youth, they resist approaches that may foster queerness (Greteman, 2018). Educators understood how to open doors for individual queer and trans students, but these moments of recognition and visibility did not challenge the cisheteronormative conditions of schooling. For a student like Ostrich, who was positioned as vulnerable, at-risk, and always already struggling, being trans was deemed an unnecessary burden. I was asked multiple times by support staff if I thought he was faking it or just looking for ways to garner attention. Some adults wondered if Ostrich thought of transitioning as a way to deal with his fatness, extending their ‘concern’ to the multiple ways his body touched non-normativity in the school (Meadow, 2018). By framing these inquiries within the language of concern, adults obscured their transphobia and fatphobia. Moreover, they pulled Ostrich into this dynamic with them, forcing him to recognize the interaction as one motivated by good intentions rather than transphobia and violence. Ostrich became responsible for understanding the nature of their concerns, a trap that denied his access to feelings of anger and violation. I noticed Ostrich performing this labour. Ostrich increasingly articulated an idea of transness that was tethered to danger and risk. He wanted to medically transition, but he mediated these desires within his growing awareness that a person cannot understand themselves as trans until they have proved that they are stable in their identity. In sifting through people’s reactions to his intentions to transition, Ostrich explained to me others’ reasoning through a lens of caring. He listed safety concerns, which he framed as 61  understandable given that no one wanted him to be harmed in anyway by taking irreparable steps toward transitioning when he was “too young.” Months after my conversation with Ms. O’Connor in the counselling suite, on a day when Ostrich was absent from school, Ms. O’Connor contacted his mother, who was not his primary guardian and was known to the school as abusive. In the process, Ms. O’Connor communicated his name and pronoun change to her. While Ostrich had explicitly given Ms. O’Connor permission to share his name and pronoun change with his teachers, he was decisive that this information should not go to his mother. Ostrich ultimately had to perform both the labour of updating his teachers and handling the fallout of Ms. O’Connor’s exchange with his mother. If Ms. O’Connor’s actual concern in withholding Ostrich’s name and pronoun change from his teachers had been one of protection, why had she, without consent, divulged this information with his abuser? Ms. O’Connor’s decision was an act of violence that impeded Ostrich’s safety. As a result, Ostrich was forced to explain his gender to his mother, a discussion he had previously avoided. While Ostrich was gradually sharing more of his gender with his father and sisters, he had been steadfast that his mother have no role in that part of his life. Despite Ms. O’Connor’s many concerns for Ostrich, she was the one who placed him in danger by giving information to his abuser that she had no right to give.  3.2 Nice spaces are safe spaces Raeyun and I left the theatre studio, walked through the cafeteria, and slowly climbed the back staircase to sneak in the ulterior entrance to the gymnasium. We found an empty bench against the wall and huddled together. Raeyun munched on a muffin, and we looked through his doodle-covered planner to find the classroom number for a meeting he had later in the day. East City 62  High was on a block rotation, meaning that the order of students’ courses shifted every term. The first couple of days in a new rotation were always a mess, with students frequently walking into the wrong classroom. I found it confusing and had to write out all my participants’ schedules in my phone to keep track. There was a nutrition break that separated first and second period. In the new rotation, Raeyun and I were stuck in the gymnasium for twenty-minutes before class started. Many students chose to spend their breaks in the gymnasium, shooting hoops and tossing frisbees. On this day, like most days, the energy was aggressive and overwhelming. A group of boys yelled and pushed each other, shouting “fucking homo” and “I’ll fucking jerk you off right now” while gesticulating grabbing each other’s penises in violent manners. Raeyun and I commiserated. He recounted the other day, when I was out of town for a conference, and the school handed out the annual demographics survey. There was a question on it how about how safe you feel. He put a 7 out of 10, but he told me that if he had to respond right now, he would be a 3. Raeyun explained that he had kind of just answered without thinking about it, but he does not actually feel that safe at East City High.  3.2.1 As safe as a rainbow Safe space stickers were ubiquitous at East City High. Every single classroom door had a safe space sticker adorning the window, although some stickers looked as if they were replaced every year while some were mostly faded and almost entirely peeled off. Scarecrow Jones blasted these supposed signs of support, saying:  Safe space stickers don’t mean anything, come on. It’s, like, the district is, like, put these up, and the teachers are, like, “pay me more,” you know. The stickers, people will say that they’re accepting, and they’re all for it, and, whatever, but, for a lot of people when it actually comes down to it, they’re not. They will, like, I mean don’t get me wrong, a lot of people are very accepting of it and will respect it. But then there’s some people, they 63  won’t outright say it’s wrong, but they’ll be, like, “hmm, what does that mean for you? What, how do you know? Are you sure, but you’re a child?” Maybe not in those words, but, like, just, like, that kind of feeling and then they treat you differently.  The easy presence of a symbol of acceptance offended Scarecrow Jones, who had no tolerance for hypocrisy. Scarecrow Jones saw traps in the rainbow stickers on doors. In their experience, people might not “outright say it’s wrong,” but their attitude and behaviour toward queerness and gender nonconformity betrayed their discomfort. If people knew you were gender nonconforming, they would treat you differently. Scarecrow Jones pointed out the typical questions that teachers might ask to undercut the legitimacy of gender nonconformity. In these questions, there were echoes of how Ms. O’Connor denied Ostrich the possibility of articulating his own gender. Ms. O’Connor, drawing on adultist notions of knowing better (Frohard-Dourlent, 2016b), believed she was acting in Ostrich’s best interests. Scarecrow Jones noted how this paternalistic line of thinking (“are you sure, but you’re a child?”) undermined their sense of their gender. The school was constructed as a safe space in part through visuals, like the rainbow stickers and posters in the school that denounced bullying, racism, and homophobia (Ahmed, 2012; Ball et al., 2012). However, Scarecrow Jones refused this superficial rendering of the school as safe, listing several alternatives for their teachers that would be more generative and positive in their life. Scarecrow Jones explained: I just kind of wish they understood at least what the terms mean because I’m, like, a kid, and I know what all these terms mean. I bet half the teachers don’t even know what the word pansexual means….and maybe put some proper grammar on the posters that you put up in the classrooms…you can’t learn every single thing you  need to know in the course of one session, so…like, you can’t get it done in one professional development day…which means the teachers have to be willing to put in the time…everything seems to be stacked against it.  64  Scarecrow Jones was consistently frustrated by East City High’s official stance toward queer and trans students and how that formal narrative contrasted with their daily experience. What difference did it make if a teacher had a safe space sticker on their door when Scarecrow Jones was aware of the underlying cisheteronormative logics that shaped their life at East City High? Despite the pervasive safe space stickers in the school, Scarecrow Jones did not use they/them pronouns because that they did not trust teachers to understand. As they pointed out to me, “If the school is such a safe space, why aren’t more teachers actually out?” For Scarecrow Jones, safety would never be encapsulated in a rainbow sticker but instead had to be demonstrated by the everyday acknowledgment that queerness existed. In their frustration, Scarecrow Jones exposed the many tensions within East City High’s approach to safe spaces, highlighting the doors and traps that educators provided for gender nonconforming youth in the name of safety.  3.2.2 “I am concerned about safe spaces” In English 11, I sat in the back row behind Raeyun. One day in March Mr. Harding, his English teacher, finished the lesson unexpectedly early and gave the class free time until the period ended. Most students hung out on their phones. A few industrious boys pushed their desks together and set up a Nintendo Switch to play Super Smash Brothers. After a few moments, Raeyun turned sideways in his seat and placed one arm on my desk. It was a Day 1, which meant Raeyun was in his standard non-PE day outfit: jeans, a t-shirt, and a new hoodie jacket he had bought at Old Navy. His sketchbook was propped on his knees; he was mapping out his future with doodles. He imagined different pathways toward his currently preferred careers: cook, forensics detective, or musician. He plotted short- and long-term goals, like getting his driver’s license, his food safe certificate, and studying criminology at Simon Fraser University. Raeyun 65  filled the page in his characteristic illustrations of non-human creatures. He thought there was more possibility when you did not get stuck drawing human figures.  Leaning against my desk, Raeyun recounted what happened last period in his French class. “People were doing speeches and one student did a speech about ‘transgender bathrooms.’” Each student had to present opinion pieces in the form of three-minute speeches. This student “said he was uncomfortable with the idea [of sharing washrooms with trans people] and worried about safety.” Raeyun generously relayed his classmate’s concerns to me. The student viewed it as a matter of his safety, and Raeyun was quick to acknowledge this student’s fears and anxieties. Furthermore, he empathized, noting unironically, “I am not always comfortable using the bathroom with cis people, so I get how that could work.” Raeyun and I went back and forth a bit, grappling with these ideas of fear and safety. He described to me how last summer, at a camp for queer and trans youth, “all the washrooms were gender-neutral and it wasn’t a big deal.” He paused and then commented, “it’s not like you are going to go into the washroom to stare at someone taking a shit.” I laughed, adding, “yeah, washrooms aren’t sexy places.” Raeyun agreed, “yeah, they’re just washrooms, what’s the big deal?” He momentarily left behind the multiple caveats he had generously been creating for his classmate and instead started ranting about how “trans people were using bathrooms years ago and no one cared, why now?” Still leaning on my desk, Raeyun concluded, “I thought it was an interesting thing to come up in class.” Then he turned back around and continued sketching for the remainder of class. After English, I swung by his French teacher’s classroom. We had an amiable, easygoing relationship, and I hoped to inspire her to tell me the story as well. I poked my head into the classroom, and she smiled, welcoming me in. After a few minutes of casual conversation, I asked 66  if I could chat to her a bit about one of her earlier classes. She did not hesitate for a moment. She knew what class I wanted to talk about, which was not all that surprising given my role in the school. She had a prep block and was keen to talk about the event. I spent most of the next period with her. She leaned in and said straight away, referring to the boy who made the speech, “isn’t it interesting, he has two moms!” In locating this student within, or at least adjacent to, the LGBTQ2S community, Madame Blanchet was signalling something to me. Perhaps she thought that this student could not possibly be transphobic because of his queer or lesbian parents? I offer that Madame Blanchet specifically highlighted this boy’s two moms to me because there remains a societal presumption of a monolithic LGBTQ2S community. The acronym itself reproduces the idea and image of a unified group of people and identities tethered together by shared experiences and a sense of solidary (Gilbert, 2014).  Madame Blanchet enthusiastically described the activity and throughout our conversation stressed that the boy’s work was “neutral” and “not aggressive.” Madame Blanchet explained that she had reviewed all the opinion pieces before students presented them. “I had read it ahead of time and there was nothing that flagged to me.” She continued, “it was an opinion piece and there weren’t any slurs, and it was actually more neutral and benign than a lot of other things that people have talked about in class.” She was particularly impressed by this student’s perspective. “He talked about his discomfort and his concerns about safety…wasn’t it interesting? Because he wasn’t thinking about trans peoples’ safety.” Madame Blanchet went on to explain how when most people discussed this topic, they focus on the safety concerns for trans people, but this student took an entirely different approach. For Madame Blanchet, this perspective signalled creativity. “But,” she continued, “many people prickled once he gave the title of his talk and they didn’t listen all the way through to his logic, to his discussion of separate bathrooms. There were 67  parts that were very empowering.” As a result of not listening all the way through, students could not grasp the empowering parts of his presentation. I nodded and asked her to tell me more about those elements. For me, her response was vague and difficult to follow. Mostly she explained that the student thought both sides needed a solution, and she stressed, “he didn’t say any myths.” Then she paused for a moment, staring at me. “I am concerned about safe spaces,” she underscored to me, “but also that was his opinion, and I didn’t rebut any of the other students who spoke on similarly tough issues like abortion and vaccines.” She kept looking at me, compassionately, and explained, “I know Raeyun is trans. I hope he still feels safe to come to class.” After an uncomfortable moment, she asked: “does he?”  3.2.3 Niceness is not controversial The assumption is that schools are safe, and safe spaces are places where there is no trouble (Berlant, 2001). This lack of trouble can mean the avoidance of challenging topics and a hesitancy to confront issues that would disturb the dominant perception of the school as diverse, inclusive, and safe (Castagno, 2014; Youdell, 2006). Though the move toward safe school policies in British Columbia originated to protect queer youth from bullying and harassment (Loutzenheiser & Moore, 2009; Meyer, 2010; Walton, 2004), the concept of safety in schools “has evolved into a catch phrase to encompass all of the policy intended to create diverse climates within schools, encourage inclusive environments, recognize the potential for violent incidences, and limit bullying, harassment, and intimidation within the school environment” (Loutzenheiser & Moore, 2009, p. 154). Within a neoliberal framework, bullying has become a diffuse buzzword unconnected to challenging systemic oppression. Scholars in education have critiqued several dimensions of safe space rhetoric, from the ways safe space programming fails 68  to address the underlying need for safety (MacIntosh, 2007) to the ways youth are differentially positioned in relation to notions of safety (Greteman, 2018; Loutzenheiser, 2015; Quinan, 2016). Furthermore, there has been an growing call in queer scholarship to move beyond bullying as the capstone of safety (Fields et al., 2014; Greteman, 2018). These appeals are grounded in the awareness that continuously and exclusively theorizing queer and trans youth in connection to risk and harm tethers young people to these notions of hardship and danger. The pervasiveness of these frameworks make the idea that queer and trans youth could be anyone but victims unthinkable (Brockenbrough, 2015).  There is also an underlying tension in East City High’s relationship to the notion of safety for gender nonconforming youth. On the one hand, the school prides itself on inclusivity and presents itself as safe for all, as I will examine in greater depth in the next chapter. Yet, on the other hand, educators regularly positioned gender nonconforming students as unsafe or, at least, less safe than their cisheteronormative peers. East City High’s culture of niceness complicated gender nonconforming youths’ relationship with safety: they were not exclusively victims nor considered free from danger. The expectation of safety for all students existed in a tense duality with the recognition that gender nonconforming youth confronted unique challenges at East City High. At times this awareness that gender nonconforming youth might be less safe than other students provoked a desire to advocate on their behalf, as with Ms. O’Connor. Even when advocacy was not the result, educators’ good intentions regarding gender nonconforming youth relied upon the recognition that they were less safe than other students. However, the pervasive assumption that East City High was a safe school prevented the interrogation of the underlying power structures that contributed to the cisheteronormativity gender nonconforming youth daily navigated. When students confronted unsafe incidences, these moments were labelled as 69  aberrations, divergences from the school’s proper functioning. It was then youth’s responsibility to also recognize these events as anomalous and to understand and forgive the misunderstandings that contributed to them feeling unsafe. A young person’s disparate experience of the school as safe could potentially disrupt that careful positioning. However, if all actors had good intentions, then no one deliberately caused harm. As Castagno (2014) explains: Within a frame of niceness, oppressive actions are not actually oppressive; they are just hurtful. They are assumed to be the result of individuals who have made bad choices or who just do not know any better. This framing diverts attention away from patterned inequity, structural oppression, and institutional dominance. (p. 10)  In this framework, acts of violence, such as transphobia, racism, or anti-Indigeneity, are not anyone’s fault; instead, they become the result of misunderstandings. This framework does not work without students’ (even reluctant) participation. When the pervasive framework positions adults as acting with good intentions, it becomes the students’ responsibility to understand and forgive, to recognize the terms of the misunderstanding and engage in the process of reconciliation. Raeyun did this work when he retold the story of that French class. He worked to understand and empathize with a student who stood in front of the class and argued against his right to access public space (Rasmussen, 2009). Raeyun listened to this diatribe against his right to exist while in a school that repeatedly positioned itself as safe, inclusive, and welcoming.  Raeyun had previously explained to me how he experienced whiteness at school as white boys taking up space. He had attended a workshop on race and space-taking that revolutionized how he understood racism at East City High. He described his “huge takeaway” as “just being aware of how much space you have, how much you are taking, and how much you can give and how much people can take from you.” When his teacher did not interject nor debrief the white, 70  cisgender, straight boy’s speech, that student’s views were allowed to dominate the classroom space. Madame Blanchet explained to me that there just would not have been enough time to debrief each topic. However, “Washrooms are sites of gendered regulation…they constitute a key space for potential intervention in school environments” (Frohard-Dourlent, 2016a, p. 71). Since transphobia is racialized, the social policing of washrooms is never just a gendered regulation. Washrooms are contested spaces that heighten normative expectations of bodies regarding gender, sexuality, race, and ability (Adair, 2015). Not thinking about washroom access is a privilege. By not intervening during the discussion, Madame Blanchet signalled that this white boy’s opportunity to express an opinion was as important if not more than Raeyun’s safety in the school, ability to access a washroom without fear, and right to sit in class without being policed. This decision reproduced normative power dynamics in the classroom and at East City High, constructing a limited version of safety at the expense of Raeyun. In this context, it became Raeyun’s responsibility to reframe what he heard as not oppressive.   Raeyun and I were at McDonald’s after school one month later, discussing why the proposal for a multi-stall universal washroom kept getting blocked by the administration at East City High. Raeyun, who tried to make it through the entire school day without using the washroom, had previously supported the proposal for the washroom. Our conversation began in a similar vein as others on the subject. Raeyun blamed the school’s stinginess, complaining that they just did not want to spend money on improving the school for students. He told me: Not a lot of people say much [about the washroom] cause if people say something, like,  they could always just be like we already have a non-gendered washroom. But it’s, like, is that really enough though? It’s one washroom on the third floor. I could be in Ms. Mack’s room [in an outbuilding] and walk all the way there and it would be occupied, and I would be pissed.  71  However, as he kept talking, he remembered risk and safety issues that had recently been brought to his attention. Raeyun explained how a space that both genders can access could be dangerous. “I think a lot of people might not be comfortable themselves with going because a non-gendered washroom means that both genders can go at the same time, right? So that might cause a lot of risk for people.” While attempting to recall what made such a space dangerous, Raeyun shared where he learned about this possibility in the first place: Madame Blanchett’s class. “This was just brought to my attention, but, like, people could, like, try to kill themselves in there because it’s locked, right? There’s also the whole problem with sexual harassment…there’s a lot to consider.” Ever the good student, Raeyun performed the necessary labour to understand the event in Madame Blanchet’s classroom. “I feel like I used to say, oh yeah, it’s easy, but now that I’m thinking about it…I feel like it’s either a cost issue, a plumbing issue, or a safety issue.” By leaving the student’s diatribe against “transgender bathrooms” unchallenged, Madame Blanchet fostered a nice classroom environment that avoided controversy. This evasion, however, occurred through a privileging of dominant voices. Though at first uncomfortable with the gap between his experience and the viewpoint left unquestioned in class, Raeyun worked to bring the two sides closer together. He recalled examples of danger and harm from the class discussion and let this new knowledge affect his previously steadfast belief in his right to public space. Now that Raeyun knew there was something dangerous and risky about a universal washroom, he worked to incorporate that understanding into his perspective.   72  3.3 Theatre Company by any other name There was an intimacy among the students in theatre that I did not witness in other classes. They held hands while sitting together and teased each other about their sexuality in an affectionate rather than hurtful manner. At the end of the year, Campbell, a white, femme, gay boy was cast as a big man on campus in a student-directed play. The whole group joked lovingly with Campbell as they tried to help him figure out how to lean against the lockers in a sexy, masculine way during a scene. Everyone, including Campbell, was laughing so hard that they had to keep pausing rehearsal. Then the student in charge decided to just switch the stage directions to whatever position Campbell felt more comfortable enacting. In media (think Glee) and scholarship, theatre and arts classes are often considered an encouraging space for queer and trans students (Allen Carter, 2013; Pascoe, 2007; Rosenfeld Halverson, 2005; Verner Chappell et al., 2018). Four participants in the study were involved with East City High’s theatre program, though all of them struggled with Ms. Mack, the unpredictable, demanding director. Students complained about Ms. Mack’s propensity to take her stress out on them. Scarecrow Jones summed up this issue, saying, “I don’t think she copes with stress well…as soon as she gets a little bit stressed, it’s immediately, bam! World is ending, she’s yelling, ‘you’re not doing this,’ and ahhh!” Still, all four participants loved the art of theatre, tech, and acting. They had to work hard to understand and forgive Ms. Mack’s transphobia to enable their continued participation in that space.   3.3.1 Opening a can of worms The first time I went to Ms. Mack’s theatre studio, she was delighted and asked me to accompany her to the tech booth for a chat. The booth was up a flight of stairs and looked out 73  over the rest of the studio. There was a lighting and sound board and then huge windows so that whoever was working tech could have an unobstructed view of the stage. Ms. Mack perched on a stool and explained that ever since I presented my research at the staff meeting in the beginning of the year, she planned to find me and invite me to her theatre classes. Then she leaned forward, tipping the stool onto two legs and asked if I had arrived with any specific students. Before I could deflect her question, she waved her hands excitedly and asked if she could guess which students I was working with in her class. She believed gender nonconformity to be visible and knowable, an identity she could easily see in her students. I wiggled out of the question, informing her that my participants would remain in confidence. She reluctantly dropped the topic.   Over the course of the year, Ms. Mack incorporated me into her theatre company. She tried to cast me in every play the Senior Theatre Company produced. When I demurred, feeling uncomfortable taking a role that should belong to a student, she enlisted me as a production assistant. I helped build sets, ran her errands, sat through auditions, learned how to work the lights and sound in the tech booth, and assisted in creative decisions. I have a bit of a background in theatre, and Ms. Mack glommed on to that experience, believing it meant we had a special connection. Though Ms. Mack knew, on some level, that I was present in the school to work with students and that I attended a variety of classes in all subject areas, she operated as if I were really at East City High because of the theatre program.  The theatre studio was in one of the outbuildings at East City High. To get there, you left the main building through the back doors, walked across a small courtyard, entered through the far doors (the ones that lead to the cafeteria, not the gymnasium), and went down the stairs. The theatre studio was directly under the old gymnasium. When classes used that space, we would 74  hear lots of stamping feet and balls bouncing above our heads. Originally, the theatre studio was going to be a pool, so it had very high windows that Ms. Mack had entirely blacked out. Actually, everything in the theatre studio was black: black painted floors, black painted block bleacher seats, black curtains surrounding the stage and the tall windows. When you entered the studio, you lost all sense of time and weather. Occasionally Ms. Mack started class with a check-in circle. These check-ins were inconsistent. When Ms. Mack had an issue to raise with the class or tensions seemed particularly high, she instructed everyone to grab a chair from behind the black curtains and circle up. Everyone went around and shared how they were feeling and then said “check” to indicate the end of their turn. Often students would lament their workload, lack of sleep, and conflicts with teachers. Sometimes a student shared a more serious story, telling the class that they had not eaten in days, for instance. Then they would say “check,” and we would just move on to the next person’s story. I never witnessed Ms. Mack follow up with a student after these circles, though it was certainly possible that she did.   Toward the end of September, Ms. Mack breezed into class her customary few minutes after the bell and told students to form a circle. Ms. Mack wanted to “open a can of worms.” In the script they were considering for the main production, there was a character whose name was “slut.” The play hinged on stereotypes and, ideally, would provide commentary on these terms through exaggerated performances. Ms. Mack facilitated a conversation about the word ‘slut’ before asking different students to read the part. She asked Campbell to read the role, wondering out loud how having a “male” read the part might shift the meaning of the term. Then Ms. Mack looked right at me. She turned back to the Campbell and the circle and announced, to raucous laughter, “actually, I don’t know how you identify.” Ms. Mack informed the class, “I don’t want 75  to assume pronouns or gender.” Then she initiated a pronoun share. Three of my participants were students in this class, and, three weeks into the term, they now had the opportunity to tell everyone their pronouns. Ostrich told the class “he or they,” Vixen said “anything,” and Raeyun asked for “any pronoun except she.” Ms. Mack ended by telling the class that absolutely any pronoun was fine. This comment betrayed Ms. Mack’s lack of awareness of her privilege as a cisgender person. Would Ms. Mack actually be fine if the students referred to her as any pronoun? If so, why did she never encourage the students to use them?  At the end of the period, Raeyun was gathering his bag when Ms. Mack stopped him and said that now that she had heard about his pronouns, she was going to have trouble using anything but ‘she’ for him. Ms. Mack did struggle with Raeyun’s pronouns. She was a nice teacher with good intentions, but she could not see what did not make sense to her, and it did not make sense to her that Raeyun could be referred to by any pronoun but ‘she.’ She regularly misgendered Raeyun, sometimes catching herself and apologizing, other times just blazing ahead. Throughout the year, she relied on Raeyun to understand and forgive this behaviour that she had prepared him for in September. She told him she was trying and depended upon her good intentions of one day getting his pronouns right to avoid the possibility of transphobia. By positioning herself as working toward getting it right, Ms. Mack attempted to erase the potential of harm. She was not intending to harm Raeyun, she was simply in the process of learning. Her commitment to doing better absolved her transphobia and compelled Raeyun to forgive her or else risk being seen as unsympathetic and demanding. Raeyun had a hard time interjecting to correct Ms. Mack and instead settled into a routine of understanding and forgiveness. He explained: 76  I’m kind of awkward about it. Yeah. Cause I feel like Ms. Mack, for her specifically, I feel like she speaks too fast so then I just can’t correct her. She just speaks too fast, I can’t stop and be like her, hold on a second, it’s actually man. And to be honest, I feel like she knows, she just kind of forgets sometimes. And to me, that’s fine. If you forget, we all do. I forgot to do my homework one time, that’s fine.  Though Raeyun was hurt by Ms. Mack’s behaviour, he trivialized it. In the same breath, Raeyun informed me that he believed Ms. Mack knew she was misgendering him while also excusing this behaviour. In classic Raeyun fashion, he approached this hurtful experience with tremendous generosity, likening her constant misgendering of him (which he explained as forgetting) to him forgetting to do his homework one time. He took responsibility, and Ms. Mack never did. Though Ms. Mack had not warned Ostrich, she similarly misgendered him throughout the year. Initially, Ostrich had wanted significant distance between us during the project, but he quickly changed his mind and often attached himself to my side during classes. Since we were frequently together, I was standing with him when he informed Ms. Mack that he had changed his name, a process he took responsibility for since Ms. O’Connor was dilatory on her end. Ms. Mack responded enthusiastically, letting him know that now that he had a more masculine name, she was much more likely to remember his pronouns. This perspective was not uncommon at East City High and is reflected in research, which states that “…educators are more likely to use correct pronouns when students reinforce the gender binary” (Wentling, 2015, p. 469). In an interview a few weeks after Ostrich updated Ms. Mack about his name change, he described to me the importance of helping people understand your gender. He explained: If something helps, then it’ll help. Like, with pronouns, having a name that’s kind of associated with more feminine, is kind of more hard to think of more masculine pronouns for a name that tends to be more feminine. But, like, having a name that’s kind of more masculine, it helps…put your mindset to the more masculine side.   77  Ostrich agreed that it was necessary to match your name and pronouns so that both are either coded as masculine or feminine. Ostrich indicated that he had a role to play in preventing people from misgendering him. Still, even after Ostrich chose a conventionally masculine name, Ms. Mack struggled to remember his pronouns and would often revert back to his deadname. Because Ostrich did not present as people expected a guy to look, many could not reconcile his gender with their assumptions. Ostrich told me, “when it happens, it’s, like, I just feel so uncomfortable. And sometimes I would rather stab myself in the shoulder than be called that.” Ostrich had done everything possible under his control to facilitate a better experience for himself in theatre class. Despite his labour, he was still misgendered and that was extremely painful for him. Ms. Mack’s persistent misgendering of Raeyun, Ostrich, and Vixen also made permissible their classmates’ inattention to their pronouns. At the start of the year, students interjected and corrected Ms. Mack, predominantly on behalf of Raeyun and Ostrich. Students in the class tended to struggle in recognizing Vixen’s complicated relationship with gender, and classmates had an easier time supporting Raeyun and Ostrich. However, ultimately even this encouraging behaviour waned, perhaps in response to its inefficacy. By the spring, many students in Senior Theatre Company had not only ceased to advocate on behalf of Raeyun and Ostrich by reminding Ms. Mack about their pronouns or names, but they had forgotten themselves. The expansion of Ms. Mack’s misgendering into a classroom dynamic intensified the labour required of Raeyun, Ostrich, and Vixen. There were now more people to forgive and more incidents to frame as misunderstandings.  