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''Permission to Talk About It'' : Narratives of Sexual Equality in the Primary Classroom
Rene DePalma and Elizabeth Atkinson Qualitative Inquiry 2009 15: 876 originally published online 26 February 2009 DOI: 10.1177/1077800409332763 The online version of this article can be found at: http://qix.sagepub.com/content/15/5/876 Published by:
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Permission to Talk About It


Narratives of Sexual Equality in the Primary Classroom
Rene DePalma
University of Vigo, Spain

Qualitative Inquiry Volume 15 Number 5 June 2009 876-892 2009 SAGE Publications 10.1177/1077800409332763 http://qix.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com

Elizabeth Atkinson
University of Sunderland, United Kingdom

Based on practitioner interviews and action research, this article explores heteronormativity in U.K. primary schools, providing a performance venue where teachers voices can be heard. Our particular focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality in the primary school makes the voices of minority practitioners and equalities activists, generally expected to be silent in the school context, appear to sound particularly loud. Shifting the metaphor slightly from the oral to the visual realm, the unexpected visibility of those who were meant to remain invisible lends our participants what Patai calls surplus visibility; as the Other, they are forced to either disappear or appear larger than life, to keep silent, or scream. We have woven our participants voices into an ethnographic narrative based on Patais notion of surplus visibility, and the resulting play script is meant for public performance. Keywords: heteronormativity; surplus visibility; primary teachers

his article brings together the voices of primary teachers, teacherresearchers, and university researchers in the context of a multiphase project researching approaches to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality in U.K. primary schools. Drawing on interviews with primary teachers and emerging voices from our current collaborative action research project with 15 primary practitioners around the country, we explore the effect of opening up a space for small voices (Atkinson, 2007) to be heard. These small voices speak of the powerlessness felt by classroom practitioners and the importance of being given, in one teachers words, permission to talk about it (sexuality) in primary schools.

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As these themes of voice and voicelessness, prohibition, and permission began to emerge in our interviews, we became increasingly uncomfortable with mediating these voices though the traditional medium of academic writing. We wanted to resist both homogenizing the voices into overarching categories and essentializing the voices into internally consistent viewpoints. In this instance, we chose performance ethnography as the genre most suited to permitting these voices to continue to speak freely, colliding with us, each other, and future unknowable audiences. Rather than attempt coherence or consistency, we find new interpretive potential in textual and performative destabilizations: juxtaposed voices of speakers who have not met, contrasts between participant and performer positionings (in terms of gender, sexuality, etc.), and the refusal of voices to separate themselves into consistent definable informants. This text, as performance, is meant to produce a meaningful encounter between those who lived it and those who will experience it:
The text is now given back to those to whom it has always belongedthe reader, the Other, who finds in these texts parts of themselves and parts of Others just like them. We are all coperformers in our own and others lives. (Denzin, 1997, p. 123)

In this spirit, we will present the play script first, without preliminary explanation, and then provide research context and offer our own interpretive voice afterward. In order to facilitate performance, we will first provide some brief stage directions, although we invite performers to experiment with these. The boldface and centered text in the following script provided context and overall narrative continuity. It was projected onto a screen above the performers heads. Participants words appear flush left, and their identities in terms of sex, sexuality, and occupation appear to the right of these words. We recommend that participants voices be embodied by multiple performers who may or may not coincide with these participant identities. Italicized text includes both commentary and speaker identities. This text was read out by a narrator, who stood at the side of the stage, with three exceptions. On the three occasions where the researcher engages in brief dialogue with the participant, the researchers voice was assumed by the narrator, who strode out to face the participant and then faded back afterward. There are stage directions in brackets to indicate this each time. We intentionally had the narrator read out the speaker identities after the speakers words, to allow initial disembodied, decontextualized interpretation (this is discussed further later in the article).

