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Out 4 Math:
the Intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity A Dissertation
Submitted to the Faculty Of Drexel University By David J Fischer In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy In Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies June 2013
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity © Copyright 2013 David J Fischer. All Rights Reserved
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity
This work is dedicated to my loving husband, Heshie Zinman, without whose
constant support I never would have made it through the process. And to my dear friend, Edwin Bomba, who supported me through the writing process and helped me in so many different ways. Both of you made this dissertation possible; I could not have done this without the two of you.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Acknowledgements
This is to acknowledge all of those whose hard work and constant support made this work possible. To janie, Greg, Mary, and Steve who believed in me when earning a doctorate was all just a dream. To Dr. Lesa Covington-‐Clarkson, who believed I could earn a PhD. To Dr. Dominic Gullo and Dr. Kristine Lewis Grant whose support was invaluable along with the push to always do better.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Table of Contents
Exploring the Intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity .................... i Dedication ....................................................................................................................................... iii Acknowledgements ...................................................................................................................... iv Abstract ........................................................................................................................................... vii Chapter 1: Introduction ............................................................................................................... 7 Statement of the Problem ..................................................................................................................... 7 Research Question ................................................................................................................................ 10 Significance of the Study ..................................................................................................................... 11 Conceptual Framework ....................................................................................................................... 12 Definition of Terms ............................................................................................................................... 13 Purpose of Study .................................................................................................................................... 15 Limitations and Delimitations .......................................................................................................... 15 Chapter 2: Literature Review .................................................................................................. 17 Identity Theory ....................................................................................................................................... 19 Psychosocial Identity .......................................................................................................................................... 19 Sociological Identity ............................................................................................................................................ 21 Mathematical Identity .......................................................................................................................... 23 Queer Identity ......................................................................................................................................... 25 Supports and Queer Identity ............................................................................................................. 27 Investigating Intersections ................................................................................................................ 29 Identity and Educational Disparities .............................................................................................. 33 Chapter 3: Methodology ............................................................................................................ 38 Qualitative Research: Phenomenology .......................................................................................... 38 Rationale for Selecting a Qualitative Design ................................................................................ 44 Exemplar Studies of Phenomenology and Identity .................................................................... 44 Role of the Researcher ......................................................................................................................... 45 Site of the Study ...................................................................................................................................... 48 Participant Selection ............................................................................................................................ 49 Interview Questions ............................................................................................................................. 51 Data Analysis ........................................................................................................................................... 52 Reliability and Validity ........................................................................................................................ 54 Ethical Considerations ......................................................................................................................... 55 Summary of Chapter ............................................................................................................................. 56 Chapter 4: Findings ..................................................................................................................... 58 Outline of Findings ................................................................................................................................ 59 Avis ............................................................................................................................................................. 59 Gerald ........................................................................................................................................................ 67 Kevin .......................................................................................................................................................... 74 Zeb .............................................................................................................................................................. 81 Marryl ........................................................................................................................................................ 87 Tabatha ..................................................................................................................................................... 94 Statement of the Findings ................................................................................................................ 102 Participants who use the term queer to describe themself understand queer differently. .................................................................................................................................................................................... 102
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity
vi Community informed queer identity. ........................................................................................................ 106 Support at school for being queer relates to support for one’s mathematical identity. ..... 111 Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................. 116
Chapter 5: Conclusion ............................................................................................................. 117 Introduction ......................................................................................................................................... 117 Epoche ....................................................................................................................................................... 55 Discussion ............................................................................................................................................. 117 Queer identity. ..................................................................................................................................................... 117 Supports for a positive queer identity. ..................................................................................................... 119 Identity and educational disparities. ......................................................................................................... 123 Conclusion. ................................................................................................. Error! Bookmark not defined. Implications .......................................................................................................................................... 124 Theory. .................................................................................................................................................................... 125 Practice. .................................................................................................................................................................. 125 Limitations ............................................................................................................................................ 128 Suggestions for Future Research ................................................................................................... 129 Bibliography ................................................................................. Error! Bookmark not defined. Education ..................................................................................................................................... 138 University Teaching Experience .......................................................................................... 138 Publications ................................................................................................................................ 138
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Abstract
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity David J Fischer
Educational disparities have been examined in relationship to many different groups, but one group had been left out of the discussion -‐ queer identified students. In this phenomenological study I asked the question: In what manner is queer identity and mathematical identity expressed simultaneously for individuals self-‐identified as LGBTQ? This began a discussion about the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity. Six participants were interviewed and commonalities in their lived experiences were considered. Four of the six participants used the word queer to define themselves. Of these four, there were two major ways that they understood the word queer, as stepping outside of a binary and as community. It was found that a queer identity had not been essentialized for the four participants. A major supportive factor for all six participants was having a sense of community that supported their queer identity. An LGBTQ youth center provided them all with that sense of community. Other sources of community included their family’s of origin, friends, gay-‐identified teachers, and teachers in general. The impact of support received at school is examined with relationship to both queer identity and mathematical identity. Having support for one’s queer identity at school was found to relate to possessing a stronger mathematical identity. This study has implications for the classroom teacher, GSA advisor and to those running youth centers.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity
Chapter 1: Introduction
The purpose of this investigation was to begin developing an understanding of
how adolescent and young adult queer students experience both queer and mathematical identity as they engage in mathematical activities. As a gatekeeper subject, mathematics has a unique place in the educational system. I argue that while educational disparities have been examined across various groups of students, there was one group of students that was missing among these investigations-‐queer students. Educational disparities can be defined as the unequal opportunities that are experienced by many students (Nam & Huang, 2011). These educational disparities have been explored in general and across mathematical settings. Statement of the Problem Education is in a state of flux in the U.S. with educational disparities being framed and reframed in different contexts (Ladson-‐Billings G. , 2006; Kumashiro, 2008). These disparities have been framed as an achievement gap as well as an opportunity deficit (Ladson-‐Billings G. , 2006). No matter how the problem is perceived, it is agreed that many different groups of students are affected (Ladson-‐Billings G. , 2006). Disparities in mathematics performance among different groups of students have garnered particular attention in public and academic circles. Mathematics performance first came to the attention of the public with the launch of the Sputnik satellite and the ensuing space race. In recent years, mathematics has received considerable attention because of fluctuating test scores on international tests and measures (U.S. Dept of Education). Within the US, students have not achieved
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 8 widespread proficiency on the high-‐stakes mathematics tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Mathematics is a gatekeeper subject (Ayalon, 1995; Stinson, 2004) in elementary school, high school and college. Gatekeeper subjects are those classes that sort students out and have traditionally served to discourage students from pursuing their studies (Stinson, 2004). Mathematics has often played this role (Ayalon, 1995). Students who study mathematics beyond algebra are more likely to go on to college, have more career options and higher earnings potential than those who do not study mathematics (U.S. Dept. of Education). Two major influences that affect whether or not students excel in mathematics are a combination of positive beliefs about their ability to do mathematics and beliefs about the usefulness of mathematics (Loustalet, 2009; Rodriguez Cazares, 2009). While Rodriguez Cazares (2009) describes these features as a positive academic identity, Martin (2000) describes these same traits as a positive mathematical identity. If having a positive mathematical identity is a factor associated with students excelling in mathematics, the question remains: which groups of students possess a positive mathematical identity. Since mathematical identity is related to performance, it is important to look at the experiences of various groups. It has been found that educational disparities in mathematics between African-‐American and Caucasian students is wider than between any other two categories (U.S. Department of Education). Hispanic students see almost as much of a gap when compared with Caucasian students (U.S. Department of Education). Asian-‐American students have tested well and have been considered a
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 9 “model minority” (Chang, 2011). Recent immigrants do not fare well in high-‐stakes testing (Ladson-‐Billings G. , 2006). While girls excel in basic mathematics, they do not do as well as boys in higher-‐level mathematics, nor do they persist in very high numbers in higher-‐level mathematics (Catsambis, 1994). When considering the effect that low socioeconomic status (low SES) has on students’ mathematics attainment, educational disparities are as great between low SES students and middle class students, as those between Caucasian and Hispanic students (Gamoran, Porter, Smithson, & White, 1997). As can be seen from these findings, educational disparities are widespread and persistent. While examining these different groups has been useful, there are groups that we know little about as it pertains to educational disparities, particularly in mathematics. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), or queer students are an example of such a group. Queer, or non-‐heteronormative students, have rarely been considered in the study of any of the subject areas. LGBT youth face many challenges both in k-‐12 education as well as higher education. According to the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) (2011), eighty-‐one percent of LGBT students have experienced harassment in the past year, and six in ten LGBT students feel unsafe at school. One-‐third of LGBT students reported skipping school at least once per month because they felt unsafe at school. Twenty seven percent of LGBT students report being physically harassed, and twelve percent physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, sixty-‐four percent of LGBT students report being verbally harassed, twenty-‐seven percent physically harassed and twelve percent physically assaulted because of their gender expression.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 10 As a result of oppression and harassment LGBT students experience increased stress related mental illness (GLSEN, 2011). While there are no direct data on the academic performance in mathematics for LGBT students, there are data for LGBT students in general. LGBT students who experience harassment in school report that they plan to drop out of high school at a rate that is seven times higher than non-‐LGBT students (GLSEN, 2011). LGBT students also report missing more school as a result of feeling unsafe. Missing school, along with an unsafe, hostile school environment, has a direct impact on academic performance (GLSEN, 2011) Research examining disparities in achievement has assisted researchers when looking at various groups of students. Some of this research examines mathematics in particular, as it holds such importance for the public and academia. The research explored groups that do and do not excel in mathematics. The challenge within mathematics education is that we should now consider queer students, as they represent an increasingly visible minority. Research shows that mathematical identity is an important element in considering how students perform in mathematics. Because students with a queer identity are underrepresented in research, there was a need to explore their performance as it reflects the intersection of queer identity with mathematical identity. Research Question
The research question for this study defines the bracketed area that has been
explored. The bracketed area is a particular set of experiences of the participants in the study, told from a first person point of view. The research question was as follows: In
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 11 what manner is queer identity and mathematical identity expressed simultaneously for individuals self-‐identified as LGBTQ? Significance of the Study This study represents the first of its kind to look specifically at the interface between queer identity and mathematical identity. As such, this study adds to the literature in a unique way. Previous studies have only explored ‘queering’ the subject area, i.e. making the subject less male centric (Mendick, 2006). Mendick explored mathematics with an eye toward the performance of mathematics in a manner that favors male identified students. While other authors define queering differently, for Mendick it is a matter of opening the field of mathematics and mathematics performance to non-‐male identified students. The distinction between the proposed study and Mendick’s work is the difference between the who (identity) and the how (performance). This distinction is important for understanding what is happening to a group of students and broadens classroom teachers’ and academics’ understanding of who is worthy of learning mathematics, rather than how mathematics is taught.
As discussed earlier, there is a need to include queer students because they have
not been the focus of study in mathematics education. Further, by exploring queer students as they relate to mathematics, it opens the field to explore queer students in other subject areas. Ultimately this study adds to the literature by furthering the understanding of queer students who study mathematics and what that means to them.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Conceptual Framework
The conceptual framework of this study is situated within identity theory and
phenomenology. Exploring the complex nature of the self and how one sees oneself in relation to others is the basis of identity theory (Burke & Stets, 2009). The nature of self has several manifestations within the various views of self. One of these manifestations is psychosocial identity. Of the understandings of self considered within this proposal, psychosocial identity was the first to be explained (Erikson, 1964,1980). Since psychosocial identity can be seen as unchanging at times, a sociological approach to identity is also used (Burke & Stets 2009; Gee 1999; Sfard & Prusak, 2005).
Within the context of this study I employ both a psychosocial and a sociological
explanation of identity. I emphasize sociological definitions that allow for changes in one’s understanding of oneself (Gee, 1999; Sfard & Prusak, 2005). One reason to move toward a sociological definition of identity is the application of queer theory to the understanding of queer identity (Wilchins, 1997). Queer theory says that definitions are always changing, thus a definition of queer identity that allows for movement is needed. Sfard and Prusak (2005) go so far as to say that identity is simply what you say it is. This definition broadens the field even further.
In this work I have described what it means to experience a particular
phenomenon. Describing lived experiences, or phenomena, is done effectively using phenomenology (Moustakas, 1994; Van Manen, 1990). Phenomenology is often used to explain emergent ideas within research (Wilson & Washington, 2008). It focuses on the stories of the participants in a way that other qualitative methods do not. This is because phenomenology allows the researcher to find the meaning in the actual life
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 13 experiences of the study participants. Therefore, he can work to distill the essence of the experiences that is greater than the single experience of one participant (Moustakas, 1994). This essence is not an essentialization of the phenomenon, but rather it is a discovery of the universality of the event in question (Van Manen, 1990).
Another reason for using phenomenology lies in the unique place of the
researcher within the work (Moustakas, 1994). This method is most effective when the researcher has some first-‐hand knowledge of the experience in question. This forces the researcher to examine his own bias, and demands that he both set aside his experience and, at the same time, use his knowledge of the experience to understand the experiences of the participants (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). This is known as bracketing of the experience. Through this bracketing of the experience, the researcher becomes one with the phenomena in a way that does not happen with other methodologies (Wilson & Washington, 2008). Definition of Terms
In order to have a common understanding, three particular terms used in this
study have been defined. It is important to define these terms as they form the basis of this investigation. The terms that have been defined are identity, mathematical identity, and queer identity. These terms are defined as they are used uniquely in this study. Identity is a performative action that defines the self (Lawler, 2008). That action is both conscious and subconscious. Within this understanding of identity there is a tension about the authenticity of identity. It is often thought that to be authentic, identity must come from some deep place within us. However, a performative idea of
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 14 identity recognizes identity as being either deep or shallow. In this way, identity can be seen as a changeable and changing aspect of the self. The definition of mathematical identity includes two separate but related characteristics. The first is a performative characteristic (Martin, 2000). The performative characteristic of mathematical identity includes: “the ability to do mathematics, having the motivations and strategies needed to obtain mathematics knowledge, understanding the importance of one’s mathematical knowledge, and understanding one’s opportunities and constraints in mathematical contexts” (p. 19). Mathematical identity also includes a perceptual characteristic. The perceptual characteristic of mathematical identity pertains to the individual’s perception of their ability to perform mathematics (Sfard & Prusak, 2005). The definition of queer Identity includes three dimensions that can at times be used interchangeably. Queer identity may refer to someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). In this manner, queer identity is a shorthand way to categorize all of these various labels. Queer identity can also be used as a term referring to an individual’s understanding of self across the spectrum of non-‐heteronormative sexual identity (Wilchens, 1997). Lastly, the definition of queer identity reflects a political position. It is a word choice that has been reclaimed from the past when it was often used negatively when referring to a particular group of individuals (Kumashiro, 2002).
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study was to describe how having a queer identity affects an individual’s beliefs about one’s mathematical abilities and performance. In addition, this study described what it meant to understand one’s self as queer. Limitations and Delimitations
This study is limited in scope for two reasons. First, because of the number of
study participants and the nature of the methodology, the findings are not generalizable. Second, this study did not seek to quantify any educational disparities that were discovered among the study participants. Rather, I sought to explain the state of the mathematical identities of a group of queer students. In so doing, I began a conversation and a research agenda that will require further exploration.