78  3.3.2 Keep it confusing Over the year, Ms. Mack referred to me by every pronoun in quick succession, as if she wanted to make sure to just cover her bases. Students would laugh at this frenetic display of confused gendering, but I found it exhausting. Vixen, however, would have loved it if Ms. Mack cycled through multiple pronouns for them. Vixen used every pronoun, though people rarely acknowledged this important aspect of their gender.9 When Vixen first came out as genderfluid, they created an elaborate system with differently coloured bracelets to signal which pronoun they wanted their friends to use for them that day. However, Vixen found that system quickly became overwhelming and overly complicated. Plus, they realized they were not always sure what pronoun felt best, so having to stabilize their decision by choosing a bracelet did not work for their fluid relationship to gender. Instead, Vixen switched to all pronouns. Vixen believed gender should not be boring, so they wanted to “keep it confusing.”  Vixen was an actor in Senior Theatre Company as well as in a social justice-oriented youth theatre program in the city. But beyond that, they exuded theatricality. When they read their writing out loud to me, they embodied their characters and brought the story to life, gesticulating and doing the voices to curate the dramatics. Despite their deep love of theatre, Vixen loathed Senior Theatre Company. They regularly clashed with Ms. Mack and, on multiple occasions, ended up kicked out of rehearsals. When Ms. Mack took away their role in the main production, Vixen, ever the actor, did a nearly convincing job of feigning dispassion, but I saw their eyes slowly fill with tears. They quickly concealed it with cutting critiques of Ms. Mack’s  9	Vixen	requested	that	I	use	they/them	pronouns	in	the	dissertation.	79  leadership, but there was a small sliver of disappointment underneath their tough exterior of aloofness.  Since Vixen’s gender nonconformity did not align with adults’ expectations for what it means and looks like to be gender nonconforming, they were infrequently recognized as such at East City High. Instead, people defaulted to the pronouns that seemed most obvious to them and did not hear Vixen when they communicated about their gender. Vixen described it: I’ve definitely noticed, like, I notice the irony of that, like, when I say you can use any pronouns, I mean any pronouns, like, it really does mean just use anything. But I know that saying that is basically futile because as soon as I say I’m fine with any pronoun people are, like, oh then I can call you “she” great, you know, and that’s all they really care about because that’s what they would have called me anyway. So, just to hear it’s, like, oh it doesn’t offend you, great, which is kind of annoying, in some ways, because it’s, like, I say any pronoun, I mean anything, switch it up, make it confusing, you know. But I think it’s, like, it doesn’t, like, I say it doesn’t offend me so it’s, like, fine if people want to use ‘she/her’ pronouns because I respond to that and that works just as well. And it’s just, like, I would appreciate someone switching it up from time to time, you know, because that’s what I asked for, you know, anything.  Though Vixen was frustrated by people’s tendency to take the easiest and least disruptive approach to addressing them, they were not offended by this behaviour, so they did not view it as transphobic. Vixen, who was often quick to call out oppression around them, frequently performed the labour of understanding why people struggled to use their pronouns. They did not root this dynamic in cisheteronormativity, instead they worked on forgiving people and offering their compassion: I don’t take offense to it, and I know that people are not trying to be hurtful by just using basic pronouns, like, they’re not trying to harm anyone or anything, like, whatever is most comfortable for them or whatever is easiest for them that, that’s also fine by me because I get it.  Because Vixen knew that people were not being intentionally hurtful, they decided not to be hurt when people misgendered them. Instead, Vixen worked to understand and forgive people’s 80  inability to see the complexities of their gender and use their pronouns. Their labour participated in protecting others from having to confront the existence of gender fluidity. Their teachers and classmates did not understand shifting, messy pronouns and having to interact with that reality would have upended the positioning of gender as tidy, stable, and coherent. Vixen’s gender could not be framed in those ways; it exceeded the bounds of legibility. Though Vixen would have preferred people notice, others’ inability to understand their gender fluidity did not deter them from using all pronouns. While teachers and classmates may have been confused, Vixen explained, “naming myself as genderfluid was like a freedom from constant confusion.” They did not need their gender to make sense to other people; they just needed it to make sense to them.   3.4 Conclusion The cultural imperative to be nice directed attitudes of acceptance towards queer and trans youth, for, as Canadian society increasingly recognizes these students’ rights, schools must endeavour to at least appear inclusive and promote diversity. However, a commitment to niceness is a door that is always already a trap because it does not interrogate the power structures that create challenging school environments for queer and trans students. Still, niceness performs important work in schools. “Within schools, niceness often defines appropriate – and even good – behaviors, interactions, norms, and policies” (Castagno, 2014, p. 4). In schools, cultures of niceness uphold the status quo and obscure the systemic inequities that are foundational to the institution (Castagno, 2014). Cultures of niceness do not address structural oppression because they are unwilling and unable to understand schooling as fundamentally flawed in any way. It is not nice to acknowledge that schools, in upholding certain systems of power, may actually be 81  functioning as intended, for these are not good intentions. The commitment to good intentions traverses all elements of schooling, enveloping the work of teachers, counsellors, and administrators as well as policies (Ball et al., 2012). At East City High, these good intentions manifested in a variety of forms from attempts to safeguard gender nonconforming youth from perceived harm to finding accommodations for individual students, an approach that I examine in greater depth in Chapter 5. Informed by niceness, adults responded to gender nonconformity as a risk factor, a quality that heightened youth’s vulnerability at school and in life. Acting out of good intentions to protect youth from danger, adults pulled youth into dynamics that required them to participate in the reframing of transphobic incidents as misunderstandings or acts of care. Narrow conceptions of gender nonconformity consistently confined these good intentions. Cultures of niceness position schools as places without transphobia, racism, misogyny, and any other forms of systemic oppression or violence. However, schools like these do not exist. Rather than reckoning with structural inequities, a belief in good intentions helps nice schools and nice teachers reframe incidences of violence and oppression as misunderstandings or even acts of care.    82  Chapter 4: East City High’s Normative Landscape  In the spring, Ellen Stein, the district resource teacher in charge of diversity, was called in to present at a staff meeting. The City School Board had created her position out of what had previously been two separate roles that had each supported anti-homophobia and anti-racist work in the district. The amalgamation of those related yet distinct positions into one office that focused on diversity reflected the district’s investment in diversity culture (Ward, 2008, p. 6). Ward (2008) explains diversity culture as “the ways in which celebrating identity-based diversity and equality have become a part of daily life…unrelated to social change, or to dismantling the systems that reproduce race, gender, and socioeconomic hierarchies” (p. 28). In a diversity culture, people represent and embody not only difference but also inclusion. The locating of diversity within individuals is a neoliberal mechanism that participates in erasing systemic oppression. “Diversity creates the individual as the proper object: if diversity is what individuals have as individuals, then it gives permissions to those working within institutions to turn away from ongoing realities of institutional inequality” (Ahmed, 2012, p. 71). Though schools may devote funding, time, and staff to diversity projects, these endeavours rarely challenge the institutionalized forms of oppression that exclude, marginalize, and target the very people meant to benefit from these projects. The promotion of diversity exists alongside the maintenance of racialized, gendered, and sexualized violence. The neoliberal merging of political and economic policies with moral principles fuels the concomitant proliferation and weakening of concepts like ‘diversity,’ ‘equality,’ and ‘inclusion’ (Ahmed, 2012; Duggan, 2003; Ward, 2008). Within a neoliberal context, diversity has become a buzz word, a gesture emptied of the difficulties of difference and instead heralding the ‘hopeful’ promise of sameness.  83  During my year at East City High, I observed a gap between performed tolerance and oppressive behaviour. While I discussed aspects of East City High’s normative niceness in the last chapter, I expand this analysis in order to consider how this cultural landscape extended beyond gender. This diversity gap was especially pronounced during one-off celebrations of diversity and events that intentionally worked to mitigate accusations of racism, like the spring staff meeting that Ellen Stein attended. Audra Simpson (2016) argues, “where there is a language and a commitment to ‘multiculturalism’ as the protection, preservation and perhaps even celebration of one’s ‘cultural’ difference,’ there is a simultaneous commitment to the taking of territory” (p. 440). East City High’s performances of diversity were nice approaches to racism, transphobia, and other oppressions (Castagno, 2014). They rarely challenged the institutionalized power of the school. Instead, these surface-level attempts at enacting diversity obscured systemic oppression and further entrenched inequities.  Adults at East City High were committed to performing all types of diversity, not just in relation to gender. Though this research focuses on gender nonconforming youth, I argue that in order to understand the work youth performed while moving through East City High, it is integral to understand the conditions structuring their performances. Therefore, I attend to the normative logics operating at East City High. Informed by queer decolonial scholars (Driskill et al., 2011c; Morgensen, 2011; Simpson, 2017), I examine how educators at East City High engaged in diversity work related to race, colonialism, gender, and sexuality as “related in that they point to the ways in which diversity has been constructed as something safe and unthreatening to the dominant social order” (Castagno, 2014, p. 85). This framework encourages an understanding of the theoretical and lived connections within educators’ engagement with a variety of diversity projects. The promotion of diversity was a tool to leave unquestioned and 84  unchallenged the school’s normative logics. I consider these power dynamics through a discussion of the work teachers, counsellors, and especially administrators did to promote East City High as diverse and inclusive while simultaneously maintaining and reproducing inequities. Whether speaking to homophobic bullying or residential schools, adults were communicating important messages about who and what is considered normal. Given that “settler colonialism conditions sexual normativity” (Driskill et al., 2011a, p. 21), these questions are especially important to interrogate before turning to the youth’s relationship with gender legibility in the next chapter.   *** There was an expectation that certain problems did not exist at East City High, especially given the school’s location in a progressive neighbourhood of a progressive city in Canada. This notion was connected to people’s belief that transphobia, racism, and other oppressions were not ‘nice’ and therefore had no place within such a forward-looking institution. Scarecrow Jones, who was half-Taiwanese, described this reasoning to me once when we were discussing their experiences of racism in school, and they mentioned, sarcastically, that racism officially did not exist at East City High because “technically” teachers were “not allowed” to be racist anymore. When I asked them to elaborate, they explained that of course there was racism and that they still regularly dealt with racist teachers.  They always talk like there’s no problem. They never address the problem that there are people who are homophobic, there are people who are transphobic, there are people who are racist. It’s not always the students. Like, they always leave that out too. It’s not always the students.  85  Scarecrow Jones was aware of what it felt like to navigate the spaces between the school’s stated tolerance and what it might mean if people actually desired them to exist as a gender nonconforming youth of colour. They lived in the gap between those desires and were exhausted by peoples’ consistent erasure of racism and transphobia.  During one of our first hangouts, Scarecrow Jones lamented the loss of a secret Instagram account they had created and managed. Through this account, Scarecrow Jones collected the racist remarks of Mr. Tremblant, one of their teachers. Scarecrow Jones used the account as a venting session and an anonymous space that allowed them to use humour to deal with and expose their teacher’s racism. Scarecrow Jones, proud of their work, took out their phone to show me screenshots of old posts. When Mr. Tremblant discovered the account, he reprimanded all his classes and reported it to the administration. He was livid that any student could perceive him as racist.  When schools commit to diversity approaches, programs, and curriculum without an attendant critical analysis of systemic oppression, their efforts reproduce the institution’s whiteness, cisheteronormativity, and settler logics. “Diversity becomes about changing perceptions of whiteness rather than changing the whiteness of organizations” (Ahmed, 2012, p. 34). Over the course of the year, I observed the performative elements of East City High’s approach to diversity in one-off assemblies, on poster displays in the hallways, and in conversations that were part of the formal and informal curriculum. Furthermore, I heard about this aspect of East City High from teachers who were disheartened and exhausted by the effort of colliding with the administrators if they threatened to expose oppression or violence in the school. For instance, once when I was having a conversation with Madame Blanchet, a French immersion teacher, she leaned toward me, almost conspiratorially, and whispered that she had 86  discovered that a group of grade-9 boys in the program had been sexually assaulting the same girl for weeks. The girl took a medical leave, but the boys remained in school. None of the student’s teachers were notified of the violent events surrounding her prolonged absence. Madame Blanchet explained that when teachers discovered what had happened, they wanted to write a letter to send home to parents about the situation, both so parents would be aware and to urge them to speak to their kids. When one of the teachers showed the letter to the principal for approval, as was policy, she was prohibited from disseminating it. Madame Blanchet told me Ms. Fraser “won’t let us because of the optics.” Informing parents that this type of violent incident had occurred at school would shatter East City High’s image as safe, progressive, and inclusive. During the year, I saw swastikas painted over, students tear down and burn the GSA’s posters, rampant anti-Black racism, and innumerable instances of oppressive language and behaviour from adults and students. Though individuals may have been spoken to behind closed doors, the school carried on without incorporating these behaviours as a part of its culture or grappling with them on a larger scale.  4.1 We would like to acknowledge diversity The All Nations room was on the third floor down the same mini hallway as the universal washroom. Sometimes when I was sitting inside, I would see Ostrich head to the washroom. He always poked his head into the room in case I was there. Anne Mooseknuckle10 and Jan Smith, who coordinated the space, would invite him in for a snack and to check-in. Anne taught students  10	As	I	noted	earlier,	given	the	violent,	ongoing	history	of	colonially	imposed	language	and	naming,	I	did	not	create	pseudonyms	for	the	Indigenous	teachers.	They	chose	their	own.	87  how to bead, make bannock, and weave cedar graduation caps. Jan helped with homework and was constantly running all over the school liaising with teachers, advocating for students, and trying to help teachers integrate Indigenous content into their lessons. At lunch, Anne and Jan played cards with the students. These games got raucous and competitive. Anne and I had a rivalry in speed that we tallied on the whiteboard over the whole year. When I lost, I had to bring in homemade baked goods for everyone.  Anne Mooseknuckle and Jan Smith both supported events during Indigenous Awareness week, including the closing assembly. That assembly was one of several one-off diversity celebrations at East City High that promoted acceptance and difference through PowerPoint presentations, guest speakers, videos, and other performances. I begin with the controversy surrounding the Indigenous Awareness Week assembly to situate this discussion within an analysis of the relationship between whiteness, settler colonialism, and cisheteronormativity. This study focuses on gender nonconforming young people, and the imposition of binary gender is an integral component of the ongoing, violent settler interventions into legal, social, and cultural life (Million, 2013). I argue that to understand the conditions that inform youth’s gender legibility and knowability at East City High, it is imperative to likewise interrogate the systems of power that have participated in and continue to structure North American understandings of gender (non)conformity.   4.1.1 Whiteness and settler colonialism The All Nations room, which primarily supported Indigenous students, was called the All Nations room in order to be welcoming and inclusive of all students. Anne Mooseknuckle explained they used “all” to ensure students knew that they could access the space regardless of 88  their status. There were a number of settler students who regularly came by: some to hang out with their Indigenous friends at lunch or during spares, some nerdier younger students who preferred the quiet of the All Nations room to the rowdiness of the cafeteria, and some students who just really liked Anne and Jan. There was a Muslim student who came between classes and used the room for prayer.  Positioning the space as welcoming to all was a ‘nice’ move, and it aligned with East City High’s general promotion of reconciliation. However, the Canadian educational system has an especially complicated relationship with the idea and practice of reconciliation. As I discussed in the first chapter, schools have been explicitly used as sites to impose settler strategies of erasure and dispossession. This violence is not past, yet the tensions involved in East City High’s approach to reconciliation were infrequently recognized, except by Ms. Spensor and a few other teachers in the school.  The current era of reconciliation has evolved from the official inquiries established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was formed in response to the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) (Patzer, 2014). This formal process involved listening to residential school survivors, a process that underscored the role of educational spaces in perpetuating settler colonial violence specifically onto the bodies of Indigenous children (Million, 2013; Patzer, 2014). Despite an individual school’s uptake of the language of reconciliation, an actual reckoning would require the educational system to confront its historical and ongoing complicity in reproducing violence against Indigenous bodies. Furthermore, Patzer (2014) argues that, “the IRSSA and the TRC are oriented toward promoting preemptive reconciliation while eliding underlying issues, the greatest of which is colonial dispossession and the struggle for decolonization and self-determination” (p. 167). In schools, drawing on the 89  language of reconciliation without addressing the institutionalized racism and settler structures that organize schooling can work to obscure systemic issues that reify anti-Indigeneity.  Following the IRSSA, Stephen Harper issued an apology for residential schools. In Harper’s apology, he constructed a version of the Canadian present that had moved beyond colonialism’s violence to a new, unproblematic relationship with Indigenous peoples (Simpson, 2016). The apology both imagined and established this time:    …when the difficult past would be reconciled to the present even as the past itself remains structured through a geopolitical dispossession, starvation, death, and ongoing legal forms of dispossession manifest in law such as the Indian Act (1876). The formal apology whittles down and isolates harms to one thing – that thing that is recognizable – the 80,000, and the violence that came with ‘civilization,’ with forceful education. (Simpson, 2016, p. 439)  East City High did not avoid Canada’s colonial history; however, teaching and learning about colonialism was overwhelmingly historical. While teaching about past atrocities does not preclude the possibility of interrogating the present, a presumption of good intentions prohibits acknowledging the ways education and schooling are still mired in and informed by settler logics as well as settler structures and material realities. How can schools both encourage students and teachers to interrogate their differential relationships to dispossession, erasure, and privilege in the classroom and position themselves as safe, welcoming, and inclusive for all students? Rather, “Educators are expected to school children in the social etiquette of the dominant culture, which includes knowing what particular issues to raise and when” (Castagno, 2014, p. 84). Certain colonial topics were deemed more appropriate for the classroom because they were located firmly in the past. As such, students learned about residential schools, but rarely did teachers examine the ongoing settler violence of the Canadian nation.  90  Canadian national mythologies both rely on and reproduce whiteness as the legitimate form of citizenship through a refusal to reckon with ongoing settler colonialism (Dryden & Lenon, 2015). Whiteness “is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege…a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed” (Frankenberg, 1993, p. 1). In Canada, whiteness cannot be understood separately from settler colonialism. Though the Canadian national imaginary hinges on a carefully constructed contrast to the United States, with the Canadian state attempting to position itself as more benevolent and peaceful (Dryden & Lenon, 2015), scholars in Indigenous and settler colonial studies argue that Canada likewise only exists because of Indigenous dispossession (Coulthard, 2014; Lawrence, 2002; Razack, 2002; Simpson, 2014; Simpson, 2017; Tomiak, 2016). Canada’s construction as a white nation relies on the continued (failed) erasure of Indigenous peoples. Canadian white supremacy and cisheteronormativity are connected through their relationship to settler colonialism (Driskill et al., 2011b; Morgensen, 2010, p. 117; Simpson, 2017). Heteropatriarchy and heteronormativity are not forms of oppression that emerged with white supremacy and colonialism; they are part of the “foundational dispossession force…a direct attack on Indigenous bodies as political orders, thought, agency, self-determination, and freedom” (Simpson, 2017, p. 52). Cisheteronormativity was enforced in Canadian residential schools (de Leeuw, 2009; Haig-Brown, 1988; Million, 2013; Patzer, 2014), is enshrined in law through the Indian Act (Million, 2013; Simpson, 2016b; Simpson, 2017), upheld through the predominance of racialized sexual violence (Dean, 2015; Hunt, 2016; Simpson, 2017), and policed through settler notions of Indigeneity (de Leeuw, 2009; Simpson, 2016b; Simpson, 2017). The relationship between the settler nation of Canada and the Indigenous peoples living here has always been informed by settlers’ desires for the land. This violent intention motivates 91  settler constructions of Indigenous peoples as less than human, for their lack of grievability is understood as justification for land theft and occupation (Smith, 2012). Though the specific policies that shape this relationship have shifted over generations, the underlying intention of erasing Indigenous peoples in order to steal their land remains steadfast (de Leeuw, 2009; Lefebvre, 2016; Patzer, 2014; Simpson, 2017). The move to incorporate lessons on colonialism that position these issues as a past event presumes that education is not itself a colonial institution still enacting violence and harm. In Educated in Whiteness, Castagno (2014) discusses the relationship between good intentions and whiteness, arguing that “Niceness obfuscates power, and it absolves individuals from needing to address what are actually deficiencies in the system” (p. 167). These nice approaches to the topic of settler colonialism centre and uphold whiteness.  4.1.2 The Indigenous Awareness Week assembly Every March East City High hosted an Indigenous Awareness Week. This week was celebrated at most schools in the district. I learned from conversations with students and Ms. Spensor that the year before I arrived, Ms. Spensor had organized the assembly to conclude the week and supported two Indigenous students from one of her classes to lead the event. The assembly had been a fiasco. They faced intense backlash from teachers and students who railed against the content and tone of the event. Settler students and teachers denounced the event for being racist against white people. While people were willing to acknowledge that Canadians had acted badly in the past, many were angered by what they perceived as the assembly’s accusatory tone. They responded by attacking Indigenous peoples generally for attempting to access special privileges and for their racism against white people. Teachers and students used vitriolic language and anti-92  Indigenous slurs to censure Ms. Spensor and the two students for their role in perpetuating this anti-white racism.  In response, Ms. Spensor, Anne Mooseknuckle, and Jan Smith strategized for weeks in preparation for the next Indigenous Awareness Week. They were justifiably nervous about a repeat of the previous year’s accusations, ire, and turmoil. A month before the event, Jan visited all of Ms. Spensor’s Indigenous courses to host brainstorming sessions and enlist the help of willing students to organize the event. In the BCFN class I attended with Vixen, Ms. Spensor and Jan facilitated a conversation about the challenges in hosting this assembly given the pervasive backlash they had received. The students identified framing as a primary issue: previously, the assembly focused on how much people did not know about settler colonialism, and students wanted to repackage the event. One student encapsulated their updated intention in the following terms, “to focus on education, not from the perspective of emphasizing how much people don’t know, but how they [in the class] didn’t know things and how much they’ve learned [by taking Ms. Spensor’s classes].” The students explained their hope that this new approach would encourage more students to take the course. Ms. Spensor and Jan Smith were enthusiastic about this rebranding, connecting the approach to the importance of allyship. During this brainstorming session, Ms. Spensor wondered out loud, “would it be good for white students to talk so students knew [the courses] were okay for them?” This approach echoed a priority from the students: they wanted to make it clear that Ms. Spensor’s classroom was a safe space for learning. The class decided that this year, primarily white settler students would lead the assembly and highlight their learning trajectory. Students would emphasize how little they had previously understood about their relationship to settler colonialism and how they had come to learn that they daily benefit from 93  this structure, even though students pointed out that previously they tended to think of colonialism as past and finished. They would culminate their presentations in the ways that learning about settler colonialism had inspired them to become good allies.   In this discussion, a safe learning space was defined as a classroom that is welcoming to all students. However, as Annette Henry (1994) argues: There is nothing ‘safe’ about engaging students in rigorous and critical ways. It seems to me that to be able to speak of safety in the ‘belly of beast’ reveals class and race privilege. Only a certain elite has the privilege of cultivating a safe space in mainstream institutions that perpetuate the very inequities which we fight against as feminist educators. (p. 2)  The intention of upholding the safety of all students bends to the power of the status quo. Those students with the most access to privilege will have their safety most protected.  This notion of safety collided with the expectation that all spaces needed to be for all students, as was the All Nations room’s guiding principle. In the conversation regarding event planning in BCFN, safety was defined from the perspective of white, settler students. Ms. Spensor and Jan Smith encouraged the students to create an event that would not challenge white peoples’ understandings of themselves as good settlers.  Over the project, I came to understand Ms. Spensor’s classroom as one of the safer spaces at East City High because she continuously worked to cultivate a place where students learned how to confront racism and violence. On Fridays, Ms. Spensor started class with life lessons. Sometimes she approached these lessons with levity, using them as opportunities to impart practical advice, like when she encouraged all students to get their eyebrows threaded. However, other times she attempted to prepare students for inevitable moments of pain, hardship, and grief, like when she shared her experience of losing her father. When she relayed this story, bringing the whole class to tears, she was explicit about how racism had contributed to her 94  father’s death. Ms. Spensor never shied away from openly discussing racism and anti-Indigeneity in her classroom, including her own experiences of racism at East City High.  In the spring when several white teachers used the n-word in their classes, students went to Ms. Spensor first for help. She had spent all year cultivating a classroom environment that demonstrated she would support them. Ms. Spensor offered the students refuge and a place to finish their terms, making it clear that they did not have to return to classrooms led by teachers who spewed violence against them. The administration was displeased with her approach, worried that Black students were learning to be “professional victims,” and this disagreement spurred one of the many standoffs between Ms. Spensor and the administrators. Her decision to prioritize the comfort of white students during the assembly was not indicative of a lapse in judgment or the collapsing of her ideals. Ms. Spensor’s recognition of the importance of that framing for this event demonstrated the ubiquity of East City High’s normative niceness. During the classroom brainstorming session, Ms. Spensor drew a diagram on the board with three sections representing the three groups of students she expected to be present, “woke students, totally unwoke students who couldn’t be reached during this presentation and a middle group who potentially could be split in half.” She recommended focusing on the top half of that latter group and trying to bump them up into the “woke” group. Ms. Spensor told the students, “disrupting ideas is uncomfortable, learning is uncomfortable, and it has ripple effects. We have to take on that responsibility, and we will hold you, we will prepare you and be here for you through it.” Ms. Spensor’s decisions regarding the assembly point to her necessary understanding of how to keep herself, her students, and her courses safe at East City High.  On the day of the assembly, students were called down to the auditorium by grade. The event went relatively smoothly, with only a few explicitly racist remarks from students. After the 95  settler students presented their narratives of transformation and celebrated the importance of allyship, an Indigenous hip hop artist of the Nuxalk and Onondaga Nations entered singing from the back of the auditorium. She performed while walking up the aisle and onto the stage. At one point during her electric performance, she paused and asked how many people had heard of residential schools? Nearly the entire auditorium raised their hands. She nodded, praising their knowledge. Then she asked them how many people had heard of Idle No More? Colten Boushie? Standing Rock? A few lone hands went up after each, but the vast majority of hands stayed in laps or clutching phones. While “The condemnation of the history of residential schooling in Canada is becoming well-rehearsed” (Patzer, 2014, p. 166), there is not a concurrent amount of attention to the ongoing nature of settler colonialism or, importantly, Indigenous resistance. Almost no students even recognized recent, important moments like the mass mobilization of land defenders at Standing Rock or the cross-Canada fight for Indigenous sovereignty during Idle No More. The silence in the auditorium while the performer listed out current resistance movements and the tragic murder of Colten Boushie illustrated that conversations on Indigenous issues were largely rooted in the past and primarily focused on residential schools. Unlike the previous year, the students were a nice audience. They listened, they knew about residential schools, and they clapped loudly for the performer, appreciating diversity in action. However, this one-day event did not intervene in the way East City High approached colonialism as a historical event.   