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Permission to talk about it


Gay men as larger than life In our research, teachers sometimes described gay colleagues as a big presence, in-your-face, or larger than life. This reminds us of Patais notion of surplus visibility: One may be either invisible or exaggerated, but it is very difficult to simply be a gay or lesbian teacher. Well, wed a supply teacher, Barry . . . He was openly (Straight male teacher) gay in terms of the staff, but he wasnt open among the children. But he was very much a big part of the staff, his presence was very, very big in the staff room. He was just a larger than life, in your face, fun character. (Straight female teacher) Who happened to be gay. But maybe its OK if youre a big larger than life character (Straight female teacher) . . . maybe thats acceptable to society, but if youre very quiet, a very quiet person its quite difficult to be accepted as gay. Might this phenomenon reflect a performance of ones own transgressive sexuality, a proactive self-parody that serves to protect the self? I think I poke fun at myself, which is kind of taking the (Gay teacher) stick away from you before you do it . . . Ive lived with homophobia all my life, and its reclaiming, it took years for me to call myself queer. And now Im proud to call myself queer. . . . You know, and its taking away words that were used against me every day of my life while I was at school, and saying, You cant hurt me with those words anymore, you know? While some teachers seemed to take control of their own surplus visibility by transforming it into performance, others rejected it, opting for invisibility. I dont want my sexuality to be an issue. If it comes up and (Gay deputy head) Im free to talk about it, thats OK, but theres parts of me that says I dont want to make it an issue for people. What about the lesbians? Was it a coincidence that all of the stories we heard about larger than life, beloved individuals were about gay men? What about the lesbians? I think its harder for lesbians to be out than it is for gay (Straight female former men . . . I must have worked in schools with lesbian deputy head) teachers and lesbian families, but I, they werent out, and . . . there may well be inequality within that inequality. None of our lesbian participants reported playing up their lesbian identity, and no participants recalled with fond amusement any larger-than-life lesbian colleagues.

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Soap boxes and grinding axes Gay and lesbian teachers were generally reluctant to address sexualities equality in their schools. They often used metaphors of loudness and stridence that suggested they felt it would be impossible to address these issues without their own sexual identity coming under scrutiny. I think people as well, probably the staff think that were up (Lesbian teacher) on the soap box, you know. Are they assuming that Ive got my axe to grind? . . . If (Gay deputy head) youre from a minority group, and youre speaking up for yourself, then, because so many people I have heard say, Oh, its not as bad as it used to be. Or Things are much better, or Why do we have to bang on about this? Id rather avoid the issue. I wouldnt be the least worried if I had a child with BNP1 (Lesbian teacher) parents in my class who had decided to have a Black character in their story. I would happily talk to those parents and defend the work we were doing and direct them toward my head teacher if they werent happy. This ought to be no different but it does feel different because our thinking about sexualities is not yet in line with our thinking about race. I feel the same as you & agree totally as soon as you (Female teacher) mention LGBT its in your face yet we dont with race . . . mind you we are still at the stage where resources are few & far between & not so visible in classrooms. Some did report being singled out as sort of spokespersons for homosexuality, and discussed the implications of this tokenism. I think the awareness is raised because of who I am . . . they (Lesbian assistant head) think the lesbian will know what to do . . . and they dont even realize by saying that to me what theyre saying to me about their attitude to me. The Media The direct and indirect effects of sensationalist media coverage was a recurring theme of our participants narratives. Its important to remember that while some of our participants had themselves been victims of tabloid scandal-mongering, others were profoundly affected by the experiences of their colleagues, some of whom they had never met. In this sense, the silencing effect of each tabloid story reached far beyond the subject of its ridicule. I couldnt walk down the street, and I couldnt wait for a bus. The school paid for me for a month to get a taxi to and from work, then I paid myself for a taxi to and from work, then I started learning how to drive. . . . But I remember sitting in the class with the kids on the (Gay teacher)