This research allowed for description of a particular group of participants and
thus points the way forward for further research in the area. The group of participants was homogeneous in age, as this allowed an understanding of a particular subset of all queer people to be better understood. This study explored the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity. Intersections of identity are when two or more identities manifest themselves simultaneously (Burke & Stets, 2009). The intersection of queer and mathematical identities was chosen because the field was new and therefore, yet to be described. Rather than a quantitative analysis of queer students in mathematics, this qualitative problem was chosen for two reasons. First, the issues for queer students in mathematics have not yet been described. Second, the current political climate makes it
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 16 difficult to find a large enough sample for what is practical in dissertation work to be able to make generalizations.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Chapter 2: Literature Review
The study of identity is a complex phenomenon. Theoretically, identity manifests itself through two constructs: psychosocial identity and sociological identity. Psychosocial identity explains identity as self-‐knowledge that is defined in late adolescence (Erikson, 1964,1980). While there has been movement towards seeing identity as somewhat fluid as a person matures, there is still a more or less fixed quality to a psychosocial definition of identity (Erikson, 1980). The sociological construct of identity was also based on the psychosocial construct of identity, but has evolved to include more mutable identities (Gee, 2000). Of the two, the one that most closely reflects the purposes of this study is the sociological. Within a sociological understanding there are multiple ways to view identity. Burke and Stets (2009) list three overarching categories of sociological identity. These are role identity, social identity and person identity. Role identity is based on a role that a person plays such as teacher or student. Social identity is based on membership in a group (Burke & Stets, 2009). Social identity sets up a situation in which there is an “in group” and an “out group” such as being a member of the Glee club or not being a member of the Glee club. Person identity refers to the traits that make the individual unique (Burke & Stets, 2009), such as being kind, or having a wry sense of humor. Gee (1999) has defined additional categories of sociological identity. These include natural, institutional, affinity group, and discourse identities. Natural identity is a characteristic that one cannot change such as being a twin, or having blue eyes. Institutional identity is bestowed upon a person by an institution, such as a professor or a doctor (Gee, 1999). Affinity group identity is defined as membership in a particular
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 18 group such as the Republican Party or the Elks Lodge. Discourse identity is based on how one speaks about one’s experience with a particular subject and how others speak about you in reference to that subject. For example, Pat often speaks about her love of mathematics. Principal Jones often says that, “Pat is the smartest math student in the school.” One way to elaborate upon the understanding of identity is through intersection. This is useful; as it helps us better understand the essence of the relationship between the two identities. The relationship between the two identities is one where the expression of one identity has an effect on the other identity being expressed (Burke & Stets, 2009). There is scholarship that intimates that one identity has the ability to cause the other to be foregrounded as a “leading” identity (Black, Wiliams, Hernandez-‐ Martinez, Davis, Pamaka, & Wake, 2010). Certain identity definitions were developed with mathematics in mind (Cobb, Gresalfi, & Hodge, 2009; Sfard & Prusak, 2005). Martin (2000) contributed to the definition of mathematical identity that is used in this study. Martin (2000, 2004, 2009) formulated the idea of intersecting mathematical identity with other identities. His work grew out of the work of Ladson-‐Billings (1995). The idea of intersecting mathematical identity with another identity is useful in helping to see how one identity influences another. In order to examine the intersection of queer and mathematical identities it is necessary that I explore the terminology associated with queer identity: gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangender. I will look to prior research to define these terms as well as to
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity develop the concept of queer identity. I will also explore queer identity as a
sociologically-‐based discourse identity. While there is no literature that looks directly at the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity, there is literature that examines queer identity and academics (Venzant Chambers & McCready, 2011). Additionally there is literature that discusses the “queering” of mathematics (Mendick, 2006). Mendick defines the queering of mathematics as making mathematics less male-‐centric. I will also explore expressions of queer theory or queer thought in the subject areas of English, and Science (Blackburn & Buckley, 2004; Snyder & Broadway, 2004). By looking at all of this research, I will be positioned to look at the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity. Identity Theory Identity can be understood and studied through two theoretical constructs, psychosocial identity and sociological identity. In the following section I will describe psychosocial identity and sociological identity. Psychosocial Identity Within his work The Eight Stages of Man, Erickson (1964, 1980) develops a psychosocial construct of identity that refers to the internal processes of the individual. He describes psychosocial identity as being subjective and objective, social and individual (Erikson, 1964). Within the eight stages there are psychosocial crises that must be resolved. These include, trust vs. mistrust; autonomy vs. shame and doubt; initiative vs. guilt; industry vs. inferiority; identity vs. role confusion; intimacy vs.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity isolation; generativity vs. stagnation; and ego integrity vs. despair (Erikson,
1964,1980). The eight crises are sequential and each one builds off of the previous and affects the next. That is, one cannot move from one stage to the next without some resolution of the conflict involved in the previous stage (Erikson, 1964). While each of the crises are influential stages in the development of identity, I will focus on the identity vs. role confusion crisis. In the identity vs. role confusion crisis, the primary conflict is whether an individual can develop a stable sense of self that will continue on into adulthood (Erikson, 1964). In this stage of development the main question is “who am I?” If the previous crises have been successfully negotiated and the adolescent has developed a sense of trust and industry, there is a greater chance of success in negotiating the crisis of identity vs. role confusion as well. Some of the aspects of this crisis include negotiating a vocation and sexual orientation. The reason to focus on this crisis is that it occurs in late adolescence to early adulthood, the same age as the participants for this study. An understanding of psychosocial identity has both affordances and constraints when applied to this study. One affordance of this understanding of identity is that identity is simultaneously individual and social. This allows for the identity to be expressed by the individual in a social setting and therefore studied more easily. A second aspect of psychosocial identity is that it is understood as a stage of development that occurs during late adolescence, and is then more or less fixed through adulthood (Erikson, 1964,1980). This can be seen as both a constraint and an
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 21 affordance. The affordance of this aspect to the study is that the participants age, late adolescence, is developmentally appropriate. It is a constraint in that Erickson sees identity development as being rather fixed once it is acquired. He later modified his view somewhat (Erikson, 1980) to allow for some further development of identity into adulthood. However, he concluded that most identity development is fixed in adolescence. This perspective is problematic when studying queer identity, as queer theory recognizes fluidity and changes in understanding of sexual identity throughout adulthood (Wilchins, 1997). Sociological Identity Stryker (1980) developed sociological identity from psychological identity. An early proponent of a sociological construct of identity Stryker (1980) categorizes identity as role, person and social. Role identities are based on the role that a person plays, such as teacher, student or friend (Burke & Stets, 2009). Early theorists saw role identities as being the preeminent determinant for an individual’s sense of self (Burke & Stets, 2009; Stryker, 1980). Role identity is seen to provide structure, organization and meaning to the individual in any given situation. Person identities are the idiosyncrasies that make the individual unique (Burke & Stets, 2009). Examples of person identity would be being kind or generous. This identity is based on one’s own beliefs about oneself. It is often tied to the idea of authenticity; whether the individual feels she is being true to herself. Social identity is based on membership in a social group (Burke & Stets, 2009). A situation is established in which there is an “in group” and an “out group”; that is to say
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 22 that one is either a member of a club or not. Who is part of the group is based on a set of criteria that is often associated with gender, race, and age (Burke & Stets, 2009). Another way to understand sociological identity is provided by Gee (1999). Gee describes four types of identity: 1. Nature identity is when there is no power over the natural forces that cause nature identity, such as being a twin or having blue eyes; 2. Institution identity is when the individual is bestowed an identity by an institution, such as the teacher who is bestowed the identity by the state that licenses and the school that employs her; 3. Discourse identity is based on what one says about one’s self and what others say about you, such as being labeled as learning disabled or gifted; and 4. Affinity identity is a characteristic shared by a group, such as advanced placement (AP) students or children with ADHD. Gee’s theory uses both fixed identities (such as natural and institutional) and fluid identities (such as discourse and affinity). While Gee sees the act of discourse as essential to discourse identity development, there is also recognition of the role that discourse plays in selection of a group within affinity identity (Gee, 1999). An affordance of the sociological construct of identity is that it provides us with an understanding of the intersection of identities. An intersection is when two identities manifest themselves simultaneously within the individual (Burke & Stets, 2009). This is important as it allows us to study the intersection of a queer identity and mathematical identity.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Mathematical Identity
Mathematical identity has been explained theoretically in several different ways
(Cobb, Gresalfi, & Hodge, 2009; Sfard & Prusak, 2005; Somers, 1994). Each of these theoretical perspectives examines different aspects of mathematical identity. Cobb et al. (2007) fixed the student’s mathematical identity for the purposes of testing. Once a teacher understands a students already fixed mathematical identity they can then use that information to increase test scores from year to year. Cobb et al. considered the formation of identity in a psychosocial sense; a universal process with a student’s mathematical identity being fixed in adolesence. Cobb’s work considered mathematical identity soley for the purpose of understanding and increasing test scores. While this fits Cobb’s purposes, it is problematic in that it essentializes the student’s mathematical identity and fails to consider that other types of identity may impact the mathematical identity of the student over time. Another way to consider mathematical identity is in using a sociological construct that is discourse-‐based (Sfard & Prusak, 2005). A discourse-‐based identity is defined by the narratives that one tells about oneself, allowing identity to change as one’s beliefs change. There can be, however, problems with narratives as Somers (1994) has pointed out. For narratives to be useful, Somers argued, they need to move from being simply stories, to one of the four types of narratives listed below: 1. Ontological narratives are used to define who we are. Ontological narratives are fluid, allowing for changes in identity; 2. Public narratives are cultural and institutional narratives that are larger than the “self.” These narratives come from our families, schools and the government;
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 24 3. Meta narratives are the types of narratives that make up most of our sociological theories. They are the stories about the stories; and 4. Conceptual narratives are the explanations that are constructed by social researchers. Among Somers’ narratives, ontological narratives most closely fit with Sfard’s and Prusak’s (2005) discourse-‐based view of mathematical identity. Using this understanding, Sfard and Prusak found that the mathematical identity of students can and do change as students view themselves as being more or less successful under various circumstances. Martin (2000) defined mathematical identity as having the following qualities: 1. The ability to do mathematics; 2. Having the motivations and strategies needed to obtain mathematics knowledge; 3. Understanding the importance of one’s mathematical knowledge; 4. Understanding one’s opportunities and constraints in mathematical contexts (p. 19). For the purpose of the proposed study a combination of Martin’s (2000) definition and Sfard and Prusak’s (2005) definition of mathematical identity will be used. This is because Martin’s definition refers to performance of mathematics, an aspect of mathematical identity that helps to define how one sees one’s self in relationship to mathematics. On the other hand Sfard and Prusak focus directly on a discourse-‐based definition of mathematical identity. Discourse-‐based refers to the narratives that one tells about one’s self. These discourse-‐based identities are perceptual in nature. Thus, they refer to one’s perception of their ability to do
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity mathematics. While each of these definitions is useful in their own right, the
combination adds a depth that is more useful. Queer Identity Identifying as queer is political, dynamic and fluid (Kumashiro, 2002; Wilchens, 1997). According to Kumashiro, it is political because queer is a word that has been reclaimed by activists from a negative past. Wilchens states it is dynamic and fluid because what is means to be queer can change for the individual as much and as often as one desires. I use the term queer identity throughout this paper, rather than LGBT identity for a variety of reasons. Gay and lesbian identity development has been understood to be an affinity group identity (Alderson, 2003; Guess, 1995). Further, as the forereferenced authors point out, these identities have been essentialized and normatized to be white and middle class. While bisexuality has not been essentialized, there are numerous and fluid ways to describe bisexual identities (Jeffries, 1999). It is beyond the scope of this work to describe all the variations that can encompass a bisexual identity. The fluidity of the descriptions would tend to argue for a definition of queer identity rather than trying to capture all the variations of bisexual identity (Jeffries, 1999). Transgender identity is another term with multiple meanings (Reis, 2004). Transgender identity is more problematic to define than gay, lesbian, or even bisexual. This is because there may or may not be an element of sexual identity in the definition. Transgender may refer to intersexed individuals (those with indeterminate sexual
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 26 organs); those who feel they were born the wrong sex; or those who are somewhere in between these other definitions. The scope of this study is not to look specifically at those with a transgender identity, but also, there is no reason to exclude those same individuals. Because of the issues in using the specific terms of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender identity, queer identity will be used instead. Queer identity has been defined as discourse-‐based (Wilchins, 1997), meaning what people say about you and what you say about yourself (Gee, 1999). The benefit of understanding queer identity as a discourse-‐based identity is that discourse-‐based identities resist essentialization (Kumashiro, 2002). Being understood as a discourse-‐based identity allows for the fluidity of sexuality that is understood to be the reality of queer identified individuals. “Queer” began as a derogatory word that activists have worked to reclaim (Kumashiro, 2002), understanding that discourse-‐based means that “it” is what someone says “it” is. In this meaning, queer is citational. Citational is defined as gaining meaning from the way a word is used, or cited, by a group of people. As the group grows, the citation begins to gain wider acceptance (Free Online Dictionary, 2011). While not exclusive of the first meaning, queer is distinct in that being discourse-‐based allows for people who do not fit within the labels gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender to be included. Queer becomes everyone who is not normatively heterosexual. It is a non-‐ normative state; an attempt to define it normatively causes it to morph and change so that it is no longer what you think it is. Queer is inclusive rather than exclusive and it
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 27 seeks to trouble the normative, the essential and the definitive label (Britzman, 1998; Kumashiro, 2002; Wilchins, 1997). Wilchens (1997) argues against an LGBT label-‐based natural or affinity identity and outlines many of the problems of affinity identity and affinity politics. Affinity identity is an identity that is predicated on being a member of a group. Natural identity is based on an immutable trait such as eye color. A natural identity lacks movement and fluidity and is therefore problematic. There is no room to explain the lesbian who chooses to sleep with men, or to explain bisexuality at all. If one is born attracted to a certain sex, natural identity says that this is fixed. Natural identity also raises the question of gender. By normatizing gender and sex, we force gender and sex into binaries and this raises other issues. Wilchins (1997) goes on to state the limits of affinity identity. One only need worry about the issues of a single letter L, G, B or T. Queer has been set up to work against a single mentality. Queer is more encompassing, but not just of letters. Rather, it includes movement, fluidity and recognizes social construction of sex and gender (Britzman, 1998). Supports and Queer Identity There appears to be several factors that influence the development of a positive queer identity (Blackburn, 2004; Blackburn & McCready, 2009; Lee, 2002; Ma'yan, 2011; Munoz-‐Plaza, Quinn, & Rounds, 2002). These include attending a school with a gay straight alliance (GSA), having a safe and supportive school environment, having an out of school support, such as a LGBT youth center, and having supportive friends. Blackburn (2004) speaks to the need to have the support from an organization such as The Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia, PA. The Attic provides various services
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity for youth from age 14-‐23. These services range from counseling, to recreational
services, to a speakers bureau. The speakers bureau is a group of students within the organization of The Attic who are trained to go to schools and other organizations and conduct trainings. These trainings consist of the youth sharing their stories of coming out and what their experieinces have been like. Blackburn reports that through the activities of The Attic, but specifically through the speakers bureau, young queer people have the opportunity to gain agency and support that helps them to develop a positive queer identity. This ability to develop a positive queer identity is not limited to participating in a speakers bureau. Blackburn and McCready (2009) survey the literature on the topic of supports for queer youth and arrive at several conclusions. They find that not only are out of school supports, such as LGBT youth centers helpful, but also that Gay Straight Alliances (GSA’s) can be a critical link for youth. GSA’s as a support to developing a positive queer identity has also been supported in other work as well (Lee, 2002). Lee goes further than Blackburn and McCready by showing that not only does a GSA promote a positive queer identity, but also a positive academic identity. The improvement in academic identity is postulated to be as a result of the support the youth received from the GSA and that the youth feel better about themselves and about school. Some of this is due to a lessoning of a feeling of isolation, a feeling born out by Blackburn and McCready. Ma’ayan (2011) takes a different approach to showing support for a positive queer identity. She explores a case study and looks at the intersection of whiteness with queer identity to examine resiliancy. It is interesting to note that the participant in the
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 29 study has a GSA in her middle school as well as the support of teachers and her family. Ma’ayan attributes most of the participants resiliancy to being white and upper middle class rather than the supports reported on earlier. Thus, the emphasis in this study is on using a position of privelege to gain power in this situation. The problem with the conclusions in this study are what do you do if you do not start from a position of economic or racial privelege? Where do poor youth of color find agency around LGBT issues if they do not have privelege? Investigating Intersections A way to make mathematical identity more useful is to look at intersection: how different identities manifest themselves at the same time. Martin (2000) examined the intersection of mathematical identity with racial identity, and thus began developing an understanding of each person’s unique, individual experiences. Martin (2000, 2006) reported on African American parents who may have a negative mathematical identity while still seeing the importance of mathematics. These same parents were able to discuss their racial identities and all reported having faced discrimination and oppression in the classroom. This oppression, while it may not be the direct cause of the poor mathematical identities reported, certainly had a part to play in their motivation to perform mathematics. These same subjects also claimed that their children were the victims of oppression at the hands of teachers and administrators. Further, all of the parents interviewed reported that they felt they could have gone further in their careers had they taken more mathematics courses. Additionally, many reported that they were working on mathematics courses in order to progress in their careers. It was particularly surprising that Martin did not directly
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 30 explore the racial identity or its effect on the mathematical identity of the seventh, eighth and ninth grade students whom he interviewed. Spencer (2009) interviewed 32 African-‐American middle school students and their mathematics teachers to ascertain the mathematical identities of the students and the effect of race on their mathematical identities. Like Martin (2000), Spencer did not directly question students about race. He approached race indirectly, particularly for those students who saw themselves as being poor in mathematics and having a negative mathematical identity. Spencer did however question the teachers directly and it was obvious that there was oppression on the part of the teachers toward their students because of their African-‐American status. The teachers were careful to couch their attitudes about African-‐American students in terms of lack of parental involvement and behavior on the part of the students. The teachers went so far as to see the students’ racial identities as homogeneous, whereas they praised the individuality of white students. Students only mentioned race when they remarked about incidence when they were doing well and were mocked for “acting white” by other African-‐American students (Spencer, 2009). Thus, they faced oppression not only at the hands of their teachers or other adults, but also from fellow students because they were doing well. Within these narratives we know that the retelling captures only aspects of the experience. The fact that we can only partially understand these experiences shows the dangerous in essentializing identity of any kind (Martin, 2009). Ladson-‐Billings’ (1995, 1999) call for culturally relevant pedagogy allowed for a new exploration of the intersection of racial and mathematical identities. Her
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 31 explorations differed from much of the work at the time. It did not focus on an idea of deficit in black students. Rather it focused on historical causes of discrimination within education and, in particular, mathematics. She continued to develop the idea of educational disparities and referred to it as an educational deficit rather than an achievement gap (Ladson-‐Billings, 2006). This focus on how the educational system has failed mathematics students, instead of the students being failures, boosted the study of mathematical identity. This was because most of the work with mathematical identity looked at how students were able to be successful rather than on concentrating on how they failed (Martin 2000, 2004, 2009; Stinson, 2004) Martin (2009) went further with discussions of race and mathematics by exploring the racial achievement gap in testing. He explained that the issue was not an achievement gap based on race. Martin argued that to be based on race there must be an implicit understanding that race is biologically based, not socially constructed. Thus, the idea of a racial achievement gap creates a hierarchy of racial categories. Martin argued against this racialization of mathematics and stressed the need to understand the stories of the participants being discussed (discourse-‐based). By examining individual voices, the essentialization of a single experience is troubled (Martin, 2000). When considered in conversation with Kumashiro’s (2002) understanding of anti-‐oppressive education, one can begin to consider the implications of hearing the stories of real people. They are no longer the ‘other’ to be pitied, feared or exalted, rather they become a part of the ‘us.’ The post-‐structural nature of these ideas reminds us that all knowledge is partial. Therefore, we need to hear multiple stories to gain a
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 32 fuller understanding of what has been experienced. In this case, the experience relates to mathematical identity intersected with racial identity. In my examination of the literature, I sought to examine what other work considered the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity. While my search was unsuccessful, there is relevant research that explores queer and gender issues in a range of subject areas. This section will explore such work within the literature and explore how it informs my work. Blackburn and Buckley (2004) surveyed schools to determine how often queer characters or issues are raised in the English classroom. Of the 212 schools surveyed, only 18 used any materials that explored queer topics. The authors spend the bulk of the article discussing the pros and cons of using various pieces of literature to inform students about queer topics. This study does not inform us about an intersection with queer identity, but it does provide us an example of how much work still needs to be done in the area of queer identity. The main conclusion from the work of Blackburn and Buckley is how queer issues have been ignored in the classroom. Snyder and Broadway (2004) began their work with a discussion of the importance of a positive science identity for those with a queer identity. This was the extent of their discussion of any intersection of the two identities. They proceeded to consider how queer ideas and theories fit into, but were left out of, science textbooks. This study, while advocating for a positive science identity for those with a queer identity, did not explain what that intersection looks like. From this study, we see that queer students benefit from a positive science identity. However, we do not have specifics of what the intersection of science identity and queer identity looked like.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Mendick (2006) explored the relationship between mathematics and
masculinity and, in the process, called upon queer theory. She argued that mathematics education in English speaking countries was constructed in a binary fashion that favored masculinity and absolutism. Mendick spoke of several binaries in regard to mathematics, some of which are masculine or feminine; hard or soft; absolute or changing; and abstract or concrete. Within these binaries, the former is what she argued was the normalized mathematical understanding and the latter was the non-‐ mathematical other. To disrupt these binaries and allow students with non-‐masculine identities the ability to approach mathematics in a way that did not require them to reconstruct their identities, she called for applying queer theory to queer mathematics. Mendick used queer as a verb not a noun, and this was meant to disrupt the binary of masculine/feminine that separated those who did math and those who did not (Mendick, 2006). Mendick’s work applies to what I will be exploring in two ways. First, she saw mathematics and mathematical identity as being discourse-‐based. She used mathematical identity in a limited way. While she sought to apply queer theory to disrupt the binary, she did not discuss queer as an identity. Rather she used it as a verb that allowed her to act on the binary. Identity and Educational Disparities
The construct of identity has been used to study achievement and educational
disparities. Mallett, Mello, Wagner, Worrell, Burrow, and Andretta (2011) discussed two separate studies that they had conducted. They examined racial identity and ‘belonging,’ the feeling that one belongs in an academic setting. They correlated these
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 34 studies to planned achievement and graduation rates. While white students saw a positive correlation between belonging, racial identity and future plans, students of color with a strong racial identity had low belonging and low achievement rates.