4.1.3 The trouble with one-offs When I arrived at school on the morning of February 28th, Eliza and Tamar, best friends and fierce activists, were standing in the lobby frazzled and upset. It was the last day of Black 96  History Month, and the morning of the Black History Month assembly. Mr. Eaton, one of the vice-principals, was supposed to meet Eliza and Tamar in the auditorium to set up the projector, but he was half an hour late. Eliza and Tamar had been working all month to set up this event on their own, but now they needed Mr. Eaton. I knew my way around the tech booth from my time with the theatre company, and I offered to help. However, we were thwarted by a locked door. At Eliza and Tamar’s request, I went into the office to ask after Mr. Eaton’s whereabouts and overheard the administrative assistants making fun of Eliza and Tamar for being so concerned. They remarked that these students “were clearly not being taught anything about respect.” Eliza and Tamar were labelled as pushy and disrespectful for being insistent. Eliza and Tamar had organized the entire Black History Month assembly with almost no support from administrators or teachers. They had petitioned the administrators for the opportunity to lead the assembly once they discovered that there were no plans at East City High to mark Black History Month. Without their industriousness and persistence, Black History Month would have passed by largely unremarked at East City High, save for a small display of books in the front hall and a smattering of activities led by individual teachers in their classrooms. Eliza and Tamar contacted speakers and then coordinated with several teachers to ensure that there would be adequate attendance. They reached out to the Hogan’s Alley Society, an organization that works to preserve the cultural, historical, societal, and economic contributions of Black people in Vancouver, speaking back to persistent erasure following the destruction of a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Strathcona. Two members of the organization presented at the assembly, educating students on Vancouver’s history of displacement and Hogan’s Alley Society’s current revitalization efforts. Though Eliza and Tamar 97  had not received administrative support in organizing the assembly, Mr. Eaton took the stage at the start to deliver a land acknowledgment.  Just two days before the Black History Month assembly, East City High ‘celebrated’ Pink Shirt Day. This event traces its origins to a moment when a group of students stood up for a peer who was being targeted for dressing in pink back in 2007 in Nova Scotia. As Ostrich explained: From what I was told since elementary, there’s this kid at a different school who wore a pink shirt, and the kid was a dude, he got, like, hella bullied about wearing a pink shirt on that day so then the next day or so I believe, like a lot of people got together and we’re like “hey, let’s all wear pink shirts to kind of be like f-you to the bullies.”  Since then, schools across Canada have commodified the day, turning it into a monument to anti-bullying. Students are often required to wear pink in order to prove their stance against bullying. Schools sell t-shirts, host assemblies, and pose for photo-ops all in the name of anti-bullying. Though the initial tale involved students specifically organizing around homophobic harassment, Pink Shirt Day has come to symbolize bullying in a diffuse sense. Meyer (2009) argues, “by using vague terms such as bullying and name calling, scholars and educators avoid examining the underlying power dynamics that such behaviours build upon and reinforce” (p. 11). In setting its sights on a generalized anti-bullying, Pink Shirt Day does not address the systemic issues of oppression that create unsafe environments for students in school.  At East City High, the slogan for Pink Shirt Day was “Kindness is one size fits all.” Some students, teachers, and staff were wearing pink shirts, though they were certainly in the minority. Beyond the donning of a pink shirt, the day went by mostly unnoticed. When I asked Scarecrow Jones if they participated in the celebration, they responded by asking me if it was celebrated. “I didn’t hear about it on announcements,” they started telling me but then added, “I think I heard about it day of? Just oh, it’s Pink Shirt Day and here’s a poem or something.” 98  Scarecrow Jones was likely referencing a statement the head counsellor read on the morning announcements about the importance of standing up to bullying. I strained to hear it but listening to the morning announcements was generally a lost cause. Students and teachers always talked over them.   Vixen was exasperated with the administration’s superficial approach to bullying that was “all style, no substance.” The first time I met them, Vixen was lambasting East City High’s handling of bullying during a class discussion. Vixen extended their critique to Pink Shirt Day, which they declared was “bullshit.” Vixen explained that Pink Shirt Day,  doesn’t have a purpose, that’s the thing. Well, no, it has a purpose but it’s a forgotten purpose…It’s this whole thing about “oh yeah, for one day we’ll be loving and accepting, and we’ll all wear pink shirts, and we’ll be tolerant and no more bullying, and we’ll remember that bullying is bad. And then tomorrow we’ll all go back to hating each other.” Because people bully each other on Pink Shirt Day. No one cares. The message is gone. Now it’s just the day where you wear pink. You know, like that’s all it is now. People are like, what is Pink Shirt Day about? I don’t know because nothing is changing. It’s a movement that does nothing. It’s a movement that is standing still.   Vixen desired action and intervention. They were frustrated by the empty rhetoric that denounced bullying while also supporting the power imbalances that fueled oppression within the school. “When we think about bullying, we think, oh we got to do something about that…that’s unjust. But when we actually see bullying, somehow, we’re able to justify it every time. Boys will be boys…” To Vixen, Pink Shirt Day was meaningless because it was just one day that the people in power purported to care about bullying when their actions and language every other day supported the systems and people who bullied.  *** At East City High, events like the Indigenous Awareness Week assembly, Black History Month assembly, and Pink Shirt Day worked to highlight acceptance of a singular facet of ‘difference.’ 99  One-off events did not intervene in the dominant approach to the existence of racism, homophobia, and transphobia within the school. Instead, they were opportunities for East City High to perform inclusion and tolerance without grappling with the institutional elements that upheld and reproduced the conditions for violence. The trotting out of diversity through assemblies, day-long celebrations, and awareness weeks often served to capture hearts and minds for just the length of a class period or, in the case of Pink Shirt Day, a morning announcement. This type of approach was never intended to critically examine, let alone challenge, the institutional structures and systems of power that created the violence or oppression put on display. “Exposure to difference…served a larger purpose of advancing sameness, unity, and niceness” (Castagno, 2014, p. 55). These events were opportunities for nice diversity, when the school could demonstrate its commitment to inclusion without risking an upending of the status quo. Ultimately, these one-off events were presented as aberrations to the school’s ‘normal’ functioning and thus they worked to reproduce the institution as white, settler colonial, and cisheteronormative.   4.2 The staff meeting After the resource position’s reworking, Ellen Stein, a white, cisgender lesbian, was put in charge of attending to all diversity-related issues. She represented the district’s commitment to diversity, advocating for youth and against oppressive situations in schools. “Diversity is regularly referred to as a ‘good’ word precisely because it can be used in diverse ways…[it] is an empty container” (Ahmed, 2012, p. 80). This emptiness facilitated the expansiveness of Ellen’s role in the district. Ellen attended GSA meetings to liaise with youth and hand out rainbow flag stickers with the district’s logo, coordinated professional development days on numerous anti-100  oppression topics, supported students who had to leave classes or their school due to racist incidents, and created workshops for teachers on a variety of diversity-related topics.  In May, East City High administrators requested Ellen Stein’s presence at a staff meeting, and they strategically utilized the expansiveness of her role to avoid directly naming the reason for her attendance. I ran into Ellen in the hall the day before the meeting, and she pulled me outside to the garden to anxiously explain this tactic. Ellen’s assignment at the staff meeting was to lead a session addressing a recent spate of overtly racist incidents at East City High. As I mentioned earlier, several white teachers had used the n-word in their classes. Thus far, the administrators had primarily responded by outsourcing the handling of these racist events to the district’s human resources department. Ellen was now tasked with confronting this problematic trend in a more straightforward manner; however, both she and the administrators were apprehensive about the staffs’ reactions. Ellen’s wariness stemmed from the existence of union rules that prevented speaking ill of other teachers. As a teacher herself, Ellen told me that she had to be cautious in her language and approach so as not to be perceived as crossing that nebulous line. The administrators’ discomfort aligned with their consistent safeguarding of East City High’s reputation as diverse, inclusive, and tolerant.  In order to mitigate the administrator’s concerns about optics and Ellen Stein’s hesitations about union rules, they met ahead of time to strategize a less controversial entry point for her into the meeting. Ellen’s job as a diversity resource teacher included supporting the push for universal washrooms in schools. Thus, not coincidentally, this meeting was also when the administrators finally relented and allowed Eliza and Tamar, who had been fighting for this issue for years, to present to the staff. The administrators and Ellen understood the universal washroom as less controversial and positioned it as the reason to pull Ellen into the meeting. 101  Through this decision, the administrators and Ellen indicated that challenging whiteness and addressing anti-Blackness were unthinkable without a more palatable entry point. I turn to this staff meeting to explore the productive possibilities and the problematics of consolidating anti-homophobia and anti-racism under the banner of diversity.  4.2.1 Building a generation beyond prejudice I came to school early on the day of the staff meeting, the only one I attended since my first day at East City High. I was there to witness Ellen Stein’s session and to support Eliza and Tamar, whom I had grown close with over the course of the year. Eliza and Tamar had been working on the campaign for a multi-stall, universal washroom in some respect for the past five years. While East City High did have a universal washroom, it was just one, single-stall washroom on the third floor for the entire school of about 1,800 students. Eliza and Tamar, as representatives for a larger cohort of students, argued that not only was the current washroom insufficient but it contributed to a culture of othering trans and gender nonconforming students at the school. A multi-stall universal washroom, they asserted, would allow students to use a non-gendered washroom with friends without waiting in prohibitive lines and without making a stigmatized decision. In order to get to the point of presenting at the staff meeting, Eliza and Tamar had navigated a multitude of obstacles created by the administrators. They had attended a series of frustrating, patronizing discussions with Ms. Walker, during which they endeavoured to make the case as to why this washroom was important. Moreover, they were tasked with researching the city by-laws that mandate a certain number of gender-specific washrooms in all buildings, and they performed a scan of all the washrooms in the school in order to make recommendations on possible gendered washrooms that could be converted into a universal one. Eliza and Tamar 102  could only perform this task either before or after school when there were no students in the building. I supported them in their work, joining meetings when asked and answering their questions. Ms. Fraser, the principal, began the staff meeting with the customary land acknowledgment. As I noted in the last section, an important facet of niceness at East City High rested on the good intentions of everyone toward reconciliation, reflected in a desire to move beyond a time of turmoil to an age of harmony where there is no conflict (Castagno, 2014). Land acknowledgments were an easy method to demonstrate these intentions. Especially in the Lower Mainland, land acknowledgments have become a salient way for settlers to demonstrate our intentions toward reconciliation without having to address structural racism or confront the realities of land dispossession (Daigle, 2019). Before every assembly, performance, and school gathering of any kind, someone would recite, seemingly by rote, this sentence. While many land acknowledgments are meaningful, others are performed as “hollow gestures of lip service…quickly forgotten and brushed aside to resume business as usual, according to well-established colonial and racialized power asymmetries” (Daigle, 2019, p. 711). These obligatory pronouncements “merely become acts of multicultural recognition of Indigenous territories” (Daigle, 2019, p. 711). Land acknowledgments both avoided difficult conversations about ongoing colonialism while reproducing the school’s image as diverse and inclusive. After the welcoming, Ms. Fraser introduced Ellen Stein by saying she was working with the school to “create a generation beyond prejudice.” As had been the strategy, Ms. Fraser did not overtly reference the reason Ellen had been asked to attend the meeting. Instead, her presence was couched within a general and vague interest in promoting diversity. This nice approach did double-time to preserve East City High’s reputation: the administrators could be credited for 103  bringing in the diversity resource teacher and they never had to directly name the racism that necessitated her presence. Ellen stood and uploaded a slide that read “VALUE – validate, ask, listen, understand, engage.” She informed the staff that she was present in part because of the “ground-breaking work” I was doing with students and, specifically, to support the universal washroom project. Then she added, “since I am here anyway,” she wanted to discuss some mounting issues with racism at the school. Though we had spoken the day before, I was still taken aback by how she drew upon my research to sneak up to racism. Ellen predominantly addressed racism through her own experiences as a Jewish lesbian and refrained from speaking explicitly on the manner. She began by telling a story about hearing “Hail Hitler” and how, when hearing that phrase, she hears, “that I am less than human, and that people want me to die, want to erase my cultural history.” Ellen told the staff that, “I have seen swastikas, heard the n-word, and faggot.” Several teachers were visibly shocked when she said “faggot,” and Ellen explained, “I can use the word faggot because I am part of the queer community.” Notably, the teachers did not seem surprised to learn that educators in their district were using racist slurs in the classroom. Later, in response to a teacher’s lingering discomfort, Ellen added that she does not usually say the f-word, but she was making a point about the impact of this type of language. Ellen Stein believed the best of teachers and continuously cultivated this understanding during the session by justifying the possibility of ignorant mistakes. “I have to believe that people don’t know the history of those words,” Ellen remarked. She went on to explain that she did not learn about how hateful many words were during her time in the public-school system and then offered a brief history of the n-word, reminding people that Canada is not neutral in this history. “Words,” Ellen warned, “incite potential future violence.” Throughout the session, Ellen emphasized that teachers have the best intentions to support their students but, at times, can 104  struggle if they are not sure how to help. Though Ellen warned that “these words need a strong response from teachers…[because] minimization is a second victimization,” she never directly named the racism prevalent at East City High. Instead, she drew upon examples at other schools, mostly related to anti-Semitism and the use of the f-word, stories she felt comfortable navigating given her identities. Ellen’s wariness tempered the potency of her message. Later in the day, I overheard teachers discussing the talk’s goals as encouraging them to be good allies. To say nothing of the problematics of allyship, the administrators had specifically needed to bring Ellen into East City High to address anti-Blackness and the use of racist slurs. She was not there to encourage allyship. By not directly addressing racism, Ellen’s workshop neglected to tackle the role of systemic oppression in the school and ultimately upheld the whiteness of East City High.   4.2.2 Quit stalling After Ellen Stein’s session, Ms. Walker invited Eliza and Tamar to present their thoughts on the multi-stall universal washroom. Though Eliza and Tamar had collided with the administrators for years on this issue, during the meeting Ms. Walker framed their work as “meaningful, necessary, and fully supported” by East City High. Unbeknownst to Eliza and Tamar, Ms. Walker and the other administrators had decided to support their request. This decision was a decisive and abrupt departure from every previous conversation the students had with administrators regarding the issue. Suddenly, Eliza and Tamar’s carefully crafted presentation meant to convince adults of the importance of this washroom seemed unnecessary. They moved on to a question-and-answer period, addressing teachers’ concerns and curiosities. One PE teacher raised her hand and commented, “kids find it challenging to get changed for gym, will the washroom have taller stalls so they could get changed in there? I’m not even sure where some students get changed 105  now.” Another teacher noted, “we have a problem with bathroom etiquette at this school. Obviously, I’m in favour, but is there research that shows that gender neutral washrooms increase bathroom etiquette? That they won’t make it worse?” Finally, a teacher pointed to the time and asked, “where does this idea stand right now? What is left to do?” Ms. Walker explained that all they needed to do was change a few signs. I was stunned. If creating the universal washroom was just a matter of a simple sign change, why did the administrators block Eliza and Tamar for years and force them to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops?  During the question-and-answer period, when the teacher raised the washroom etiquette issue, Ellen Stein hopped up from her seat to interject. “This is not a question of if this is going to happen, but how,” Ellen stated. Ellen’s response was decisive, in part, because it was supported by policy. In the next chapter, I examine the district’s trans-inclusive policy, which clearly stated that students have the right to access a universal washroom. In this moment, unlike during her earlier presentation, Ellen was direct, and the administrators made space for her advocacy. Ellen’s comments were likewise persuasive because of staff’s awareness of the trans-inclusive policy. People may have privately disagreed, and rumblings of that disagreement were visible in the room, but Ellen used the policy to overrule their discontent. However, the administrators had previously relied on other policies to prevent Eliza and Tamar from moving forward with the project. The administrators made decisions about when to employ different policies, and those choices altered the school’s stance on the universal washroom issue. As I argue in Chapter 5, it is integral to consider how policy is taken up by social actors in their contexts (Ahmed, 2012; Ball et al., 2012). During the year I spent at East City High, the administrators consistently turned to city by-laws and policy on gender segregated washrooms in buildings to impede students’ activism on this campaign. Then, with the diversity resource teacher present, the administrators 106  uplifted policy as the reason there could be no question about supporting the universal washroom project. Thus, policy was both the reason students had to fight for five years to even arrive at the possibility of presenting this idea at a staff meeting and the reason that the universal washroom had to be approved without contest.  Notably, the administrator’s support remained limited to a performative nature. As of this writing, the multi-stall universal washroom has not been created. As discussed, for months prior to that meeting, the administrators had shown little interest in pushing this issue forward. When I arrived at the school and asked where I was meant to use the washroom, Ms. Walker was not even sure of how many universal washrooms existed. In that conversation, she warned me against using the single-stall one on the third floor, which was actually the only one in the school. Ms. Walker told me that it was never cleaned and “the students vape in it.”  The administrators’ abrupt reversal regarding this issue left me to wonder about the timing of this shift. Ellen’s role as the diversity resource teacher made it logical for the administrators to combine Eliza and Tamar’s presentation with her workshop. However, as Ward (2008) asks, “who gets edged out as diversity is ushered in?” (p. 16). The administrators were able to simultaneously promote diversity through their stated support of the universal washroom project and distract focus from the anti-Black racism at East City High, preserving the school’s image as inclusive. Though the administrators and Ellen Stein had turned to policy to quash any doubts or disapproval from the staff regarding the universal washroom, no one drew on policy in order to take a firm stance against anti-Black racism. Thus, while policy offered (unfulfilled) promise for Eliza and Tamar’s fight for the washroom, it was notably absent during the staff meeting as a possible form a redress against racist teachers at the school. Rather than pointing to policy to 107  declare that anti-Black racism was not permitted within the school, Ellen and the administrators approached the staff meeting with the intention of positioning East City High as moving “beyond prejudice.”  This indirect approach avoided actively engaging with anti-Black racism and instead promoted a harmonious vision of East City High. Ellen spoke to teachers with the assumption that any racist act was an aberration in an otherwise diverse, inclusive school. The administrators had specifically strategized with Ellen Stein to mollify the potential of the workshop to speak to anti-Black racism due to concerns about staff reactions. Though Ellen did discuss racism and the ways words can incite violence, her carefully crafted presentation was a nice attempt to address racism at East City High. However, there is nothing nice about anti-Black racism and “…nice approaches like this not only fail to address inequity but actually make the inequity harder to see and, thus, change” (Castagno, 2014, p. 4). The teachers left the meeting encouraged to take steps to combat oppression within the school and believe in the power of allyship. As Mr. Hill explained to me during first period following the meeting, “Ellen was instructing teachers to be good allies and stand up if they hear students use racist slurs.” In an attempt to bring the meeting to a timely close, Ms. Walker had described the administration’s position to the staff: “We believe ourselves to be a diverse and inclusive school. Let’s show it.” Her pronouncement followed the discussion on the universal washroom while the administrators had been notably silent during and following Ellen’s presentation. Ms. Walker’s choice of phrasing and timing underscored the importance of presenting a diverse, accepting, and inclusive image, one not necessarily tethered to action and substantive change. Ellen Stein was called into the staff meeting because both the campaign for the multi-stall universal washroom and the session regarding anti-Black racism were framed as issues of diversity and inclusion. However, for the administrators, approving, in name only, the universal 108  washroom was an act for diversity and inclusion. In supporting the washroom, the administrators and Ellen were able to position themselves on the ‘right’ and ‘nice’ side of the issue. They chose directness, ending staffs’ questions and conversation with East City High’s definitive stance on the topic, which they noted was supported by policy. Though being direct in that instance aided in establishing East City High as progressive, a direct approach against anti-Black racism would have exposed the work still needed to be done in order to be diverse and inclusive. Rather than pushing East City High closer to diversity and inclusion, openly acknowledging and confronting the endemic violence and institutionalized racism that fostered and protected teachers in using the n-word in their classrooms would reveal the troubling ways that East City High was not a nice school. Therefore, to safeguard East City High’s image, it was to the administrator’s benefit to adopt a firm stance on the universal washroom project while evading the deeper issues present during the session on anti-Black racism.  4.3 Conclusion At East City High, the emphasis on promoting a diverse image over confronting systemic oppression reproduced the school’s normative logics. Teachers and administrators invested in ‘nice’ approaches to diversity through one-off celebrations, land acknowledgments, and strategic support for school issues. Though the cultural preoccupation with image and optics often limited the impact of their labour, several teachers and students consistently worked to resist East City High’s performative approach to diversity and inclusion by organizing events and advocating for change. For instance, Ms. Spensor operated from the knowledge that the school was a settler, racist institution. Unlike Ellen Stein, Ms. Spensor frequently chose a direct approach in conflicts with the administration. When supporting students who left their classes after teachers used the 109  n-word, Ms. Spensor was tireless in her efforts. She began by following the bureaucratic channels, filing grievances and contacting human resources. However, she also refused to relent when those tactics were unsuccessful. Ms. Spensor taught these students in her classroom for the rest of the year, despite being informally punished and surveilled by the administration for this decision. Moreover, when her courses and the First Nations program more generally were threatened with cuts, Ms. Spensor conducted research, spoke to teachers across the departments, and campaigned at consecutive staff meetings. As a result, she lost her chip store and was threatened by white, settler teachers who were angry at her activism. Still, she persisted, and the program remains at East City High. At times, teachers and students who refused East City High’s optics became symbols of diversity (Ahmed, 2012). Administrators would celebrate their efforts as indicative of East City High’s commitment to inclusivity, such as when Mr. Eaton hopped on stage to introduce the Black History Month assembly despite not helping plan or hold the event. Eliza and Tamar were often either held up as student representations of East City High’s progressive aims or admonished for their tenacity. They had been among the students who reported teachers’ use of the n-word to Ms. Spensor. Eliza and Tamar, though presenting at the same staff meeting as Ellen, were told to wait in the hall outside the library until it was their turn to speak. Thus, they never heard how Ellen addressed the issue. In the same morning, their work on the universal washroom was celebrated while their organizing against anti-Black racism was erased. Acts of nice diversity, like the administrators’ (empty) praise for the universal washroom project, upheld the white, settler colonial, cisheteronormative structures that informed the school and schooling.   110  Chapter 5: The Work of Gender Legibility  Barry dabbled in bringing little bits of flamboyance into his life, but he was careful about the unconventionality of his dress at school. He played saxophone in the senior band, and, while backstage before the first concert of the year, he watched his friend Taylor do her make-up with envy. Though he painted his nails, he had never worn make-up to school. The pushback he got just for his nails was enough to persuade Barry that make-up was going too far. That night he decided “fuck it” to what other people thought, and he asked her to do his make-up. Barry felt great, beautiful even. He had a photo of that night that he regularly took out to show me. After the concert, Barry explained his thinking: I would like to [wear make-up to school], and it would definitely be, like, closer to the end of the year when, like, I’m never going to see these people again, but it’s been, like, man…I’ve definitely said to myself, I’m going to do this every concert because I like looking pretty…and why the heck can only super female presenting people do that? Why the heck I ask you?  Every subsequent band concert, Barry asked Taylor to do his make-up, getting a bit more adventurous each time. The night of his final concert, I ran into him in the lobby. Barry rushed towards me and scooped me up in hug. He was wearing a paisley bow tie, eyeliner, and blush. He looked beautiful. Filtering his presentation from one space to the next permitted Barry to legibly move through the school as a cis guy, only reveling in his flamboyance while among people who would understand incoherence.   During my year at East City High, I witnessed gender nonconforming youth work to make their genders legible (or not) according to others’ understandings of binary gender. This often unseen labour entailed daily decisions about, for instance, when and with whom to share pronouns, what to wear, and whether or not to ask adults for help. Most of the youth I worked 111  with were never recognized as gender nonconforming because they performed their genders in ways that did not align with adults’ expectations. I am interested in these expectations. What structured these ideas about gender (non)conformity? What school-based interventions followed from these expectations? How did the youth interact, reject, ignore, and navigate these norms? Exploring these questions entails first attending to the conceptual frameworks, systemic forces, and policies that structure notions of legibility.  5.1 Accommodations and inclusion East City High’s gymnasium was located in an outbuilding directly behind the main school structure. There were two entrances, one on the east side for girls and one on the west side for boys. These entrances led to gendered washrooms and changerooms and then flowed into the primary gymnasium, where all classes met at the start of the period to rendezvous with their teachers. Sykes (2011) argues that these elements of “The built environment…exhibit how transphobia has been designed and imagined in the very architecture of schooling” (p. 95). At the start of the year, Mr. Gonzalez pulled Raeyun aside and gave him special permission to use the boys’ changeroom, but Raeyun did not feel comfortable using that space because he was worried about how it would exaggerate the ways he was different from other boys. Instead, Raeyun came to school already dressed for class and snuck in the back entrance to the gymnasium while other students were changing. He stayed in his PE clothes all day, regardless of what they did that period and how sweaty he got. I never once witnessed a teacher talk to Raeyun about wearing his PE clothes all day or deduce that this behaviour meant he had nowhere safe to get changed. Beyond forcing students to funnel into the gymnasium based upon their genders, PE class relied upon cisheteronormative assumptions as the foundation for defining physical health 112  (Sykes, 2011; Travers, 2018). While binary ideas about gender permeated the classes, cisheteronormativity is never exclusively about gender. Rather, the discursive production and policing of normative bodies in PE classes is likewise structured by whiteness, settler colonialism, and ableism (Hokowhitu, 2014; Norman et al., 2019; Petherick, 2018). According to Petherick (2018), in physical education,  whiteness benefits those who are positioned in such a way that the dominant approach to healthy living befits traditional, Eurocentric values and skills. Basic ideas, beliefs, values and perceptions are part of the everyday occurrences, and for those who directly share these same approaches to life, their daily activities and choices align. (p. 148)  During the year, students participated in conventionally North American sports, like hockey, basketball, and golf. Many students in the class with access to certain privileges, such as wealth, whiteness, and ability, already possessed athletic skills in these areas, likely as the result of participation outside of school. Other students were never passed the ball or picked for teams because of their immediately apparent inferior level of play. Therefore, PE class was frequently dominated by the same small group of cisnormative, heterosexual boys whose refusal to share space was rarely challenged by the teachers. In fact, the only time I ever witnessed a teacher reprimand a student for hogging the ball was when Mr. Gonzalez and another grade 10 teacher combined their classes to conduct basketball scrimmages. The other teacher, Ms. Murphy, spent the entire period following one of the only Black students around with a whistle, scolding him for not passing enough. Several times she halted the game entirely to reproach him in front of the rest of the class. She did not admonish any of the white boys who behaved similarly. Physical education has been historically shaped and entangled in heteromasculinity, nationalism, militarism, and settler colonialism (Hokowhitu, 2014; Norman et al., 2019; Sykes, 2011). Hokowhitu (2014) argues, “the power to colonize [was] justified upon the uncleanliness 113  of the savage body (and thus the allegorical morality of the European mind)” (p. 33). Settlers turned to physical education and sport as methods to ‘civilize’ Indigenous youth and children. These violent strategies relied upon gendered segregation in addition to the imposition of Euro-Canadian norms of movement and discipline onto Indigenous bodies (Norman et al., 2019; Petherick, 2018). As Norman et al. (2019) further explain: Movement, gender, and race exist in a mutually constitutive relationship whereby the restriction, control, disciplining and regulation of one has cascading effects for the others, and the mutuality of these relations was deliberately targeted as a means of eroding Indigenous sovereignty in furthering the erasure of Indigenous peoples. (p. 113)  Settlers weaponized ideas of productivity and (dis)ability to ‘justify’ both the removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands and the sending of Indigenous children to residential schools. Health, therefore, became entangled with settlers’ conceptions of capitalist production and fitness in service of the nation. Moreover, the Canadian government adopted similar discourses to restrict immigration, constructing a rigid understanding of the ‘right’ type of newcomer based upon these perspectives of health, productivity, and ability (Baynton, 2005). The colonial origins of physical education endure. Through the elevation of uniform measurements, testing, and standards in physical education, the ‘healthy,’ ‘productive,’ and ‘fit’ citizen has been constructed as a white, settler, able-bodied, cisheteronormative man. Normatively fit bodies are celebrated and rewarded while racialized, gender nonconforming, disabled, and fat youth are more likely to encounter a variety of challenges in PE classes. Hokowhitu (2014) explains this persistent dynamic: “Alterity…is a crucial component to healthism because at the heart of the merciless language of healthism is privilege and power” (p. 38). Furthermore, Hokowhitu (2014) continues, “healthism…is merely an extension of discourses of morality and uncleanliness that prefigured colonialism” (p. 36). At times, students 114  who struggled to fit in during PE class were offered workarounds in the form of accommodations. Teachers gave certain students special permission to rework an activity, sit out a class, or participate in the space differently in order to facilitate their inclusion, like when Mr. Gonzalez told Raeyun he could use the boys’ changeroom. These individualized modifications did not disrupt the Euro-Canadian standards of normativity, ability, and fitness that dominated in the space. Rather, teachers recognized that some students would never be able to fit in or perform at the expected level and then provided alternatives that permitted the standards to remain unquestioned.  