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Wednesday morning after theyd all seen the paper. I said, What do you think about this? And these were year 5s. And they said, Oh, we think its terrible that theyve written all this about you, sir, and I said, Well, you know, the gay bits true. . . . They said, Well, we dont care. Youre still our teacher and we love you. Some newspaper knocking at my door, followed by the (Gay head) Mail, do you know what I mean? . . . Loony left Head teaches children how to bugger, you know what I mean, that sort of rubbish. Nevertheless, one teacher who had been a tabloid victim reflected on another consequence: a sort of freedom that came when invisibility was no longer an option. I mean, after this whole thing with the (tabloid), and I was (Gay teacher) doing all the PSHE with the kids, and I was able to talk about, you know. And I had a couple of boys who came up to me and said, Look, weve got these feelings, can you tell us about how it was for you? And I was able to be the most honest Ive ever been in my life. And the relief was amazing, you know. Maintaining invisibility Policing gay identity Teachers spoke of the various ways in which they policed their own identity in the classroom in order to maintain the invisibility of their own sexual orientation. If were chatting about things I might say, Oh, yeah, my (Lesbian assistant head) friend in stead of my partner. . . . I usually talk about myself rather than we, you know I change that to I. I say Ive been on holiday, and if anybody says, With (Gay head) who? I just say, With friends. . . . How draining it is on me? Its not at all, really. Its part of the way I go through life, really. Its very draining, but you do become quite numb to it, I (Gay deputy head) have to say at times. Sometimes lesbian and gay teachers spoke of situations where heteronormative assumptions were so strong that by simply not telling the whole truth, they maintained a lie. One of the first questions that any primary teacher is asked by every child is, Are you married? And of course the answer is, No. Do you have a girlfriend? No. . . . Thats one of the first questions youre asked by every new class. And as soon as you give that answer, No . . . no. Then youre, youre, put in a box. Straight male, hasnt got a girlfriend, yet. Who isnt married, yet. And its kind of put aside. It doesnt have to be asked again, because youve settled it. (Gay former teacher)

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You know, they ask if Ive got a boyfriend, and I say, No, (Lesbian teacher) you know . . . I mean, they, you can see them going, Oh my god, you know. I thought she was probably gay, but shes been married, so she couldnt possibly be. So its been quite useful. Its a big smoke screen. (Lesbian teacher) [a gay male colleague] was given a Christmas card from a (Lesbian teacher) child which said on the front, To Mr. X and Your Wife and children. He showed me the card and we laughedhe said he was going to take it home to show his boyfriend. But then he also said, Thank goodness they havent found out yet. I guess he feels he has a lot to lose. I think its really sad. All this silence and subterfuge contributes to casting homosexuality as a dirty little secret, not appropriate for polite discourse in public spaces. Ive been asked in front of a class, you know, Are you gay, (Lesbian teacher) miss? . . . and I just, I sort of said, Well, why do you ask? They said, Oh, because, you know, you look like a man. . . . And I said, Thats quite a personal question, you know, I dont really want to talk about things like that in front of the class. A few of the Year 6s there (would ask about me), (Hes) (Gay teacher) gay isnt he? Isnt he gay? And you know, the other teachers go, Well, its none of your business, really. Teachers often mentioned disapproving parents and the presence of committed Christians or Muslims among colleagues or parents as inhibiting factors. As well as the Muslim parents, there are the born again (Lesbian teacher) Christian parents. But here in this school as well youve got to be really (Gay head) careful, because Ive got fundamental Christians. Only one teacher reported addressing this quandary with pupils. We have a lot of religious problems in this school, you (Gay teacher) know, the Muslims saying, Our religion is the best, and then you get the Christians saying, No, ours is better than yours. And then, you know, and when weve talked about gay issues, and its come up, you know, like a sin, you know, Ive often said to the kids, How do you know that your God isnt just testing you to see if you will hate? Because I thought that your God wants you to love? Some of our participants demonstrated the powerful potential of meeting surplus visibility head on, rejecting the temptation of invisibility.

