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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Muddling through together : educators navigating cisnormativity while working with trans and gender-nonconforming students Frohard-Dourlent, Hélène


There has been increased attention on transgender and gender-nonconforming youth and the obstacles that they face in schools, especially in terms of peer harassment and access to washrooms. Yet little is known about those who can potentially help create more hospitable school cultures for these students, including teachers, administrators, and counsellors. This dissertation fills this gap by exploring the meanings that educators produce about their experiences working with trans and gender-nonconforming students. I draw on 62 interviews conducted with school staff who have worked with trans and gender-nonconforming students in four school districts in British Columbia. By focusing on discursive practices, this dissertation illuminates the role that cisnormativity, or the belief that the fixed and binary nature of gender is an unchangeable fact, plays in shaping the way that educators respond to the presence of trans and gender-nonconforming students and make sense of their experiences. Although the educators in this study endeavor to be supportive of these students, their efforts are constrained by cisnormative modes of thinking and by dominant discourses of diversity, safety, bullying, heteronormativity as well as what it means to be a good teacher or a young person. An analysis of educators’ talk also makes clear that they have to contend with institutional patterns and practices that can limit their capacity to imagine and enact change. In particular, dominant discursive frameworks and institutional constraints often work to enable understandings of change that focus on accommodating individual students without disrupting the normative status quo of schools. Given that this normative status quo creates inequities and exclusions in educational spaces, it is crucial to think about possibilities for intervening into dominant discourses in order to address the norms and institutional practices they help constitute. To this effect, I highlight moments in the stories of educators that offer some potential for disruption and resistance of discourses and their material effects. These moments are an invitation to consider what it could look like to move beyond accommodating individuals to consider instead how to shift school cultures to make them more hospitable to students in all of the complexities of their gendered embodiments.

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