Black et al. (2010) found a connection between a “leading identity” and
aspirations for further achievement in career and higher education. Leading identity is the idea that there is one identity that puts in focus, the rest of one’s social identities. Black et al. explored the leading identities in the context of mathematics in post-‐ secondary education. The researchers discussed mathematical identity intersected with gender identity through the focus of a leading identity. They discuss Mary, who did an engineering project in secondary school that led to a leading identity of being an engineer. As a result, Mary became interested in mathematics and changed her trajectory going into college. In this instance Mary’s leading identity, ‘engineering identity,’ drove her to pursue and achieve within higher-‐level mathematics. From the development of the leading identities we saw a way in which one identity can affect another identity.
Cohen and Garcia (2008) discussed their findings that stigma and stereotype
threat are still issues that affected educational disparities for racial minorities and female students. While stereotype threat was not a new idea, Cohen and Garcia found that it was the interaction of various identities in particular situations that were the greatest cause for concern. The situations at play could be as simple as having a “bad day” in school that lead to a feeling of isolation and a lessening of a feeling of belonging. This feeling of isolation and lack of belonging was found to perpetuate educational
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 35 disparities. This was particularly true for African-‐American students and to a lesser extent for female students. To alleviate feelings of isolation and the lack of achievement, Cohen and Garcia designed a model that lead to two points of intervention. The aim of these interventions was to reduce the student’s tendency to interpret experience in light of social identity. The first intervention, designed to lessen race-‐based doubts about learning, focused on students at the end of their freshman year. For the intervention, students received the results of a survey given to upperclassmen. The survey highlighted how all freshmen struggled with feelings of belonging regardless of race, and how those feelings dissipate over time for everyone. The researchers found that there was a lasting, preventative effect against stereotype threat for African-‐American students that prevailed even through the junior year of college. The second intervention increased students’ psychological resources for dealing with threat through the process of self-‐affirmations. In the second intervention, 7th grade students completed an in-‐class, self-‐affirmation exercise. These students saw improvement in GPA, a common measure of achievement, which persisted over time. What this study emphasized was that while aspects of social identity can have a negative effect upon achievement, there are strategies that counteract these negative effects. Other work focused on mathematics beliefs, what Martin (2000) referred to as mathematical identity, and their effect on achievement in introductory mathematics courses in college. Loustatel (2009) found that students with a stronger mathematical identity were more likely to have earned an “A” in introductory college mathematics
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 36 courses. While this may not be surprising, this exploration of identity and achievement showed that identity has been explored in many different ways.
Venzant Chambers and McCready (2011) also looked at racial identity and
achievement. They combined data from two separate studies and found commonalities. They found that African-‐American students felt marginalized and performed at a lower level when they had multiple stigmatizing identities (Venzant Chambers & McCready, 2011). The multiple stigmatizing identities were African-‐American and either gay or in a lower track in high school. What is interesting is that students who were African-‐ American and gay, or queer as McCready (2004) has referred to participants in other works, had a lower performance or achievement level in school. While this work did not speak to the student’s academic identity, or mathematical identity more specifically, it did examine queer identity and achievement. While the thrust of the studies were that students needed to “make space” for themselves, that is, they needed to find a way to fit into a group, the secondary finding of lower achievement was significant. This work linked a queer identity to lower achievement, implying that there may be educational disparities here that are unexplored. These works (Mallett et al., 2011; McClain, 2008) all share findings about identity being related to educational disparities. Identity is examined in many different ways, as it relates to race, gender, and low SES. For some of the discussions, we see how the effects of a certain identity can be mitigated. What we do not see in all of this work is the inclusion of queer identity.
Taken together, we can see that there is a gap in the literature when examining
educational disparities. Identity has been used to explore educational disparities for
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity students of color, women, college students, lower tracked students, and low SES
students. There was a study that implied that there might be a gap for queer students, but educational disparities are not the main focus of that study. Since a positive academic, or more specifically, a mathematical identity has been shown to have a positive impact on achievement, there is a need to explore the intersection of mathematical identity and queer identity.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Chapter 3: Methodology
In this chapter, I discussed qualitative research and how my research question
fit within this paradigm. An argument was made for why this research was phenomenological in nature. Phenomenology is explained in terms of its history. While I explore some of the different types of phenomenology, I focused on hermeneutic phenomenological methods. Qualitative Research: Phenomenology Qualitative research in education grew out of dissatisfaction with quantitative methods that many researchers felt were contrived (Creswell, 1998). These researchers found that quantitative methods placed the participant into an unnatural setting, thereby focusing attention upon the researcher and their approach, rather than on the experience of the participant (Creswell, 1998). Whereas quantitative and qualitative research were once seen as opposing views, the lines have blurred over the decades and they are now considered on a continuum (Creswell, 1998). While there are various other types of qualitative research, such as ethnography, case study, narrative, and critical research, I used phenomenology as it focused on the lived experience of the participants as well as the researcher’s experience with the phenomena being studied. Phenomenology has existed as a research method for a relatively long time. It was a philosophy that was first proposed by Husserl in the early twentieth century (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Husserl saw phenomenology as a philosophy that worked to uncover the reality of one’s experience through a series of reductions. In this case the reductions were imaginings about what the universal reality of a situation was (Husserl, 1927 in Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009).
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Heidegger began as a student of Husserl but shifted his understanding of
phenomenology away from reduction and into hermeneutics (Heidegger, 1949). This change signalled a philosophical shift in how Heidegger understood the finding of meaning within phenomenology (Heideggar, 1982). Instead of relying on imaginary reductionism, Heideggar made a move toward interpretism and the understanding of a universal. He postulated that the researcher can work to interpret the experience of the particiapants. According to Heideggar this can be accomplished through the finding of horizons, or themes, that the researcher identifies in the stories told by participants (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Phenomenology, in its most basic form, considers a phenomenon, a thing or state of being as it appears (Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, 1982), and seeks to describe the essence, or universality (Van Manen, 1990) of that phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). The phenomenological essence is not an essentialization, but rather the character that seeks to describe the structure of the lived experience that is the phenomenon (Van Manen, 1990). Put another way, phenomenology looks at the lived experience of a bracketed idea and takes the bracketed idea and explores the essence of that idea (Moustakas, 1994). Bracketing an idea is a process that decontextualizes an experience. Bracketing is accomplished by first considering the researcher’s personal experience with the phenomenon. This is then followed by the collection of stories that have not been reflected on by the participants (Van Manen, 1990). Within phenomenology, a bracketed idea may take the place of the research question (Moustakas, 1994). The bracketed idea for this study is the intersection of queer identity and mathematical
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 40 identity. This study sought to discover the essence of the expression a queer identity and how this interacts with the participants’ mathematical identity.
Phenomenology relies on a method in which the researcher uses epoche to
explore the data (Moustakas, 1994). Epoche is a state of having one’s mind clear of judgment and preconceived ideas of meaning that must be maintained in order to conduct phenomenological research. Epoche is achieved through the process of bracketing; this is not the same bracketing process described previously. This process, however, is related to the bracketed idea that may form the question being explored. In this aspect of bracketing, the researcher explores, generally through writing, his own understanding and knowledge about the phenomenon. Epoche requires the researcher to first bracket the researcher’s own knowledge of the phenomenon, setting aside any preconceived notions and judgment and thus decontextualizing the experience. This is done through self-‐reflection on the phenomenon. Epoche then requires the researcher to examine the stories collected in order to discover the essence of the lived experiences of the participants (Creswell, 1998). Within the realm of educational research, one of Heidegger’s Hermeneutics methodologies is usually applied (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Hermeneutics methodologies rely on interpretation as a way to understand both the universality and the differences within the lived experience. Of the Hermeneutics approaches, the most appropriate research design was Moustakas’ (1994) modification of the Stevick-‐ Colaizzi-‐Keen method. I chose this method, as it was appropriate when the researcher not only has an interest in the research question, but also has first-‐hand knowledge of
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 41 the research question or bracketed idea (Moustakas, 1994). The steps to this type of phenomenology are: 1. Using a phenomenological approach, obtain a full description of your own experience of the phenomenon. 2. From the verbatim transcript of your experience complete the following steps: a. Consider each statement with respect to significance for description of the experience. b. Record all relevant statements. c. List each non-‐repetitive, non-‐overlapping statement. These are the invariant horizons or meaning units of the experience. d. Relate and cluster the invariant meaning units into themes. e. Synthesize the invariant meaning units and themes into a description of the textures of the experience. Include verbatim examples. f. Reflect on your own textural description. Through imaginative variation, construct a description of the structures of your experience. g. Construct a textural-‐structural description of the meanings and essences of your experience. 3. From the verbatim transcript of the experiences of each of the other participants complete the above steps, a through g. 4. From the individual textural-‐structural description of all participants’ experiences, construct a composite textural-‐structural description of the meanings and essences of the experience, integrating all individual textural-‐ structural descriptions into a universal description of the experiences representing the group as a whole. (Moustakas, 1994, p. 122) What this means is that I first described, in detail, my own experience reflected in my having a queer identity and a mathematical identity. I recorded all of my thoughts and relevant experiences based on the interview questions and prompts that are described below. I did this while I described my personal experiences as a way to enter a state of epoche. This allowed me to gain insight into the essence of the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity, as well as to understand my own feelings and biases. At this point, by examining my own place in the research, I had achieved a state of epoche. Therefore, I was able to consider, yet set aside, my own views of the phenomenon. I was also able to understand how my experiences fit into the bracketed idea or the research question (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009).
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 42 Once these steps were considered for my writing, it was time to consider the participants. An aspect of phenomenology that could be considered troubling by some was that participants should be as homogeneous as possible (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). All of the participants are homogenous in that they are all queer in one respect or another. The participants are homogenous in age, all being between eighteen and twenty-‐one years old. Also, the participants are homogenous in that they were all in college, or had been in college within the six months prior to the study. This provides the homogeneity needed for the study. McCready (2004) pointed out that queer theory is encompassing of various racial/ethnic groups and resists essentialization; however, this is not in conflict with phenomenology’s call for homogeneous subjects. To alleviate any appearance of a conflict, participants are a mix of individuals who identify as queer, whether they consider themselves male, female or transgendered; or lesbian, gay or bisexual. I did not set out to fulfill all of the various ways one can identify as queer, but rather was open to all the various expressions of queerness in the participants. In so doing, I sought the essence of queerness and mathematical identity rather than an aspect of queerness. The process continued with the participant interviews. These interviews were conducted using the same questions that I answered. Verbatim transcription followed, with the text uploaded into the software program “Nvivo” for analysis.
The next step was to conduct a line-‐by-‐line analysis making detailed notes, or
noticings, of the participant interview transcripts. I then gathered the detailed notes into a single file (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). These notes became the invariant horizons, or meaning units, of experience of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). A
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 43 meaning unit of experience is the basic unit of the unchanging essence of the experience (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). These meaning units were sorted into themes (Van Manen, 1990). The invariant, unchanging meaning units and themes were then synthesized into a description of the experience of the expression of one’s queer identity and mathematical identity. Following this process, I then used interpretive variation, often described as a mental gymnastics (Moustakas, 1994), where all possibilities are considered for the “why” that the phenomenon existed the way it did. Interpretive variation is sometimes described as turning ideas forward and backward (Moustakas, 1994). It was the second time in the process where detailed notes were written and in so doing the researcher became one with the experiences of the participant. The process was described as textural because it is experiential. ”…Texture must be experienced; rough and smooth, rigid and flexible, angry and calm” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 139). I then searched for the invariant structure or the “central underlying meaning of the experience and emphasized the intentionality of consciousness where experiences contain both the outward appearance and inward consciousness based on memory, image, and meaning” (Creswell, 1998, p. 52). The final step involved looking across the various themes from the individual transcripts and finding commonality in them (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). These common themes were collected together and along with verbatim quotes from the transcripts the findings for the study emerged.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Rationale for Selecting a Qualitative Design
The research question, or bracketed idea, for this study, how is a queer identity
and one’s mathematical identity expressed at the same time for queer students, asks about the quality of an experience of the participants. This type of question is a qualitative question, as it asked about the “why” or “how” of something (Creswell, 1998). Because I was exploring the “life worlds” of the participants, and seeking the meaning of that life world experience (Creswell, 1998; Van Manen, 1990), a phenomenological methodology was chosen. Exemplar Studies of Phenomenology and Identity Phenomenology has been used to study identity in multiple studies (Breshears, 2011; Goodnough, 2011; Singh, Hays, & Watson, 2011). All of these studies looked at either a queer identity or were focused on education. This highlighted the appropriateness of phenomenology for a study that looked at queer identity intersected with mathematical identity. Breshears (2011) used one of the frameworks from Moustakas (1994) to study the experience of lesbian parents coming out to their children. She showed the appropriateness of using phenomenology to study a topic that dealt with sexual identity. Her published study was just one part of a larger study that explored the lived experiences of lesbians, all of which were phenomenological in nature. Breshears’ study reported on the conversations between parents and their child in reference to the family and family structure. While she finds her results helpful, she
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 45 recognizes the limitations that she experienced, as there was little diversity within the participants in her study. I rectified this situation within my research by seeking more racial/ethnic diversity among the participants. Goodnough (2011) used phenomenology to study the experience of teachers’ identity that had participated in action research. The study was a longitudinal, phenomenological study. In it, the author interviewed teachers before, after, and years after they conducted action research about their identities as teachers and how action research affected that identity. This shows the appropriateness of using phenomenology while studying identity in an educational setting. Singh, Hays, and Watson (2011) used phenomenology to explore transgender identity. This was relevant in that the researchers explored identity and some of the participants’ identities as queer, showing the appropriateness of phenomenology in exploring a queer identity. Singh identified as queer, thus pointing to the importance within phenomenology of the researcher having some connection to the research area. This supports the contention that it is important that I, as the researcher, identify myself as queer. This holds with phenomenology’s contention that the researcher should have some background knowledge of the phenomenon being studied (Moustakas, 1994). Role of the Researcher
The researcher plays an integral role in phenomenological research. As the
researcher, I needed to bracket my understanding of the experience in order to achieve epoche, thereby increasing the validity of the study (Van Manen, 1990). To bracket my
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 46 experience is to write out my experience with the phenomenon, thereby realizing my own biases and points of view (Vagle, 2009). The purpose of this process, epoche, is to be able to examine the data with a fresh eye and be able to grasp the meanings and find the horizons and themes within the data (Creswell, 1998).
My own experience with the phenomenon was integral to understanding the
experiences being explored (Van Manen, 1990). Further, as the researcher in qualitative research, some have suggested that I was a unit of analysis along with the participants in the study (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). For phenomenology, this is the point of bracketing: to at once become part of the research and yet to transcend one’s personal experience and become one with the data (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Within Moustakas’ modification of Stevick-‐Colaizzi-‐Keen’s method, I took on a special role as the researcher. This method works particularly well for me, as I am a queer man with a strong mathematical identity. I have intimate knowledge of the phenomenon (the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity). Therefore, it was important to consider my own experiences in order to separate them out and to be able to understand how I interact with, and was a part of, the research study. As stated above, I identify as a queer man. While I self-‐identified as gay in high school and in my early college career, I did not disclose my sexual identity to anyone close to me (come out) until my sophomore year of college. Since that time I have lived as an openly queer man. In high school I was in an advanced mathematics track and completed mathematics courses through pre-‐calculus. During both high school and my early college career, I struggled with my queer identity and this manifested in my studies, as
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 47 it took me six years to complete my first degree. That degree was a BA in mathematics at the University of Minnesota. All during that time my mathematical identity was relatively strong. After several years of working, I returned to school to earn a BS in mathematics, allowing me to teach mathematics in Minnesota. After three and a half years of teaching high school and middle school mathematics, I decided to take a break from teaching. This break was caused by the constant harassment and oppression by administrators based on my queer identity. My mathematical identity stayed high as I used my strong background in mathematics to work in construction. After a few years away from education, I wanted to be back in the classroom and returned to teaching. While teaching, I saw that queer students were being steered away from higher-‐level mathematics in high school by counselors and teachers. This compelled me to return to graduate school because I wanted to explore the relationship between having a positive queer identity and ones mathematical identity. I identify as a queer man and as an activist. My decision to be fully out and identify as queer is political. Thus, I am able to be empathetic toward others who are activists in that they came out at an early age and now live out lives. As I have faced oppression and harassment as an openly queer man, I can empathize with and understand what it means to be oppressed and harassed. In addition to having a positive queer identity I also possess a positive mathematical identity. I have had a positive mathematical identity all of my life. However, my experience as a teacher in secondary mathematical education has equipped me to understand and be sympathetic toward those with a negative
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 48 mathematical identity. Because I have positive queer and mathematical identities, I am in the position to be able to conduct this phenomenological research. During the process of epoche, I examined my experiences more fully in order to uncover any biases that may have been below the surface of my conscious self. Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I volunteered once a week during the school year at the research site, an LGBTQ youth center. During my volunteer time, I worked with an arts group and tutor mathematics. I participated as a mentor several summers ago, working with a youth on issues related to completing high school and college admission. This mentor relationship was continued to the time of the study. These volunteer efforts have allowed me to gain trust at the youth center, without which, it would be difficult to recruit participants from the site. I clarified my relationship with all the youth by fully disclosing the difference in my role as researcher as opposed to my role as volunteer. Site of the Study The site of the study was an LGBTQ youth center in a large east coast city of the United States. The center has been serving youth since 1993. The mission of the center is to “create opportunities for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth to develop into healthy, independent, civic-‐minded adults within a safe and supportive community, and promotes the acceptance of LGBTQ youth in society “ (Attic website, 2011). In the pursuit of helping LGBTQ youth to develop into adults, the center offered various programs Monday through Friday afternoons and evenings during the school year and Monday through Thursday during the summer. The center was open any day
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity that the local school district was in session. Programming during the school year
consisted of two sessions per day, Monday through Thursday. Each session was one and a half hours long and topics range from homework help, to art, to fashion, and to exercise. Topics for the sessions are decided by the youth three times a year. Friday afternoons were a drop-‐in session where youth met to socialize. The staff at the center consisted of nine, full-‐time professionals: an executive director, executive assistant, HIV prevention coordinator, director of development, a receptionist, art specialist, two life skills coordinators, and an out-‐of-‐school-‐time programming coordinator. Several social work interns from local universities and volunteers fill in where needed and assisted with programming. Eight therapists volunteered their services to assist youth who required confidential counseling. The center served approximately 250 youths during the school year on a drop-‐in basis. The number of youths participating in a particular program varied from session to session and week to week. During the summer, the center had an intensive, six-‐week program that emphasized job skills and had a mentoring component. The summer program served 35 youths. Participant Selection There were six participants. This number was chosen as it is considered to be manageable and yet large enough to be able to find commonalities across themes (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Participants were queer, non-‐heteronormative, eighteen to twenty-‐one year olds who were either having, or had recently had, a mathematics class, all participated at the youth center. Participants were of various racial/ethnic backgrounds. What the participants had in common was that they were
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 50 all non-‐heteronormative. While phenomenology suggests groups be as homogeneous as possible, queer theory suggests that there be variation in terms of race/ethnicity. Queer theory rejects essentialization and normatization; thus, having a single ethnic group representing ‘queer’ would have been problematic. The participants were chosen from the LGBTQ youth center. Purposive sampling was used. At the center, the executive director assisted in identifying participants that would fit the criteria and were willing to share their experiences. Criteria for the subjects were that they be eighteen to twenty-‐one years of age, queer identified, and either in a mathematics class or have recently completed a mathematics class. Data Collection
Interviewing is a well-‐known methodology and Cockburn (2004) described how
the method is often employed in a phenomenological manner. Phenomenological data collection is primarily through long interviews (Moustakas, 1994; Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Interviews consist of open-‐ended questions and were semi-‐structured. This is to allow the participants to take the interviews in directions that the researcher may not anticipate. The participants were free to relate fully their experiences (Wilson & Washington, 2008) being queer and about their mathematical experiences. Participants made the initial contact after the director of the youth center had approached them. Interviews were conducted at a private location chosen by the participant where they felt safe and secure. This was to protect the participants’ rights, particularly with regard to anonymity and confidentiality. I explained the study to the participants, as well as their rights as participants in the study. Participants were given
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 51 a copy of the consent form and I addressed all questions about the study. Consent was sought to audio-‐record the interviews. All participants agreed to be audio-‐recorded. Interviews consisted of a 45-‐minute to 2 and a half hour interview. Interviews were audio-‐recorded and transcribed with recordings preserving the anonymity of the individuals; pseudonyms were used. Transcriptions were also completed in such a manner so that participants anonymity was preserved; participants’ names were changed and the transcripts were kept in a password protected computer file at all times. Interview Questions
With a phenomenological approach, the questions for an interview act as a
guide. Once participants begin to express themselves, the questions may have been altered to make them more informative (Moustakas, 1994). Two guiding questions are listed below in bold. These are the main questions. The others acted as prompts, as needed, to illicit more information. •
What does it mean to/for you to be queer? Can you describe this for me?