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On my second year teaching practice . . . a girl Linda in my (Gay teacher) class said, Mr. Smith, Tanya called me a lesbian, and so I said to her, Linda, Tanyas actually used the word incorrectly. Theres nothing wrong with being a lesbian, and so shes used it wrong. And the teacher came up to me after the lesson and said, You cant say that. . . . People round here dont like it. I said, Round where, exactly? And she said, Well, you cant do that, thats promoting homosexuality. I said, Thats not promoting homosexuality. Its promoting tolerance. The alternative to meeting surplus visibility head on is collusion; in Patais words, One can stay in line and try to escape notice, colluding in ones own invisibility, or one can Do Something and become the victim of surplus visibility (Patai, 1992, p. 2). Without blaming teachers who collude in maintaining their invisibility, and recognizing our own collusion, we wonder, might surplus visibility be a necessary intermediate step between invisibility and simple visibility? We recognize that embracing surplus visibility can be exhausting and frustrating. I dont really always want to go down the road of educating (Gay deputy head) people. Say, No, actually, I dont do this, no, actually, I dont go there, I dont dress like this, no I dont . . . I personally find it easier not to say anything. If youre gay you have to prove yourself as a good teacher (Lesbian teacher) and person in order that you can come out and be acceptedHe is gay but hes a really good teacher. Straight people dont have to prove themselves first. And that at times we are motivated by fear, for our own safety and for that of those close to us. I protected my own children, saying, Dont tell your, you (Lesbian teacher) know, dont talk about me being with a woman unless you can handle it when it all goes wrong. So theyd, so again being protective instead of standing up, I encouraged them to sort of sit down Towards simple visibility Everyday role models Many participants argued that children needed gay and lesbian role models in order to dispel myths and uneasiness. Theres an enormous power in bringing those role models (Gay former teacher) who are kind of distant in the soap operas and pop songs and whatever, closer. One teacher reported that she came out for the first time in her school in response to a pupils comment that gays and lesbians were minging (a slang term indicating disgust). Im a lesbian: Is that minging? (Lesbian teacher)

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One of the girls challenged him by saying that there wasnt (Straight female research anything wrong with being lesbian or gay, but [the assistant) teachers] outing seemed to encourage/give the girl the space to say that she had an aunt who was gay. This same boy then said that people called him gay and another girl went on to say that she knew lots of people who were gay and that it made her upset to hear them insulted. For some reason, lesbian and gay teachers, even if theyre (Gay former teacher) tolerated in the classroom, we dont want to show that weve got lesbian and gay teachers. Certainly not to the pupils, what a terrible idea! A child who had been in my school told the class (of 8 boys (Gay teacher) aged 8 to 11 years, with emotional and behavioral difficulties). . . . You know Mr. X . . . hes got married! To a man!. The teacher described how the staff in the room just about fainted with horror at what would follow, but there was just a sort of Oh. . . . from the group. They dont care! Straight people never (need to) come out Straight teachers enjoy the privilege of simple visibility. It might be said that they never need to come out,. Or that they are coming out all the time, but nobody notices. Heterosexual respondents often found it hard to grasp the idea that children might know about teachers sexual orientation, even if they had never formally announced, I am straight. Cues like wedding rings, Mrs., or casually dropped references to boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives pass unnoticed, but make straight sexual orientation calmly and simply visible. With the children, well, you know, I dont talk about my sex (Straight female teacher) life with the children. I suppose they know Im married and have a daughter. Despite this caution about revealing too much personal knowledge, this teacher went on, when pressed, to show just how much knowledge she had in fact imparted to her pupils: [Narrator assumes researcher identity and strides out to face teacher] How do they find out that youre married? I wear a wedding ring, and an engagement ring. [Identity spoken after speakers next line] [Narrator responds, still as researcher] So they zero in on that? I mean, theyve never asked me about my husband, I mean, (Straight female teacher) they know hes called Julian because Ive mentioned his name but they have never said, What is your husbands name?

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Collaboration Perhaps the most important implication of this research is that for sexualities (and not just heterosexualities) to be visible, simply visible, they must be talked into a state of ordinariness. And since this is particularly difficult for lesbian and gay teachers to do, straight teachers must be willing to collaborate. I probably think its even more important for heterosexual (Straight female teacher) teachers to be doing it, I dont think it should be just, you know, something that gay teachers do. . . . I do think its even more important. If youre trying to create equality, then you all need to be buying into it, not just if youve got a vested interest, dont you? I dont like to see sexuality as an issue anymore than I (Female head) see a persons race, culture, or creed as an issue, but I do recognize that promoting racial equality and giving children a positive understanding of multiculturalism is one of my key duties and responsibilities as an educator. Sexuality equality is no different. From surplus visibility to . . . Ordinariness Role model sounds rather grand, but if its just a normal [Identity spoken after thing, a normal thing, all kinds of people. There are speakers next line] people of African origin who live on our street, Asian origin who live on our street, who are Christians or are Muslims or this or that, who are gay, who are lesbian. And theyre just all the people who are in the street. [Narrator assumes researcher identity and strides out to face teacher] So its about visibility? Yes. Visibility and sort of, yes, ordinariness. That its just, (Lesbian teacher) its not a . . . these are not devils that are going to steal your children and pervert you. Theyre just ordinary boring people with jobs and families and houses . . . and, yeah. After summer I was talking with a mixed group of year 5 (Gay teacher) and 6 children over lunch. We were talking about pizza. One girl said to me, Does Ben like pizza? I was stumped for a second, Ben? [I asked] [She said] You know, Ben! your boyfriend. I have had thousands of conversations with children over the years about the weekend or a holiday, and my partner Ben has remained invisible, referred to as my friend if at all. Once I came out and told children my partner was called Ben, he suddenly became real. To have a child ask innocently about him in a conversation was wonderful. And there was no reaction from the other kids. I said he did like pizza and then the conversation

