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Spilling out and messing with normal : queer youth spaces in our community centres Shubat, Tammy

Abstract

For the past decade, the leisure and recreation literature has sought to develop and support a discourse of queer youth at-risk in order to call attention to the need to help these youth function normally in society (Grossman, 1992; Grossman, 1995; Kivel, 1997). As a solution, creating safe spaces for queer youth has been advocated, without necessarily considering how the identity of practitioners might affect these spaces, or what types of norms these spaces might simultaneously reinforce. This research study drew on queer, feminist, and spatial analysis theories, to investigate how heteronormativity functioned in queer youth spaces within two different municipal recreation contexts. I focused specifically on the physical and discursive boundaries of the spaces, as well as the influence of the youth workers' identities and practices. The research methods included observations, document analysis, and semistructured interviews. The findings demonstrated that the youth workers' identities were highly influential in both spaces, as they affected the negotiation of spatial boundaries and systemic discourses in very different ways. The spilling over of queer bodies out of the spaces worked to expose the boundary between queer and normal space as discursive, rather than natural or real. Furthermore, the central focus of both spaces on a queer identity re-created certain norms around race (read as whiteness) and gender (read as binary categories); however, this occurred in different ways in each space. Finally, systemic discourses of risk, support, and safety worked to both disrupt and reinforce notions of heteronormativity. By calling attention to an existing silence about queer youth, they were simultaneously constructed as helpless and in need of saving. Those who theorize about and work with queer youth might want to consider how certain discourses support notions of an idealized subject that can be further marginalizing. In addition, although queer youth spaces can be enabling for some youth, they are constraining for others. Research and practice that advocates for queer youth spaces as the solution, might want to deliberate the ways in which this approach can fail to trouble normalcy, and potentially reinforce the value of certain ways of being queer.

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