How did you hear about the Center? Why did you decide to come to the Center? How long have you been coming to the Center? What do you like most about the Center?
When did you come out? Please describe your coming out experience. How were you accepted in high school/ college/ at home/the youth Center?
Did coming out affect your direction in life? In what ways?
Did you come out while you were in high school/college? If so were you out at school? If so tell what that was like.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity •
What does it mean for you to be a student/learner?
What is your favorite subject/ what are you majoring in?
Tell me about yourself and math.
How did your math classes in high school affect you going to/getting into
Tell me about your experiences with math. Do you enjoy it, use it, do you find it difficult or easy?
Were you encouraged to take higher-‐level mathematics?
Tell me about being queer in the math classroom, how do your teachers treat you, how do other students treat you?
Do you feel like you belong in the math classroom?
Do you feel confident to perform/excel at math?
Analysis in the phenomenological study began with my examination of my
position and place within the research and then moved on to the transcripts of the participants’ interviews (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Interviews were analyzed one by one and once all six of the interviews had been analyzed, cross analysis was done (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). I used a qualitative research program, Nvivo, to assist in organizing and analyzing the data. In interpretive phenomenology the analysis process begins with the researcher reviewing the bracketing of his own experience (Van Manen, 1990). Bracketing is the
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 53 process of considering one’s own ideas about queer identity and mathematical identity. This allowed me to consider my own biases and place within the research.
Once I had achieved epoche, reading and rereading of the transcripts allowed a
general picture of the data to emerge (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Notes were written in the text that accompanied this reading and rereading. These notes covered any strong overall feelings about the transcripts as a whole.
Initial noticings then took place (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009; Van Manen,
1990). This step was the most time consuming and was concerned with making logical meaning of the work. This was a close analysis, which helped avoid a superficial analysis of the work. Out of this step, a detailed set of notes was compiled. This was the point at which it was important to consider the transcripts in a phenomenological manner. This means that I was working to interpret and describe the events in the transcripts in a way that shows what mattered to the participants. These notes consisted of descriptive comments, linguistic comments, conceptual comments, and also contain decontextualized comments.
The next step was to identify emergent themes, or horizons (Smith, Flowers, &
Larkin, 2009; Moustakas, 1994; Van Manen, 1990). These themes were collected together from the noticings in the last step.
Following the identification of emergent themes, I looked for connections across
the themes (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Some of the ways that these connections were made included: abstraction (looking for themes that were alike and combining them); polarization (looking for oppositional themes); and function (examining the
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 54 function of the themes within the context of the transcript as a whole) (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009).
At this point I moved on to the next case and repeated the process. This
continued until all of the transcripts had been analyzed. Then cross-‐analysis commenced (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin 2009; Van Manen, 1990). Cross-‐analysis is the process of identifying themes that the various transcripts had in common. This process occurred by comparing the notes and themes from the various participants’ transcripts and finding what was common among participants. Reliability and Validity
Reliability within a phenomenological study is dependent on selecting
participants who can speak to the phenomenon being studied (Wilson & Washington, 2008). Choosing participants who clearly related their experiences with a minimum of analysis of what the experience meant was crucial (Van Manen, 1990). Finding participants who fit the research criteria and who had experienced the phenomenon being explored resulted in rich stories that allowed me to extract a thick description of the events relayed, thus increasing the reliability of the study.
Validity is a function of bracketing (Vagle, 2009). Bracketing is the process of
self-‐reflection on the part of the researcher during which the researcher either engages in a self-‐interview process, or engages in reflective writing. This is done in order to understand personal bias as well as the researcher’s place within the research (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009).
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Ethical Considerations
Participants read carefully and signed a consent form that clearly described any
risks and benefits to them. Risks for this research were low, as participants were recalling experiences from their lives. They may have experienced some discomfort if the stories were difficult, and there was the possibility of recalling a repressed memory of abuse. If the participant had appeared to have any difficultly with their recalled experience, they would have been referred for counseling at the youth center to assist them in dealing with these difficult memories. Research participants were allowed to withdraw from the research project at any time if they were uncomfortable.
To protect the anonymity of the participants, pseudonyms have been used and
unneeded identifying information was not collected. Further, all transcripts were kept in a password protected file and recordings were destroyed after transcription and analysis. Epoche
Within phenomenological research the researcher has a unique role to play. He
must find a way to clear his mind and regulate his biases and preconceived ideas about the phenomenon being explored. At the same time he should have first hand knowledge of the phenomenon being studied (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009).
The researcher “interviewed” himself using the same questions that were asked
of the participants and a transcript of this interview was made. The researcher then read across the transcript and identified themes from his own experiences. He used these themes to identify his own biases and to understand his own experiences and how they influenced his interpretations of the participant narratives. He performed this
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 56 self-‐examination before the rest of the interviews were initiated and again before any analysis was started. This process was performed multiple times to continue to clear the researchers mind of preconceived ideas and regulate his biases (Moustakas, 1994). Summary of Chapter
The research question In what manner are queer identity and mathematical
identity expressed simultaneously for individuals self-‐identified as LGBT, was a qualitative question. This was because the question was asking ‘how’ or ‘why’ something was happening. Further, this study was phenomenological, as it has examined a phenomenon, the intersection of queer identity and mathematical identity.
Phenomenology is a method that requires the researcher to be an active
participant in the research. The researcher is one of the units of analysis in phenomenology; that is, the researcher needs to consider his place in the phenomenon through bracketing. Through bracketing, the researcher increases validity by considering his bias and position in relationship to the phenomenon under consideration.
Participants were recruited from an LGBTQ youth center located in a large east
coast city. Participants were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-‐one and therefore they could speak to the experience of recently or presently being in the mathematics classroom.
Data collection was through semi-‐structured interviews. Interviewing is a
common practice within qualitative research. In phenomenology it is the primary data collection method. An outline of interview questions is provided in the body of the work. The initial analysis consisted of note taking in the manuscript in order to locate
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 57 horizons. These horizons were then sorted into themes. Using the themes as a structure, and making generous use of the verbatim words of the participants, the findings were written. Cross analysis of the data followed.
Validity and reliability within a phenomenological study is largely a function of
the quality of the bracketing or writings by the researcher about his experience with the phenomenon under consideration. Analysis and representation of participants’ experiences and reliability depended on my own ability to write and reflect on any bias I may have carried into the study.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Chapter 4: Findings
For this study, six participants were interviewed. The researcher also considered the questions and responded to them to understand his own place in the research and his biases. All of the interviewees identified as queer, using at least one of the dimensions of the definition of queer outlined in chapter one. With the exception of the researcher, all had a math class either concurrent with the study or within the six months prior to the research. This last criterion was selected so that the participants could speak to their experience with mathematics in the recent past or present. This study explored the question; “In what manner are queer identity and mathematical identity expressed simultaneously for individuals self-‐identified as LGBT?” In the initial discussion, each of the participants will be discussed individually. A cross analysis of all six participants will follow. This process seeks to produce a universal understanding of the experience of possessing a queer identity and a mathematical identity simultaneously. Pseudonyms have been used to identify the participants. This study took place at a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth center in a large city on the east coast of the United States. The center offered support groups, counseling services, resumé writing assistance, interview skills building, and recreational opportunities for LGBTQ youth from fourteen to twenty-‐ three years of age. Many of the youth who participated in the activities at the center continued to use the services of the center until they reached the age of twenty-‐four, at which point they were no longer eligible to participate.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Outline of Findings
The discussion of findings begins with a description of each participant’s background and demographic information. Next, in order, coming out, family/community, queer identity, the role of the LGBT youth center, academic identity, and mathematical identity of each participant is presented. These individual results are followed by a cross analysis of all the participants. Avis
Avis was an 18-‐year-‐old, African-‐American male, who identified as bisexual. He
attended a mid-‐sized, east coast university and majored in pre-‐med and mathematics. He was tall and amiable. He hoped to one day be an infectious disease doctor and serve the “gay community.” His parents and guardians raised him. The terms “parents and guardians” were used here because Avis’ aunt and grandmother had been his primary guardians. At the same time, however, he had frequent contact with his mother. His father was in prison and had been incarcerated for large periods of time during Avis’ childhood.
Avis began to “come out” early in his life. Coming out is the process by which
LGBT people tell others about their sexual orientation or their gender identity. It can be a quick process, or it may take years to complete. For Avis, the process began when he was twelve years old. The first person he came out to was his older sister. As he described it: She was actually, she was overjoyed. She was like “Yes! Yes!” I still remember that to this day. Oh my god, but, um, it was nice. It was like I had a weight released from me, as my family is very anti-‐gay, bisexual, pretty much everything
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 60 except straight for a number of reasons. So it was nice to know that at least some of my family would support me, even if I knew that most of them wouldn’t. For Avis, there was support early in his coming out process from his older sister. This support was important to him, as he feared that the rest of his family would not be supportive of his emerging queer identity. He had yet to come out to his parents and guardians, about whom he stated: My parents have made it quite clear that that is not a lifestyle that they would endorse, so to speak. It’s not something they would approve of and so I’ve thought it best at this time to not tell them. Avis described a difficult situation in which to find oneself: his parents had expressed disfavor with the idea of possessing a queer identity. Based on this information he decided that it was best not to come out to them by the time of the interview. Avis had a fear that his parents and guardians would not accept him even though he played an integral part in their lives, particularly his mother’s life: And I think she’d have a lot of difficult (sic) with dealing with this [being bisexual] and I still, but she still relies on me heavily. And it would be harder for me to communicate with her, for me to help her with the bills, to help her with the paperwork, if she wasn’t comfortable around me.
Avis was concerned about the discomfort of his mother. He feared rejection if he
was honest about his queer identity. Part of his fear stemmed from the help that he perceived his mother needed. He also felt that it would be more difficult for him to interact with his mother.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity When asked if he was out in high school, Avis replied:
…those close to me, they all knew. Everyone close to me knew. Um, who all? Actually, no, just about the whole high school knew. It’s not that I so much told everyone, as much as it is I told one person and it managed to have spread like wildfire. Although Avis had only told a few people about his queer identity in high school, the knowledge of his sexual orientation was disseminated throughout the school via the grapevine. Despite the fact that, for the most part, Avis kept the information to himself, those close to him did not keep the information to themselves.
When asked about how he was accepted in high school once people knew of his
queer identity, Avis replied: By and large I felt very accepted at my high school. Um, it was very comfortable atmosphere. At times I miss it really. But, um, I felt very accepted at my high school with a few small exceptions. That would be primarily, um, there were a group of boys that didn’t like me for that [being bisexual] and, in all honesty, they didn’t like [me] before and this didn’t make relations with them any more cordial. I tended to avoid them and, yeah, they had a lot of animosity towards me. I didn’t have any towards them… Avis felt accepted at high school. He felt so accepted that, at times, he wished he could return to the community of his high school. He spoke of being part of a community and how good this made him feel. He also had teachers who helped him. Avis said:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 62 His name was Mr. F, he himself is gay. He was a comfort to me and sometimes when I was just feeling bad. There was also Ms. C who I was very close to. She actually called me the closest… she said I was her favorite student that she never had. These teachers both acted as a support for Avis’ queer identity. However, this acceptance was not universal. The lack of acceptance by one group of boys was not described as mere dislike or discomfort, but as animosity. These boys made him feel that he had to avoid situations so as not to encounter them due to the nature of the feelings against him.
Being out at the university was somewhat different than being out at high school
for Avis. When asked if he was out at the university, Avis replied: Um, some of them, like my English professor knows, my biology professor, I’m very close with my English and biology professors. Um, who else, who else? Yes. It’s not as though I go out of my way to say it, but if it comes out I won’t deny it or anything. And, um, let’s see, my roommate knows, pretty much the whole dorm knows. They’re cool with it, it’s kind of like, I suppose you could say it’s an open secret, where about everyone knows it. Avis was willing to share his sexual identity with others. When he said, “…I suppose you could say it’s an open secret…” He had stated that he is willing to share the information on his sexual orientation on a “need to know” basis. At the same time, he did not try to hide who he was from anyone and would answer the question if asked.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 63 When asked to describe what it meant to have a bisexual identity, Avis replied, “Um, I have a physical attraction to both males and females. Um, I wouldn’t mind being in a relationship with either gender. I’ve never actually thought about saying this out loud before.” In spite of his being out in high school and at the university, he had never thought about what it felt like to verbalize his queer identity. Further, Avis defined his identity not just in terms of attractions, but also in terms of relationships.
When asked if coming out had changed his direction in life, Avis replied: It most definitely affected my directions in life. In particular, I really wanted to make sure I stayed in the city now… I’ve visited some rural areas. They’re generally not as accepting of people of alternative sexuality, pretty much everything except for straight.
It was Avis’ perception that possessing a queer identity would be more accepted in an urban environment. He based this conclusion on his personal experience.
Avis described his introduction to the youth center in the following comment, “I
knew some friends who went there once and they told me about it [the youth center] and I worked there over the summer.” In contrast to his experience in high school and college, at the LGBTQ youth center Avis found a place where he could express himself more freely. He also found various kinds of support. He described the center as, “I went there, I saw it was a very comfortable, very open atmosphere, and I really enjoyed being there.” Of his activities at the center, he said: I was able to provide some small income for myself. Additionally, the counseling services there have been great and they’ve also helped me with other things such
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity as finding a career, applying for scholarships, and I’m even working on my
resumé. It’s been very nice.
In addition to scholarships and a work-‐study position at college, Avis used the
youth center to help support himself financially through the center’s jobs program. The counseling and job skills training aided him with regard to his future career goals. The aspects of the youth center that he did not take advantage of were the recreational and creative activities that were available, though he never told us why he did not participate in those activities.
In both his formal education and personal life, Avis exhibited a strong
mathematical identity. He said about mathematics: I find math very interesting. I like the way it can describe the natural world, so I find like things like just different equations or parts of different equations very interesting… But, um, yes, I enjoy math. I enjoy doing math. I like the way you can present relationships about things in a clear way that can be understood by anyone with enough background. For Avis, mathematics was a way to describe and understand the world. Also, it was enjoyable for him to do mathematics. He found the process of being able to communicate with others through mathematics to be useful.
He found that at times he could not learn from his instructors. Avis stated: I really learned you sometimes have to teach yourself math. And when I did that, that’s when I really started appreciating math because, I mean, if I saw something I learned, I didn’t have to be taught, I could learn on my own. And I
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity could learn about so many different subjects, it was wonderful.
Avis taught himself mathematics when the need arose. He found that when he taught himself mathematics that he had a greater appreciation for the mathematics. This was an indication of the strength of Avis’ academic and mathematical identities. This is because the ability to teach himself mathematics increased his ability to obtain mathematical knowledge.
Avis accomplished all that he had without the full support of his parents. He
explained, “They contend to this day that by taking higher level courses, by challenging myself, I’m going to get burnt out. I still haven’t yet. I’m still enjoying it.” While his parents and guardians feared that he would tire of learning, Avis demonstrated a great capacity for obtaining new knowledge. His enjoyment of the learning process is also made clear in his statements.
When asked if his queer identity had any effect in the mathematics classroom or
if the mathematics classroom had any effect on his queer identity, Avis replied, “It was kind of awkward at times when you’re having a conversation with someone and then you’re thinking, ‘you’re really hot.’” In Avis’ opinion, his bisexual orientation had drawbacks in the classroom. He had some discomfort when he spoke to individuals to whom he was attracted. He found it to be problematic because he had sexualized his classmates in the mathematics classroom. His sexual desire appeared to get in his way. He went on to explain: They had certain expectations of me [of a male who’s attracted to males] and when I didn’t meet these expectations of theirs, pretty much stereotypes, they would seem almost confused and upset as though, somehow, being bisexual
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 66 completely defined who I was as a human being. Um, another expectation was that I’d be very loud, like, even whorish. At times, they had this preconceived notion that as I was bisexual, [I was] just some whore, this, that and a third. He spoke of himself in terms of someone who was upset at being sexualized in the mathematics classroom. He felt that people stereotyped him as promiscuous because he was bisexual. Avis was disturbed by the implications of that stereotype. We saw this in his use of the words “whore” and “whorish.” He is distressed by the idea of being negatively stereotyped because of his queer identity. Avis has complicated the issue by complaining about being sexualized, while he himself is sexualizing his classmates.
In addition to feeling sexualized and stereotyped, Avis perceived that there were
unrealistic expectations that had been put upon him by classmates. He stated: But, uh, there was a part of me, honestly a rather large part me that wanted to react very negatively to that, just yell and scream and tell them “you’re wrong. You’re wrong. You’re an idiot, you’re wrong.” But, I restrained myself; I knew that wasn’t going to [do] anything for me. The negative stereotypes and expectations caused Avis to want to express his anger and frustration about his classmates’ behaviors and prejudices. However, he held back and did not express his anger to them. He restrained himself out of a sense that he had nothing to gain.