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moved on. A great moment! Heterosexual people are able to mention their wives and husbands and partners, now I do too. As teachers and adults we are modeling all the time the behavior we want the children to reciprocate. I no longer feel I am modeling fear and hiding. Talking about it How strange that the world should change because of words, and words change because of the world. Louis de Bernires, Birds Without Wings Ive never had an explicit discussion about it with anybody. (Straight teacher) I was chatting to [a gay male colleague] about this project (Lesbian teacher) the other night and saying something about how it keeps me thinking and draws me back to queer theory and stuff. . . . [he] said I had too much time on my hands if I was thinking about fluid identities and troubling boundaries! We dont tend to get on to queer theory before 4 PM! (Gay teacher) I think thats the next stage, where we have to have a real (Lesbian assistant head) proper talking about. I havent yet broached the, so if a child said to me, Are (lesbian assistant head) you a lesbian? to say, Yes. I think I will say, Yes, . . . Yes, I am a lesbian, so what? Were going to do the partnership2 thing, so I might actually (Gay head) make a bit of a Power Point presentation of This is whats happening with the law, this is your Head Teacher, this is my family. I feel Im actually doing something about it in talking about [Identity spoken after it. speakers next line] [Narrator assumes researcher identity and strides out to face teacher.] What do you think would make it easier for teachers to address sexualities equality in primary schools? I think being given the permission to talk about it. And the (Gay teacher) permission, their own permission, the self-permission to deal with it.

The Research Context: Whose Narratives?


This research is part of a broader, multiphase research initiative consisting of interviews, Internet-based discussions, and action research. We have narrowed this article to focus on the narratives of teachers. Voices represented here come from two sources: an extensive interviewing project and an action research project, both of which involve practitioners working in primary schools throughout the United Kingdom.

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The first project consisted of extended, loosely structured face-to-face interviews with 72 primary teachers and teacher-trainees in three different areas of the United Kingdom: London, the Southwest, and the Northeast. Our participants had a wide range of experience and professional status, ranging from a newly credentialed first-year teacher to a head teacher3 who retired the year after our interview. Two of our interviewees were classroom teaching assistants, and five of them were no longer primary teachers at the time of their interview. Eleven of our participants explicitly4 identified as lesbian, 11 men identified as gay, 18 explicitly identified as straight, and the rest did not self-identify. None identified as bisexual or transgendered. The second source of data is a 2 -year participatory action research project, No Outsiders: Researching Approaches to Sexualities Equality in Primary Schools, which involves 15 teacher researchers situated roughly in the same three regions represented in the earlier interview project. This project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) from September 2006 until December 2008, was based at the University of Sunderland (Northeast region) with the collaboration of the University of London, Institute of Education (LondonMidlands region), and the University of Exeter (Southwest region). Data emerging from teachers classroom research, as well as our collective research on the processes of the project itself, have been disseminated on an ongoing basis (Allan, Atkinson, Brace, DePalma, & Hemingway, 2008; Atkinson & DePalma, 2009; Cullen & Sandy, in press; DePalma, in press; DePalma & Atkinson, 2007a, in press; DePalma & Teague, 2008). In this article, we focus more narrowly on the voices of the teachers as they reflect on their teaching experiences, particularly in the context of their work within the action research project. We have chosen not to name particular teachers in this article, even by pseudonym, but to express speaker identities in terms of gender, sexual identity, and professional position because we want to highlight ways in which these identities shape our perceptions of them and their words. In our earlier work using online discussions (Atkinson & DePalma, 2008a; DePalma & Atkinson, 2007b), we discovered that pseudonyms inevitably evoke meanings, and we wanted to minimize these additional interpretive cues. People mentioned in teachers narratives, however, have been assigned pseudonyms to preserve narrative flow. We have interspersed teachers words with relatively sparse researcher commentary to highlight the teachers voices over a relatively subtle backdrop of our own interpretive framework. In our interviewing, we tried to allow and encourage these teachers to tell their own stories, motivated and shaped as much as possible by the speakers themselves. This approach