5.1.1 There’s a test for that Each term Mr. Gonzalez guided the class through a seemingly never-ending slew of fitness testing. In North America, these types of tests were originally established in response to national anxieties over creating cohorts of men that were masculine and strong, and they have been entangled in militarism and settler colonialism since their foundation (Sykes, 2011). Fitness tests rely on normative standards of movement and ideas about health that reproduce gendered, colonial, and ableist views of the body.  Fitness testing is not required by the province and not all PE teachers at East City High incorporated this activity as part of their repertoire. However, Mr. Gonzalez spoke about fitness testing as if it were compulsory. Every term, the students did sit-ups, push-ups, timed runs, held their chins above bars, jumped toward taped out markings on the floor, and stretched their arms across a board. The fitness testing took so long that it felt as if the class had barely finished by the time Mr. Gonzalez warned students that they were but a couple weeks away from fitness testing ramping back up. To pass a fitness test, Mr. Gonzalez instructed students that they had to 115  perform according to an index of gendered standards that he maintained at the front of his binder. These standards served as an unmandated mandate in Mr. Gonzalez’s class. He was not officially required to utilize these tests or any gendered criteria for assessment; however, the tests dominated his curriculum and were the salient form of evaluation each term. Though Mr. Gonzalez had selected to implement these tests in his classes, he still worried about how they excluded Raeyun. “What am I supposed to do with my trans students,” Mr. Gonzalez once asked while pushing his binder toward me and pointing at the page of gendered standards. He wanted to open a door for Raeyun, but he was unclear of the process.  In PE, doors led to established pathways for inclusion which relied upon accommodating individual students as seamlessly as possible into the class. This application of accommodation is informed by disability law, where advocates have fought to require employers to make a “reasonable” effort to modify their institutions to be accessible (Emens, 2015, p. 19). However, scholars argue that this framework positions “disabled people as exceptional ‘misfits’ in need of accommodation while keeping the structures that produce disability exclusion intact” (Hamraie, 2016, p. 264). There is a long history of gender and disability as conceptually entangled (Bychowski et al., 2018), and gender nonconformity specifically has been regulated through discourses of disability (Awkward-Rich, 2020). As I discussed above, discourses on (dis)ability and health are likewise inextricable from an interrogation of settler colonial attempts to control and discipline Indigenous bodies (Hokowhitu, 2014; Norman et al., 2019).  By accessing accommodations in schools, gender nonconforming students could be recognized as deserving of special attention, which would then facilitate how they navigated through bureaucratic systems or gained permission for washroom/changeroom alternatives. The available methods of accommodation, as articulated in the district’s Policy on Sexual Orientation 116  and Gender Identity and developed ad hoc by educators at East City High, remained predominantly tethered to binary options. The policy made it possible for students to change their names/pronouns as well as use facilities, join teams, and wear clothing that was consistent with their understanding of their gender, but it did not work to upend the practice of relying on gender as a category of distinction in schools. Students could switch from one stable, coherent gender to another, but there was little space made for youth to relate to their genders as fluid, flexible, and incoherent. Thus, these accommodations (doors) were often also traps, for the doors almost only ever opened into binary options.   5.1.2 The trouble with fitting in The concept of accommodations has a long history in North America. Originally rooted in race politics, when it referred to conciliatory approaches with the intention of Black people accommodating whites (Emens, 2015), this terminology has since been used in the context of religious rights and ultimately disability law. More recently, educators, activists, and legislators have relied on the language of accommodations as a framework for including trans students in schools (Travers, 2018). Awkward-Rich (2020) notes that trans studies needs to pay attention to the “complicated entanglement of trans and disabled as social/political categories and modes of life” (p. 21). Attending to the productive connections in these fields underscores the intertwining of an insistence on coherence and knowability with the recognition of another’s humanity (Awkward-Rich, 2020; Butler, 1990; Spade, 2011; Stryker, 2008). Here I am drawing on scholars in critical disability studies to interrogate the aims of accommodation approaches, focusing on the ways they place the onus on individuals to fit into problematic institutions. These strategies rely on and reproduce an expectation of a normative body that can succeed and belong 117  in a school, locating problems within all those who do not align with these expectations and perhaps do not ever desire to belong. By theorizing gender nonconformity and disability studies alongside each other, we can consider what other ways of being we can invite into schools when we are not tethered to conventional understandings of how to be in a body. The first time I met Mr. Gonzalez, he was relieved to see me. He suggested we sit off to the side of the outdoor basketball courts while students shot hoops. He wanted to ask a litany of questions about how to handle trans students in PE class. Where should they change? What teams should they play on? How can he find out if a student was trans? “There are only two changerooms,” he pointed out, “would a solution be to just give trans kids more time to change?” Mr. Gonzalez was invested in guaranteeing a fair and safe environment for all students in his class, though at times he viewed fairness and safety in tension. “There are different three-point lines for girls and boys and girls get very upset when I say this, but also it’s not fair for them to use the same one because they’re not as strong,” he told me, looking out the basketball courts and the students running around. Mr. Gonzalez had no idea how to guarantee Raeyun’s safety, and this uncertainty worried him. He wanted concrete answers on how to protect Raeyun.  Throughout the year Mr. Gonzalez confided in me about the predicaments Raeyun provoked for him. He explained that he knows Raeyun “identifies as a…boy” but it is difficult and not really fair to put him in the same group as the other boys because he was not like them. “I have to split up the class and need to make sure teams are fair. If I count Raeyun as a boy, it doesn’t work.” He told me that the distinctions in PE were not actually about gender, they were about ability. Mr. Gonzalez recognized that Raeyun “saw himself” as a boy, but he argued that there were just some realities about bodies that he had to take into account, even though he did not want to offend anyone.  118  During one of our conversations, I asked Mr. Gonzalez if the teachers in the PE department ever discussed these topics in their meetings. He told me they never had. Though Mr. Gonzalez had been accruing a long list of concerns and queries, he chose to save them for the first non-binary person he met in the school. Mr. Gonzalez never sought out external resources to help support Raeyun or raised his questions with the other members of the department who encountered similar situations. Instead, Mr. Gonzalez viewed my non-normative body as holding the answers to his anxieties. He believed I was the solution to his problem because I am non-binary. This dynamic was not uncommon during my time at East City High. Nice teachers regularly pulled me aside to discuss students or situations in their classes, at times sharing personal information about youth that I should not have known.  The basic stated intention behind offering accommodations was to create greater equity of access for disabled students without placing “undue hardship” on the institution (Emens, 2015; Hibbs & Pothier, 2006). Within this approach there are two main methods for schools: “accommodation within the general standard (i.e., flexibility for all), and accommodation by means of individual exceptions to the general standard” (Hibbs & Pothier, 2006, p. 199). In the latter and more common approach, the burden of acquiring an accommodation falls onto the individual student. Beyond requiring students to know their rights, initiate conversations, and ensure they receive the protections they deserve; this approach relies on students being knowable as needing accommodations. In order to qualify, a student must first self-identify as disabled and then prove that identity with the appropriate documentation (Hibbs & Pothier, 2006). Becoming visible and knowable in this way reproduces the idea of a normative body and experience of being a student. In schools, “we learn how to view our bodies, how our actions make us into certain types of people, and how to practice techniques to modify ourselves to better fit the 119  norms” (Spade, 2011, p. 104). This form of disciplinary power compels students into dynamics that require their participation, burdening them with becoming visible as not fitting into the school and in need of special attention. When individualized and approached on a case-by-case basis, accommodations reproduce normative expectations for students and reproduce a certain type of student that is allowed to be included (Hamraie, 2016; Jung, 2007). For instance, rather than addressing the underlying cisheteronormativity that characterized PE class in general, Mr. Gonzalez worked to create modifications for Raeyun’s ‘unique’ situation. The assumption was that Raeyun, as a visibly gender nonconforming student, was the only one who would benefit from a less binary alternative in class. The existence of trans students did not disrupt Mr. Gonzalez’s faith in biological essentialism. However, many of the youth in the study were never seen by their teachers, counsellors, or the administrators as gender nonconforming and thus were never presented with any options for workarounds at school. For instance, almost no one read Scarecrow Jones as gender nonconforming. “In terms of other people, no, I think that they probably do not see me [as gender nonconforming],” Scarecrow Jones explained. “Since I’m not out to many people, I don’t want to give anyone any reason to think that I am not what I appear to be.” Since Scarecrow Jones’ gender nonconformity did not align with others’ expectations, they were not offered any special permissions. To others, Scarecrow Jones did not look as if they needed them. Therefore, Scarecrow Jones got ready for PE in the girls’ changeroom, was counted as a girl during activities, and judged based upon the assessment standards for girls. Scarecrow Jones described PE as “this weird heteronormative culture like, heteronormative, cisgender ingrained into everyone’s brain that’s just making it so much more difficult, and so much weirder for everyone every day.” Scarecrow Jones understood the prevailing 120  cisheteronormativity of PE class as affecting “everyone every day,” not just gender nonconforming students. Furthermore, teachers’ strategies of offering individualized alternatives for visibly nonconforming students did not address, let alone disrupt, the cisheteronormative culture and curriculum of PE class that Scarecrow Jones found so difficult and weird. Scarecrow Jones’ disdain for PE was not limited to the transphobia of that space. One day after Junior Theatre Company, Scarecrow Jones lingered by the doorway to delay their departure for PE class. They explained that they did not want to attend because PE class “preys on the weak and chubby.” Discourses on fatness are mired in ideas about the ‘right’ way to exist in a body; therefore, fatness is also racialized, gendered, and sexualized (Sykes, 2011). In physical education, in combination with homophobia and transphobia, fat phobic imaginaries strive to establish certainties about the motions, visual meaning and boundaries of the body. The normal, healthy and athletic body has to strive for skilled, yet productive, movement and to provide clear, visible evidence of its sex, gender and sexuality. (Sykes, 2011, p. 97)  These normative expectations likewise fostered Raeyun’s ambivalent relationship to PE. Raeyun regularly struggled with the cisheteronormativity of the space. In response, he frequently enacted small forms of refusal, opting to be the first person out during group games on purpose, so he could sit on the sidelines and chat rather than participate. However, Raeyun also spoke at length about his desires for sculpting himself into the gay ideal of a slender, lithe body (Sykes, 2011). He believed that assuming a particular form of masculine musculature would facilitate his legibility as a gay trans guy. Therefore, he was eager to perform certain activities that he thought might help him lose weight and address his body dysphoria.   *** 121  The existence of gender nonconforming youth did not compel educators to question the underlying cisheteronormativity of the school or schooling. Rather, each student represented a singular exception who required their own accommodations in order to fit back into an otherwise functioning system. Educators attempted to make gender nonconformity’s productive incoherence stable and legible through folding it back into the cisheteronormativity of the school. Instead of creating space for gender nonconforming youth to exist in whatever ways they desired, the aim of accommodations was to minimize the ways these students were different and as seamlessly as possible incorporate them into the mainstream operations of the school. “Thus accommodation becomes synonymous with ‘fitting in,’ a definition that locates the responsibility for adaptation within the ‘abnormal’ body rather than within the institutions and ideologies that construct it as such” (Jung, 2007, p. 161). By locating the problem of belonging in the individual student, accommodation strategies likewise focus resolutions on equipping students with the means, resources, and supports to belong in school. This framework neglects to interrogate the systemic role of schools and schooling in creating environments that have no space for non-normative bodies, either because schools are literally built without considering the possibility of disabled, trans, and non-white youth or because schooling continues to privilege an ableist, cisheteronormative, white experience (Hamraie, 2016; Sykes, 2011). Uncertain how to evaluate Raeyun’s performance but adamant on using gendered standards for the class, Mr. Gonzalez finally just asked Raeyun how he wanted to be judged. Raeyun looked at the list and decided on a middle ground between the criteria for girls and boys, in the hopes of getting a passing grade in his least favourite class. Though Mr. Gonzalez’s willingness to follow Raeyun’s guidance demonstrates that he had some understanding of the ways these systems did not work, he remained tethered to the promise of their overall efficacy. 122  Mr. Gonzalez refused to question the cisheteronormative foundations informing fitness testing and the prevailing notions of physical ability and health. Raeyun merely represented an anomaly, and Mr. Gonzalez was committed to finding a way to accommodate his unique situation. In the context of PE class, Raeyun was tasked with understanding that his way of being a boy was distinct and, at least in PE, less than others. Rather than learning from Raeyun’s presence that fitness testing was flawed and that notions of physical ability and health that relied on rigid, normative conceptions of bodies enacted violence, Mr. Gonzalez found a way to still include Raeyun in the class and in fitness testing. Raeyun’s inclusion was a sign of the institution adapting to make space for a particular form of gender nonconformity.   5.1.3 The right to be included Accommodations are entangled with the project of inclusion. “Inclusion,” following Ahmed (2012), “could be read as a technology of governance” (p. 163). The concept of inclusion is constrained by its location within rights-based discourses aimed at equality (Rasmussen, 2006; Spade, 2011; Vaid, 1995). The focus on rights and equality limits the liberatory potential of inclusion, as strategies tend to privilege “rights only for queer and trans people who can actually expect to be protected by that institution” (Spade, 2011, pp. 61–62). At East City High, being included depended upon first being recognized as being excluded. For instance, students like Scarecrow Jones, Barry, Vixen, and Ms. Man, who did not perform their gender nonconformity in accordance with others’ expectations, were not identified by teachers as students being excluded by gendered activities, standards, and language. Therefore, teachers never pulled these students aside to discuss alternatives for participation or to inquire about their pronouns. Ostrich and Raeyun, who aspired for binary legibility, had to work hard to be recognized as excluded.  123  By inviting and folding more people into the school’s operations, teachers, counsellors, and administrators expanded the categories of belonging at East City High. This expansion did not simply translate into greater equity, for belonging is a concept mired in a rights-based framework, which privileges the experiences of normative identities while further marginalizing racialized, Indigenous, gender nonconforming, and disabled people. In order to be welcomed into the school, students had to be legible. Thus, even as East City High welcomed binary trans youth through policies and programs that recognized their gender transgressions as ‘normal,’ gender nonconforming youth remained excluded due to their illegibility. Ahmed (2012) explains how this simultaneous inclusion and exclusion is a function of an accommodations approach, arguing that the “very structure of being…the one who receives hospitality, allows an act of inclusion to maintain the form of exclusion” (p. 43). Furthermore, Halberstam (2018) describes that the welcoming of transgender students into schools “did not extend to categories of transgender life that remain challenging to a politics of respectability, legality, and legibility” (p. 50). Inclusion was only possible if students performed gender nonconformity in a manner that was recognizable to the school as gender nonconformity.   5.2 Trans-inclusive policies as easy as (SOGI) 123 The first time I walked into East City High, I was there to discuss the possibility of conducting my research at the school with a vice principal who later transferred. He was welcoming and almost relieved to hear about my project. He informed me that East City High was committed to creating a safe space for their trans students and then confessed that they were overwhelmed and confused by how to best support specifically gender nonconforming youth. The policy and other trans-inclusive materials available at East City High did not always address the experiences of 124  gender nonconforming youth, and the vice-principal was noticeably comforted by the idea of a non-binary researcher coming to the school. He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his desk, and told me he was grateful that I would now be there to support these students and fill in the gaps. Similar to Mr. Gonzalez, the vice-principal positioned my non-normative body as representing the solution to his concerns about gender nonconforming youth.  There were two main trans-inclusive initiatives that participated in shaping adults’ understandings of who was a gender nonconforming student; therefore, I turn to these documents, attending to the ways they construct gender nonconformity and inform accommodation practices at East City High. I am particularly interested in how gender nonconforming youth at East City High related to these initiatives. Policy is often positioned as a solution to a problem and even as “a substitute for action” (Ahmed, 2012, p. 6); however, it “is not ‘done’ at one point in time…it is always a process of ‘becoming’” (Ball et al., 2012, pp. 3–4). Reading alongside Ball et al. (2012), I theorize policies as enacted and, following Ahmed (2012) attend to “the importance of focusing not so much on what documents say but what they do: how they circulate and move around” (p. 6). It is important to engage with policy as living and enacted (Ball et al., 2012) rather than as a document that translates seamlessly into action, especially considering that none of my participants had ever heard of any of the trans-inclusive policies meant to shape their experiences at East City High. The creation of these documents did not suddenly alter their lives at the school. Therefore, I explore how the youth came into contact (or not) with elements of these policies, often without knowing, and then their reactions to finding out that the policies existed in the first place. In order to interrogate these policies as living documents, I attend to how policies are enacted in their settings. Policies are not created in social vacuums; they “enter existing patterns 125  of inequality” (Ball, 1993, p. 12). They are enacted by people and through daily interactions that are mired in the cultural contexts of the school. Similar to disability-specific accommodation approaches that ask disabled students to make themselves known in order to qualify for legal protections, the trans-inclusive initiatives at East City High relied on and reproduced trans as a visible identity. The policies made possible the offering of accommodations only for individual students who were recognizably trans and thus deemed in need of special attention. Their reliance on a narrow understanding of gender nonconformity meant that these policies were limited in their ability to disrupt binary thinking and language.  5.2.1 Creating policies is the safe choice Vixen changed their name in grade 8, shortly after figuring out that they were genderfluid. When I met them in grade 12, most people knew them as Vixen. However, whenever there was a substitute teacher, that person would call out their deadname during attendance. Classmates would then look around confused. Later, some would refer to Vixen by their deadname, now unsure what their ‘real’ name was. Why had their teachers never just crossed out their name and rewritten it? In January, Mr. Hill pulled Vixen aside during a library block in Social Justice 12 and asked them if they knew that they could officially change their name. Vixen had no idea that was possible. Later that day, they went to the counselling suite to talk to Mr. Adams, who was the counsellor they liked best. Vixen told me the name change was quick and easy. This process was one of several trans-inclusive protections enumerated by the district’s hard-fought Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which garnered significant media attention during its revision process back in 2014. A small yet vocal population of parents and conservative organizations opposed the expansion of the policy, rooting their argument in a rejection of trans 126  identities, an investment in a transmisogynistic rape myth, and a perceived attack on parental rights (Herriot et al., 2018). Advocates for the policy used their time during the public meetings to recount the numerous challenges and dangers faced by trans students in schools (Herriot et al., 2018). Despite the protests, the policy passed by a school board trustee majority. In its codification, the policy was then positioned as a solution to the heightened risks faced by trans students and a primary method for ensuring their safety (Loutzenheiser, 2015).  At East City High, adults’ good intentions in cultivating safe and inclusive classrooms were directed and bolstered by this policy as well as the province’s funding and support of the SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) 123 initiative. The City School Board was one of 60 districts signed onto SOGI 123 and its educators’ network, a vast grid that connects educators to explanations of policies and curricular initiatives with the aim of creating inclusive schools organized by British Columbia’s Ministry of Education. Each participating district (ideally) has a SOGI lead who is in charge of disseminating materials and connecting staff with the larger SOGI network. According to its mission statement, SOGI 123 creates the opportunity for teachers and administrators to collaborate across the province and share inclusive policies, strategies, and lesson plans.  None of my participants were aware of either the district’s policy or SOGI 123. Raeyun astutely pointed out the absurdity of this unfamiliarity, remarking, “[SOGI 123] was never brought to my attention, which is funny because I’m trans.” Since SOGI 123, in part, was intended to cultivate inclusive schools through integrating topics and issues into the curriculum, students’ unawareness of the actual program is not necessarily meaningful. It could be silently operating in the background as teachers challenged cisheteronormativity in their classrooms. Raeyun, who generously presumed the best of intentions in most situations, determined that not 127  hearing about SOGI 123 was indicative of its success. The first time I asked him about it, he ruminated for a while before telling me it was “sneaky.” Raeyun explained that since he had no idea it was happening then his teachers must be integrating the content extraordinarily well. Other students were not quite as generous when I spoke with them about SOGI 123. They were enthusiastic about the possibility of this type of program existing at East City High and then shocked to hear that it already did. Ostrich, for instance, was skeptical it was real, immediately telling me how he had experienced the exact opposite during high school. He recounted the almost complete absence of LGBTQ2S people and issues in his sex education classes, sharing with me that he felt entirely unprepared besides what he had managed to look up on the internet.11 In Ostrich’s experience, teachers were not integrating materials about sexuality and gender identity into the curriculum, and he was discouraged by that lack. Scarecrow Jones felt similarly frustrated by how non-normative genders and sexualities never came up in any of their classes. The exception to this absence was when a student initiated the conversation, which, they argued, was entirely different than if a teacher were to broach the subject. I asked them to explain how it would differ if a teacher were to bring up the topic, and, in responding, they also gave specific examples for how a teacher could integrate SOGI material into a theatre or PE class. They suggested: Well because then it acknowledges that they’re aware and are trying and…that they’re doing a part. It’s such a big deal on its own when a student comes up with it, like, and then it’s normal but if a teacher were to be, like, “all right, let’s do a scene and two girls, Ashley, Kate, and they’re in love, go” and then picked two random people, doesn’t matter what gender they were and just picked them and up on stage and there you go. Like, that would be so different than, “all right, this girl goes up and that guy goes up and you’re in love, go.” And okay, especially when they’re teaching dance in gym. Just split the class  11	As	a	former	sexual	health	educator,	I	made	myself	available	to	share	information	and	connect	youth	to	resources	in	moments	like	these.		128  in half. This group is going to lead, this group is going to follow. Put on pinnies leaders, there you go. Doesn’t have to be like, “girls go to this side, guys go to this side.”  In pointing to how teachers could open up space for queerness to exist by asking for a romance scene between two girls or shifting their language choices when teaching dance, Scarecrow Jones was describing an ideal enactment of the stated intentions of SOGI 123. The program’s website explains: “Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) is not its own curriculum; it is one aspect of diversity that is embedded across a range of grades and subject areas” (ARC Foundation, 2019). However, this type of integration requires training and labour on the part of teachers and schools, which in turn necessitates funding and time. The teaching and networking resources compiled on the SOGI 123 website can be helpful, but they do not, on their own, compel changes in schools. Every year, there is a training for district SOGI leads who then provide training for one SOGI lead at each school. These leads are responsible for translating SOGI materials into their school context. This task can vary greatly from location to location. For instance, East City High had roughly 1,800 students and one SOGI lead, making that position a considerable challenge. Even though a funded training network exists, without attention to the institutional obstacles that either prevent teachers from integrating SOGI 123 or make them wary of the idea, these types of initiatives will be more successful at promoting the idea of schools as diverse than affecting any real change (Ahmed, 2012; Castagno, 2014). Drawing on Ahmed’s (2012) interrogation of systemic racism and diversity work, institutional practices that promote inclusion without addressing foundational issues can actually participate in masking racism, ableism, cisheteronormativity, and other underlying inequities.  129  5.2.2 Constructing legibility The district’s Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is predominantly centred on binary trans students’ experiences. The policy addresses a student’s right to access the washroom or changeroom that matches their gender identity, to be addressed by the name and pronoun they “prefer,” to dress in clothing that aligns with their gender expression, and to join athletic activities that correspond with their gender identity. The policy, which categorizes gender nonconformity under the term “trans,” names and explains trans identities by highlighting the presumed situations and challenges that trans students will encounter in school. At its core, the policy relies upon transness being knowable and visible. The assumption is that trans is a stable, concrete, and knowable identity and that educators will be able to recognize trans students by their need to use a different washroom, play on the other sports team, and change their name. In this policy, trans youth (their bodies, their genders, and their movements through the school) represent problems in need of specific solutions (Loutzenheiser, 2015). In listing out the anticipated spaces and moments in which trans youth collide with the cisheteronormative culture of the school and then providing ‘fixes,’ the policy prevents the need to consider that the logics of schooling may be the issue. Rather, by adhering to these new rules, the assumption is that trans youth can be accommodated back into the school without any trouble. This approach places the onus on individual students to do the work of fitting into schools, which assumes that youth desire to belong in the first place.  While gender nonconforming and binary trans youth may navigate similar schooling conditions, they also diverge in the particularities of their experiences. Initiatives and programs that focus on trans as an exclusively binary identity elide the possibility of gender nonconformity by not seeing fluidity and ambiguity as trans. As trans-inclusive undertakings grow across the 130  city, province, and nation, it is integral to attend to the ways they both expand protections for certain students and participate in narrowing conceptions of what counts as gender nonconformity. Trans-inclusive policies have many important benefits for students, and, in critiquing their presence in schools I do not intend to deny the very real, material impact they can have on youths’ lives (Herriot et al., 2018; Holmes & Cahill, 2004; Ingrey, 2014; Meyer, 2009). At East City High, this positive work was complicated by the fact that the policy was largely unknown by students. I read through the district’s policy with all of my participants, in part so they were fully aware of the protections they were owed. They were generally surprised at its detail, and some were amazed at its relevance to their lives. Raeyun asked me, “Did this change at some point?” When his parents found out that he changed his name, they threatened to sue the school. He was terrified, and he had no idea that there was a policy supporting his decision. For Raeyun, knowing a policy existed that protected his decision to transition at school would have been comforting and helpful.  *** The creation and implementation of trans-inclusive policies does not simply cultivate safer schools for trans students. Youth who relate to their genders in ways that are not legible within the parameters specifically laid out by the policy will be further excluded (Spade, 2011). Policies create “a kind of ‘script’ that further defines and restricts the legibility of gender, creating restrictions and unanticipated barriers for non-binary students, and others whose identities and forms of self-expression do not fit neatly into a dichotomous male/female gender binary” (Meyer & Keenan, 2018, p. 744). The district’s policy clearly identifies the situations in which to expect trans students and the types of needs trans students will have in schools. This articulation, which 131  intends to ameliorate the challenges experienced by students in these moments, participates in defining what it means to be trans in school. Do you still count as trans if you never wish to change your name? What if there is no changeroom that aligns with your gender identity because your gender identity does not exist in the male/female options provided by your school? To think through these questions, I turn to how students interacted with the expectations for how gender nonconformity would show up at East City High and the ways these notions of legibility made (im)possible youths’ relationships to their genders.  5.3 The bureaucracy of the binary Barry was well aware of what was considered gender nonconformity at East City High and in Canada more generally. Despite what he knew about himself and his gender, he did not think he counted because he did not fit the mold, the narrative, or the trajectory detailed. His experience was not captured by the language of SOGI 123 or the policy; his gender was not easily categorized by what Barry referred to as the “bureaucracy of gender.” Barry explained that “the more specifically something is defined, the more specifically it’s thought about. And with specificity comes a kind of bureaucracy. And the bureaucracy of gender is something I try to avoid.” Barry had a lot of questions and uncertainties about his gender, but he rarely afforded himself the space to take his confusion seriously. He told me that our conversations were “kind of a chance or a reason to, like, have a discussion on [gender] more and to kind of look more into that and kind of, if not solidify, explore those things within myself as well.” These conversations were a time of reflection for Barry, rare moments when he let himself have his own relationship to gender. 132  The expectations for where and how gender nonconformity exists in schools are grounded in ideas about what it means to be gendered as well as what it means to be trans. Following Ahmed (2012), “That the arrival of some bodies is more noticeable than others reveals an expectation of who will show up” (p. 42). These expectations are not arbitrary, benevolent, nor recent. Rather, they are predicated upon the relationship of gender policing to forms of disciplinary power that regulate bodies. Logics of whiteness, ability, and settler colonialism inform these expectations as they all participate in structuring what ‘counts’ as a proper body and therefore what it means to be gender (non)conforming (Jung, 2007; Million, 2013; Morgensen, 2010; Simpson, 2017; Slater et al., 2018; Spade, 2011). These expectations are not limited to cisgender bodies. Normative ideas about gender extend to the ‘correct’ way to identify as trans, go through transition, and relate to your trans body and experience. Despite early uses of trans as a way to disrupt discourses of medicalization, pathologization, and categorization (Stryker & Currah, 2014), there remains a privileging of stability and coherence in trans communities. Gender nonconforming youth interacted with these notions of what it means to be trans when working to understand their own genders, especially when colliding with adults’ inability to see them as gender nonconforming.  Regardless of the strength of their self-knowledge, resisting the pervasive delegitimization of non-binary genders at East City High required substantial work. This labour had dual aims. Some youth endeavoured to become more recognizable according to the bureaucracy of gender while others predominantly focused on valuing their own self-knowledge. These approaches were not mutually exclusive. Often youth worked hard at acknowledging their genders as real and also performed acts of labour intended to prove this realness to others.  133  Although the lexicon we have for understanding identity imagines it as fixed, as existing in some stable form…it makes more sense to view the assumption of a gender category as an interactional, social process, happening in concert with the others from whom we seek recognition. (Meadow, 2018, p. 45)  This interactional process does not happen strictly on an individual basis, with each gender nonconforming young person navigating entirely distinct forms of recognition in unconnected contexts. Rather, people perform their genders within structures of legibility. Butler’s theory of performativity is again helpful here, explaining that “‘persons’ only become intelligible through becoming gendered in conformity with recognizable standards of gender intelligibility” (Butler, 1990, p. 22). Though Butler emphasizes gender as salient in establishing and maintaining structures of legibility, understandings of gender (non)conformity are likewise constructed and policed by logics of whiteness, settler colonialism, and ability. It is not possible to extricate gender from these other systems of power. Over the course of the study, I witnessed all of the youth I was working with make decisions regarding how much information about their genders to share and who they thought was likely to understand. They navigated these decisions daily, for instance using different pronouns in different spaces and sharing more or less about themselves from class to class. This labour was ongoing, messy, and certainly not linear.   5.3.1 The need to know Approaches that set their sights on inclusion rely on and reproduce the notion that gender is and can be knowable. These programs and the policies they engender hinge on the notion that to keep young people safe, we need to know their genders. The assumption is that by knowing students’ genders and therefore identifying students with ‘different’ genders, educators can quickly determine who needs protection. Instead of addressing the ways cisheteronormativity functions 134  in the school, these approaches aim to alert adults to youth who may need extra attention and safeguarding. Educators open doors for visibly trans and gender nonconforming students by finding pathways of accommodation for individual students whose lives, bodies, and genders do not make sense or fit easily within schools. The bureaucracy of gender increasingly defines those who fit in and those who are excluded from legibility. Performing that type of legibility, as discussed, is a trap because it is mired in logics of cisheteronormativity, whiteness, and ability. Only certain trans youth will ever be able to become knowable in ways that align with the school’s understanding of gender and thus be approached by teachers for accommodations. Youth whose genders do not adhere to the school’s expectations of transness – racialized youth, disabled youth, and youth whose genders resist coherent, stable knowing – will continue to elide legibility and, therefore, the school’s safeguarding.  Many of the youth in the study were not fixated on knowing their genders and, furthermore, did not understand gender as knowable within concrete, coherent terms. Scarecrow Jones described feeling trapped by the idea of permanence, stability, and adhering to others’ expectations that you remain one way forever or risk being labeled dishonest or unable to understand yourself. They expressed their frustration by pushing back against the popular application of “phases,” a concept that has been used to delegitimize trans youth’s self-knowledge (Temple Newhook et al., 2018). Scarecrow Jones explained: Well, a phase is an interesting word in the way it’s been used. Technically there’s nothing wrong with [gender nonconformity] being a phase as long as you’re not doing it to, like, look cool, as long as it’s something that you honestly believe and then it changes later – I think there’s nothing wrong with that. But if it does change then I’m not going to look back on what I’m feeling right now and think that wasn’t valid, cause it was valid, that’s how I was feeling and I know that it can change from day to day so why not from year to year? And, so, I can respect that about myself. I just am unsure if other people will.    135  Scarecrow Jones did not need to know their gender would be the same from one day to the next in order to trust that it was real. However, they were aware that the fluid, incoherent, and ambiguous ways they expressed their gender nonconformity undercut their validity as trans at East City High. No one saw Scarecrow Jones as gender nonconforming, so no one believed that cisheteronormativity affected them.  5.3.2 Trans enough? At East City High, pervasive expectations informing what it meant to be gender (non)conforming, what Barry labeled the bureaucracy of gender, constrained the possibilities for gender nonconformity by only recognizing it when it showed up in predictable, knowable forms. Though the youth in the project all continuously cultivated their own constructions of their gender identities, they also performed the work of mediating others’ perceptions of their genders and navigating the tensions of the spaces between those understandings. This labour was illustrated in their pervasive concerns over being “trans enough.” Anxieties over being trans enough were common for all the youth in the project. These anxieties were linked to their perception that non-binary gender identities were considered less ‘real’ or ‘valid’ than binary trans ones. Catalano (2015) argues that “‘trans enough’ means crossing the binary, not living between two genders” (p. 419). At East City High, several youth shared this definition of trans enough and worked to become increasingly legible as binary trans in order to count as ‘enough.’ For these youth, like Raeyun and Ostrich, being perceived as guys was paramount to being trans enough. Ostrich described his desire to one day move through the world as just a guy, “I hope that it’s, like, ‘oh, that person was born as a guy,’ I hope as soon as possible.” Both Raeyun and Ostrich expressed many forms of trans identities, and, over the course of the project, they also 136  embodied different desires from their transness. There was no one way to be trans enough. Other youth extended the meaning of trans enough to consider their feelings on being read as gender nonconforming enough. These youth desired their genders to be confusing, illegible, and fluid but felt unseen in that project. For all the youth, being trans enough required other people acknowledging their transness.  Binary trans identities were more easily knowable because they fit into the structures of legibility at East City High and the narratives shared about gender in the media. When students’ experiences of their genders did not easily align with these structures, they had to work harder to trust their own understanding of their genders. In the middle of November, while Raeyun and I were eating an afterschool snack during an interview at a funky café, we discussed his fears about not being trans enough:  LJ: Is that something that you worry about? That you’re not trans enough? Raeyun: I feel like it just depends on the day. I feel like some days I would worry about, like, is this really considered to be, like, trans or kind of, like, is this kind of a phase thing but then some days I’m, like, yeah, this is it. LJ: What does it feel like when you’re worried that you’re not trans enough? Raeyun: Um, I guess it feels like, so I feel like a lot of the input that I get from my gender is, like, kind of, like, from outside, so, like, I feel like I’ve always had this constant knowing that I’m trans, kind of thing, but I feel, like, um, it was kind of, like, this revelation my friend had, like an epiphany, like, she always feels like she needs that reassurance or else she’s always indecisive. I feel like that’s me with my own gender, like, I already know what I am, but I just need that reassurance and it depends on whether or not I’m getting that reassurance.   Raeyun referenced a constant knowing that he was trans alongside an awareness that this self-knowledge had its limitations. Raeyun was consistently misgendered at East City High by adults and other students and that outside input had an impact on his relationship to his gender. If trans is a knowable, visible identity that others can recognize in us, are we really trans if people do not see us as trans? Raeyun’s experiences of misgendering did not alter his understanding of his 137  gender, but, as I discuss later in this chapter, it did take a toll and motivated him to make choices that would cultivate the reassurances he desired. In my conversations with youth about being trans enough there was an underlying awareness that non-binary genders were considered less real than binary trans identities. There is an important tension here. If trans is a knowable identity then if you are trans enough, others should be able to recognize you as trans. Many youth wanted to be seen and understood based upon the ways they transgressed gender norms. However, youth also desired the incoherence and fluidity of gender nonconformity which was purposefully confusing and uncategorizable. Being gender nonconforming, therefore, meant that adults in the school would not be able to place them because they were intentionally unplaceable. I am not intending to resolve this tension. I am pointing it out to suggest that knowability is a fraught desire and rather than invest in policies, initiatives, and curricular programs that rely on gender being knowable, we disrupt that desire and question its foundations. Why do we need to know a students’ gender in order to teach them?   5.3.3 How to be convincingly trans It was not uncommon for youth to frame decisions they made regarding their gender expressions and presentations as work they did more for others’ sake than their own. At times, this gender work was more visible than the labour of internal validation, for it focused on proving to the rest of the East City High community that they were trans and gender nonconforming. This type of work required acknowledging the elements that maintained the bureaucracy of gender and then aligning their genders with them. Raeyun worked hard to become recognizable as a trans guy at East City High. When I first met him, he used both ‘they/them’ and ‘he/him’ pronouns. However, just a couple months into the project, I noticed that Raeyun had dropped ‘they/them’ 138  from his lexicon. When I asked about it, he expressed reservations about using ‘they’ with teachers, despite wanting to, citing a time when Mr. Harding, his English teacher, facilitated a grammar activity and highlighted the gender-neutral ‘they’ as grammatically incorrect. “It was super, like, I guess culture shock,” Raeyun told me. Overall, he figured it was just easier to use ‘he.’ Raeyun discussed transitioning in general as a process he undertook in the interest of helping others understand his gender. He explained:  For me in my own personal experience I feel, like…transitioning is more of a thing for, like, other people. So, it’s, like, changing my name and doing that stuff and just like letting other people know. I feel, like, transitioning for, like, myself was just sort of, like, knowing the switch of, like, yeah, I’m not this anymore, like, this is what feels right.  For Raeyun, being trans was an awareness he had of his gender, but that self-knowledge then required certain actions in order to become legible to others as trans.  Similarly, Ostrich had been wary about using ‘they’ pronouns from the start, uncertain about how teachers would respond to the idea. Like Raeyun, Ostrich also decided to stop using ‘they/them’ pronouns partway through the year. He told me: It’s just quicker to say ‘he/him’ instead of having, like, ‘he/him’ and ‘they/them.’ So, it’s just, like, just gradually narrowing it down…like, I don’t mind people referring to me as a ‘they,’ but at the same time, like, I don’t want to say both, because, like, yeah, I kind of just narrowed it down to ‘he’ when introducing myself to people.   Ostrich was not against the pronouns themselves, but he was against the work involved in communicating those pronouns every time he had to introduce himself as different than expected. Though the district’s policy stated that students were entitled to use the pronoun that matched their gender identity, most adults in the school were unfamiliar with ‘they’ pronouns. This lack of awareness meant that youth were responsible for educating their teachers on correct usage and navigating often awkward phrasings and interactions. Ostrich, who was painfully shy and experienced social anxiety, was unlikely to view using ‘they’ pronouns as worth the trouble. 139  Most of my participants included a gender-neutral pronoun in their repertoire at some point. Ms. Man and Scarecrow Jones only used ‘they/them’ pronouns with me and a couple close friends. Scarecrow Jones believed they were already navigating enough challenges in school as a mixed race, queer person taking classes in a second language. They did not want to make their life more difficult. Plus, similar to Ostrich and Raeyun, Scarecrow Jones did not trust their teachers with this information, explaining: I feel like because partially I don’t want to let all my classmates know and if teachers suddenly go, calls me that people are going to go “wait, what, what did you say?” And then there’s some teachers that I just, like, you know, some teachers I am not fond of them and then even teachers that I think are great and would totally accept it, it’s just a whole other level of complications to, like, an already, an already complicated school life that I would then have to figure, refigure out and deal with because, you know, what if that teacher doesn’t understand what that means right? What if that teacher doesn’t accept that and then I tell them this and then it just is this whole debacle that I would rather avoid.  Scarecrow Jones determined that using their pronouns with teachers and classmates was not worth the risk. However, they created little interventions, forms of resistance that worked to disrupt the cisheteronormativity imposed on them daily. They had a close friend who sat in front of them in several classes and would turn around whenever a teacher referred to Scarecrow Jones as “mademoiselle” to instead mutter “m’theysie.” For Scarecrow Jones, this private nickname served as a reminder that someone saw them. Scarecrow Jones did not want largescale recognition of their non-binary gender because they did not believe that their teachers and other students grasped the complexities of their gender. They were apprehensive about being held to others’ standards and expectations for being gender nonconforming. I understand these small subversions during class as space for them to exist differently without concretizing their expression of difference.  140   Sometimes the work of being legible as trans actually required the absence of action. Raeyun strongly identified as flamboyantly gay, but in school he tempered his clothing choices to help him pass as a guy. Raeyun wanted to dress like the K-pop idols he admired and embody their seemingly easy balance of femme flamboyance and masculinity. K-pop idols are famous for androgynous presentations that “are considered neither an absence of masculinity nor homosexuality” (Oh & Oh, 2017, p. 9). As Raeyun explained, “they’re so pretty, and they’re all so, they’re strangely feminine but still masculine...It’s so weird, it’s not weird, it’s impressive because honestly, I wish.” Raeyun looked to K-pop idols as men who were able to be both men and femme, who could wear make-up, crop tops, heels, and extravagant outfits without having their manhood questioned. However, Raeyun feared the policing of his gender and sexuality that he understood as concurrent with presenting as femme. Though Raeyun desired to be like them, he did not believe it was a possibility at East City High, and he daily chose legibility as a trans guy over expressing the complicated layers of his gender.   5.3.4 Trans: it’s science Ostrich began the year identifying as trans non-binary. Over the course of the study, he distanced himself from his previous relationship with non-binary gender and increasingly embraced a genetic explanation for his transness that located gender identity in brain development. It is not possible to know all the reasons that Ostrich made these decisions, nor do I think it important to know. I am interested, however, in the ways Ostrich moved from understanding non-binary gender as possible to positioning it as impossible. He explained, “trans is more accepted than, like, non-binary. I’ve seen it’s kind of a grey area because, like, I’ve seen people be, like, oh yes, non-binary people are great while other people are, like, yeah, they’re just transtrenders.” When I 141  asked him to define transtrenders, he continued, “I’m not 100% sure but from my understanding it’s just people who claim to be trans just for the sake of claiming to be trans. Trying to get, uh, like, more minority points.” Ostrich’s perception of binary trans identities as more authentic was bolstered by scientific arguments, learned both in school and on the internet. In the winter, Ms. Conway led a unit on genetics in Science and Tech. During one of the lessons, she explained that all people have 46 chromosomes and that males have 1 Y and 1 X while females have 2 X’s. Ostrich and I met at a café after that class for an interview. That day, for the first time, he explained his gender within biological terms, telling me he was “more related to people who have XY chromosomes, who identify as male.” He had never used this type of heavily scientific language before. I was intrigued, and I asked him more about it. Ostrich told me, “when I was born my brain ended up developing more as a male than a female even though I have XX chromosomes.” I heard this type of language from teachers at other points during the year, mostly when they referenced gender roles as hardwired in the brain by explaining that girls were inherently better at communicating and boys were naturally skilled at sports. Ostrich said he primarily learned about the brain development aspects of trans identities on the internet. Ostrich was a frequent gamer and liked to stream YouTube videos while he played. He followed a number of trans guys who shared their thoughts on transitioning, the psychology of being trans, and other trans topics. Malatino (2015) analyzed this genre of recordings, noting how they are almost exclusively informed by the perspectives of wealthy, white, straight, and binary trans subjects (p. 639).  Ostrich wanted to medically transition like the guys in these videos. He consistently located this desire within the ‘wrong body’ narrative (Catalano, 2015; Gill-Peterson, 2018; 142  Prosser, 1998). Ostrich described how he came to understand this idea and gender dysphoria generally through watching YouTube: I was watching a lot of trans related videos…[and] it helped me in a way where I am able to understand, like, more why I’m like this…like, dysphoria and why a lot of trans people experience dysphoria…I have a chest where I want it to be, like, completely flat. I have female genitalia where I wish it wasn’t there. I wish that it was, like, more masculine and I feel, like, really shitty that I don’t have it.  The trans men that Ostrich followed online offered him a framework and language for his relationship with his body. However, they did not provide a path toward resolution. While scholars note a paradigm shift in how healthcare professionals and parents respond to gender nonconforming youth (Meyer & Pullen Sansfacon, 2014; Pyne, 2014), not all young people have access to the support or resources to transition if they want. The narratives these videos provide offer a trajectory toward a legible, coherent trans existence, one that Ostrich desired but, as a poor, fat, gay, nonconforming trans guy without access to a medicalized transition, could not reach.  Though Ostrich’s father was supportive of him being happy, he approached Ostrich’s gender with fear and concern. Ostrich explained this dynamic: I’m most likely too young to go through at least the surgeries. Anyways so, I was kind of asking my dad, “can I have a packer? Can I have a binder?” Like, for surgery. And he, he was, like, he was saying, “yeah, but I just want to make sure that I, that it won’t psychologically or physically or just in general harm you in any way, shape, or form,” which is understandable. You, like, don’t want your child to be hurt. So, I just think he’s kind of waiting for, like, a doctor to give the okay before he does it.  Ostrich worked hard to understand other people’s views about his gender. Though at times he expressed frustration with his father’s dilatory approach to providing consent for his transition, Ostrich was overwhelmingly compassionate and patient. He agreed that there were risks involved. 143  Raeyun felt similarly blocked from accessing any aspects of a medical transition. However, he had no plans of even attempting until he was able to leave home and live alone. The previous summer, Raeyun had traveled to a queer and trans camp where he shared space with other trans kids for the first time. He described how some of the white trans guys there were already on puberty blockers: They [white kids] can start HRT (hormone replacement therapy) early and get all that stuff and they never have to worry about paying it on their own and MSP (medical services plan)…I mean, I feel like even, cause my parents aren’t supportive really, but, like, I feel like at the end of the day, at some point, I’m still going to get those things. It’s just that I have to wait a little bit.  Raeyun knew that his situation was different as a Filipino trans guy navigating conversations about gender with unsupportive parents. While this current generation of trans youth are positioned as distinct in part because of established paths to normative passing, doors to gender affirming healthcare are often guarded. Increasingly, there are distinctions among which youth benefit from early medical interventions. The youth with the most privilege are poised to become the youth with access to the best gender affirming care.  Even youth who were not personally interested in passing or invested in positioning trans as a credible identity struggled with the devaluing of non-binary genders and at times turned to science for reassurance. Vixen, who consistently rejected desires for legibility, preferring to confuse people, still felt pulled to assert the validity of gender nonconformity. Once when we were hanging out at a café near the school, our usual meet up spot to listen to K-pop and read their novels, Vixen told me a story of a conversation they overheard in class one day. Two students had been discussing queer and trans issues, so they perked up, ready to be offended and to interject. Vixen was surprised at how open-minded and knowledgeable the students were, especially about trans topics. They explained what they heard: 144  And then they got to the topic of non-binary, and they went, “oh, but that’s not real.” They were like “that can’t be real because they proved that with, like, chemicals in your brain, that’s what makes you trans. If your brain chemicals are different from what your actual body is, that’s what makes you trans but that doesn’t really apply to non-binary so it can’t be real.” And they were basically, like, they completely switched the script, and I just felt closed off. It’s, like, literally listening to two people deny my existence. Telling me I don’t exist. And it’s, like, ok. It’s, like, cause it’s, like…I don’t know how to refute that because I have no argument, so they say there’s no scientific explanation for it, you’re right, there’s not. And I can’t even think of one if I tried. And, if they were to ask, “oh explain how can you prove that you are genderfluid?” I can’t. I can’t prove that, and I can’t even describe what genderfluid is like well enough for people to find it believable just because I can’t put it into words, so if people are telling me that I don’t exist, I basically just have to sit there and take it. There’s nothing I can do. But it’s, like, the only argument that I have is that I know I exist because here I am. You know, because me existing right here in my own head, non-binary and genderfluid has to exist because otherwise what is this, what’s happening here? There has to be something behind it because you can’t tell me it doesn’t exist and have all these people feeling the same way if it’s not real. Because I’m not the only genderfluid person on this planet. I’m one of very many. It just rubs me the wrong way.  In Vixen’s story, two students drew upon the same scientific argument that bolstered Ostrich’s sense of validity and legitimacy as a trans guy to discount the existence of non-binary genders. For these students, trans identities were real because it was possible to know them (forget the fact that most of us never view readings of brain chemicals). Scientific evidence concretized the ambiguity of trans identities by providing tangible proof, a way to know that trans peoples’ claims about their genders were real. Since non-binary genders were scientifically unknowable, they became unreal.  Most of the time, Vixen disregarded desires for legibility. In general, they approached their gender, including being misgendered, with nonchalance. “I think I’ve always been relaxed about most things,” they told me. However, even this carefully crafted casualness had its limits. Vixen wished that there was a scientific explanation for non-binary gender, research they could trot out and point to so they could prove that their gender was legitimate. Without the science to back them up, Vixen could only rely on themself. However, Vixen was not defeated by the lack 145  of scientific evidence. Vixen knew genderfluidity was real because they knew they existed. This form of knowing did not require their gender to be stable, coherent, or permanent. Rather, this form of knowing was a trapdoor, an opening that created possibilities that were previously unimaginable. Vixen explained what it was like to learn about the existence of non-binary genders: I came to understand that there are all kinds of different types and that not everybody fits into those little box standards. And I think I was totally fine learning that, like, a lot of people are of put off by the idea, like, “wait, wait, what? You can’t generalize a person, what do you mean there are unique people?” You know, for some people, yeah, for some reason, they cannot compute, but for me, I was pretty happy learning that…especially because at that point I was just still a girl, like, I didn’t know you could be anything else, so it was nice to learn because it meant that the world was so much bigger.  Vixen worked every day to affirm their own understanding of themself as genderfluid and to assert genderfluidity as not just real and valid but also beautiful, complicated, and brilliantly confusing.  5.3.5 It’s just a pause Many of the youth in the study expressed a deep understanding of their genders as fluid, illegible, and, at times, bewildering. Barry explained, “it’s part of what it means to be human, being in a constant state of flux.” However, Barry struggled with this dynamic. He celebrated others’ transness but balked at his own uncertainties. Barry regularly spoke about gender nonconformity as distant and removed from himself. His perception of the normative expectations for being trans and gender nonconforming prevented him from identifying as such because he knew he did not adhere to others’ ideas. Once when I asked Barry how he would describe his gender, he simply paused. After a long moment he answered, “that’s it, just a pause.” I assured him that a pause was a perfectly reasonable response. Then he added, “you 146  know, I don’t know. That’s interesting. It’s not even like I’m thinking things; it’s that things are ticking away below the surface but not something that I can put into words, you know?” This exchange was illustrative of Barry’s relationship with his gender. He was thinking about his gender but also hesitant, anxious, and uncertain about attaching concrete language to those thoughts. Barry frequently identified as “male” because he understood that identity as easiest and most honest in terms of the privileged ways he moved through the world. Still, he had lingering questions about his gender, questions that he rarely felt entitled to discuss or that he had the space to explore. Another time, Barry and I were sitting outside at his favourite café, discussing the walls he constructed when we talked about gender nonconformity. I asked him if he felt that his gender was encapsulated in the words “cis male.” Barry paused before responding: I don’t really know, in short. I feel like I can simply say that, and it’s a conveniently simple way of going about it. But then, it’s really, you want to talk about what masculinity is and what being a cis male has to mean, and, in a very traditional sense, like, maybe not fully? Like, um, but in a more, broader, modern view of what a man can be. I don’t think anything I do makes me less or more of a man because I think that’s very limiting to a lot of people. So, there’s always a bit of a yes and no because there’s a bunch of different ways, a bunch of different ways that anything can be looked at like that.  Barry was not interested in categorizing his gender according to a bureaucracy that he did not agree with and metrics that made little sense to him. Why should Barry accept other peoples’ definitions of man and masculinity? However, Barry also hit up against these other definitions while at East City High, and they affected how he expressed his gender. For instance, Barry always had perfectly polished nails. He painted them himself, left and right. It was a skill he took pride in, but, at East City High, boys did not paint their nails. Barry told me a story about colliding with this tension: 147  Yeah, like, one day I had my nails painted and someone – I don’t even know him very well he said, “what’s that on your nails?” I said, “nail polish,” and he just, he didn’t, he just said, “why?” And then I just peeled off all my nail polish because that’s not a fun thing to deal with.   