Avis identified as bisexual and did not use the word queer to identify himself. He
began the coming out process when he was twelve years old. His older sister was the first person he came out too, and she was overjoyed by the idea of having a bisexual brother. The rest of his family did not approve of non-‐heteronormative sexual identities
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 67 and so he had not come out to them. The LGBTQ youth center was a support for Avis as he was able to find a welcoming community there, even though he did not take advantage of many of the recreational opportunities.
Avis’ mathematical identity was strong. He was a mathematics major at the
university he attended. His teachers and his personal ability to teach himself mathematics supported his mathematical identity. Avis was bothered by what he saw as the connection between his queer identity and the mathematics classroom. This was that he sexualized his classmates and in return they appeared to have sexualized him. While his sexualizing of his classmates was not overly problematic for him, when his classmates’ sexualized him, he was very bothered by the behavior. Gerald
Gerald was a 21-‐year-‐old, African-‐American male who identified as gay or queer.
He was slight in stature and soft-‐spoken. He was in his senior year at a small arts college in a large, east coast city. He planned to graduate with a degree in graphic design.
During Gerald’s interview he sometimes used the terms gay and queer
interchangeably, but most of the time the two words had distinct meanings. When he described his sexuality, he used the term, “gay man.” When he spoke of his community, he used the term, “queer,” signaling that he saw the community as something more inclusive than just gay men.
Gerald began the process of coming out when he was sixteen years old. One of
the first people he came out to was his mother, but only after being outed by his aunt. The situation arose as a result of being on Facebook and being “friends” with his aunt. Gerald had checked in his profile that he was interested in men. He explained:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 68 And I forgot that I was friends with my aunt on Facebook and my aunt saw my status on Facebook -‐-‐ that I was interested in men. And, I don’t know, I feel like she saw that and then she called my mom and she said, “Oh, your son’s gay. I can’t believe this” and all of this bible religious stuff and then spurting it at my mom. And then my mom came to me and asked me, but I told her a lie first. I told her no, but then later on that day I went back to her and we talked about it. She was like, “Oh, it’s a phase, you’re going to get over it soon,” and stuff like that. You know, the usual disbelief. But, I don’t know, I feel like today she’s more… supportive than she was when I first came out. That time was weird. Gerald was in a situation where he was casually being open about his sexual identity. He was clearly out in some regard as he listed on his Facebook page that he was interested in men. He had not, however, come out yet to any members of his family. After being outed by his aunt and initially denying it, Gerald felt it was safe to come out to his mother. Her first reaction, however, was denial and disbelief. She later changed her feelings and became supportive of his queer identity. Gerald began visiting the LGBTQ youth center when he was in high school. At first he was reluctant to attend the center: I was kind of skeptical about coming at first because I heard kind of some weird things about it, like kind of these people told me about being sexually harassed at the [center]. I was like, “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to be sexually harassed.”
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 69 Gerald was nervous about entering an unfamiliar place. He had received erroneous information about what was happening there and about what he could expect. As it turned out, the youth center was the community he was seeking.
The youth center itself became an integral aspect of Gerald’s queer identity. The
center was where he found employment, received help with job skills, and found recreational and creative outlets. The youth center, for him, was an expression of community. Gerald explained: I find it that the most important part of my identity is being part of a community… it’s a very loving community and it’s very accepting. I don’t know… I feel like the community is a big part of my identity. The community that he found became a major factor in his queer identity. Gerald found love and support for who he was within the LGBTQ community, particularly the community that was the youth center.
Gerald attended a high school with a gay straight alliance (GSA) and was an
active member of the club. A GSA is an affinity group comprised of LGBTQ people and supportive, straight people (allies). The GSA was another community with which he interacted, and one that helped him to further the development of his queer identity. While the community he experienced at the GSA was important to him, he did not express the same, strong feelings for the GSA that he had expressed for the youth center.
Gerald attended an arts high school where possessing a queer identity was not
problematic. He said of his experience in high school:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 70 I mean, it was pretty normal. I didn’t have to deal with any kind of discrimination or bullying. It was… I mean, honestly, it was better than most people, sad to say. But I had a good experience in high school with my identity. Gerald’s experience in high school allowed him to develop his queer identity in a meaningful, positive way. He did not have to deal with harassment of any kind and this made the experience enjoyable. Gerald was out in high school and described the situation as, “I’m pretty sure my teachers knew. They didn’t care, like most of my classmates.”
Gerald saw a strong need for educational attainment. He stated, “I feel like going
to school and passing tests and stuff and graduating, that’s evidence of you being committed and it shows people who are trying to hire you that you’re a good person.” When using the phrase “you’re a good person,” he was referring to being the right person for the job, a good potential employee. Gerald felt that the process of education gave him the tools that he needed in order to gain employment. He linked doing well in school with career advancement.
During his interview, Gerald seemed to tie most of his academic identity to
formal schooling. He spoke about how his friends were impressed by his persistence in maintaining a college career: I feel like, especially with a lot of people I hang out with, they make a big deal out of me going to school and stuff -‐-‐ especially my friend, Liza. She was in school, but I guess, she took a year off and she never went back. So she’s like, “Oh I can’t believe you’re still in school. You’re doing such a good job.”
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 71 This type of support and positive reinforcement from his friends strengthened Gerald’s academic identity.
Gerald viewed schooling as necessary to moving ahead in life. He explained: I think it’s something that everyone has to do, so I don’t feel like I should get… well, it’s a good thing to get praise for it, but I don’t think it’s necessary. But I feel like, for me to be a student, it’s very important for what I want to do later.
During the interview he indicated that he believed in the universality of education. Gerald also recognized the importance of his own education. While he did not see getting praised for his accomplishments as essential, he appreciated it nonetheless. He also understood that there was a use for his education -‐-‐ pursuing his career.
Gerald’s mathematical identity also played a part in his career choice. He studied
graphic design and saw mathematics as a necessary aspect of everything he did career-‐ wise. As he said: Well, not just with geometry, but there’s a whole lot of measuring and mathematics going on. With graphic design, especially if you’re using Photoshop... I don’t know, measuring and geometry, it really works well with the art that I’m doing. From this we saw how Gerald’s mathematical identity played an important part in his career choice, as well as how his career choice supported his mathematical identity because Gerald saw or understood the usefulness of mathematics.
In keeping with his mathematical identity, Gerald found most types of
mathematics approachable. He stated:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 72 I enjoy certain subjects. I’m not a big fan of Pre-‐Calculus, but, I mean, Algebra and Pythagorean theorem, why is x2+b2 =52, stuff like that, I guess, it was pretty enjoyable. My favorite was Geometry. Pre-‐Calculus… I think my ending grade was a C-‐, because Pre-‐Calculus is very difficult. And also it was first period, so I was kind of late a lot of the time. We saw that he enjoyed algebra and geometry, but struggled with Pre-‐Calculus. Gerald was able to obtain mathematical knowledge; he found it enjoyable and useful. He explained, “Yeah. Well, not just with geometry, but there’s a whole lot of measuring and mathematics going on. With graphic design, especially if you’re using Photoshop, which I use a lot of Photoshop…” Gerald saw the utility of mathematics in his chosen field of graphic design and found practical applications when using computer programs such as Photoshop.
More importantly, however, was the fact that he attributed most of his positive
feelings about mathematics to a favorite teacher in high school. As Gerald said: I’ve had a pretty good math career throughout my life, but in high school I really had a good math teacher. His name was Mr. K and he really helped me a lot. Especially if I was having problems with some… say if I got a C on my test I would go to him and he’d go, “Well, you got this wrong because blah blah blah.” But he would help and he would guide me through, and he even gave me at home assignments that was outside… because he was a different, he wasn’t my primary math teacher… Mr. K was an open, gay male [teacher] in high school… he was also the GSA facilitator.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Gerald expressed an understanding of his own abilities in mathematics.
Gerald also explained how important a role his tutor and mentor, Mr. K, an
openly gay man, played in his mathematical development. Not only was Mr. K instrumental in Gerald’s mathematics education, he was a very visible role model as GSA advisor. Mr. K had an impact on the intersection of Gerald’s queer and mathematical identities. This was because Mr. K, as an openly gay man and a mathematics teacher, was able to support Gerald both in the areas of his queer identity and his mathematical identity. The fact that Mr. K went out of his way to support Gerald’s mathematical identity was described when Gerald spoke of Mr. K going over tests from other classes. Mr. K also provided extra homework for subjects he may not have been teaching at the time.
Mr. K helped Gerald develop his mathematical identity both in terms of the
performative and perceptual aspects. Performatively, Gerald was able, with the help of Mr. K, to see the usefulness of mathematics as well as increase his ability to obtain mathematical knowledge. Perceptually, the assistance that Mr. K provided increased Gerald’s belief in his mathematical abilities.
In addition, Gerald shared a sense of community with Mr. K. In this case,
community was defined as having shared interests. Their community was centered around their joint participation in the GSA, their interaction in the process of Gerald gaining mathematical knowledge from Mr. K, and their shared queer identities as gay men.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 74 Gerald identified both as gay and as queer. When he identified as queer he spoke about the community he had found. Gerald found community in several different places, the youth center, the GSA, and with Mr. K. In these places of community he found support for his queer and his mathematical identities. Mr. K played more of a role than just as someone with whom Gerald found a sense of community however. In Mr. K Gerald found a mentor, someone who was gay identified that was also an adult, and giving. Mr. K was able to support Gerald in multiple ways, with his queer identity as well as with his mathematical identity. Kevin
Kevin was a 21-‐year-‐old, Caribbean-‐born, black male who identified as queer. He
was tall and athletic. He attended a mid-‐sized college in a large east coast city. He was a theater major with an emphasis in dance. With regard to his queer identity he stated, “So, being queer, um, in regards of who I am means I’m not really trying to be a man or trying to be a woman, just trying to be comfortable.” Being queer for Kevin was not a shorthand way to say he was LGBT, but rather was something outside of the binary; he saw being queer as another identity. Kevin saw the binary as being either a man or a woman. By stepping outside of the binary Kevin was recognizing for himself how his own, queer identity transcended heteronormativity. Kevin separated his queer identity from his sexuality, which he described as he, “…dates gay men and trans-‐women.” He explained that, “Some would describe this as bisexual except that not everyone identifies as a man or a woman.” In this assessment, he was recognizing the continuum that is sex and gender. This was an indication of a
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 75 sophisticated understanding of not just sex and gender, but also of the term, “queer” (Wilchins, 1997).
Kevin had a nuanced understanding of what it meant to be queer. He said, “So, a
lot of queer people that I know, they’re in like polyamorous relationships or they’re, like, adopting kids, or foster parenting kids, or they’re like in older-‐younger relationships.” In Kevin’s view, being queer was about more than just with whom one has sex or to whom one is attracted; he saw it as being about relationship.
Early in his teen years, Kevin thought he might be asexual, as he had no real
interest in either males or females. One day, when he was 15, a young man asked him out and, as he stated: But then this guy asked me out, so, you know, I was like “sure, what the heck?” So I went out, and then, you know, we had a really good time. We were walking around downtown, we saw a movie, got some food, we were holding hands. And, you know, it was just a really nice experience and I think that was really like the first time when I felt as though like “wow, I actually really like somebody.” Another young man saw them and told Kevin’s mother. By the time Kevin arrived home, “my mother asked me, ‘was I gay?’ and I kind of choked up because I was not expecting anything like that at all. And she was crying and then I got put out after that.” Kevin began his discovery of his queer identity as a result of a single incident, a date that he was not expecting. He found he could have a good time and be attracted to someone of the same sex. What he also did not expect was to be confronted by his mother when he arrived home. At age fifteen he found himself homeless and alone.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity After being kicked out by his mother, Kevin survived by sleeping in parks
downtown, staying with people he met while downtown, or by “couch hopping.” Couch hopping is defined as sleeping on the couch of a friend or acquaintance for a period of time before moving on to the next person’s couch. He remained homeless for three years.
Being homeless affected Kevin in several ways. As he described it: Throughout my high school years, yes. I feel like my grades dropped and I kind of didn’t get to do things that high schoolers and teenagers were doing so I never got to really hang out with friends and I never got to play sports after school, and, you know, like be in clubs or be in theater or just things like that, because it was always something going wrong where I had to leave school or not be in school for you know like a certain period of time. So I feel like I missed out on a lot of extracurricular activities.
Kevin did not get to participate in activities that many high school students did. He was forced to survive and this affected his grades as well. He missed periods of school.
Kevin’s queer identity began forming with his first date and, despite this
inauspicious start, continued to develop throughout high school. About this experience he said: Well, this all happened in eighth grade, so in ninth grade I came out in school. Thank goodness I went to a more suburban high school, so it wasn’t really as, “Oh my god, shocking.” Like, people cared, but it wasn’t like a huge deal.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 77 Because Kevin went to a suburban high school, he felt he was able to come out and still be safe. This allowed him to continue to develop his queer identity in the relative safety of his school environment.
Kevin first visited the LGBTQ youth center when he was sixteen-‐years-‐old. Since
age nineteen, it has also been his place of employment. When asked what he liked about the center, he replied: The thing that I like most about the [youth center] is just the fact that it’s a space where everyone can feel safe, but also I like the fact that there are fun things to do like dancing and theater and cooking, but there are also more like life skills related things, such as like job help and resumé and FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] help and things like that.
Kevin found a myriad of activities at the center. These ranged from recreation to
job and school supports. Another important aspect, that he did not name directly, was community; this was apparent when he talked about a space where everyone could feel safe. This sense of community can also be seen in the breadth of things that the center did for him. Kevin found the recreational and creative outlets to be as important to him as he did the job skills building and help with school. In this way, he used the center to help him build a sense of community and to further develop his queer identity.
In spite of the fact that he did not have stable housing during his high school
years, Kevin was able to develop his academic identity. About his housing situation and schooling he said:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 78 So sometimes I would get up at four am, leave about four-‐thirty, catch two trains, three buses to get all the way over to school, get there by seven, be at school from seven to two, and then go to work from three to nine. And when I get back to [where I was staying] it’s about midnight. By the time I shower, eat, do my homework, have my clothes ready for the next day, it’s already like 1:30, 2 o’clock and I have to be up two hours later. Kevin valued his education and worked hard at it. He was dedicated to his education. He put himself under tremendous stress by only sleeping two to three hours a night and not knowing where he would be sleeping from day-‐to-‐day. And yet, he continued to attend school. He explained: So that was really stressful and I always thought about dropping out or flunking out of school because it was just very, very tough. But thanks to my grandmother, and she passed away when I was fourteen, so I always kept her words with me about “education, education, education,” and it really pushed me to be a better person. Although Kevin was discouraged at times, his academic identity, something that was supported earlier in his life by his grandmother, helped him to maintain his schooling as a priority. He was able to overcome the stress and thoughts of dropping out by remembering the words of his grandmother and her admonition to complete his education.
In contrast to his academic identity, Kevin’s mathematical identity was more
problematic. He stated:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 79 So, I don’t like how my high school kind of placed us. So, how my high school placed us in mathematics is basically they would test you beforehand and depending how well you did on your test, that kind of depended on where you were the following year in school. So I usually tested pretty high, so all throughout… well, especially through my eleventh and twelfth grade in high school, I was in Pre-‐Calc and AP Calc and all these crazy maths just because I scored high on my tests in the previous years. But I really feel as though that kind of hurt me because, although I’m good at certain math, I’m not good at math in general. His positive performative identity, as indicated by his high test scores, placed him in courses that he felt were too advanced for his abilities. However, his perceptual mathematical identity was low and caused a conflict within Kevin. This conflict caused his mathematical identity to suffer. While he was doing well in mathematics, the stress of being placed in higher-‐level mathematics courses seemed to have been more than Kevin could manage. His mathematical identity suffered due to his lack of a belief that he could perform in all courses, despite his high test scores.
Even with the weaker aspects of his perceptual mathematical identity, Kevin
eventually developed an appreciation for his placement in higher-‐level mathematics classes in high school. He gained this perspective when he was placed in a less-‐ challenging math class in college. He said: I’m sitting there like, “I know this stuff already,” but everyone else around me is freaking out and panicking and they don’t know what they’re doing or what they’re looking at. And I’m sitting there, looking like, “I learned all this in tenth
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 80 grade.” So, although I didn’t really care that my [high] school pumped me up so far, I do appreciate it because it puts me further ahead in life and the future. Notwithstanding Kevin’s frustration at being placed in higher-‐level mathematics in high school, his experience in college seemed to have helped him to develop an appreciation for the mathematical work he did earlier. Based on his statement, this boost in his confidence seemed to also have enhanced his mathematical identity.
Kevin felt there was some sort of connection between being queer identified and
the way that he learned subjects such as mathematics. He stated: I was kind of like intimidated to really ask questions about certain things, or really, you know, try and like bring up, like, topics or, like, debate something that someone in the class said or that the teacher said, because I didn’t want the class to feel like, “Oh, that gay kid is talking again, that gay kid is asking questions again.” So, I do remember a time… um, and I recall times in math, too, where I would be sitting there and I don’t quite understand something or I don’t agree with something, but instead of like raising my hand or saying something I just kept my mouth shut because I just felt like I didn’t want to stand out more than I already did, you know? We saw in this statement someone who felt a conflict between his mathematical identity and his queer identity. Kevin did not want to stand out as a noisy, gay student. He felt a need to ask questions but was inhibited because of his queer identity intimidated by his classmates.
Kevin was queer identified. His queer identity was about stepping outside of the
male/female binary and trying to find a place where he could be “comfortable.” Kevin
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity was the only one of the participants to face outward hostility and rejection by his
mother based on his sexual identity. As a result of his mother’s rejection he was homeless for several years.
Kevin found a sense of community at the youth center. This sense of community
nurtured his queer identity and supported him. His academic identity was quite strong and even while homeless, he found the strength to finish his high school education.
His mathematical identity, in contrast, was mixed. While he understood the value
of mathematics, he felt forced to take classes that he felt were too advanced for his abilities. Taking more advanced classes became useful, however, when he was taking his college mathematics courses. Kevin was the one student who was not overwhelmed by the courses.
In spite of the positive experience Kevin relayed about his college mathematics
courses, there was one aspect of his mathematical identity that was troubling. This aspect was that Kevin did not always ask question when he had them for fear of being thought of as a pushy gay person. It is possible that his mathematics education was negatively impacted because his queer identity was not strong enough for him to have the self-‐confidence to fully participate in the mathematics classroom. Zeb
Zeb was a 20-‐year-‐old, Caucasian male who identified as gay. He attended
community college in a large, east coast city. His major was hospitality management. He hoped to work in a hotel and eventually manage, or own, a hotel.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 82 Zeb was an only child and was raised by his mother in a single parent household. Zeb described the impact of growing up without a father on his queer identity when he stated: I see myself ever-‐growing, you know, because I never really had a father figure in my life, so there’s just like a lot of male role models in the gay world and, I don’t know, I just look up to some of them. Zeb, who grew up without a father, was looking for male role models. While the functions of a father figure often differ from those of a role model, at times they intersect. In gay culture this is often true. Zeb explained: Yeah, because there’s just, you know, gay me and myself, I want to know, you know, other stuff like about sex and health. And, you know, I want to know what other gay men go through. Like, am I going to go through the same process they’re going through? Zeb felt somewhat isolated. As he said, “there’s just, you know, gay me and myself.” This is in contrast to Gerald who found community to be a large part of his identity; Zeb seems to have more of an “I’m in it alone” mentality. There is a contrast here however, in that while he seemed somewhat isolated, at the same time he was curious about whether he had the same experience that other men had.