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contrasts with interviewing as eliciting reports, which are shaped and constructed by interviewers (Polanyi, 1985). Our research is based on an understanding of narrative as a unique project of meaning-making that is dialogic (Josselson & Lieblich, 1995). In our interviews, it was clear that participants were in constant dialogue not only us but with peers (in the few cases of group interviews), with absent voices (pupils, colleagues, friends) whom they called into their narrative and with an imaginary audience that they expected to eventually hear and judge their actions and values through their narratives. Understanding this dialogicity helps us to transcend the apparently transparent This is what happened feeling of narratives to understand them as personal, purposeful, and constructed. They are not less than the truth, but rather more.

The Researchers Voices: Drawing on Patais Interpretive Framework


As narrative researchers, we have woven participant narratives into our own superordinate narrative, (Josselson & Lieblich, 1995), which was not only grounded in the emerging data (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) but was also influenced by our own positionalities (as a lesbian and a straight researcher) and our own readings and interpretations of academic literature. Our narrative draws upon Patais concept of surplus visibility, a phenomenon that occurs when powerless and marginalized groups challenge the expectation that they should be invisible and silent (1992, p. 1). When marginalized groups begin to challenge societys expectation that they will remain invisible and silent, they are faced with a choice between invisibility (where they have traditionally been assumed not to exist) and surplus visibility (where their mere presence seems excessive). As Others, LGBT teachers are denied the powerful position of simple visibility, a third option reserved only for the majority group. More specifically in the case of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, surplus visibility relates to the process of heteronormativity, organizational structures in schools that support heterosexuality as normal and anything else as deviant (Donelson & Rogers, 2004, p. 128). Heteronormativity constructs the nonheterosexual Other as deviant, strident, flaunting it. While surplus visibility applies to ethnic and racial minority groups as well, the process assumes an added dimension for nonheterosexuals because invisibility is possible in a way not available to many members of other marginalized groups and, particularly in primary schools, is practically a social imperative. Therefore, the journey

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from invisibility to simple visibility is particularly fraught for people who may have become all too comfortable with maintaining their own invisibility.
In a recent U.K. investigation of equality and sexual orientation in further education colleges, the theme of visibility runs strongly throughout the comments of students and staff alike. As one principal commented, I think an LGB-friendly sector would be one in which the issue would have been dealt with so that it was no longer a high profile issueit would be an issue, but not an issue at the same time. It would just be part of the environment. But, we are not there yet. (Centre for Excellence in Leadership, 2006, p. 55)

This notion of ceasing to be an issue, while continuing to be an important and acknowledged part of someones life, describes the dream of simple visibility. This dream is currently unavailable, and LGBT teachers at the moment are caught between the unsatisfactory extremes of surplus visibility and invisibility:
The lesbian or gay outsider, then, can be an outsider in insiders clothing. And herein lies the rub: to choose to be out opens one to potential harassment, discrimination, denigration, and violence; to choose to be closeted stunts the development of friendships, support networks, and emotional and mental development needed for healthy living. For the gay or lesbian student, teacher, or academician, life becomes a tight wire act: the illusion of safely on one side, the hope of authenticity on the other. (Birden, 2005, p. 21)