Ultimately, Barry’s nail painting was not thwarted by this interaction. He still regularly came to school with freshly painted nails, and he spent months meticulously planning his nail art for prom. However, painting his nails was one thing. He could easily pull down his sleeves and hide them. In explaining to me why he felt pretty when he put on make-up but would never wear it to school, Barry said, “I’m terrified of breaking out of the status code...I would love to dye my hair, change the way I dress but I don’t feel like I’m able to do that and not be judged by people for anything I do.” Barry’s awareness of the possibility of gender policing followed him around the school.  Though Barry was increasingly comfortable expressing his queerness, he imposed strict boundaries with himself about gender. No one saw him as gender nonconforming; therefore, he believed it was appropriative if he identified that way. However, Barry shared with me a desire to distance himself from this distance he had imposed on himself about gender. He explained, “There’s so much precedence, and that’s a good thing cause when [gender transgression] was never talked about or when it was punished, then that was bad. But there’s such a level of fear that comes with that precedence, so much of it irrational, but irrational fears are the ones that are hardest to get rid of.” In this conversation, Barry described the ideas that circulate about being trans and gender nonconforming in the school through the idea of precedent, which he described as the language that has developed to envelope trans students. Barry was afraid that he did not have a legitimate right to his questions about gender or to his feelings of nonconformity. I asked Barry about this fear. He explained: 148  Barry: Um, like talking about gender and not knowing about validity in yourself. And not knowing about validity through, like, through this space and, uh, yeah, so. You’re, you’ve well-noticed, yeah.  LJ: I’m not trying to push you. Barry: No, I absolutely know. It’s like a point of, not, like, contusion, but a point of anxiety in my brain of not wanting to, I never want to be the person taking away from what someone else has to say, and I’m the first to preach to someone else that that’s not the case, but you know, practice and preach don’t always go together.  Barry and I had developed an intimacy that allowed for this conversation. I pushed him far more than any other participant because I knew he came to our conversations wanting a space to think. In this moment, I experienced a sadness tinged with frustration. I spent a lot of time with Barry, and I heard him push away his thoughts about gender, eschewing the very idea that he could even have a relationship with his gender. It was disheartening to watch him do this again and again. He theorized a space for himself as a gender nonconforming cis guy and then kicked himself out of it by questioning his own validity. We had variants of this discussion several times over the course of the project. This version was one of the most direct. Then, in our last interview, Barry created a little bit of space for his own iteration of gender nonconformity. He shared, even if I don’t myself prescribe of, not the binary of male/female, I think I have found expressions of that, that are, if not, they’re not atypical, they’re just not typical. To what degree? I don’t really know. It doesn’t matter to me right now to explore the far reaches of myself, but I think in a sense, in a very real sense, not trying to be dismissive of anyone, including myself.   Barry decided that it did not matter how he identified. He was exploring his gender and did not understand that process as oriented toward a decisive conclusion. For Barry, not knowing his gender was not the same as not caring or being dismissive of its importance. Other people did not have to recognize the complexities of his relationship to gender, as long as he did. Because Barry’s experiences did not adhere to expectations for gender nonconformity, Barry had to work 149  hard to see his gender as valid and real. This labour was ongoing, complex, and largely invisible. Barry’s work was predominantly internal; he focused on resisting the bureaucracy of gender in order to make space for his own self-knowledge to exist, flourish, and thrive.    5.3.6 Got trans? Scarecrow Jones had deep anxieties about being seen as a transtrender, so they mostly let people make assumptions about their gender and did not interject. Scarecrow Jones was in the Junior Theatre Company. There was a narrow hallway leading into the theatre studio that was lined with posters from old productions, plants, and a couple of couches. In this hallway, there was also an LGBTQ2S visibility campaign, mostly obscured by the plants, that featured photos of celebrities and asked: “Got Pansexual? Got Trans? Got Two-Spirited? Got Femme?” Scarecrow Jones abhorred this campaign. On many an occasion they ranted about the wording of this visibility campaign: “What, like, I mean have I got the disease, do you mean? Oh man, are you coming down with the bug?” Scarecrow Jones offered, “at least it’s not blatant homophobia…they’re trying which I guess is nice, but at the same time, it’s the bare minimum form of representation that’s not accurate at all.” Scarecrow Jones did not see themself in these posters, but they reckoned it was a nice attempt by East City High to recognize that trans people might exist.  The first time Scarecrow Jones and I met up outside of class, they told me that non-binary people did not exist at East City High. Because people in the school struggled to see gender nonconformity and gender outside of the binary, Scarecrow Jones felt like there was little space to be. No one knew that Scarecrow Jones was in the study, in part because the two of us had carefully devised plans for their participation that ensured their confidentiality. However, people also did not see Scarecrow Jones as gender nonconforming, and they were well aware of this 150  fact. They were exhausted at having to always confront peoples’ expectations regarding their gender: Just, like, kind of, (pause) having the option, cause right now the option’s kind of been taken away from me, cause it’s always assumptions then refuting the assumption, that’s how it goes every single time. So, I think that maybe having an ambiguity to [gender] or having a different kind of way to present is, it’s nice, that’d be nice. I think I would like that.   Scarecrow Jones recognized that people did not count them as gender nonconforming because they did not adhere to societal expectations for non-binary youth. “You know,” they explained, “I have long hair, and I use the women’s washroom.” Their understanding of these expectations and their exasperation with being misgendered prompted Scarecrow Jones to consider that one possible solution was to express their gender according to more recognizable parameters. Scarecrow Jones could work to fit into others’ expectations for what it looks to be gender nonconforming – they knew what it would take. However, they instead daily decided to do the work of understanding their gender as real.  This is a little weird and convoluted, so just a heads up. Here’s the thing. I am pretty sure that I’m not female, but I don’t know if I am non-binary, some kind of that, there in the spectrum, I don’t know if I’m a guy, and that changes from time to time. Of course, if it changes, I’m like, oh my god, what if I’m a trender? Cause it changes, so what if I’m a trender and I’m actually just convincing myself of this and that. But then at the same time, this is really impacting sexuality as well because pansexual, bisexual, whichever, I think that I am more attracted to masculine/guys that kind of thing, of course, not just them, obviously, but I don’t like the idea of being someone’s “girlfriend.” So, am I a guy and I’m gay? Or am I non-binary and something else? Or am I actually just a girl, am I just cis, and I’m convincing myself that I’m all these things and I’m just a straight girl? And, of course, there’s no answers cause it varies all the time and no one has any idea about all the people. So, I just kind of have to live in this confusion.  Scarecrow Jones understood, on an intellectual level, that non-binary genders were real. “Some days I know logically there’s nothing that is invalid, and, like, if someone told me ‘hey, I’m non-binary,’ I would accept that right away.” Still, they struggled to maintain that understanding in a 151  cisheteronormative context that had little space for such fluidity and ambiguity. “It’s just, like, the dumb intrusive stuff in my own head that you’re faking it.” Scarecrow Jones had to work to believe in their existence in the face of others’ delegitimization of their gender and refusal to recognize its complexities. Their labour was likewise entangled in racialized forms of gendered policing. When Scarecrow Jones described their desires for recognizable gender ambiguity, I was conscious of how their gaze landed on my body. I fit the conventional understanding of non-binary gender, for popular ideas about gender nonconformity privilege white, thin, andro-masculine people. Scarecrow Jones’ awareness of what it would mean for others to see their gender nonconformity underscored how race and gender are inextricably entangled.  Furthermore, Scarecrow Jones noted that others’ attempts to fix their gender into place had an impact on their sexuality because being non-binary was integral to their pansexuality. Scarecrow Jones was able to travel along the spectrums of their genders and sexualities without needing specific, lasting answers. They worked to lean into their incoherence, choosing to “live in this confusion” even though others were only ever able to see them as singular, stable, and fixed. This work was ongoing, blurry, and largely unseen.   5.4 Conclusion At East City High, educators endeavoured to include gender nonconforming students through offering accommodations to individual youth. These doors required significant labour from youth because in order to receive an accommodation, the youth had to be recognizable as gender nonconforming. Therefore, the doors were always already traps since teachers, counsellors, and administrators only opened doors to gender nonconforming young people who aligned with their expectations for gender nonconformity. The practice of accommodations relied on the 152  presumption that gender nonconformity was visible as well as the idea that only visibly gender nonconforming youth would benefit from a rethinking of how binary gender structured schooling. However, by challenging the cisheteronormativity ensconced in activities, standards, and language, educators can invite youth of all genders into a space of learning, not just those whose genders may be visibly non-normative.   When youth in the study worked to become legible according to others’ expectations, they often adhered to binary notions of gender. For instance, they dropped ‘they’ pronouns and resisted dressing in the flamboyant attire they desired. These decisions illustrated their awareness of East City High’s bureaucracy of gender and how important it was for them to have their gender recognized. However, being illegible and incoherent also required work. This labour was largely internal work that youth did in order to acknowledge their existence despite consistent delegitimization from others. For all the youth, expectations about what it meant and looked like to be gender (non)conforming, which were even enshrined in policy, informed their relationships with their genders. These ideas did not cause them to stop being trans or gender nonconforming, but adults’ expectations did require them to work hard to trust themselves and, at times, motivated them to censor aspects of their genders while in school. 153  Chapter 6: Trapdoors  One day in the spring, I popped by the All Nations room to find Anne Mooseknuckle wanting to commiserate about a frustrating meeting she and Jan Smith had recently attended with the principal. In their meeting, Anne and Jan attempted to connect the problem of Indigenous students leaving the school in record numbers with their support of students fighting against anti-Black racism. While Ms. Fraser claimed she would address these issues as intertwined, Anne was not convinced. “We should smudge,” she told me, standing up and gathering her supplies. Outside in the garden, Anne Mooseknuckle and I smudged. The smoke billowed up into the sky. Anne explained that the smoke knew we needed to smudge the whole school and that was why there was so much of it. We stayed outside together until the smudge went out.  As Anne Mooseknuckle and I walked back into the building, she recounted a story she had told me the first time I went to the All Nations room back in September. They used to smudge often with the youth, she recalled; however, teachers started to complain. Then teachers began calling the office to report smoke whenever they smudged. Now if they wanted to smudge inside the All Nations room, Anne or Jan had to first alert the administrators or the office staff. Calling down to the office was not just a hassle; it affected their experience of the smudge. When we had climbed the three flights of stairs to arrive back at the room, a teacher poked her head out into the hall and asked us if we smelled burning. Anne shook her head, walked back into the room, and then just laughed at the timing. Anne Mooseknuckle, Jan Smith, and all of the youth who accessed the All Nations room constructed and protected it as place of escape that refused East City High’s normative logics. Students regularly chose the All Nations room instead of their classes to work on assignments 154  and take tests, to spend their spare periods beading and weaving, to meet with friends for lunch, and to just swing by for a conversation, snack, or pause in their day. Over the year, I observed youth who confronted challenges at East City High connect with each other in the All Nations room more expansively than elsewhere in the school. They made TikTok videos, shared personal and vulnerable stories, and forged relationships. The All Nations room was a place to step outside of the ways East City High functioned, especially for the many youth who collided with the normative expectations underlying the school and schooling.  The All Nations room was partially established to promote a commitment to diversity and inclusion. However, unlike other diversity strategies, this space did not reify whiteness and settler structures. Rather, it was an important space of intervention, a place where it was possible to escape and resist oppressive forces at the school. Gossett et al. (2017a) call these spaces “trapdoors” and consider how they offer not only escapes but possibilities. Gossett et al. (2017a) suggest that “in addition to doors that are always already traps, there are trapdoors, those clever contraptions that are not entrances nor exits but secret passageways that take you someplace else, often someplace as yet unknown” (p. xxiii). Following their work, I turn to trapdoors to theorize how the gender nonconforming youth in the study found and created spaces to both reimagine their lives and engage with their genders more expansively while in school. At times, adults, like Anne Mooseknuckle and Jan Smith, participated in building trapdoors, supporting youth in their need for an escape. However, trapdoors were also important for youth because they were often unseen by adults. Given the dissertation’s focus on youth labour, I turn to this form of trapdoors, “secret passageways” that youth built themselves in order to imagine other ways to exist in school in part by existing differently in other worlds first (Gossett et al., 2017a, p. xxiii).  155  As I have argued, gender never exists on its own. Though I concentrate on spaces that prioritized freedom of gender expression, escaping into trapdoors was a way that youth could resist the interlocking conditions that shaped their movements through the school. Throughout the year, it is probable that youth were constructing trapdoors as sites to refuse the many ways they felt constrained or unnoticed at East City High, beyond the transphobia they escaped while with me. The focus of the project as well as my whiteness may have contributed to which trapdoors the youth decided to invite me into with them. Since I was one of the only non-binary, queer (non)adults that the youth knew, I believe they chose to invite me into spaces in which their refusal of gender legibility was salient. Scarecrow Jones described this emphasis as one impetus for participating in the project: “I can talk about (gender nonconformity), which is already a huge thing…I don’t think I really have anyone else to talk about it with…I don’t have any friends who are trans.” While at East City High, Scarecrow Jones often exercised a careful caution about their gender, but when we were together, they were able to relax and think through their feelings and questions. “It’s nice to be able to talk about things…share things that I can’t really share anywhere else.” The youth created spaces that welcomed the incoherence, fluidity, and ambiguity they needed. Here I explore three of the trapdoors that youth chose to share with me: the tech booth, their writing, and the band hall.   6.1 The tech booth There were two tech booths at East City High. One was in the theatre studio, up a small flight of stairs, and it doubled as Ms. Mack’s office. The other was a glass box on a narrow platform in the back of East City High’s auditorium. Ms. Mack split the Senior Theatre Company’s curriculum into two main segments. In the first part of the year, all students worked on a big 156  production that they performed in the auditorium in the first week of March. For the rest of the year, Ms. Mack divided the class up to rehearse and stage three smaller, student-directed plays. They performed these plays in the theatre studio in June.  Both booths were literally located on the periphery of either the classroom or the auditorium. They were forgotten spaces, unseen by other adults and ignored by most students. Raeyun and Ostrich, who were the two main crew members, cultivated this lack of attention, keen to have a space away from the notice of others. Instead of neglecting the tech booth as out-of-the-way or unimportant, I am interested in how Raeyun and Ostrich fostered the potential of the tech booth’s marginal location.   6.1.1 The tech booth is gay By the end of November, Ms. Mack had instructed the tech crew to relocate to the booth in the auditorium. Raeyun and Ostrich asked me to accompany them. We spent the next few months mostly out of view, up a steep staircase hidden in the back of the large auditorium. During these periods, Raeyun and Ostrich passed the time writing stories, playing video games, and scrolling through memes and Instagram posts, pausing to show me their favourite ones, which typically meant the gayest ones. All the while, we chatted: about the latest school gossip, Ostrich’s bee pun account on Instagram, their teachers, their families, video games, and a litany of random topics, like ghost stories. Ostrich explained it this way, “especially in the booth, I feel like one of the perks of being in tech, while you can watch what’s going on and that’s pretty entertaining, you can also self-absorb yourself into something, and it’s super easy to just block out everything else.” Ms. Mack, who referred to tech as “the least creative part of the play,” tended to forget 157  anyone was up in the booth. Therefore, these moments in the booth together were often uninterrupted lengths of time when the three of us just talked about whatever came up.  One month before the first matinee, Raeyun, Ostrich, and I were up in the tech booth with little to do. Ostrich, who was in charge of sound, showed off the Minecraft house he had been building. In Breakfast Club just a few days previous, Ostrich had showed me image after image of Minecraft constructions made to look like dicks. Up in the booth, when Ostrich was explaining how supply and demand worked in the world of Minecraft, I asked how that rule coincided with all the dicks. Raeyun burst out laughing and said, “We love this! Nothing is better than talking about dicks!” Over the course of the project, Raeyun and Ostrich had started using the phrase “we love this,” referring to the proclivities of all three of us while in the booth. When watching YouTube videos, scrolling through memes, and recounting stories from class, Raeyun or Ostrich would respond for all of us with either “we love this” or “we don’t love this.” For instance, gay content on Instagram, K-pop’s “soft men,” videos of dogs falling asleep: we love this. Ms. Mack yelling at students for one reason or another, homework in general, staying after school for extra rehearsals: we don’t love this.  While Ostrich played Minecraft, Raeyun worked intermittently on collecting and reformatting images for a multimedia element in the production. Raeyun had to find a photo of a trampoline and upload the image to Ms. Mack’s iPad. He devised a plan to make this task more interesting by using editing software to colour in a rainbow trim. Ostrich and I both thought this was hilarious, and we watched as Raeyun meticulously transformed the previously bland trampoline into a gay one. When Raeyun proudly displayed the finished product, Ostrich spoke for all of us, announcing “we love this.”  158  Ostrich and Raeyun’s use of this phrasing both implied and constructed a shared sensibility. Through these pronouncements, they pulled me into community with them. Neither of them was connected to a larger trans community at East City High. On several occasions, Raeyun and Ostrich had complained about the school’s lack of a trans community. Raeyun explained, “I think that’s, like…because a lot of the trans population at East City, I don’t know about a lot, but most of them just want to be like normalized and just sort of blend in and just be like normal people.” Raeyun thought perhaps there were other trans guys at the school, but he did not know of them because they did not present themselves as trans. Though Raeyun likewise desired to “blend in,” he also felt strongly about being trans.  As I discussed in the previous chapter, Raeyun daily balanced his desires to emulate the K-pop idol aesthetic with his need to be legible as a trans guy. However, in the tech booth, Raeyun disregarded concerns about masculinity and instead gushed to Ostrich and me about the crop tops, heels, make-up, and glamorous outfits he yearned to one day wear. “The aesthetic for K-pop groups is, sometimes it’s like hard stuff, harnesses and sheer clothing and sometimes it’s just flower crowns and really pink clothing. And I’m just like, wow, can I pull it off?” When discussing fashion goals, Raeyun often imagined an even gayer, more flamboyant future for himself, a time when he could dress how he wanted without recourse. In the privacy the booth provided, Raeyun scrolled through photos of his most coveted looks, pointing out details that he wanted to make sure neither Ostrich nor I missed.  In the spring, Raeyun secured tickets to an NCT concert with a friend. The next school day, exhausted but still glowing with excitement, Raeyun earnestly described the show while in the tech booth. For most of that period, we watched a slideshow on Raeyun’s phone full of photos and videos of extravagant outfits and set pieces. Raeyun could barely speak he had screamed so 159  loudly at the concert. He kept returning to his surprise and delight at seeing performers with “the same skin tone” as him. Raeyun explained how K-pop idols were often whitewashed, and he had been concerned of that happening at the concert. Sitting in the tech booth, Raeyun shared how it felt, as someone who dreams of being a professional musician, to see part of his identity reflected on the stage. Raeyun was introverted and outside the tech booth he rarely spoke about himself. I propose that the space he and Ostrich created together welcomed this level of vulnerability.  While moving through most spaces in the school, Raeyun and Ostrich worked hard to be legible as trans guys. They dropped the ‘they’ pronoun, chose to dress in more recognizably masculine ways, and picked names that aligned with others’ gendered expectations. They also daily navigated adults’ transphobia, making decisions about whether or not to correct people when they misgendered and deadnamed them. While they prioritized a particular form of legibility most of the time, Raeyun and Ostrich had a hidden space on the periphery of theatre class where they did not have to work as hard. Ostrich and Raeyun could forget about the rest of theatre company but also the reality of their daily lives. As Ostrich had remarked, in the tech booth it was easy to block everything else out. They could joke about being super gay without worrying about who overheard and how that person might respond. Unlike in the rest of Senior Theatre Company, in the tech booth we used the right names and pronouns for each other. Moreover, they could take up space, a position that Raeyun mostly associated with whiteness. Ostrich and Raeyun had created another world, a place where they could not only count on having their genders and names respected, but they could also celebrate dicks and be flamboyant. They could reflect and share insights that were not welcomed into other spaces in the school. Ostrich and Raeyun could relax and they could dream. It was their trapdoor, an important space on the periphery of theatre class that they directed. 160   6.1.2 The tech booth is for guys Raeyun and Ostrich were not the only inhabitants of the tech booth. Spencer, a grade 12 student, was a sporadic visitor. Spencer was a ‘cool guy,’ always wearing the latest trends, carrying his skateboard around the halls of East City High, and dating one of the more popular girls in his grade. Unlike many of the students in Senior Theatre Company, Spencer consistently remembered Raeyun and Ostrich’s pronouns and names. In fact, he was one of the only students to continue correcting Ms. Mack when she misgendered them. Spencer called them both “bro,” a recognition of their masculinity. He was older than Raeyun and Ostrich, and his acknowledgment mattered to them. When Spencer was in the booth, Raeyun and Ostrich laughed at his jokes, listened to his stories, and just generally followed his antics.  Spencer influenced the type and tone of the tech booth conversations, shifting the dynamic away from super gay to more conventionally masculine. Ostrich, Raeyun, and Spencer took turns uploading videos, showing each other their favourite content. Spencer was not as interested in the flamboyantly gay material that Raeyun and Ostrich preferred on non-Spencer days, though he would watch their selections. Spencer liked macho YouTube videos that depicted men attempting feats a person (or maybe just I) would not believe possible unless they saw it with their own eyes. Spencer would lower the projector screen when no one else was in the auditorium, hook up his phone to the system, and stream videos on the big screen. If Ms. Mack came to check on the students, Spencer would get busted, and we would go back to just chatting in the booth.  On one such day, Raeyun was in a bad mood because he had PE next period, and they were about to start the dance unit. In this unit, students had to create groups and then make up dances 161  to perform in front of their entire class. Raeyun did not want to dance in a group or present for anyone. Spencer encouraged Raeyun to talk to his PE teacher, saying “you should be able to dance solo if you want, bro.” Raeyun did end up asking Mr. Gonzalez if he could work on his own, though Mr. Gonzalez told him no. It was the only time I witnessed Raeyun ask Mr. Gonzalez for special consideration. Perhaps Raeyun was already intending to pull Mr. Gonzalez aside and advocate for himself. It is also possible that Raeyun was bolstered by Spencer’s encouragement. I am not interested in concretizing Raeyun’s motivations. Rather, I was compelled by Raeyun’s decision to broach his concerns with Spencer about participating in the dance unit as a trans guy. I rarely witnessed Raeyun, a shy kid, discuss aspects of his personal life with anyone but close friends. Moreover, outside of the tech booth, Raeyun and Spencer had limited interaction. The intimacy of this type of conversation and the closeness that it signified was tethered in some way to the tech booth. What about the tech booth made possible their relationship and Raeyun’s vulnerability? I suggest that the tech booth’s liminality and separateness allowed for the youth to engage with each other differently. They were away from the purview of others and the attendant possibility of observation and judgment. Set off to the side and forgotten about, the students in the tech booth had the opportunity to create a space according to their own desires and needs.  The tech booth was not just one kind of space. It was a hang out, a room to watch videos and scroll through Internet content; a place to process life, where students could pause and think through their days; and a super gay getaway, an escape from the cisheteronormative logics that ruled the rest of East City High. In the world that Ostrich and Raeyun created in the tech booth, they could be flamboyant gay trans men, bros, guys who waxed poetic about dicks, and guys who lusted after femme fashion. Since they had created the tech booth as they desired, they were 162  able to exist as they needed and wanted. The tech booth became a space outside of the normative, daily structures at East City High. It was a complicated space that contained multitudes and, therefore, allowed them to live in their complexities. The tech booth was a space of opportunity and desire that Raeyun and Ostrich created because they needed a place that did not require stability and simplicity from them.  6.2 Writing  In November, Raeyun and I attended a pep rally together. The gymnasium was not big enough for the entire population of East City High to simultaneously attend an event, so teachers signed their classes up to attend either the third-period rally or the fourth-period boys’ volleyball playoff game against a rival west side team. Raeyun had PE third period, and we filed into the event with the rest of his class to find seats in the bleachers. As the other students filled in the stands, teachers stood directing traffic on the sidelines. Meanwhile, two girls with face paint and ribbons in their hair danced around the gymnasium, screaming inspirational chants into microphones. Raeyun put in his headphones, took out his phone, and started working on one of his novels. I nodded at him, motioned toward an empty spot in the back of the gymnasium, and we made an escape.  Raeyun and I leaned against the back wall, a step removed from the bleacher’s loud, cramped conditions. We could hear teachers yelling at students to stay seated, but we were just out of view, obscured by the crowd. He took out his headphones and told me about his latest novel. It was a story about a selectively mute person. When by himself, the protagonist sang all the time, but no one could get to know him because he was too shy to talk to anyone. As Raeyun explained the multiple plot twists in his novel, Mr. Gonzalez walked by and noticed us. “Is 163  everything okay?” Mr. Gonzalez mouthed to me. I gave him a quick signal that we were fine, and Mr. Gonzalez moved on to supervise the rally. Raeyun was allowed to stay standing in the back because he was standing with me.  During the pep rally, Raeyun mostly concentrated on his novel as students competed in musical chairs, a balloon popping challenge, and an event that consisted of keeping a beach ball in the air. A group of boys dominated musical chairs by shoving all the girls off their chairs after they had already sat down. At the sound of shouting, Raeyun looked up, shook his head, and said, “this is absurdly aggressive.” Then he went back to tapping out dialogue and narrative on his phone. Throughout the school day, several participants regularly turned to their phones to write stories, D&D campaigns, and fanfiction. I am interested in their desire to write and how, through writing, youth created imaginary worlds into which they could escape during school. I explore their writing as trapdoors, secret passageways they constructed to imagine other ways of existing.  6.2.1 Writing queerness After school one day, Scarecrow Jones led me the long way around East City High’s fields to eventually end up at a café for an interview. Toward the end of our conversation, we started talking about daydreaming. Scarecrow Jones told me that during class they daydreamed about the plots of stories. They described the process of writing their latest piece called M’dominique: It was kind of like one day I was, like, fuck, I’m going to write today. I feel like writing. I don’t know what about. So, just started writing, and I came up with, like, 2,000-something words in, like, 3 hours. And it was, like, this fleshed out plot, and I was like, fuck yeah. Straight. The main character is, like, is never given a name. The idea is that, like, they use “I,” so the idea is, like, it’s you but it’s not second person. Never given a gender. Never given a name. Their best friend, they’ve got a best friend, his name is Dominique, and he kind of likely has a boyfriend, so, but like that’s not, the story’s not 164  about that. It’s not about that, it’s about all these other things. But the characters are just characters, and these are just things that people are.   Scarecrow Jones paused in their explanation to take out their phone and email me their queer, gender-bendy tale. In M’dominique, Scarecrow Jones did not contend with ideas of being ‘trans enough’ or aligning with others’ gendered expectations. They intentionally wrote the story without resolving the readers’ questions about the protagonist’s gender and therefore sexuality. As I discussed in the previous chapter, Scarecrow Jones grappled with the ripple effects of their gender unknowability. Similar to the character in their story, Scarecrow Jones’ fluid gender affected their understanding of their sexuality. Their writing honoured this confusion, challenging the reader to question why we thought we needed these answers. This story and their escape into writing was a trapdoor of their own design. Scarecrow Jones, who was highly selective about disclosing their gender and pronouns, had created another world through writing in which gender was intentionally confusing and beautiful in its illegibility.  