Zeb first came out to his friends during the middle of his sophomore year in high
school. He said: Most of them weren’t really too shocked, like they kind of knew. And some of them were like, “okay, what do you want me to do about it?” That was it. They were really supportive and they’re still supportive of me.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 83 Zeb found support for his queer identity from his friends at school. None of them were very surprised by his coming out.
A year after coming out at school, he came out to his mother. This time he did not
get the initial support that his friends offered. As Zeb told it: Well, the conversation started because, you know, this boy kept calling my house, because we were kind of dating at the time, and she was wondering why he was calling the house. So I told her, you know, “Hey mom, I have to tell you something. I’m gay.” And she’s like, “No you’re not. You’re just bisexual. You’re just curious.” And, because I kind of had a girlfriend in the past so I say so, but, and she blames it on her [the ex-‐girlfriend] and I was like, “You shouldn’t be blaming this on anyone. You know, I am who I am.” Zeb came out to his mother as a result of a situation in which a young man Zeb was dating kept calling him. She struggled at first to accept her son’s sexual orientation. Although Zeb does not indicate why, his mother eventually did accept him as gay and, as Zeb described it, “Now it’s all good.”
Zeb attended a high school that was in the process of developing a GSA. It was at
the inaugural meeting of the GSA that he learned about the LGBTQ youth center. While the GSA did not get off the ground when Zeb was in high school, he was still able to gain important information as a result of the planning process for the GSA. He said of the process, “It was just starting to slowly form for, I don’t know why, a lot of school programs… a lot of clubs have trouble getting off the ground.” While he was able to gain some benefit from the emerging group, Zeb was not able to avail himself of the support of an established GSA.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 84 The youth center provided Zeb with various types of services. As he related: Well, I decided to go to the [center] because I was struggling in college with my writing course and with other courses as well as math. So I knew they had educational resources and I started taking advantage of them. They also had job resources, so I started taking advantage of them as well. They helped me create a resumé. You know, they got me a few internships in the past, so I took advantage of them [the internships]. Zeb was initially enticed to the center by the educational services it offered. Zeb demonstrated how much he valued education despite obstacles that he faced. He described his challenges as, “Well, because I was ADHD and, you know, I was still in the Special Ed program at that time and I wasn’t the very best at math.” Zeb told us that he had ADHD, a condition that made it difficult to concentrate and stay focused. He was also, “not the best at math.” In spite of these challenges he still valued his education, which helped him to develop his academic identity.
Zeb was also interested in the job-‐related services and resumé help. When asked
what he liked most about the center, he replied: It is just a fun, friendly environment where everyone can get along. We can have really serious discussions, and I just love the job-‐readiness skills as well. They offer a lot of job-‐readiness skills that are really valuable to me when I’m looking for a job. And as I get older I’m slowly maturing with their help. Zeb enjoyed the community that he found at the center. He described it as “fun” and “friendly.” Through these community-‐based activities Zeb is maturing in his queer identity. Along with the community aspects of the center, he reiterated that he was
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 85 excited by the availability of job preparation activities. The job preparation activities are helping him mature in other aspects of his personality as well.
Of the internships he secured, he said, “They’ve helped me grow as a mature
male. You know, I made a few mistakes with internships and they just helped me point out those mistakes and turn those weaknesses into strengths.” Here we saw another theme with Zeb, that of growth and maturation. Not only did the youth center assist in the development of a queer identity, the center supported the development of the total individual. His academic identity was developing because he saw learning as a continuous process. Learning transcended the academic arena and was continued in his internships. Zeb said, “I see myself ever growing… I can get a better chance of having a learning experience and can learn new skills,” an indicator that he was developing his academic identity.
In contrast to his academic identity, Zeb’s mathematical identity was varied. Zeb
saw the usefulness of mathematics and, for the most part, saw that he had the ability to obtain mathematical knowledge. He said, “Well, I use it mostly every single day. I have a calculator and I just get bored, so, you know, if I want to know the answer to something, I’ll just type it on my calculator.” Zeb saw calculating numbers as a way to entertain himself. He used mathematics on a daily basis and saw it as useful in many ways. He continued: But geometry was definitely my favorite class and after geometry I never looked at a circle the same way again. I was like splitting it in half, splitting it in eighths. All of these equations are popping through my head and it was just so crazy.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Geometry was Zeb’s favorite subject in high school and he found equations to be
“popping through my head,” which indicated strong aspects to his perceptual mathematical identity. At times, however, with certain mathematical topics, his mathematical identity suffered. Zeb stated: Math is not my best subject. I’d rather stay out of the math classroom, unless it’s maybe geometry or a little bit of trigonometry, then, you know, I’ll take that class. But when it comes to graphs, I shy away from the graphs. I do not like graphs in math. Zeb expressed a conflict within his mathematical identity. He both liked and appreciated mathematics, yet with certain topics, he became uncomfortable. He expressed his desire to not be in the mathematics classroom and yet, in the same breathe; he gave a condition, “Unless it’s maybe geometry or a little bit of trigonometry…” For Zeb we saw both the desire to perform mathematically, and the desire to avoid performance in mathematics. He did not do well when the topic was graphing, yet relished the topics of geometry and trigonometry; hence, the conflict in his mathematical identity.
Zeb identified as a gay man, and like Avis did not use the term queer to identify
himself. He spoke of receiving support from friends at school for his queer identity, and that support continued through his college years. When Zeb came out to his mother, she initially denied that he could be gay. Gerald’s mother had a similar reaction when he came out to her. Eventually both mothers’ changed their minds and were able to accept their sons’. The youth center provided Zeb with support for who he was as a student,
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 87 and as a gay man. As a student he sought support for both his English and mathematics courses.
Zeb was conflicted about his mathematical identity. He enjoyed some types of
mathematics, and saw them as useful, while he avoided other mathematical topics. Marryl
Marryl was Caucasian, 21-‐years-‐old, and attended a mid-‐sized arts college in a
large, east coast city. When asked, “how do you define yourself?” Marryl used the definition of gender queer. When asked what pronouns Marryl preferred, they replied, “they and them,” rather than the single gender pronouns he or she, him or her. Because Marryl preferred the pronouns they and them, when referring to Marryl they and them are used throughout this work. Marryl saw themselves as a third gender, neither male nor female, and sometimes played with the idea of poly-‐genderism. That is to say that Marryl considered the idea of being multi-‐gendered -‐-‐ simultaneously male, female and other genders, all at the same time. As they described it, “ … [it] is like a gender that encompasses a broader part of the gender spectrum in terms of also going into areas of male gender-‐ness and female gender-‐ness...” At times, Marryl described their gender as a third gender and at times as a mix of genders. Here, queer took on a meaning, as Wilchens (1997) explained it, as having stepped outside of a binary. Marryl found the binary of male-‐female to be limited and not applicable. Marryl had conducted a deep self-‐exploration about their gender identity. As they explained it: So, unlike working out my sexual orientation, which was a pretty private exploration because I didn’t know who to talk to… Trying to figure out my
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 88 gender identity was something that I was much more open to external support with… So there was several people at the [youth center] who… and my therapist for instance… who were there for the process of me figuring out my gender-‐ queer identity. As a result of this self-‐exploration, they had a complex understanding of what it meant to possess a queer identity.
They described their sexual orientation as follows: And then, in terms of sexual orientation, probably the only succinct way to describe it is queer, because it’s not really just any one single gender that I’m attracted to. I mean, I’m attracted to female-‐identified people, trans-‐identified people, male-‐identified people who are not born male.
For Marryl, queer was their primary sexual identity. They found that they could be attracted to a variety of different people, as long as they were not born male.
Queer, however, was more to them than a sexual identity: it was also a political
construct. They described this construct in the following way: In terms of how I see it being political, …like um making life decisions that are like “for a queer political identity,” figuring out whether or not like um being in favor of gay marriage or recognizing gay marriage, is you know, is assimilating into a heteronormative system of like trying to figure that out like [through a] “queer” lens … For Marryl, queer was political in trying to step outside of heteronormativity. It was a
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 89 matter of finding that unique “queer lens” through which to see things. Being political was more than just whom they would support in an election; it was their worldview. It was about the way Marryl made decisions.
Coming out was a lengthy and somewhat complicated process for Marryl. After
having attended several GSA meetings in high school, they came out as lesbian. They were 15-‐years-‐old. Their parents were supportive, as were friends and teachers. Processing gender identity issues came four years later when they went to the LGBTQ youth center. Marryl described this experience as: …trying to figure out my gender identity was something that I was much more open to external support with, because at the time I was dealing a lot with depression and anxiety so it was something I needed badly, to have other people be there to support me as I was figuring this out for myself. So there was several people at the [center] who, and my therapist for instance, who were there for the process of me figuring out my gender-‐queer identity… I was a female-‐gender one moment and then my community was there to help me figure out what this identity process was and getting to the other side of it. So there wasn’t really a coming out process there, it’s just more of a coming into this new identity process, I guess you could say. Marryl did not consider the process of coming into their gender identity a coming out, but rather a self-‐discovery. The process was relatively straightforward though it began with Marryl having suffered with depression and anxiety. Through the support they received at the youth center, whether from a therapist, staff members or other supportive individuals, Marryl made the transition from lesbian to gender-‐queer.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 90 They initially visited the youth center because a therapist recommended it to them. Another part of their original reason for visiting the youth center was a lack of a GSA at the college they were attending at that time. Marryl recognized their need for community and decided to see what was available. When asked what they liked about the center, they replied: … I think the first thing I fell in love with about the [center] was within the first five minutes that I walked into the [center] I was greeted with warmth and acceptance even though I had never met any of these people before. But everyone that I met was very friendly in a way that they’re warm and accepting but also respecting my boundaries. From their first visit, they felt comfortable and at home. Marryl had found a community that accepted who they were. Marryl felt that the other people at the center were respectful and accommodating. They said: I think that’s what really kept me here, you know, in terms of I really wanted to come back because this was one of the few spaces that, ever since the first day, I felt it was a community, I could participate, I felt valued in. Marryl had found a community where they belonged and this gave them a sense of being valued.
Marryl continued returning for the sense of community. There were other
aspects of the center that attracted Marryl as well. According to Marryl: There was mythology and spirituality groups that I could talk about my experiences and my thoughts and, as well as art and design groups, working with
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 91 [center] graphics. Also working with two of the support groups, the women’s support group as well as the trans’ support group, in terms of finding community there. And also, through the creative action groups, finding how I can use the skills I’ve been training in and using those skills to support the [center], and also working through the [center] to support the extended community. The support groups and recreational and creative activities worked together to provide Marryl with a sense of community.
With regard to their academic identity, Marryl considered learning a lifelong
process. This was evidence of a strong academic identity. Marryl explained: I think all of us, if we have our eyes and ears and hearts open, then we’re students or we’re learners until the day we die. Until the very second we die, we’re always learning something about what’s going on in terms of our environments and ourselves. And I very much appreciate that, because the idea of being in a place where I’m not learning and I’m not in a place of taking on new information, new wisdom, to me that just strikes me as one of the most terrifying places to me, because I just find that continually learning and continually changing my view of the world and trying to find a better idea by learning more about what other people experience or what other people have experienced over human history. Learning about all that, I feel, enhances my life in terms of how I experience the world. This demonstrated just how important the idea of learning was to Marryl and that their academic identity was well developed. They described how they had a need to be
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 92 constantly learning. They saw learning as a continuous process; something one does throughout life.
Along with a developed academic identity, Marryl possessed a similarly well
developed mathematical identity. They attributed part of their mathematical identity to the fact that their father, mother and brother all had degrees in mathematics and all worked in fields that concentrated in mathematics. Marryl stated: I definitely attribute my understanding of mathematics, sort of like in the duality of nature and nurture that I think there’s definitely something going on in terms of how my brain is set up. It’s like; both of my parents are very mathematical. My brother is very mathematical. I’m definitely going to have something in me that sort of processes in a mathematical way, even if I don’t have a particular career interest in working with theoretical mathematics or engineering or accounting. In addition to Marryl’s belief in their ability to do mathematics, they also believed in the usefulness of mathematics. The strength of their mathematical identity was demonstrated both on a day-‐to-‐day basis, as well as with their chosen career field, graphic design. As they explained: That there’s definitely still something go[ing] on in terms of problem solving, which is definitely one of the root skills of graphic design, it’s that even though it’s not numerical, it’s visual communication, but there’s still the issue of problem solving which makes graphic design different from the visual arts. This demonstrated how Marryl saw relationships in mathematics, with problem solving being a key component. Visual communication, we were told, is a type of mathematics, as it was problem solving. This practical view on the usefulness of problem solving
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity showed us that Marryl had an appreciation for mathematics and indicated a well-‐
developed mathematical identity.
When asked about how coming out had effected their decisions in life Marryl
described her two passions, graphic design, and being queer. Graphic design being directly related to their mathematical identity in that it they saw it as very precise and mathematical. They replied: Early in my graphic design career there was sort of a split in that I sort of compartmentalized my queer gender thing going on in one corner and then my art career in another and they didn’t seem to intersect. But now that I’m getting closer to graduation and dealing with my senior [project], they’re coming back together again because now I have to consider how these two passions work together because when I graduate I actually have to deal with life. … But then not being in school I need to figure out a way that I can nurture and continue these passions and then, if I’m going to have time for both of them, I need to find a way for them to work together. Marryl has described how their queer identity and mathematical identity intersect. They recognize the intersection as the place where their graphic design interests (mathematical identity being employed in their graphic design work), and their queer identity intersect. The two passions, as Marryl referred to them, hopefully come together in a synergistic manner.
Marryl identified as gender-‐queer. Marryl had a nuanced understanding of their
queer identity and saw it both as a social identity as well as a political identity. They had
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 94 gone through a multi-‐phased coming out process, first identifying as lesbian and four years later coming to the understanding that they were gender-‐queer. Coming out was not a traumatic process for Marryl and they found support both at school and at home. The youth center with its counselors, supportive staff, and other youth, was a large part of what made the second phase of coming out, as gender-‐queer, relatively easy for Marryl. The sense of community they found at the center was instrumental in several different ways. Not only did it help in the process of discovering that they were gender-‐ queer, but it also gave them guidance in their career choice, graphic design.
Marryl had strong academic and mathematical identities. They attributed much
of their mathematical acumen to the fact that their mother, father, and brother all had degrees in mathematics as well as working in mathematical fields. For them, they saw that the choice to work in graphic design was a choice in a mathematically based, artistic endeavor. For Marryl the intersection of mathematical identity and queer identity lay in being able to simultaneously explore their self described passion for queer identity and graphic design. Tabatha
Tabatha was a 21-‐year-‐old, Caucasian female, who identified as lesbian. She was
taking time off from college, but planned to return. She was unsure about the direction she planned to take when she returned to school. She suffered from severe anxiety and depression and was working on trying to resolve these issues in a manner that would allow her to return to school.
Although she identified as lesbian, Tabatha was open to describing herself as
queer because she was willing to step outside of the gender-‐binary in romantic
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 95 situations. Her understanding of what it meant to step outside the gender-‐binary was described as, “… Considering yourself outside the gender-‐binary or…having a relationship with someone, I would say, anyone except a gendered male.” She considered queer in terms of physical attraction and relationship building. Her view of queer is somewhat limited though she described it non-‐heteronormatively, outside of the gender binary.
Tabatha began the coming out process in high school: I came out to my friends and my whole school, teachers, when I was a freshman in high school, so I think I was fourteen. So I had my first girlfriend, start going out the Saturday before high school began.
She started the coming out process by seeking the support of friends and teachers. Tabatha was comfortable enough to have had a girlfriend at 14 and this showed that she was developing a queer identity.
Her mother was the next person to whom she came out. However, this process
took some time. As Tabatha related: My mom actually confronted me when I was a freshman in high school. She asked me if I was gay and it came out of nowhere, her asking me, and I was so isolated from my family that I didn’t like them in any of my business. Also, I’m fourteen, wasn’t sure how she was going to handle it… So, it’s understandable, I was fourteen, I was scared. I denied to my mom. I was like “No, no, what are you talking about?” From this statement we saw that Tabatha was not ready to come out to her mother. At the same time, she had come out at school and was dating which indicated some
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 96 openness on her part to begin the coming out process. This pointed out a conflict for Tabatha; she had come out at school and yet was not ready to come out to her mother. This denial to her parents continued for another four years. Tabatha said: And one day, as I was leaving the condo, my mother stopped me and she wanted to have a conversation on the couch with my step-‐dad. And the conversation went like, “Okay, are you in a polyamorous relationship with Snap and Hailey?” My mother actually asked me that, and I burst out laughing and I was like, “No that would never happen. I could not be in a relationship with both of them for the fact that Snap is half of that relationship.” (Tabatha did not like Snap.) And then they were questioning that more and then more back and forth went going on, I remember the end point of that was, I was like, “Okay, who’s going to say it? Am I going to say it? Is he going to say it? Or are you going to say it?” And my step-‐dad, Jack, was like, “Can I say it?” And my mom was like, “No, no” to him and was like, “Tabatha, Tabatha just say it.” And so, with my hand, I did a little halo thing and was like, “Gay.” And my mom was like, “Hallelujah.” Thus, Tabatha came out to her mother and stepfather.
Based on the interaction described above, we saw that Tabatha was in the
process of developing a queer identity. She had the support of her mother and step-‐ father, even if she was in a polyamorous relationship. Further, we saw that Tabatha had a sense of humor about her queer identity. She laughed at the prospect of being in a polyamorous relationship, rather than denying it. This humor showed a level of comfort with her queer identity that she had not demonstrated previously. Tabatha explained:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 97 And, at the point, after four years had passed, I didn’t think my mom, it didn’t come across my mind that I was scared or that she’s going to throw me out. It’s just I don’t like her knowing any of my business. I was very private back then and so after that, also then, you know, my mom’s, every female friend that I have she’ll want to question… This statement further confirmed that she had become more comfortable with her queer identity. It also told us something about her state of mind when she had initially denied her queer identity to her mother. At the point of denial, she was scared of being thrown out of the house.
Tabatha came to the LGBTQ youth center because, “One of my housemates, he
used to come here and I was looking for therapy. And then when I was at [therapy center] they also told me about the [youth center] and to try to get therapy here…” Tabatha was looking for therapy to help her deal with anxiety and depression issues. She explained, “…dealing with a lot of my anxiety that I have and depression and how I’m doing a lot better than what I was last winter. I had to withdraw from school…” Anxiety disorders and depression are not unusual for queer identified, young people (Almeida, Johnson, Corliss, Molnar, & Azrael, 2009).
