The pedagogy of 'coming out': teacher identity in a critical literacy course

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Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed, queer or asexual is a highly contested issue. In an educational context there are arguments about the role of coming out to students and learners, yet it is still difficult to say decisively whether or not declaring one's identity is pedagogically necessary or effective. The decision to come out, or not to come out, relates to 'the closet' as an 'open secret', where the boundaries between identity and private/public spaces can be negotiated. Using arguments that see the closet as a fixed space associated with shame, fear and falsity, this article seeks to present the closet as a constructive space for identity formation and social negotiation. Such an understanding of the closet is related to how gender is marked and read in socio-cultural context. I then use these arguments about the closet to explore my own pedagogical decision not to come out in a critical literacy course for pre-service teachers. What emerged from my own 'open secret' are three conversations with students that brought into question my identity as gay, male, an English lecturer and an academic. A critical reflection of these conversations reveals how students read my identity during lectures, and how these readings initiated concerns about my gendered performance, and my investment in the field. Furthermore, my analysis also considers how my 'closeted' identity may have created the space for openly discussing students' perspectives on sex, gender and sexual diversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-41
Number of pages23
JournalSouth African Review of Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2017


  • critical literacy
  • critical reflexivity
  • teacher identity
  • coming out
  • sexual identity


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  • Teacher identity: crossing the technical-rationalist and affective divide

    Govender, N. N. & Ellis, S., 31 Jan 2023, International Encyclopedia of Education (Fourth Edition). Tierney, R. J., Rizvi, F. & Ercikan, K. (eds.). 4th ed. Amsterdam, p. 346-355 10 p.

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    5 Downloads (Pure)
  • Queer critical literacies and initial teacher education: transnational moments

    Andrews, G. & Govender, N. N., 25 Jul 2022, Gender Diversity and Sexuality in English Language Education: New Transnational Voices. Banegas, D. & Govender, N. (eds.). 1st ed. London, p. 11-28 24 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Open Access
    3 Citations (Scopus)
    49 Downloads (Pure)
  • Queer critical literacies

    Govender, N. & Andrews, G., 8 Sept 2021, The Handbook of Critical Literacies. Pandya, J. Z., Mora, R. A., Alford, J. H., Golden, N. A. & de Roock, R. S. (eds.). New York, p. 82-93 12 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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