Scarecrow Jones often wrote in school when they did not understand what was happening in class. “Like in math class,” they explained, “I never understand anything the teacher says anyway, so why would I even go through the pain of trying to decipher it in my head?” Instead, Scarecrow Jones brainstormed ideas for stories. “I have the workbook. She’s teaching out of the workbook, why don’t I just read the workbook later?” When not engaged in class, Scarecrow Jones escaped into their own imagination, choosing a different place to exist.  Each of my participants who wrote, wrote on their phones. They always had their phones on them; it was convenient. Whenever they were inspired, they could just pull out their phones and work on a story. Officially, cell phones were not allowed at East City High, though teachers had a fairly casual approach to that policy. Most teachers reminded students to stay off devices 165  and reprimanded them for disobeying during lessons while also permitting unobtrusive usage, like listening to headphones during independent work periods. Only a few teachers ever confiscated phones and several teachers regularly incorporated them into class by asking students to look up information on their phones during lessons. Youths’ phones facilitated their building of fantasy worlds and narrative escapes. Within seconds, youth could easily access a secret passageway out of the classroom and away from East City High by simply slipping a phone out of their pocket and opening up a document.   6.2.2 K-pop made me gay Raeyun often mediated his behaviour in classes in relation to a cohort of white boys in his French Immersion program whom he referred to as the “rowdy boys.” Since French Immersion was a specialized track, Raeyun mostly had classes with the same students every year. As previously discussed, Raeyun understood whiteness as the taking up of space, and these boys took up significant space in his classes, at times bringing lessons to a halt. Raeyun had developed a coping strategy for enduring their many antics: he wrote. Raeyun found that writing during class helped him stay focused, including allowing him to dodge whatever trouble the rowdy boys stirred up. Raeyun could be ensconced in a story while the rowdy boys threw books across the room, teased the teacher, or muttered slurs at classmates.  Raeyun wrote songs and gaymances, which were mostly fanfiction involving K-pop idols. As you may have already surmised, K-pop was important to Raeyun. “I guess you could say in a sense that K-pop helped me figure out my gender identity. Yeah, it kind of just made me realize how much I wanted to be them in a sense but not really, yeah. It kind of just made me realize 166  how masculine I wanted to be.” Beyond wanting to dress like K-pop idols, Raeyun envied the ways the men related to each other. Raeyun explained this desire: I think it was like, for the first little bit, it was their bodies but then after a while it started turning into their ability to be with each other, just exist with each other, and exist with themselves. I mean, that sounds like it made me gay, but, you know, it kind of did in a way. It kind of made me realize that, like, it was, I wanted to be something closer to that…I felt like they were experiencing something I felt like I was missing out on.  Raeyun coveted the fluid manner in which K-pop men interacted with each other, interactions he read as “super gay.” Since he did not currently have any affectionate, intimate relationships with other boys, Raeyun felt like he was missing out on something special.   In Raeyun’s fanfiction, he took inspiration from K-pop idols’ on-air affection and weaved narrative worlds in which they enacted queer love with an eye toward femme fashion. He explained that “K-pop boys are low key like super gay for each other,” so it was easy to ship12 his favourite idols. Through his K-pop fandom, Raeyun explored the expansiveness of masculinity, maleness, and closeness among men of colour. By writing into existence the outfits, interactions, and romances of K-pop idols, Raeyun followed a secret passageway into a realm where gender, sexuality, and race operated according to less constraining logics than at East City High. Raeyun created space for himself and his desires, often when in classrooms where he was being denied that space. While sitting in the tech booth, waiting for PE to start, or tuning out the rowdy boys, Raeyun could easily step into that other world just by pulling out his phone.  Barry also drew inspiration from already existing realities when writing. Barry was a Dungeon Master, and I would often find him sitting in the band hall during his spares writing out  12	“Shipping”	refers	to	a	common	practice	in	fanfiction	where	the	author	envisions	a	relationship	between	two	characters	or	people	who	were	not	romantically	connected	in	the	original	work	or	are	not	dating	in	real	life.		167  campaigns on his phone. As a Dungeon Master, Barry was in charge of creating D&D campaigns, a role he took very seriously. Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative storytelling system and building a campaign is akin to building a world (Garcia, 2017). While D&D has been heavily critiqued for the racism and misogyny inherent to the game, it has also been lauded as full of potential and possibility (Garcia, 2017). Though oppressive hierarchal structures are built into the world, the game ultimately depends on those who are playing it and how they design campaigns and embody their characters. As the creative force behind campaigns, Barry spent hours carefully thinking through all elements of the fantasy realms he crafted. His campaigns were political, fantastical, and super queer. Barry drew inspiration from his favourite musicals and artists, constructing worlds that reflected his values and aspirations.  In the winter, Barry asked if he could teach me how to play. He loaned me his D&D books, helped me create a character, and introduced me to the world. Though research on roleplaying games has not yet considered how these fantastical spaces invite youths’ non-normative gender exploration (Braithwaite, 2014; Freed, 2017; McCullough, Wong, and Stevenson, 2020), scholars note that “D&D is a system of possibilities” (Garcia, 2017). “It’s escapist in so many ways,” Barry excitedly explained, “gay everything is super cool in this world. That’s just a fact.” In the worlds of his design, Barry developed and played characters whose genders and sexualities expanded beyond what felt possible for him in school. Before Barry came out even to himself, he created Merdith. “I was like, it feels right for this character to be gay.” When Barry played D&D, he was able to “go someplace else, often someplace as yet unknown” (Gossett et al., 2017a, p. xxiii). While playing Merdith, Barry tested out queerness among his friends in an inviting world. 168   Whenever he had a spare moment during the day, Barry slid his phone out of his pocket to work on a campaign. Once, on a field trip day for Barry’s film class, Barry arranged for us to leave Social Justice 12 early to ensure we were punctual. We arrived at the film classroom before the teacher and sat in the hall outside the locked door. Barry immediately took out his phone and opened the document to his campaign. He had recently seen Cabaret at a local college, and he was obsessed with the show. He returned to see the performance four times and then watched the movie with Alan Cumming. In class, he would scroll through photos from the film, showing me all of his favourites while saying, “Alan Cumming is a fucking bisexual icon.” Barry’s parents took him the first time he went to see Cabaret. Barry, who never discussed his gender or sexuality with his family, asked his mother what she thought about the fluidity in the performance. He told me that his mother shrugged off the question, saying that “she guessed one of the characters was kind of gay.” Now Barry was sculpting a D&D campaign modeled after Cabaret, making a thievery guild based on the musical’s nightclub. In his D&D world, Barry did not have to explain gender, the vast complexities of gender bending, nor why being gender nonconforming was not the same as being gay. He could just write queerness into the world, make incoherence and fluidity possible without having to do the work of making it legible and knowable to people he was worried would not understand. Barry looked to D&D as “a way you can escape from your real world in a lot of different ways.” By writing expansive characters and sculpting worlds that operated according to alternative norms, Barry also created other ways of being gendered that were not recognizable in the school. He was creating trapdoors, constructing fantastical realms to explore himself and embody other ways of being that did not require coherent explanations.  169  6.2.3 What’s the problem with writing? Vixen always had two or three writing projects on the go. They were publishing a fanfiction novel online and writing several other creative pieces: Light of the Revenant, Jack Rabbit, The Pirate King, and Shine, to name just a smattering of their titles. “I feel like I was just literally…born to be a writer,” they explained. Vixen was constantly writing, sitting in the back of a class on their phone, typing away. “I have to be a writer because if I don’t get my ideas on to the page, they will just stay in here and drive me nuts,” Vixen told me. Sometimes Vixen and I worked on their stories together. We would sit next to each other in class, discussing character arcs and brainstorming possible plot developments. Their characters and storylines became inside jokes for us. We would reference them together like a secret code. A couple months into the project, Vixen stopped attending school. Their teachers would pull me aside in the hall to inquire about Vixen’s whereabouts. According to policy, Vixen’s French teacher explained, “it’s a teacher’s responsibility to notice if a student is absent for a long period of time and then they contact the counsellor who may or may not have any idea what is going on. Then they get in touch with the student and come up with a plan.” She informed me that Vixen’s counsellor, Mr. Langlois, had no idea, but “it’s hard to notice with students who skip a lot, like Vixen.” Vixen was often positioned as ‘at-risk’ and a ‘problem’ at East City High because of their casual approach to school attendance, drug use, class background, family situation, and mental health issues. It was almost two months before teachers realized that Vixen had not been in school.   Similar to their departure, Vixen’s returns to East City High happened in spurts and according to a logic that, while comprehensible to Vixen, was lost on many of the adults at the school. During the first several weeks when Vixen was trying to restart school, they were 170  constantly colliding with educators’ normative timelines for turning in work and completing high school. Vixen explained how challenging it was to come back to school while dealing with depression and then have to confront others’ notions of the ‘right’ way to move through school: The worst thing about mental illness is that it feels like time stops for you, but it keeps going for everyone else. And then other people just expect you to have caught up and be right where they are once you are “feeling better.” The hardest part is trying to recover. You can’t just be caught up and the pressure and stress of trying to be recovered is almost worse than feeling your crappiest.  At the time, Vixen and I were sitting on the couch in the drama hallway, waiting for a scene to end in Ms. Mack’s grade 8 theatre class. There was a Senior Theatre Company matinee that day that Vixen was required to attend, even though Ms. Mack had given away their part. However, Vixen needed to write an in-class essay they had missed in French class. They wanted support talking to Ms. Mack. Many adults at East City High had opinions about the best way for Vixen to catch up, but Vixen did not often conform to other peoples’ expectations. “I feel like I’m not one to conform to any one thing…most of my life I’ve been spending in nonconformity, not even because I’ve been trying to.” Now that Vixen was more regularly attending school, they had to contend with a litany of encroaching deadlines and requirements if they wanted to graduate. They had struggled to get themself to school only to face more work on a collapsed timeframe. I witnessed them make difficult decisions about which classes to attend, projects to complete, and courses to drop in order to ‘catch up’ and finish high school.  As we sat in the drama hallway, Vixen told me that they would not return to English class until they finished a major, late assignment because “I know the moment I walk in, Ms. Allen will ask for the assignment and, if I don’t have it, I will feel embarrassed and like I’ve disappointed her.” The stress of mounting deadlines and projects only continued, and Vixen decided to drop English. “I like English, but I don’t like English, but I do like English,” Vixen 171  explained. Vixen loved writing, but they disliked their English course and had struggled all year with the constraints, rules, and assignments in the class. Ironically, Vixen would often skip English class to instead work on their own writing or read their favourite books.  6.2.4 Reading out loud Even when Vixen was not going to school, they would regularly hop on a bus, texting me on their way to meet them at a nearby café. We met up multiple times a week and on weekends. While at the café, Vixen would read their writing out loud, and we would workshop ideas for stories. At one point in the winter, Vixen spent weeks reading me the first book in their favourite trilogy. It took place in a fantasy kingdom and revolved around a gay love story. Given their flair for the dramatic and skill as an actor, Vixen reveled in this activity; they affected different voices for the parts and fully embodied the roles. However, Vixen did not just perform this novel; they also analyzed it. They would pause and explain why they thought the author was such a good writer, drawing on analytical tools they likely learned at school: character development, showing not telling, and their attention to pay in/pay out. Though Vixen was not attending theatre or English class, they chose to meet me at a café just a few blocks from school in order to act out scenes of star-crossed gay love from a fantasy world and then conduct literary analysis. They were consistently positioned as a bad or struggling student, but Vixen loved learning if the material was engaging to them. As with other participants, Vixen also wrote on their phone. Since Vixen was already labeled as a ‘problem’ student, they were more frequently disciplined for this behaviour. Their reputation framed their actions. While teachers may have been willing to give other students the benefit of the doubt, people were rarely that generous with Vixen. Ms. Mack confiscated Vixen’s 172  phone during class, reprimanding them for their disrespect and lack of commitment to the performance. None of the other participants ever had their phones taken away. Teachers also often scolded Vixen for not paying attention, telling them to get off their phone. Vixen was frustrated by this constant chiding. “There’s too much of an inherent idea that if I’m on my phone, I’m not listening,” they remarked. “But a lot of times, I am. Like, I’m one of those people…I’m better at listening if I’m doing something else.” Despite how often they got in trouble for being on their phone, Vixen was very frequently on their phone, writing stories. It is unlikely that teachers knew that Vixen was not just messing around or scrolling aimlessly. Vixen was building fantasy kingdoms, crafting intricate dialogue, and developing complex character arcs. While Vixen may have been physically sitting on the benches in Senior Theatre Company, in the back row of Social Justice 12, or in any seat in any class, they were actually somewhere else entirely. Vixen was somewhere in the depths of a vast, fantastical world of which even they barely knew the bounds. Though Vixen was skilled at guarding their vulnerability, making it through an entire school day was often challenging. One morning, about a month into Vixen’s latest return to school, they texted me to meet them at our regular café at noon. Their plan for the day was to make it to French class last period. Until then, they asked me to sit with them. Vixen read the latest installment of one of their novels. After a couple hours, Vixen checked the time on their phone and slumped back in their chair. I asked if they were heading to French, and they shook their head, “I just don’t feel like I can go,” they told me. For Vixen, writing was a trapdoor that let them escape into other worlds while trying to make it through a school day. Writing gave them a place to belong and distance from their teachers’ expectations and judgments. In the 173  worlds they crafted, Vixen had the space and time to exist that they struggled to find while at East City High.   6.3 The band hall The band hall was a small hallway off the main corridor on the east side of the auditorium. The hallway led to the music room, where the band and choir practiced, as well as a door out to the garden. There was a table and an odd assortment of chairs along one wall. Older students in the music program had their lockers in the band hall. They were painted to look like piano keys. In January, Barry and Ms. Man urged me to ask Ms. Whittaker, their favourite band teacher, if I could use one of the empty lockers. I did and afterwards I wound up spending more and more time in that space before school and in-between periods.  Many of the students in the music program had difficult relationships with their new director, Ms. Bartley. They struggled with her conventional, disciplinary approach to teaching band and choir as well as her rigid ideas about gender. There is an assumption that the arts are a safe space for queer and trans people (Allen Carter, 2013; Bartolome & Stanford, 2018; Payne, 2007). However, scholars have argued that “the collision of heterosexual norms with musical legitimacy and education values rendered the culture of bands…as hostile to difference of all kinds but most notably to women and men of color, in particular those who are regarded as sexually deviant” (Allen Carter, 2013, p. 27). At East City High, some students joined the music program because of the perception that it was a safe space. As Barry explained, “a lot of gay kids go into music.” This music program, however, was not an uncomplicated queer haven.  One day, Ms. Man stopped me in the hall to process a transphobic incident from choir. Ms. Bartley had teased a girl for singing the tenor part, saying it would turn her into a guy. Barry 174  later recounted the same story, explaining that part of the issue was Ms. Bartley’s insistence on gendering the sections by referring to sopranos/altos as “ladies” and tenors/basses as “guys.”  Barry relayed the moment from choir, “[Ms. Bartley] was like, oh man, all this time being called a guy, by the end of the year, Taylor’s going to be wearing dude’s clothes. It’s going to be confusing her.” Ms. Man and Barry were both upset by the event, but neither felt confident in approaching Ms. Bartley. “It’s difficult going to Ms. Bartley and talking to her about her shortcomings,” Barry explained, “because she’s really super defensive about stuff like this.” Barry wanted to talk to Ms. Bartley because he was invested in the music program and wanted to protect it. “I care so much about this music program, and I just want it to succeed,” he told me. Several students, including Barry and Ms. Man, were concerned that Ms. Bartley’s demeanour and style would affect the quality and culture of the program. Beyond the success of the music program, many youth cared specifically about the band hall. I explore how youth interacted with that space, the meanings they imbued it with, and the work they put into constructing it as a trapdoor. I am interested in what queer and trans youth made possible through their relationship to the band hall.  6.3.1 Band hall is the new GSA One day in February, Barry and I planned to meet in the band hall at the end of school. Rehearsals for the musical theatre club’s production of Into the Woods had just started, and Barry was cast as a prince. I was set to accompany him to rehearsal. Barry changed into a tight-fitting sweatshirt that he had grabbed out of his locker and arranged it on his body like a crop top. He then cat walked down the hall, swaying his hips and prancing. “Do you like it?” he asked his friends. Folks applauded and cheered him on. Bolstered by their praise, Barry continued 175  sashaying through the band hall as the majority of East City High’s student population hustled to exit the school through the main corridor just adjacent to his performance. Not all students in the music program hung out in the band hall, and not all students who spent time in the band hall were in the music program. Barry explained, “It’s more so that when band is over, some people just stay there because it’s where they feel happiest or safest and some people leave because they have a lot of other places where they feel happy and safe.” Those who did not have other places in the school to go stayed in the band hall and created their own safety and happiness. These youth were joined by a group of mostly queer and trans grade 11 and 12 students who were not officially affiliated with the music program. There was a dedicated crew who I could reliably find in the band hall at some point during the day. Youth were somehow always there – before school, during their spares, at lunch, after school – as if they took turns watching over the space. They initially welcomed me as a new queer student and then, after I reminded them of my age and role, were excited for me to stay because of our shared interest in gender and sexuality. The queer and trans students who gathered together in the band hall did not attend the GSA. A few youth had started out the year participating in the GSA but had stopped and instead ate lunch in the band hall. Why were queer students choosing the band hall over a space that had specifically been created to foster safety and inclusion for them? “This is where all the queer kids hang out,” a grade 12 student who was not in band or choir told me at lunch one day while explaining that I should eat with them. I asked why queer students hung out there, and they responded, “I don’t know, I just like it here.” While students attended the GSA, arriving as members or part of the executive to work through items on an agenda, youth just showed up to the band hall and passed time. Though by no means a formal or demanding club, the GSA was a 176  space that specifically revolved around gender and sexuality. The youth in the band hall were mostly queer, but queerness was not the focus of that space.  After a beginning of the year rush of interest and curiosity, the GSA at East City High winnowed down to a small handful of members. Those students were predominantly white, entirely cisgender, and a mix of straight, queer, and questioning. Mayo (2017) offers that GSAs are important, for they are spaces that acknowledge “attachment to one another as related to their desire to go somewhere else and not have to feel like outsiders” (p. 7). Though the cis students in the GSA articulated a trans-affirming perspective, lunch was short and trans topics were never their priority. Just a couple of months into the year, almost all the trans and non-binary students had given up on the GSA. I also stopped attending because Scarecrow Jones, Ostrich, and Ms. Man, the only participants who had initially gone to the GSA, had all decided to spend their Friday lunchtime elsewhere. They explained that their experiences were not reflected in the space. The GSA did not foster a sense of belonging or nurture their desire to not be outsiders while at school. Importantly, trans youth who encounter obstacles in accessing safe spaces find and create other places where they are valued and acknowledged (Brockenbrough & Boatwright, 2013). Ostrich left the GSA to instead eat with a friend, Scarecrow Jones joined a different club, and Ms. Man chose the band hall.  Barry and I discussed the queerness of the band hall versus the GSA multiple times throughout the year. He considered the differences this way: I think there’s less of a precedent [in the band hall] because with, like, the GSA, like, no matter who’s running it, by actively deciding to go there, you’re really kind of like putting a lot of stuff bare faced, being like, this is me deciding to actively be a queer person. And that’s kind of, it can be a scary thing for some people.   177  Barry had briefly participated in the GSA in grade 8, but he had a bad experience with another member who he referred to as a “gaykeeper (like a gatekeeper, but for queerness).” “It was just always that mentality of like he was the authority on these types of things…and like you weren’t part of the community unless he said so.” Since Barry was not confident in his sexuality, he did not believe he had a right to take up space in the GSA, so he left.  Barry never questioned his right to be in the band hall, both because he was an active participant in the music program and because stated and recognizable queerness was not a prerequisite. If a person wanted to be in the band hall, if they felt comfortable hanging out there, then they were welcome. As Barry described it: But with the band hall, it’s a space that’s very kind of off to the side from the rest of the school, which is really nice, so it’s got, it’s a bit slower and if you’re already there and you’re already the type of person who’s…Anyways, when there’s naturally, not a precedent, but a natural way of queer people flocking towards these types of programs, um, you’ll just kind of, there’s going to be like-minded people and then someone’s going to walk by, and they’ll have the rainbow pin, and you’re like “ok, oh, okay.”   While students saw the GSA as requiring particular forms of gender and sexual identities, they considered the band hall as a space that invited complexity. Furthermore, many youth thought the GSA prioritized certain forms of queer experience over others in their meetings and discussions, a decision that ultimately led to most trans and gender nonconforming students leaving the group. The GSA’s increasingly narrow demographic did not encourage their participation. Several of these youth understood the band hall differently. They could be queer and trans, but those identities did not have to define them. Furthermore, the band hall was not as overwhelmingly white as the GSA. The presence of racialized, trans, and gender nonconforming youth in the band hall communicated an inviting atmosphere that the GSA struggled to emulate. 178  The band hall was almost an incidental queer community. Barry attributed this camaraderie to music, but the presence of youth from outside the music program complicates this understanding. I suggest that the band hall community did not happen by accident nor simply as an offshoot of band and choir. Rather, queer and trans students from all over East City High carefully built the space by consistently choosing to care about it.  6.3.2 Meet me in the in-between Students were often passing time together in the band hall in-between more structured moments of their day, like choir rehearsal, sports games, their classes, and other scheduled activities. In many ways, the band hall existed on the periphery and in the in-betweens of the school, both physically and metaphorically, given its location off-to-the-side and how students used it as a space to hang out when there was nowhere else that they had to be. I argue that the youth made use of this in-betweenness to disrupt the rules, norms, and filters of their daily lives. They turned the band hall into a secret passageway, just out of the way enough to exist without notice.  One day in the spring, the regular crew debated a rumour that in the next Frozen movie Elsa was going to have a boyfriend. Students were dismayed at this heteronormative development and complained about the Disney and Hollywood trend of forcing characters into straight relationships and just relationships period. One student asked, “why can’t there be self-love or asexuality or love of your friends and family?” Another agreed, “Why does there always have to be marriage?” The students frequently engaged in these critical conversations, analyzing the cisheteronormative structures they confronted in society and at East City High in particular. For instance, they discussed learning about male and female productive systems in biology class, lamenting how the teacher explained that they had to learn about boys first because “it’s more 179  straightforward.” They disagreed that biology was binary and were frustrated by the sexist messaging underlying that framework.  Another day Barry and I were walking to film class when we ran into Spencer. He told us there was a substitute teacher and not to bother attending. Barry swiveled around mid-step and led me back to the band hall where we joined the youth who had spares that period. The band had a major field trip planned to LA in May, and students frequently ended up discussing this trip when together. That day, the youth in the band hall were celebrating their success in overturning a long-standing rule that required gendered uniforms for concerts. As co-presidents of the music council, Barry and his collaborator Taylor had taken on this regulation, which had previously forced girls to wear dresses and boys to wear ties. The students enthusiastically considered possibilities for their LA concert attire. The conversation moved from the uniforms to questions of gender and sexuality more broadly. Youth shared stories about speaking to family members about their identities and the harsh discussions they ended up in with more conservative, conventional relatives. Matilda, a grade 12 student and former GSA member, described her experience of first coming out as bi and then as a lesbian but feeling uncertain about that label. One student offered, “sexuality is fluid and we go through transitions in our thinking about it.” The rest of the group pondered these ideas together, agreeing on the importance of having space to change your mind.  Though youth approached conversations with a critical lens, this dynamic did not mean they were an overwhelmingly serious group. In response to one youth’s story about pushback from their religious grandparents after they came out, a student remarked, “Jesus was a short, brown, polysexual, polyamorous guy.” Everyone laughed and then took to their phones, searching out their favourite blasphemous memes that queered Christianity. The move both 180  supported their band hall community member and confronted normative ideas about queer and trans people that excluded them. As students were scrolling on their phones, one youth found a photo of their pride outfit from the previous year and wanted to show it off. Suddenly, I had several phones in my face as youth swiped through rainbow-clad slideshows trying to find the best image of their gayest pride attire to date.  6.3.3 Band hall is for gay shit Youth embodied their genders and sexualities differently while in the band hall. They were affectionate with each other, often hugging and cuddling. Barry and a good guy friend greeted each other with kisses on the cheek and would sit with heads in the other’s lap. Mark, who looked the part of a gym bro and was captain of the ultimate frisbee team, sang showtunes while in the band hall and made plans for Ms. Man to do his make-up during the trip to LA. Previously, Ms. Man had painted Mark’s nails but when he left the band hall that day and went to PE, he was called “gay” and teased so badly that he would not let anyone paint them again. With the band trip on the horizon, Mark knew it would be fine to play around a bit more with make-up and nail polish. Barry had also painted his nails for the first time with band kids. “So, I painted my nails and like, got a lot of compliments. Like, oh, that feels nice. And, it looks really nice, and I just kept doing it.” When surrounded by his friends in band, Barry felt supported in transitioning from just thinking about painting his nails to having the confidence to do it. Despite how the youth in the band hall may have otherwise moved through East City High, when they were together in that space, they challenged cisheteronormativity and reveled in queerness. Ms. Man and I had most of our conversations in the band hall. Whenever I arrived in the space, they would sidle up next to me and slide their sketchbook over, introducing their latest 181  work as “some gay shit, you know me.” They often studied my face as I perused their drawings; Ms. Man enjoyed watching peoples’ reactions. Though Ms. Man was shy and introverted, rarely contributing to group discussions, they loved to share and provoke with their art. In their work, Ms. Man disrupted gendered expectations and confronted societal norms about youth and sexuality. For instance, they made sure that no one gendered the characters in a drawing they proudly displayed of two queer lovers, one grinding their ass against the other. Moreover, Ms. Man often incorporated Vietnamese themes into their comics, pushing back against the whiteness and English dominance of the rest of their day at East City High. Therefore, through drawing, Ms. Man expressed not only the queerness and gender nonconformity that they tended to filter out the rest of the day but also created space in contrast to the prevailing whiteness of schooling. They drew comics of queer and trans love stories, sketches of drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR), and tableaus of racialized gay sex scenes. While I looked through their sketchbook, Ms. Man pointed at their favourite aspects and talked openly about (gender)queerness.  For the entirety of the year, Ms. Man held the project at a distance, insisting they had nothing valuable to add or say and that I should speak to someone more knowledgeable. Yet, whenever they saw me, they would come over and hand me their sketchbook. When they had their sketchbook out, Ms. Man talked non-stop. One time, sitting on the floor with their back against their locker, they told me about a non-binary substitute teacher from another day and what it was like to hear they/them pronouns in the classroom. Another time they shared that they told their brother about their pronouns and being non-binary, and the complexities of approaching this conversation with their mother in Vietnamese.  