While she may have initially visited the youth center to see a therapist, Tabatha
stayed for other reasons. As she stated, “I would say I like the staff the most.” She began forming relationships with the staff immediately. Part of the reason for this was, she explained, “I’ve always gotten along better and enjoyed the company of people older than myself, but I never really had that many opportunities when I was living [in my hometown] for [getting to know] older LGBTQ identified people.” Tabatha saw a value
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 98 in getting to know LGBTQ people older than herself. Her reason for getting to know older LGBT people may have been about her desire for role models.
Along with liking the staff, there were other aspects of the center that she
enjoyed. As she stated, “I really like the groups here too. Even if some of them give me anxiety attacks while here and make everyone else in the room feel uncomfortable…” Even though Tabatha had anxiety, she had discovered the social and support opportunities that were available to her at the center. This support was an important aspect of developing a queer identity (Blackburn, 2004).
Beyond the social and support opportunities at the center, she had also come to
the center to have a creative outlet. As Tabatha explained: But they have amazing groups like Career City Prints that’s so great, just making wallpaper. Yesterday, and Bobbi even commented on it, and Emerson, he commented on it too, how great it turned out. I had a great teamwork going with Marryl and between the two of us it turned out really nice and Bobbie was like, “It’s because you’re… I knew you’d be good for this because you’re meticulous.” Tabatha told of creative work that she did in collaboration with others. Having a creative outlet was a way for her to work with others in a way she had not done before she came to the center. This creative work seemed to strengthen the sense of community that she experienced. She went on to explain other situations in which she felt the community supporting her: And so when I would talk to Bobbi about [art work], she was always very encouraging, and I didn’t really have people that were encouraging. Like, “Oh
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 99 you could really do this.” Maybe they’d say, kind of, not really meaning it, but you can tell they mean it. And they want you to try things and you can learn different skills and so much knowledge you can take in from all these groups and even when you’re not in groups, just interacting with the other youth or hearing stories, personal stories from the staff here, which I really appreciate when they do open up, I want to try opening up to them because I feel like my experiences can maybe help them, as hearing other people’s has helped me... Here Tabatha described how much she was making use of the support she received. This support strengthened her sense of community and helped to give her the courage to possibly speak about her own experiences. Tabatha wanted to share her own experiences in order to be a supportive community member in the same way that others had shared their stories in order to support her.
While Tabatha did not use the word “community” when she described her
experience at the youth center, she described a community nonetheless. Another example of her desire for LGBTQ community was that she attended a group called Girl Talk. As Tabatha described it: There’s nothing like this, so to have an all female-‐identified room full of people, just talking about LBGTQ things, it’s a dream. It’s a dream come true. It’s magical, happy, Girl Talk time. Yeah. I share in that one… Girl Talk was an example of Tabatha partaking in community, with community defined as a shared interest. She was connecting to the community in ways that helped her participate as a full member of the community. It helped her to be more open and to
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 100 share. It was a positive experience for her. We see this in her stating, “It’s magical, happy Girl Talk time.”
Tabatha had a varied history concerning her academic identity. When asked,
“What does it mean for you to be a student?” she replied, “It means I’m going to be going through a lot of anxiety. That I’ll be having panic attacks, chest pains, pressure.” Her academic identity was traumatic with one exception: I always did well in math. That was the one area that I strived in, and even freshman year in high school it was the class I got straight A’s in. And I loved it and I loved my teacher. This class was not an exception, as she continued: And then sophomore year I had this teacher, Mr. B, … I got Cs, Ds, and Fs in his math class. I’m pretty sure it was the first time that ever happened. I mean, I ended up passing the class in the end, but, I mean, it took a toll that the subject I always excelled in, I barely got by. And then the following year I had the teacher I had for freshman year, got all A’s again. Tabatha’s ability to do mathematics was inconsistent. As she stated, “And then I really started noticing a pattern that I do very well when I have a female-‐identified teacher and, when they’re male-‐identified I didn’t pay attention.” Tabatha’s mathematical identity was relatively well developed, but it was conditional. She believed that she needed to have female identified teachers in order to learn. This was supported by her experience in college:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 101 Then, when I was in college, I got to take math [with a female professor]; I had to add a class, that’s two classes in one semester with the same teacher. It was an eight-‐credit class. And, oh, I loved that class. I just got to have math for two and half, three hours straight. We saw that Tabatha was able to do well in a double mathematics class in college. In fact mathematics was the one area academically where Tabatha was able to excel. She enjoyed mathematics and saw it as useful. She also knew how to obtain mathematical knowledge, provided her instructor was female identified. These indications together spoke of a well-‐developed mathematical identity. Though this identity was dependent on the sex of her instructor.
Tabatha identified as lesbian, though she was open to the idea of a queer
relationship. By the term queer she was referring to being open to being in a relationship with a transgendered individual. She came out at school at the beginning of her freshman year and felt supported in doing so. At home, with her parents, however, it would be another four years before she came out. One of the reasons for waiting four years was that Tabatha was uncertain about how her parents would react and it took that long for her to be comfortable enough with her parents that she was not afraid of their reaction. When she finally did come out to her parents, her comfort level was obvious as she injected humor into the situation.
Tabatha suffered from severe anxiety and depression and it was to seek
treatment for these conditions that she originally attended the youth center. Once there, she found a welcoming community and participated in several groups. She participated in the groups even though several of them brought up her anxiety disorders. Because of
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity the patience of the other participants in the Girl Talk group Tabatha was able to
participate in the group, making it the highlight of her week.
School was another place where Tabatha experienced extreme anxiety, to the
point where she had to drop out of college. In both high school and college the one subject she excelled in was mathematics. There was a caveat to this success; however, she needed to have a female teacher in order to be successful. Statement of the Findings
In this section the findings are presented and supporting evidence is provided.
The data are cross-‐analyzed and intersections are explored. Three findings emerged from the cross-‐analysis of the narratives. First, participants who used the term queer to describe themselves did so in one of two ways, as stepping outside of the binary or as community. Second, each of the participants felt like part of a community and described how that sense of community impacted their understanding of their queer identities. Third, the support participants received at school had an impact on their queer identity and, in turn, their mathematical identity. Participants who use the term queer to describe themselves understand queer in one of two ways.
Queer was a word used by four of the six participants to describe themselves.
The term was understood in multiple ways. Three of the four participants defined queer as being outside of the binary, meaning that it is not an either or decision, but rather is on a continuum. The fourth participant to use the term queer was unique in their understanding of the word’s definition as “community”. The section concludes with a
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity discussion of the two participants who do not use the word queer to describe
Tabatha identified primarily as a lesbian. She was open to the idea of being
queer, defining queer as, “… considering yourself outside the gender binary… having a relationship with someone, I would say, anyone except a gendered male.” Tabatha believed that to be queer was to step outside of the gender binary, or, put another way, to be non-‐heteronormative in terms of the people to whom she was attracted. The groups she attended at the youth center appeared to have influenced Tabatha’s definition of queer. She spoke of regularly attending, and participating in, the Girl Talk group. This group was a forum in which to discuss all things female. Through these discussions Tabatha was able to explore and develop her definitions of her own identities in a safe and open environment.
Kevin used the term queer in the same way that Tabatha used it. He said, “And in
regards to my sexuality I date men and I date trans-‐women...” Tabatha defined queer based on the sex of the people to whom she was attracted; Kevin also defined queer based on his attraction non-‐heteronormative people.
Kevin defined himself as queer for an additional reason. He identified himself as
queer because he stepped out of the male/female binary. He explained: Um, well for me it means two things. It means who I am and also who I choose to date. So, being queer, um, in regards of who I am means I’m not really trying to be a man or trying to be a woman, just trying to be comfortable.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 104 Kevin stepped outside of the gender binary by rejecting the notion of having to be strictly male or female. In so doing, he was defining queer for himself differently than did Tabatha.
As with Tabatha, Kevin’s definition of queer may have been influenced by the
groups he attended at the youth center. In these groups he heard a wide variety of opinions, gaining a broader perspective based on the views, experiences and opinions of other queer people.
Marryl, like Kevin, used the term queer to define themselves. Marryl was
stepping out of the male/female binary. They defined themselves as gender-‐queer, explaining: …But in terms of functioning, it’s third gender, so it’s neither male nor female. But then there’s some experiences that I have where that evolves into pan gender/poly gender neutral, which is like a gender that encompasses a broader part of the gender spectrum in terms of also going into areas of male gender-‐ ness and female gender-‐ness… Marryl’s definition of queer was far more complex than any of the other participants. Marryl includes in their definition the dimension of gender-‐queer, a dimension not expressed by any of the other participants. In practice this makes Kevin’s definition the same as Marryl’s, although Marryl used more complex language to explain it. Marryl’s definition of what it means to be queer developed during the process through which their gender-‐queerness was discovered. They identified the support that they received from the youth center as key to creating the emotional space they needed for self-‐ discovery. At the youth center Marryl had the support of a therapist and other center
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 105 staff, all helping to create the environment of support. Like Tabatha and Kevin, Marryl gained insight and knowledge to inform their definition of queer through participation in the groups.
Gerald’s understanding of the word queer was different from that of any of the
other participants. When asked, “What does it mean for you to be queer?” Gerald responded: I find it that the most important part of my identity is being part of a community, it’s a very loving community and it’s very accepting. I don’t know, I feel like the community is a big part of my identity. Unlike Tabatha, Kevin or Marryl, Gerald did not define queer in terms of sex or gender. His definition of queer is not of an individual’s traits, it is much broader. He defines queer to be a group of like-‐minded people with shared interests. His broader definition of queer as community can be understood partly by his involvement in almost every aspect of the youth center. Although the others have had similar experiences, they have not included the dimension of community in their definitions. Conversely, Gerald has not included the gender binary in his definition of queer. His single-‐minded definition of queer as community may have resulted because Gerald had consistently enjoyed community support for his identity over time. He had support from the GSA community, the community he had created with his teacher/mentor, Mr. K, the community that was his home life, and the community that he found at the youth center.
Unlike Marryl, Kevin, Gerald, or Tabatha, queer was not the terminology Avis or
Zeb used for the purpose of self-‐identification. Avis identified as bisexual and Zeb as gay. For Avis, this was likely a result of his focus on academics. He wanted to be a doctor
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 106 above all else and did not make use of the discussion groups at the youth center in the same way that others had done. Participation in these groups appeared to have contributed to the understanding that some of the participants had of the word queer.
Zeb, in a similar way to Avis, was focused on something other than the groups at
the youth center. His focus was on sex and health, along with job readiness skills.
Two of the members of this cohort did not use the term queer to self-‐identify.
Each of those who did use the term queer understood the term differently. While there were similarities in three of the participants’ understandings of the term queer -‐ stepping outside of a binary -‐ there were also differences in what those binaries were. One participant defined queer to mean community. Community informed queer identity.
Community support can manifest in many different ways. For the participants of
this study, community was as diverse as their families of origin, groups of friends, special teachers, school GSAs, the school in general, and the LGBTQ youth center. The support that the participants received from these sources was different for the various participants. However, community alone played a central role in the lives of all the participants.
Some participants found community in their family of origin. While this was not
the first place that was sought out for support of queer identity, it was important to several of the participants. Zeb was one of those for whom it was important. His family consisted of just he and his mother. He said, “We were always a little, close family and
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 107 we kind of are still close.” While his mother struggled at first to accept her son’s sexual orientation, she eventually was supportive of his gay identity.
Gerald’s family situation was similar in that it was just he and his mother. She
too was initially resistant to him identifying as queer. In both of these cases, the mother played a central role in the family. Both mothers were, at first, not accepting of their son’s identities, but subsequently had a change of heart. Of his situation, Gerald said, “I feel like she’s a lot more supportive than she was when I first came out. That time was weird. And she’s a lot more open to it.”
In contrast, Marryl had the support of their family from the time they came out
as lesbian. While Marryl spoke of family, this support was spoken of more indirectly and was not featured in their coming out story as it was for Zeb, Gerald, or Tabatha.
Tabatha described another dimension of family. While she spoke extensively
about her family, she was still reluctant to come out to them for four years after she came out in school. She said about her mother: She asked me if I was gay and it came out of nowhere, her asking me, and I was so isolated from my family that I didn’t like them in any of my business. Also, I’m fourteen, wasn’t sure how she was going to handle it… Tabatha thought her family was not yet ready for the news that she was lesbian. However, four years later she did think that they were ready. She related, “And so, with my hand, I did a little halo thing and was like ‘gay.’ And my mom was like, ‘hallelujah.’” Thus, Tabatha gained support for her queer identity from her family
For some of the participants, the support of the community of friends played a
key role. This community was different from a family community in that it was made up
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 108 of people who come together by choice. Zeb and Marryl shared that they had support from friends for their queer identities. Zeb described his relationship with his friends as, “They were really supportive and they’re still supportive of me.” Marryl said, “I came out to a bunch of my friends, all of who were very supportive.” While the support of friends was important for some of the participants, it did not appear to be universally experience for the development of a positive queer identity.
The LGBTQ youth center was another place of community. All of the participants
experienced a sense of community at the youth center. For some of the participants, the sense of community they experienced was deeper than it was for others. For Marryl it was partially this sense of community that helped them understand their gender-‐queer identity. They said of the youth center: I didn’t really have the resources to figure out where that community was, so when I started seeing my therapist, she mentioned the [youth center] was located nearby to where her office was. So I just decided to come by and I’ve been coming semi-‐regularly ever since. The strength Marryl derived from this sense of community enabled them to fully explore and inform their queer identity. They said, “So there was several people at the youth center who, and my therapist for instance, who were there for the process of me figuring out my gender-‐queer identity.”
Like Marryl, Tabatha felt that, with the support of those around her at the center,
she was able to express her queer identity openly. She said, “I’m so lucky and the people here are at the youth center, like Bobbi, are always so encouraging.” The youth center gave her a voice and support for her queer identity.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 109 Kevin, like Marryl, through the use of the many resources at the center, was able to develop a more complex understanding of himself as queer. He said: It’s a space where everyone can feel safe, but also I like the fact that there are fun things to do like dancing and theater and cooking, but there are also more like life skills related things, such as like job help and resume and FASFA help and things like that. Kevin was able to explore his queer identity by taking advantage of all of the different types of groups the youth center had to offer. These four participants had taken advantage of the supports of the youth center as a community. On the other hand, Avis and Zeb were more limited in their reliance on the youth center as community. Avis limited his exposure primarily to career exploration and help with scholarships. Although Zeb appreciated the discussions that occurred at the youth center, he was focused on sex, health and job readiness skills. Zeb and Avis both experienced a sense of community at the center, but neither of them took advantage of the groups and activities that seemed to help the other participants develop a deeper sense of community.
School and teachers are another aspect through which the participants
experienced a sense of community. Avis had experienced community at school in two different ways. He had a teacher who supported him, “His name was Mr. F, he himself is gay. He was a comfort to me and sometimes when I was just feeling bad.” Avis also experienced community at school in general. He said, “Um, it was very comfortable atmosphere. At times I miss it really.” While it is difficult to say whether his general
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 110 sense of community helped him develop his queer identity, his teachers appear to have helped him with his queer identity. Gerald also experienced a sense of community at school. Like Avis this sense of community was most clearly experienced by Gerald through his association with an openly gay teacher. He said, “Mr. K was an open gay male in high school… I don’t know, he was also the GSA facilitator.” Mr. K played several roles in Gerald’s life. He was a conduit to the school community and, at the same time, helped Gerald to develop his queer identity.
Tabatha too speaks of a sense of community at school. She said: I had a lot of friends in my clothing class that I was in. And by the time I was a senior, I was in clothing three times a day, listening to the radio, talking, sewing, and having a blast with my friends.
Tabatha had the support of her school community for her queer identity. As apposed to the support that Avis and Zeb received from teachers at school, Tabatha’s support was primarily from friends. The levels and types of supports provided by different communities influence one’s queer identity development. The community that is a nuclear family plays an important role in several of the participants’ lives. Where family is supportive, a stronger queer identity develops. The community that is a friend or group of friends is another place of support identified by several of the participants. Again, this community of friends positively impacts the development of queer identity. The community that was found at the youth center supported an environment in which all of the
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 111 participants were able to explore and develop their queer identities, although each to a varying degree.
Support at school for being queer relates to strengthening of one’s mathematical identity. Receiving positive support for being queer at school was a factor in a strong
mathematical or academic identity for the participants in this study. This support can come from any of a number of places or individuals. It may be support from friends at school, such as Zeb, Marryl and Gerald experienced. It may be the support of a GSA, as was the experience of Gerald and Marryl. It may also be the support of an openly gay teacher, such as Avis and Gerald experienced. Or, it may be the support of teachers in general, as Tabatha reported.
Zeb and Gerald both told of having supportive friends, support that started in
high school and continued into college. Zeb stated, “Like they kind of knew. And some of them were like ‘okay, what do you want me to do about it?’ That was it. They were really supportive and they’re still supportive of me.” These school friends were supportive of Zeb’s gay identity. Based on the support of his friends, Zeb felt comfortable enough to go to the GSA meeting where he learned of the youth center and the academic assistance they offered. He then accessed assistance for his mathematics, which in turn helped him develop a more robust mathematical identity. As he said, “I went to the youth center for their education resources…” In the end he was empowered by his friends’ support of his gay identity to get the help that he needed to strengthen his mathematical identity.
Gerald also had support from friends. Gerald said:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 112 She [Liza] was the first person I came out to and, I don’t know, it was no big deal to her. I think, also, she identifies as lesbian, so… She was a part of the GSA, we had a lot of classes together…I feel like, especially with a lot of people I hang out with, they make a big deal out of me going to school and stuff -‐-‐ especially my friend, Liza. … So she’s like, “Oh I can’t believe you’re still in school. You’re doing such a good job.” Gerald got support at school for his queer identity as well as his academic identity from his friend Liza.
The GSA was also a support for Gerald, as was Mr. K, the GSA advisor who was an
openly gay, mathematics teacher. Gerald had multiple supports from school for his queer identity: his friends, the GSA and Mr. K. Mr. K also tutored Gerald, even when Gerald was not his student. This support directly affected Gerald’s mathematical identity. Gerald said, “I’ve had a pretty good math career throughout my life, but in high school I really had a good math teacher. His name was Mr. K and he really helped me a lot.” Gerald’s friend Liza supported his academic identity as well as his queer identity. Mr. K, who supported Gerald’s queer identity through his role as GSA advisor, also supported Gerald’s positive mathematical identity. With multiple supports for a strong queer identity, Gerald was able to take advantage of support for both his academic and mathematical identities.