For the invisible minority, the position of power afforded by simple visibility does not yet exist, so it must be discursively constructed. In the same way as heteronormativity is maintained through unchallenged commonsense assumptions implicit in the everyday mundane practices of schooling, heteronormativity can be disrupted discursively as well (Renold, 2005; Talburt, 2000; Youdell, 2004). One of our colleagues compares this process of repeated acts of tiny discursive challenges to the binary of invisibility/surplus visibility to gradually wearing out a spring: Visibility for minorities appears binary, reminding us of a domestic light switch . . . off up to a point, then sprung fully on to bathe the operator in light: in such a model, accumulated small acts of visibility can fatigue the spring (Nick Givens, personal communication; November 23, 2007). The goal of such accumulated small acts of visibility is to disrupt the binary and create a new in-between discursive space, neither off nor on, neither total darkness nor glaring brightness. We believe that performance is a particularly powerful vehicle for enacting cultural change, for creating new imaginaries and in-between spaces,

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and for gradually making it possible for our sexuality to be an issue, but not an issue at the same time, that is, to create the possibility of simple visibility. Sykes and Goldstein, in their performed ethnography titled Wearing the Secret Out, creatively imagine the possibility of simple visibility for LGBT teachers. Performers wear layers of T-shirts clearly labeled with identities that they gradually peel off throughout the performance until they are left with plain white T-shirts underneath:
The shirts invoke the title Wearing the Secret Out in two ways. Wearing identities of lesbian, gay, and queer represent being outwearing the secret out. At the same time, removing the T-shirts with labels represents gradually removing the secrecy surrounding these identitieswearing the secret out. (Sykes & Goldstein, 2004, p. 46)

As we have explored in detail elsewhere (Atkinson & DePalma, 2008b) performing new imaginaries is the first step in enacting social justice. Most of our teachers narratives discursively sustain fears, motivations, and silences that have a significant impact on children, teachers and schools, comprising a web of perceptions and histories that serve to support heteronormativity but that also hold the potential to disrupt it. Whereas many teachers have come to accept the false choices constructed by powerful (hetero) normalizing discourse, some have started to explore ways of constructing spaces for LGBT simple visibility.

The Performance: Speaking Truth to Power


An earlier version of this script, which included only the voices from the first interview project, was first performed at the annual meeting of the British Educational Research Association (BERA). We also performed Permission to talk about it at the first meeting of the No Outsiders action research project team in September of 2006, as a way to share with new team members our previous research in a way that would convey more powerfully the importance of the project. The following year we folded in some of the voices from the project into a new version of the performance, blurring the boundaries between participant and audience and engaging dialogically with audience to consider other perspectives and rework our own (Cozart, Gordon, Gunzenhauser, McKinney, & Petterson, 2003). This new version was performed at the Discourse, Power Resistance conference at Manchester Metropolitan University. Inspired by the theme of this conference, speaking truth to power, we chose

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to disseminate our findings as a play script to be performed rather than as a traditional research article to be read, usually silently. The idea of speaking truth to power speaks of the powerlessness felt by classroom practitioners in the face of government initiatives on the one side and public opinion and pressure on the other. The voices raised here speak truth to power in a way that is becoming increasingly strongly felt within the No Outsiders action research project, both in conversations between project participants and their colleagues, and between project representatives and those in positions of educational authority at school, regional and national levels. The notion of truth within the context of this research inevitably raises questions about Whose truth? and Whose power? By challenging the heteronormativity inherent in primary school settings and by attempting to queer both our thinking and our practice around identity, sexuality, and social justice, we raise fundamental questions for ourselves about what it might mean, in the context of this research, to speak truth to power. Through performance, we hope these voices can continue to speak their truths, our truths. In a world where their/our sexual identities are silenced, speech itself is a form of power and resistance. We claim not only the message but the performance itself as a political act:
In the discursive spaces of performativity there is no distance between the performance and the politics that the performance enacts. The two are intertwined, each nourishing the other, opposite sides of the same coin, one and the same thing. (Denzin, 2003, p. 258)

Notes
1. British National Party, an ultranationalist party in the United Kingdom associated with open antagonism toward ethnic minorities. 2. With the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in December 2005, same-sex couples can register as civil partners in the United Kingdom, with legal status similar to that of married couples. 3. Heads (head teachers), deputy heads, and assistant heads hold supervisory positions in the U.K. schools; they often retain some teaching duties as well. 4. We did not ask participants to identify their sexual orientation, but some participants did bring it up over the course of the conversation.

References
Allan, A., Atkinson, E., Brace, E., DePalma, R., & Hemingway, J. (2008). Speaking the unspeakable in forbidden places: Addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the primary school. Sex Education, 8, 315-328.