182  Whereas Ms. Man freely circulated their sketchbook to the students in the band hall, they were careful about letting others outside of that space see their sexually explicit, gender-bendy artwork. Ms. Man relished the opportunity to share their art in the band hall where not only was there space for queer, gender nonconforming art but also the other youth adored Ms. Man’s work. Students often asked them to continue comic strips and loudly celebrated their talent and creativity. For Ms. Man, their sketchbook was a conversation starter. Even more, queer art was a way of building community and relating to others. *** The band hall was nestled between the tense dynamics of the music room and the public chaos of a main thoroughfare in the school. Moreover, it was complicatedly close to the music room, a place of potential conflict and discipline. However, despite its precarious proximity and snug conditions, the world of the band hall was expansive. The band hall was another world, a world created, inhabited, and beloved by a committed group of youth. While in the band hall, youth who did not feel able to oppose the homophobia and transphobia they experienced at East City High processed their thoughts together. They analyzed conversations from classes, peers, and their families, critiqued assignments and films. Several students, like Ms. Man, had left the GSA, a space dominated by white, cisgender youth, and chose to spend their time in the band hall. In this less formal queer community, they supported each other in disrupting oppressive logics that did not serve them.  Their critical commitment to disrupting the school’s normative structures created space for more capacious relationships to gender. At East City High generally, the students navigated others’ notions of how to be a boy or a girl, but they helped each other break down this binary logic and explore beyond those boundaries in the band hall. They had built a trapdoor, an open 183  secret that was both highly visible and somehow unseen by the rest of the school. This trapdoor enabled them to escape the rest of their school lives and exist differently together.  6.4 Conclusion Trapdoors are created in spaces and institutions that extend opportunities for trans youth only so long as youth are willing to adhere to normative expectations for gender legibility. While East City High articulated a progressive stance toward diversity and inclusion, this welcoming framework relied on youth being legible as gender nonconforming within established parameters of visibility and knowability. In their trapdoors, however, youth elided recognition and eschewed these normative ideas for what it means and looks like to be trans and gender nonconforming. They refused and resisted the logics undergirding East City High’s approach to diversity and inclusion by constructing other worlds that did not adhere to cisheteronormative expectations. In these spaces, they existed in expansive relationships to their genders.  Lacking other communities and places at East City High to explore fluidity, revel in incoherence, or try out new ideas and ways of presenting themselves, youth built their own spaces out of necessity. Through the building of these trapdoors, gender nonconforming youth found someplace as yet unknown because they needed a place in the school to just exist. Their trapdoors were both physical and fantastical spaces that youth could escape into while navigating the cisheteronormativity of East City High. Often these spaces were unseen by other adults. Therefore, it is probable that there were many trapdoors that youth were creating to upend and disrupt the conditions that structured the school.  Furthermore, these spaces were not discrete. Rather, they overlapped in productive ways. For instance, often youth worked on their writing while in the band hall or the tech booth. The 184  entryways they had created for themselves at the school fostered their imaginative outlets and made possible further fantastical exploration. In the worlds of their design, gender nonconforming youth invited expansive ways of relating to gender and sexuality. Unlike moving through the rest of the school, these spaces were complicated worlds that did not require them to remain stable, certain, and knowable.          185  Chapter 7: Conclusion   I started writing this dissertation at the height of the pandemic. Suddenly, even the idea of moving through a high school with youth, the core of this project, seemed impossible. As I read through fieldnotes, I was taken aback by moments of closeness and proximity. Had Vixen and I really shared their earbuds, crouched at a café table with our heads pressed together? Did Barry actually fall asleep on my shoulder? Those scenes, which had felt somehow both special and mundane at the time, now seemed incredible to even imagine. In March of 2020, schools shut down in-person learning for two months. The pandemic has already had an impact on schooling, and the breadth of these implications remain unknown.   The pandemic has ushered in a time of crisis, not the least of which in education. Moments of crisis are often concurrent with social panic and fear. Singer (1993), writing about the AIDS crisis, offers an analysis that resonates with our current moment: An epidemic is already a situation that is figured as out of control, hence at least indirectly a recognition of the limits of existing responses, hence a call for new ones. Because the destabilization effect is also represented as a threat, a threat to the very order of things, epidemic conditions tend to evoke a panic logic which seeks immediate and dramatic responses to the situation at hand. (p. 28)  To combat the instability and fear provoked by the pandemic and facilitate a safe return to school for K-12 students, the government and school boards in British Columbia have responded by implementing restrictions and guidelines that prioritize health, safety, and the ‘essential’ aspects of schooling. In high schools across the Lower Mainland, course timelines were rearranged to allow for physical distancing measures and cleaning needs. School has been whittled down to what the Ministry of Education and districts have deemed essential in a pandemic. 186  Times of crisis are not limited to the specific health issues that precipitated them. Singer (1993) continues, “epidemics come to function as a ground for the mobilization of social resources, they operate as more than metaphors of the social. They also function as political logics, forms of social rationality” (p. 27). I began this dissertation with the intention of pushing back against discourses that position gender nonconforming youth as always already vulnerable and ‘at-risk’. Drawing on Lauren Berlant (2011), “To be in crisis…is to bear an extended burden of vulnerability for an undetermined duration” (p. 62). Though gender nonconforming youth are not the only youth considered at-risk during a pandemic, their vulnerability is amplified by their previous relationship to risk. Moreover, the prevalence of fear over youth’s safety corresponds to increased attention to discourses of protection. Times of crisis are primed for heightened attention to specific notions of safety, often curtailed to the ones made visible by the panic-inducing moment. As I argued in Chapter 3, ideas of safety in schools are organized along lines of power that privilege the safety of dominant voices and bodies over the existence of often racialized others (Daniel & Berwick, 2020). Epidemics are times when settler governments (and schools) establish, under the name of safety, increased surveillance and enforcement measures that reproduce colonial power. Singer (1993) argues, “Because epidemics justify and are in fact constructed in order to necessitate a complex system of surveillance and intervention, epidemic situations often provide occasions for the reinstitution of hegemonic lines of authority and control” (p. 31). Since the promotion of discourses of safety in schools can work to reify power structures, their increased presence as an organizing element of schools is concerning. When risk pervades, there is little room for capacious thinking. Schools become dominated by their ‘essential’ role as protectors of their students. I am worried about how this moment of crisis will 187  further entrench the notion that we need to know youth because we need to protect them and how these forms of knowledge are mired in hegemonic structures of legibility.   7.1 Is gender still non-binary if no one sees it? While schools are increasingly willing to recognize the potential that a young person may change their gender from one binary category to another, they remain tethered to cisheteronormative logics that understand gender as a coherent identity. As I explored in Chapter 5, even as schools develop and implement policies and provide accommodations to make possible binary transitions, they are unable or unwilling to acknowledge the existence of gender nonconformity as illegible, fluid, and productively incoherent (Meadow, 2018; Travers, 2018). Schools only open doors for certain trans students, those students who desire binary transitions. These doors are constrained because it is almost unthinkable that schools could function without knowing students’ genders. As Keenan (2017) argues: Schools were not designed to support queer and trans people who defy imposed identity categorization. Schools were designed to sort people by gender through record keeping, facilities (like bathrooms), and activities (like sports). This is not a problem unique to schools. It is a reflection of a society that was not designed to support queer and trans people. (p. 546)  Education desires youth to be coherent, legible, and knowable, even, or perhaps especially, if they are gender nonconforming. Over the year, I witnessed adults at East City High express care for the gender nonconforming youth they knew existed. For instance, Mr. Hill was caring for Vixen when he told them how to change their name, and Mr. Gonzalez cultivated a relationship of caring with Raeyun by pulling him aside and letting him make important decisions regarding his assessment. However, I was never in a class in which an adult created space for the possibility of gender nonconformity without being asked to by a young person or in response to 188  the presence of a ‘known’ trans youth. The first time I went to Mr. Gallagher’s French drama class, he conducted a mini-lesson on French gender-neutral pronouns. I did not make it to his class until the beginning of October, which meant that Mr. Gallagher had not believed it necessary to broach the existence of these pronouns until compelled to do so by my presence.  Scarecrow Jones was in Mr. Gallagher’s class. We spoke about it, months later. Scarecrow Jones told me “the only time anything (related to trans topics) has ever happened is when you were in Mr. Gallagher’s class and he explained the gender-neutral pronoun.” Mr. Gallagher only brought up pronouns the first time I attended, though he always used them for me. Trans issues were never part of the class again, despite my continued presence. More importantly, by waiting until I arrived to tell students about these pronouns, Mr. Gallagher communicated both his belief that knowing this information was only pertinent if it directly affected someone and that he would be able to tell if that were the case.  Teachers, counsellors, and administrators shared the predominant belief that the structures of binary gender only affected visibly trans and gender nonconforming youth. Though grounded in cisheteronormative logics, the idea of visibility has expansive reach. Teachers, counsellors, and administrators relied on their assumptions and expectations about what gender nonconformity ‘looks’ like to guide their interactions with students. Youth were positioned as gender nonconforming or not according to the framework that adults had already developed. Since notions of visibility often correspond to a “white middle-class epistemological bias that does not necessary resonate for queer subjects marked by racial difference” (Brockenbrough, 2015, p. 36), who has access to visibility is already constrained. As I explored throughout this dissertation, in North America, logics of whiteness, settler colonialism, and ability are inextricable from ideas about what it means and looks like to be gender (non)conforming. The 189  reliance on visibility only further reifies normative constructions of gender legibility, or what Barry would call the bureaucracy of gender. All youth who did not perform their genders according to these ideas were not seen or acknowledged. Moreover, the privileging of visibility promoted the perspective that cisheteronormativity was only a problem for trans and gender nonconforming youth. If there were no youth in a class that were visibly trans and gender nonconforming, the assumption was that gendered language, activities, and expectations were not an issue. However, cisheteronormativity, and the power structures that inform it, remains a violent, organizing principle of schools. All students are subjected to and policed by these expectations, for no one can fit into these ideals perfectly all the time. Dismantling the cisheteronormativity of schooling would expand possibilities for all youth, not just those who teachers could point to as not belonging. At East City High, gender nonconforming youth daily interacted with the prevailing notion that gender was knowable and visible. This framework structured not only youth’s movement through the school and relationship with teachers and peers but also much of the internal work they performed in order to understand their own genders as real and legitimate. For example, Raeyun endeavoured to understand and forgive the student’s speech against trans people in washrooms; Ostrich worked to be legible as a trans guy, changing his name to align with others’ expectations; and Vixen cultivated trust in their own fluidity despite others’ inability to see it.  Currently, (certain) trans identities are being celebrated, hailed as novel, and recognized as deserving of rights (Keenan, 2017). This construction erases the non-binary systems of gender present in many Indigenous cultures that predate settler colonialism (Driskill et al., 2011b; Simpson, 2017); positions a much longer history of transgender people, including children, as 190  new (Gill-Peterson, 2018); constructs a monolith out of trans peoples’ differential access to grievability (Stryker, 2008); and lacks attention to the violence and inadequacy of a rights-based approach to theorizing trans lives (Spade, 2011). In schools, a rights-based approach is primarily enacted through policies based in strategies of inclusion and accommodation, which I explored in Chapter 5. Rights-based approaches focus on formal recognition rather than addressing systemic inequities and, therefore, often bolster the situation for students with the most access to privilege. These types of approaches are traps which individualize transphobia, dealing with students on a case-by-case basis and erasing the systemic forms of power and oppression that operate in schools. This erasure further excludes and marginalizes trans and gender nonconforming youth whose genders, bodies, lives, and experiences do not align with expectations or popular narratives. More specifically, racialized, Indigenous, disabled, and gender nonconforming youth are not held up in rights-based approaches, they are not centred nor prioritized, and their lives can become less grievable as they are pushed further away from normative recognition. A focus on inclusion “relies on a strategy of simile, essentially arguing ‘we are just like you…’” (Spade, 2011, p. 86), but when that is not the case nor desire, inclusion can engender increased violence and harm. Though there are important material gains to be made from the fight for rights within schools, there is a limit to the possibilities for gender nonconforming youth in the fight to be included within a system that refuses to interrogate its historical and ongoing institutional inequities.   7.2 Making space Though many of the adults at East City High did not desire gender nonconformity or create spaces that invited incoherence, fluidity, and ambiguity, the youth, as demonstrated repeatedly, 191  did perform that labour. I focused this dissertation on their labour because this aspect is too often neglected or underplayed. Gender nonconforming youth worked hard at school, constantly navigating the cisheteronormativity they encountered in the curriculum, activities, the built environment, and from their teachers and other students. This labour was challenging and important. The six youth in the project worked to understand and forgive adults’ transphobia, reframing violence against them as misunderstandings or acts of care. Furthermore, they filtered their gender expressions and made decisions about what parts of their gender to share depending on their awareness of East City High’s cisheteronormative structures. Beyond those two, complicated forms of labour, gender nonconforming youth intervened at East City High. They created their own spaces to exist, often escaping the notice of adults whose narrow ideas about gender prevented them from seeing the expansiveness of these youth in the first place. I chose to intertwine Butler’s (1990/2011) theorizing of performativity and gender legibility with Gossett, Stanley, and Burton’s (2018) work on visibility and recognition to underscore the structures and cultural imperatives that informed youth’s relationships to their genders and schooling. By drawing upon the framework of doors, traps, and trapdoors, I situated gender legibility within the conditions structuring youth’s gender work. Throughout this dissertation, I have worked to resist the ethnographic desire of making these youth knowable by stabilizing these six-gender nonconforming youth into concrete terms or investing in the idea that it was possible or necessary to know them. Rather, I wanted to know the structures and conditions they interacted with as they moved through their days and navigated relationships with teachers and peers at East City High. The balance between knowing and not knowing is complicated and precarious. There are many aspects of the youth you may believe you know – their names, their pronouns, or how they identify their genders. However, none of this 192  knowledge is static or stable. Names, pronouns, and genders are all mutable. Even during the year I spent with them, many of the youth changed their names, alternated their pronouns, and refused to commit to a singular, permanent relationship to their genders. I hope in reading this dissertation, rather than coming to know who the youth are in some fundamental, essential manner, you have understood that they exceed the bounds of the discourses most often imposed onto them. These six youth cannot be known through frameworks of risk, vulnerability, or harm. Those perspectives collapse the complexities of their lives, the expansiveness of their genders, and the amount of work they do in schools to exist beyond those narratives.  This project has been a personal and scholarly journey. I care deeply about these ideas and about these youth. Many of the participants are still a part of my life. We still text, and we still meet up for coffee and chats. I still read their stories. Writing the dissertation by attending to the multiple forms of labour they performed was a way to honour and celebrate these youth. In the future, I intend to continue exploring youth’s trapdoors. I was invited into several of these spaces, such as the tech booth, student’s writing, and the band hall that I discussed in Chapter 6; however, I have only begun to interrogate their reach and importance. In part, trapdoors remain limited by the structures of schools and schooling. What spaces of refusal are youth creating when even their imaginaries are restricted by the settler colonial conditions of school? Moreover, if youth are constructing forms of escape at school, they are likely creating similar secret passageways in other facets of their lives. I am particularly compelled by fantastical trapdoors that youth imagine into existence. What types of worlds and expansive forms of gender are youth creating outside the notice of adults? What would it mean to make possible those worlds in schools?   193  7.3 What works and what does not This work would not have been possible without the brilliance, labour, and generosity of the six youth who invited me into their lives and shared their thoughts and time with me. I have been guided by their encouragement to “keep it confusing” and my intention to be accountable to them. This dissertation departs from other work in this field by explicitly and exclusively focusing on gender nonconforming, non-binary, and genderfluid youth. While scholarship is increasingly attentive to the experiences of binary trans youth, gender nonconforming youth still elide consideration in many arenas.  Though I endeavoured to resist and refuse the pull to certainty throughout this dissertation, that intention was uncomfortable and elusive at times. Conducting research and writing a dissertation is entangled in the project of knowing and knowledge. At times, I felt myself slipping toward making claims or stating facts. Perhaps in reading, you have found slipups. When I noticed this occurring, I asked myself: how do I honour the words and knowledge of the youth without concretizing their ideas, experiences, and genders into permanence? The English language is inadequate to discuss the expansiveness of youth’s genders, for it keeps trying to make stable that which is mutable and fluid (Nicolazzo, 2016). I fear that by writing the youth and their stories into this document, I am risking stabilizing their genders in ways that are antithetical to this project. This research is limited in scope, for I worked with only six youth at one school. Furthermore, I worked more closely with some of the youth than others. Within most of the dissertation, certain youth (Raeyun, Ostrich, Vixen, and Barry) appear more often because we spent more time together. At times, the presence of students may seem lopsided. While this imbalance may be a weakness, I felt it was important to never tailor the narratives to the chapters 194  in order to curate a cohesive-seeming harmony among their appearances. I did not seek to reach parity because the number of times they appear in this writing is no measure of the significance of their words, experiences, stories, or our relationships.  Though a common criticism of qualitative research argues that the specificity of the project affects the types of possible conclusions, I am not interested in generalizing from these youth. Though I focused on particular gender nonconforming youth, this project was both about and not about the six, individual youth in the study. Rather than suggest it is possible or generative to know these youth, I have considered how these youth moved through East City High and interacted with the logics of schooling. East City High is a particular school, in a particular city, at a specific moment in time, which, as I indicated at the start of this chapter, has in many ways already passed. However, the logics of schooling I explored extend beyond East City High’s walls. The work gender nonconforming performed was in response to structures that, while existing at East City High, are not unique to East City High. My intention in this dissertation was to situate an analysis of the labour gender nonconforming youth performed as they navigated cisheteronormative schooling structures within an interrogation of the systems that reproduce and inform expectations regarding gender legibility. I tethered these discussions together to underscore how these systems and expectations both create the cisheteronormative organization of schools and shape youth’s experiences of those structures. I approached the dissertation in this manner not only as a way to generate rigorous scholarship but also to be accountable to the ways my research, my presence, and queer and trans theory as fields are implicated in this work. I have sought to consistently entangle the study of cisheteronormativity within the structures that have created and maintained its dominance, arguing that it is never possible to challenge or upend binary gender without dismantling settler colonialism. 195   7.4 What would you like to see happen from this project? Toward the end of the year, Mr. Gallagher invited two facilitators from a local non-profit focused on youth activism to lead a workshop in class. They introduced the goal of the day by explaining that the start of any project is thinking: “why am I the one working on this project? What is the purpose of it?” The facilitators challenged the students to reflect on causes that they cared about, and Scarecrow Jones declared, “awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities.” The intention of the workshop was to envision possible ways to address their causes. The facilitators split the students up into groups and encouraged the youth to develop doable projects.  Scarecrow Jones and two friends were in a group together. They sat down at a table and yelled, “shotty LJ!” As I joined their table, they were describing their decision to focus on LGBTQ+ issues and rights. Scarecrow Jones summed up their idea as, “be gay, do crimes, let’s go!” When one of the facilitators came around to check-in, Scarecrow Jones explained that, “lots of people raise awareness, like ‘oh these people exist, cool,’ but we can go further.” Their group set their sights on changing approaches to gender in education, arguing that students needed more supports. They complained about their teachers’ “heteronormative assumptions” and how these dynamics affected what it felt like to be queer and non-binary in school. Scarecrow Jones enthusiastically concluded, “education needs to start younger!” One of their friends, who was also gender nonconforming agreed, adding, “sexuality issues get covered but gender doesn’t and if it does, then it’s only binary trans that gets brought up, never non-binary stuff.” Scarecrow Jones and their friends cared about this topic. It was personally important to them as queer and gender nonconforming youth, but their interest exceeded their personal relationships to these 196  identity categories. They wanted to change schools and how adults taught about gender and sexuality. All the youth participants joined the project for a variety of reasons. Many of them joined because they wanted to be part of change at East City High and beyond, like Scarecrow Jones. They had concrete ideas on what this project should accomplish, ideas they spoke about at length throughout the year. Part of honouring their participation includes honouring their visions for the future. I turn now to their thoughts.  Barry and I inadvertently met up for our last interview during a special event in our neighbourhood that had closed down all the streets. There were people everywhere. Sitting in our usual spot on the patio of his favourite café, we had front row seats to a circus performer who juggled increasingly large objects on a unicycle. It was a chaotic backdrop for our conversation. Though it was our last interview, it was certainly not the last time that we hung out.  All year, Barry had a plethora of ideas for how to fix the education system. He wanted to be a teacher and chip away at the problem himself. Barry described his perspective: So, go from apathy to caring and go from being an asshole to apathy. Yeah. So, I think a radical shift in people’s opinions would be nice, I’m not expecting it, but it would be real cool. Cause like, people are super rude all the time to everybody. And if that could stop, well, I think there would be widescale infrastructure crash, but past that, peace. So, a complete radicalization of the whole world’s economic cycle, step one, please, on my desk by Monday. You have less than a day. But I don’t know, it’s like, it’s…more conversations like the ones that we’ve been able to have here would be nice. Cause people just feeling the ability to talk about these things, maybe not with anybody, but with somebody.  Barry believed in small steps (if widescale infrastructure crash was not possible). Really, he just wanted people to care that queer and trans people existed.  Ostrich stuck to the basics. He slurped his bubble tea and told me that he just wanted teachers to know that “gender is not fully binary. It’s not just male and female.” Though 197  Ostrich’s statement was succinct, this idea was anything but simple for him. All year, Ostrich navigated complex questions of legitimacy, working hard to be respected as trans. I think his decision to have his last remarks bolster the importance and validity of non-binary gender speaks to the tensions he experienced around the illegibility of being non-binary at East City High.  On the day of our last interview, Raeyun and I met in the lobby. He had to find out the date for his numeracy exam, which was posted outside the office. Staff posted sheets and sheets of paper listing all the students with their student numbers, names, and ‘legal’ genders for all to see. Raeyun shrugged off this breach of privacy, and, after finding his name, he led us to McDonald’s because he was really hungry. Toward the end of our conversation, Raeyun described his hopes for the project: I feel like mainly I’d like to see a lot of teachers be more self-aware about the way they teach subjects and, like, the language they use around them. Um, and, like, to kind of, if there’s, like, like nonconforming kids and trans kids in, like, the room to be aware of it and not just gloss over it cause I feel like when I first came out I kind of, I really wish that my parents, ha my parents, my teachers would come to me asking the questions cause it was really awkward for me as someone who wasn’t really close to any of their teachers, I feel like it was really awkward for me to, like, go up to them and be, like, oh yeah, I’m actually trans. I felt like it was kind of awkward and got really scared a lot of the time. So, like, I feel, like, it would have been very useful for a lot of the teachers to come up to me and ask, “hey, what are your pronouns?” and stuff like that. And just for a lot of teachers to be more hands on in that situation. Um, yeah, cause when I had to do it all by myself it was very daunting.  As a gender nonconforming student, Raeyun had to consistently make himself visible in order to access the resources he wanted and needed at East City High. He regularly worked to make himself knowable to his teachers, a practice he found challenging because, as a shy kid, Raeyun did not want to be visible or stand out in any way. Raeyun wanted teachers to just ask about pronouns without having to prompt this type of attention. 198   Scarecrow Jones also focused on educating teachers and staff. During our final conversation on this topic, at a table covered with donuts and iced drinks, Scarecrow Jones explained their views: Educate the staff. You can’t learn about it if it’s from some counsellor talking out their ass about, through some paper they received two days ago. That’s not going to work cause it’s not just the education for the students, it’s how the students are treated in everyday life. So, for example, if a teacher does a lot of tiny little things that aren’t exactly homophobic or transphobic, but don’t exactly encourage that equality. Like, for example, “okay, boys here, girls there.” Or, you know, automatically assuming that someone’s flirting with someone just because they’re talking to them. Little things that aren’t offensive but don’t exactly, that won’t exactly make you feel great. So, just, just that kind of thing, you know?  Scarecrow Jones was not satisfied with the minimal levels of discussion on queer and trans topics they received at East City High, lambasting the lack of preparedness on the part of educators. Furthermore, Scarecrow Jones incisively noted that the absence of these issues from the formal curriculum was only one element of the problem. They were more concerned about the implicit, insidious prevalence of cisheteronormativity that dominated teacher’s expectations, behaviours, and language. According to Scarecrow Jones, the root of the issue was that East City High was organized based upon cisheteronormative logics.  Vixen agreed with this perspective. Throughout the year, Vixen was consistently a proponent for gender that was confusing and illegible. They were not interested in other people’s ideas about gender nonconformity, or people’s ideas about much else. They explained: I don’t think you always need to be able to tell. And then sometimes if you don’t know, why does it matter, why is it any of your business? And then if you want to get to know that person and you’re not sure you can ask them “what are our pronouns?” Then, you know, when you find out their pronouns that might give you a clue? And just use those pronouns, if you get close to them you can say like, you know, you can get into those conversation, but I don’t think it really needs to be broadcast to every stranger, I don’t think it matters.  199  Vixen advocated for a shift away from the need to know. Why does it matter, they asked? Often, Vixen did not even know their own gender, so why would they expect anyone else to or want someone else to believe that they did. If someone thought they knew Vixen’s gender, and Vixen did not, then what did that person think they knew?  7.5 Letting go of the need to know In education, what is thinkable is predicated upon structures of legibility. This demand for stability and coherence in schools forecloses the potential of gender nonconforming youth. Britzman (1998) calls on education to instead take an interest in “the mistakes, the accidents, the detours, and the unintelligibilities of identities” (p. 60). By resisting the normative regimes of knowability, education can transition into a “time of hospitality” (Gilbert, 2014, p. 82). Gilbert (2014) proposes that, “Hospitality is a welcome, but one that resists idealization and risks ambivalence” (p. 82). By inviting ambivalence, incoherence, and liminality into education, schools can cultivate the potential for desiring gender nonconformity, in whatever forms it may emerge. I join Britzman and Gilbert in their calls for taking an interest in unintelligibilities and welcoming ambivalence. Further, I want to push the field of education to let go of the idea that we ever need to know youth’s genders. What do teachers, counsellors, and administrators believe they know when they think they know a young person’s gender? Why is this information pertinent to teaching a young person or keeping them safe while in school?   I return to the end of Gill-Peterson’s (2018) Histories of the Transgender Child when she argues: If, in the twenty-first century, we adults really desire to learn to care for the many transgender children in our midst, we need to learn first…what it means to wish that there be trans children, that to grow trans and live a trans childhood is not merely a possibility 200  but a happy and desirable one. And we need to come into this desire now, not in the future. (p. 207)   Expectations for legible gender collapse the complex possibilities of gender. To desire gender nonconformity and gender nonconforming youth, we need to let go of the need to know them. In letting go of this harmful need, we can invite capaciousness into schools. 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