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Atkinson, E. (2007). Speaking with small voices: Voice, resistance and difference. In M. Reiss, E. Atkinson, & R. DePalma (Eds.), Marginality and difference in education and beyond (pp. 121-133). Staffordshire, UK: Trentham Books. Atkinson, E., & DePalma, R. (2008a). Dangerous spaces: Constructing and contesting sexual identities in an online discussion forum. Gender and Education, 20, 183-194. Atkinson, E., & DePalma, R. (2008b). Imagining the homonormative: Performative subversion in education for social justice. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29, 25-35. Atkinson, E., & DePalma, R. (2009). Unbelieving the matrix: Queering consensual heteronormativity. Gender & Education, 21, 17-29. Birden, S. (2005). Rethinking sexual identity in education. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Centre for Excellence in Leadership. (2006). Equality and sexual orientation: The leadership challenge for further education. Retrieved 19 April, 2007, from www.centreforexcellence. org.uk Cozart, S. C., Gordon, J., Gunzenhauser, M. G., McKinney, M. B., & Petterson, J. A. (2003, Spring). Disrupting dialogue: Envisioning performance ethnography for research and evaluation. Educational Foundations. Retrieved 8 May, 2007, from http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_qa3971/is_200304/ai_n9205487?tag=content;col1 Cullen, F., & Sandy, L. (in press) Lesbian Cinderella and other stories: Telling tales and researching sexualities equalities in primary school. Sex Education. Denzin, N. K. (1997). Interpretive ethnography: Ethnographic practices for the 21st century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Denzin, N. K. (2003). Performing [auto] ethnography politically. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 25, 257-278. De Bernires, L. (2004). Birds without wings (1st American ed.). New York: Knopf. DePalma, R. (in press). Sexualities equality in all primary schools: A case for not waiting for ideal conditions. In W. K. James & A. T. Autumn (Eds.), Sexuality matters: Paradigms and policies for educational leaders. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield. DePalma, R., & Atkinson, E. (2007a). Exploring gender identity; queering heteronormativity. International Journal of Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood, 5, 64-82. DePalma, R., & Atkinson, E. (2007b) Strategic embodiment in virtual spaces: Exploring an on-line discussion about sexualities equality in schools. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28, 499-514. DePalma, R., & Atkinson, E. (in press). Beyond tolerance: Challenging heteronormativity in primary schools through reflective action research. British Journal of Educational Studies. DePalma., & Teague, L. (2008). A democratic community of practice: Unpicking all those words. Educational Action Research, 16, 441-456. Donelson, R., & Rogers, T. (2004). Negotiating a research protocol for studying school-based gay and lesbian issues. Theory Into Practice, 43, 128-135. Josselson, R., & Lieblich, A. (1995). Interpreting experience. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Patai, D. (1992). Minority status and the stigma of surplus visibility. Education Digest, 57, 35-37. Renold, E. (2005). Girls, boys, and junior sexualities : Exploring childrens gender and sexual relations in the primary school. London: RoutledgeFalmer. Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. M. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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Sykes, H., & Goldstein, T. (2004). From performed to performing ethnography: Translating life history research into anti-homophobia curriculum for a teacher education program. Teaching Education, 15, 41-61. Talburt, S. (2000). Introduction: Some contradictions and possibilities of thinking queer. In S. Talburt & S. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Thinking queer: Sexuality, culture, and education (pp. 3-15). New York: Peter Lang. Youdell, D. (2004). Wounds and reinscriptions: School, sexualities and performative subjects. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 25, 477-493.

Rene DePalma received her PhD from the University of Delaware. Her research and teaching have focused on social justice and equity in terms of ethnicity, language, race, gender, and sexuality. She was a research fellow on a project entitled No Outsiders: Researching Approaches to Sexualities Equality in Primary Schools at the University of Sunderland, the United Kingdom (2006-2008) and is currently a research fellow at the University of Vigo, Spain. Elizabeth Atkinson is a reader in social and educational inquiry in the School of Education and Lifelong Learning at the University of Sunderland. She has been working in the field of sexualities equality for over 10 years and served as principal investigator for the ESRC-funded project No Outsiders: Researching Approaches to Sexualities Equality in Primary Schools.

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