Like Gerald, Marryl also attended a GSA, which gave them support for their
queer identity. They stated:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 113 I was fifteen and it was in my freshman year when one of my friends dragged me to a GSA meeting and I didn’t think anything of it. And it was after walking out of the GSA meeting that I was like “oh god damn it, I might be gay.” And then it was over the course of several months, and the [start of] my sophomore [year] I actually worked out… At the time I identified as a lesbian because I didn’t know anything about gender identity at the time. The GSA was a support for Marryl’s queer identity. Participation in the GSA helped them come out to friends and parents, all of whom where supportive of their queer identity. By coming out to their parents, Marryl was able to stay connected to a strong source of Marryl’s mathematical identity -‐ family. They said, “I came out to my parents and they were pretty cool about it, too, just that I was still their kid so they were still pretty good about it.” Marryl went on to state: I definitely attribute my understanding of mathematics, sort of like in the duality of nature and nurture that I think there’s definitely something going on in terms of how my brain is set up. It’s like both of my parents are very mathematical. My brother is very mathematical. I’m definitely going to have something in me that’s sort of processes in a mathematical way, even if I don’t have a particular career interest in working with theoretical mathematics or engineering or accounting. A strong queer identity creates a personal environment that is conducive to understanding and absorbing other information and knowledge. With a strong queer identity as a base the participants were able to strengthen their mathematical identities because they were able to process additional information.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 114 Like Gerald, Avis had the support of an openly gay teacher, Mr. F. Mr. F was a biology teacher about whom Avis said, “He was a comfort to me and sometimes when I was just feeling bad.” Mr. F was a support for Avis, providing him with the emotional support he needed for his queer identity. This support for his queer identity provided Avis with the emotional space he needed in which to excel in his academics. Because he did not receive support at home for either his academic identity or for his queer identity, the supports that he received from his teacher provided the assistance he needed for his bisexual, academic and mathematical identities.
With regard to her teachers, the support that Tabatha received was less direct
than that which was received by either Avis or Gerald. While she received the support of teachers, it was not directly for her queer identity. The fact that the only teachers she accepted support in mathematics from were female does seem related to Tabatha’s queer identity. She said, “I really started noticing a pattern that I do very well when I have a female-‐identified teacher and, when they’re male-‐identified I didn’t pay attention.” It is unclear as to why Tabatha performed better and accepted support from female-‐identified teachers, but not male-‐identified teachers. In any case, the support that Tabatha received from these female teachers contributed to her development of a strong mathematical identity.
Unlike the others, Kevin did not appear to receive any support at school for his
queer identity. Although he was out to his fellow students, to them it was not an issue. His teachers did not seem to know that he was queer. Both situations resulted in a circumstance in which he did not report any support for his queer identity. He said of the experience:
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 115 Throughout my high school years, yes. I feel like my grades dropped and I kind of didn’t get to do things that high schoolers and teenagers were doing so I never got to really hang out with friends and I never got to play sports after school, and, you know, like be in clubs or be in theater or just things like that, because it was always something going wrong where I had to leave school or not be in school for you know like a certain period of time. So I feel like I missed out on a lot of extracurricular activities. Kevin did not discuss any support for his queer identity, however he did report that his mathematical identity suffered. His mathematical identity suffered in that he did not always ask questions for fear of being seen as the pushy gay kid in the mathematics classroom. He said: I was kind of like intimidated to really ask questions about certain things, … because I didn’t want the class to feel like “Oh, that gay kid is talking again,” “that gay kid is asking questions again”. So, I didn’t want it to feel like that. This appears related to a lack of support for his queer identity, as his queer identity was not strong enough to withstand any possible negative repercussions in the mathematics classroom.
The support that the participants received at school for their queer identities
was related to their academic and mathematical identities. Multiple supports were available through school, whether it was friends, gay identified teachers, or a GSA. However, it does not appear necessary to have multiple sources of support for a queer identity to have support for a strong academic or mathematical identity. Some of the participants reported having multiple sources of support through school.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 116 Zeb and Marryl had the support of friends for their queer identities and this translated into support for their academic identities. Avis and Gerald had the support of an openly gay teacher, who supported their queer identities; these teachers were also able to support their mathematical identities. Marryl and Gerald had the support of a GSA for their queer identities, and this support related to support for their mathematical identities. Unlike the others, Tabatha accepted support from teachers that was a result of her queer identity and this support was for a stronger mathematical identity. Kevin reported having no school support for his queer identity, also reported being afraid of being seen as a pushy gay kid in school. Support from school for one’s queer identity was varied in how it was delivered, but seems to be related to academic and mathematical identities. Conclusion
Three findings emerged from the data. The first was that all of the participants
who identified as queer understood what it meant for them to possess a queer identity in one of two ways, as stepping outside of the binary or as community. This demonstrated the wide scope of potential understandings of the term queer. The second finding was that the community support that the participants found reinforced their queer identities. In this finding, the way that the participants understood community was explored along with the impact that having a sense of community had on their queer identities. In the final finding, support through school and its impact on the participants’ queer identities and mathematical identities were examined. Support at school for a participant’s queer identity was related to their mathematical or academic identity.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Chapter 5: Conclusion
This study sought to answer the question: In what manner is queer identity and
mathematical identity expressed simultaneously for individuals self-‐identified as LGBTQ? This question was explored using a phenomenological methodology. Three findings emerged from the data: 1) participants who identified as queer understood what it meant for them to possess a queer identity in one of two ways, as stepping outside of the binary or as community; 2) the community support that the participants found reinforced their queer identities; and, 3) support at school for a participant’s queer identity was related to their mathematical or academic identity.
In this chapter, I address the research question and examine the intersection of
queer identity and mathematical identity. The findings are discussed in relation to the literature and theoretical framework. Conclusions drawn from the study’s findings will serve as a guide to recommendations for future research.
In this section, the literature will be discussed as it relates to the findings. The
literature as it pertains to queer identity, supports for queer identities and intersections and educational disparities will be considered.
Queer identity. For the purposes of this study, “queer” has been defined to include three
dimensions that can, at times, be used interchangeably. Queer identity may refer to
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). When used in this
manner, queer is a shorthand way to categorize all four labels. Queer identity can also be used as a term referring to an individual’s understanding of self across the spectrum of non-‐heteronormative sexual identity (Wilchens, 1997). The final dimension of queer identity can reflect a political position. It is a word choice that has been reclaimed from the past when it was often used negatively when referring to a particular group of individuals (Kumashiro, 2002). Among the six participants, all three dimensions of the definition are applicable.
Four of the six participants used the word queer to define themselves. Of these
four, three used a dimension of the definition as it was explained above. Marryl, Kevin and Tabatha all speak of queer as being outside of the binary (Wilchins, 1997). It is interesting to note that while they all speak of gender-‐binary, they do not all refer to the same binary. In Wilchens’ understanding of queer as anything non-‐heteronormative, this is not problematic. In fact, it strengthens Wilchens’ theory of queer because it shows the range that queer can encompass.
In describing another dimension of queer, Kumashiro (2002) speaks of it as a
reclaimed word that has political implications. Marryl directly stated that queer for them was a political statement. They said, “Queer, for me, is part social identity, part political identity.” Other participants used this understanding of queer indirectly. While they did not make the statement in the same way that Marryl did, it could be argued that Tabatha and Kevin, by claiming the label “queer” for themselves, understand queer as political. This understanding of queer also affirms the idea that queer is a discourse
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 119 based identity (Gee, 1999). A discourse based identity is what one says it is. It is based upon the way that one describes the identity.
Gerald looked at queer with a completely different perspective. He considered
queer to be about the community. This was what Gerald was referring to when he equated queer with community. This understanding of queer could be argued to expand the dimensions of the understanding of the word. It may be however, that Gerald sees queer as an affinity identity (Gee, 1999). Affinity identities are based on belonging to a group, and it appears that this is how Gerald understands queer, to be part of a group. This would be similar to Avis and Gerald who define themselves as bisexual and gay. It has been argued that bisexual and gay are affinity identities rather than discourse identities.
Supports for a positive queer identity. There appeared to be several factors that influenced the development of a
positive queer identity (Blackburn, 2004; Blackburn & McCready, 2009; GLSEN, 2011; Lee, 2002). These included attending a school with a GSA, having a safe and supportive school environment, having out of school support such as an LGBTQ youth center, having supportive friends, and having family support. All of the participants had some type of community support which, in turn, afforded them the opportunity to develop a more positive queer identity. Blackburn (2004) spoke to the need to have the support from an organization such as an LGBTQ youth center. She reported that having this type of support for a positive queer identity provided agency for the youth in her study. All of the participants in my study reported finding a sense of community at the youth center. Each seemed to gain support for their
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 120 queer identities as well. This would support the contention by Blackburn that these types of youth centers have a positive impact on the youth that they serve. The fact that all of the participants found support at the center speaks to the nature of the center as serving a wide variety of needs of a diverse population. Schools are often hostile places for queer identified students (GLSEN, 2011). Students report hearing homophobic remarks at alarming rates, with many teachers ignoring the harrassment of queer students. Most schools do not have a GSA or any other group that is supportive of queer students. Five percent of the queer students surveyed by GLSEN could not name one supportive teacher in their school. This lack of support for queer students is problematic, at best, and dangerous, at worst, with 38.3% reporting being physically harassed and 18.3% reporting being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation (GLSEN, 2011, p.25). Some schools offer emotional support to students through GSAs, and friends, as well as various types of teacher support. Teacher support differs from the other supports in that it may be emotional and/or academic in nature. This study supports GLSEN’s (2011) finding that having an openly LGBTQ teacher, or a GSA at one’s school (GLSEN, 2011; Lee, 2002), increases academic success. This study supports GLSEN’s and Lee’s findings, and takes them further by adding to the literature by finding that mathematical identity may be strengthened when queer identity is supported. Blackburn and McCready (2009) surveyed the literature on the topic of supports for queer youth and arrived at several conclusions. They found that not only were out of school supports, such as LGBTQ youth centers helpful, but also that GSAs can be a critical link for youth. The conclusion that GSAs support the development of a
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 121 positive queer identity has been found in other work as well (Lee, 2002). Lee goes further than Blackburn and McCready by showing that not only does a GSA promote a positive queer identity, but also a positive academic identity. Lee also found that as a result of the GSA, the youth felt better about themselves and about school. GLSEN (2011) concurred with Lee about these findings. Gerald and Marryl both had the advantage of a GSA, and both had a positive queer identity. This supports the work of Blackburn and McCready (2009), GLSEN (2011) and Lee (2002). To further support the work of GLSEN and Lee, both Gerald and Marryl had strong academic identities. My study supports the findings of GLSEN and Lee that having a GSA supports both a positive queer identity and a positive academic identity. My study also extends this by finding that a positive queer identity leads to a stronger mathematical identity. Another area that the literature speaks to is the importance of gay-‐identified teachers for youth who are queer (GLSEN, 2011). Avis and Gerald both told of having gay-‐identified teachers and how this supported their queer identities. GLSEN claimed that having gay-‐identified teachers not only supports queer identity but also is linked to greater achievement. In spite of the positive effects of having an out teacher only 41% of students could identify an out teacher in their school (GLSEN, 2011 p. 49) This is borne out by both Avis’ and Gerald’s mathematical identities and performance in mathematics.
Zeb and Gerald both told of having supportive friends, support that started in
high school and continued into college. This support of friends was in the form of encouragement to do well in school. Blackburn and McCready (2009) spoke of this type
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 122 of support and showed that it leads to a stronger queer identity. While Blackburn and McCready did not find that the support went any further, I contend that this support assists students in developing their academic and mathematical identities. We saw this most clearly with Gerald. He stated: She [Liza] was the first person I came out to and, I don’t know, it was no big deal to her. I think, also, she identifies as lesbian, so… She was a part of the GSA, we had a lot of classes together…I feel like, especially with a lot of people I hang out with, they make a big deal out of me going to school and stuff -‐-‐ especially my friend, Liza. … So she’s like, “Oh I can’t believe you’re still in school. You’re doing such a good job. This support helped with his academic identity development. This is an example of the extension of academic identity based on support for queer identity.
The literature concerning family support of a queer identity is fairly well
developed (D'Augelli, Grossman, & Starks, 2005; Elze, 2003; Pearson & Wilkinson, 2013; Ryan, 2010; Sadowski, 2010). Most of the discussion of family support centered around acceptance or rejection of the youth and high-‐risk behavior on the part of the youth. There was a small amount of work that mentioned education and achievement. (Ryan, 2010; Sadowski, 2010; Elze, 2003). None of the studies to date concentrated on this critical support for education. Ryan’s work tangentially make connections between at-‐risk behaviors, such as drug use, running away and high-‐risk sex and education. The work of Ryan also showed an increasing amount of support on the part of parents for queer identified students. Lastly, Ryan’s work shows that for a large portion of the
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 123 parents who reject their children, the parents want to learn new ways to interact with their children once they find out that rejection increases at-‐risk behaviors. This study seems to have confirmed the work of Ryan and Sadowski that support for a youth’s queer identity by their parents has a positive impact on their academics. In my study, four of the six participants spoke to this issue. Those four all described support for their queer identities from their families. Of the two who did not, one was rejected by his mother and the other had not come out to his parents.
Identity and educational disparities. Black and colleagues (2010) wrote of a concept they referred to as a leading
identity. It is the idea that there is one identity that subordinates other social identities. Queer identity is one such leading identity. Possessing a queer identity causes other social identities, such as a mathematical identity, to take on lesser importance. However, if there is not sufficient support for the leading identity the other identities are weakened. In fact, if a leading identity has enough support, there is greater achievement in the area of other social identities. This study found that support for a queer identity might lead to greater academic and mathematical achievement. A leading identity seems to be operating in this study because for Kevin, who did not have support for his queer identity before he discovered the youth center. His academic and mathematical identities suffered when he was not receiving support for his queer identity in high school. When he received support for his queer identity through the youth center, his academic and mathematical identity became strong enough that he was able to continue his education and pursue higher education. This study seems to support the idea of a leading identity.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 124 Kevin may illustrate a finding that Venzant, Chambers and McCready (2011) discovered when they studied racial identity and achievement. They found that black students felt marginalized and performed at lower levels when they had multiple stigmatizing identities. The stigmatizing identities were black and queer, as was the case with Kevin, Avis and Gerald. Avis and Gerald did not experience lower academic achievement; to the contrary, they excelled. Kevin’s performance, on the other hand, was poor. He spoke of dropping grades and missing large amounts of time at school. His homelessness most likely played a part in his poor performance. As a result of Kevin’s homelessness he was also unable to get support for his queer identity. Conversely, Avis and Gerald had support for their queer identities at school and they excelled. The difference in the performance outcomes may be a result of the level of support that each received for their queer identities. Based on this finding it may be true that support for a queer identity may be a mitigating factor for students with multiple stigmatizing identities. It may be that support for one’s queer identity counteracts upon this identity to cause it to no longer be a stigmatizing identity. This has implications for this study because it would imply that one way to have a stronger mathematical identity, and thus higher mathematical achievement would be to support one’s queer identity. This would extend the work by Venzant Chambers and McCready and deserves further research. Implications
This study has implications in the areas of theory and practice. Educational
theory is expanded to begin to include a discussion of queer identified students. The
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 125 area of practice is impacted as teachers, GSAs and LGBTQ youth centers can reflect upon their work based on the findings. Theory.
The findings of this study may have implications in the area of identity theory,
namely in the area of a leading identity (Black, Wiliams, Hernandez-‐Martinez, Davis, Pamaka, & Wake, 2010). This study indicates the primacy of queer identity in the identities explored. Because queer identity is a leading identity, support for academic and mathematical identity are generally subordinate to a queer identity. There appears to be a relationship between support for one’s queer identity in school-‐related communities (e.g. friends, teachers, GSAs) and the strength of one’s mathematical identity. This relationship manifests when someone who identifies as queer receives support for their queer identity. If this support is from a school-‐based community, such as teachers or a GSA, there seems to be a related improvement in the students’ mathematical identities. Research into this theory is important because possession of a positive mathematical identity has been shown to correlate to higher performance mathematically (Loustalet, 2009). As mathematics is a gatekeeper subject (Stinson, 2004), higher performance leads to greater college opportunities, greater career opportunities, and greater earnings potential over a lifetime.
Practice. Teachers, particularly mathematics teachers, can take away several important
ideas from this research. Most importantly this study verified earlier research that
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 126 showed support for LGBTQ identities advises academics (GLSEN, 2011). In this case it showed that there is a relationship between support from schools for LGBTQ identities and strong mathematical identities. While some of this support for mathematical identities was indirect, nonetheless, the two were related. Teachers need to realize that they must create safe spaces in school for queer identified students. Safe spaces do not happen without someone purposefully creating them. Not only must the classroom be free of name-‐calling and bullying based on queer issues, but the teacher must also offer support to students for who they are. This can be difficult if students are defensive or aloof as a result of being harassed in the classroom. This is particularly true in the mathematics classroom for two reasons. First, mathematics is often thought of as being neutral on social issues, but applied mathematics is social in nature. Thus, mathematics teachers must take an unequivocal stand for acceptance of queer students. Second, the mathematics classroom is often thought of as a place where males dominate. By using the research of Mendick (2006), mathematics teachers can “queer” the mathematics curriculum and soften the image of mathematics of that as absolutist and hard. GLSEN (2011) reports that next to physical education class, mathematics has the lowest percentage of students reporting positive portrayals of queer people. This is significant as GLSEN also reports that positive portrayals of queer people lead to greater school involvement and performance in the classroom. All of these aspects together show that teachers need to be deliberate and purposeful in their support of queer identified students. Such as when Avis spoke of his teacher, “His name was Mr. F, he himself is gay.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 127 He was a comfort to me”, or Gerald and Mr. K, ”Mr. K helped me out, helped me become a good math student… Mr. K was an open gay male …he was also the GSA facilitator.” GSAs are another area in which this research has implications. This research also verified earlier research by GLSEN (2011) and Lee (2002) that belonging to a GSA had an impact not only on one’s queer identity, but also on one’s academic and mathematical identities. This research points to the importance of groups, such as a GSA, to support queer identified students. In other words, GSAs work to provide safe spaces for students to gain support and develop positive ideas about schooling. The following are all ingredients for a successful GSA. A GSA does not work just because it exists: it must be purposefully planned. The advisor to a GSA must be open to having sometimes difficult conversations around topics of safety and sexuality that they may not be trained to have. It is important for the students to have a space where they feel they have some control and all topics are available for discussion, even ones considered too controversial by other teachers. GLSEN (2011) reports that queer students who attend schools with a GSA miss less school, hear fewer homophobic remarks, and earn higher grades. These positive results point to the need to include GSAs as part of an open and accepting environment in the school. Schools must include queer students as an integral part of the student body. We, as a society, cannot afford to waste the talent of our queer students, and schools having a GSA are one way to harness that talent and allow it to flourish. Lastly, this work has implications for places such as the LGBTQ youth center. It was important that the youth center be a place of support for not only participants’ queer identities, but also for their other identities, such as work identities and academic
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 128 identities. This was evident in the inclusion of the “Q” (questioning) in the LGBTQ. A strength of the center is that it was open to anyone willing to be open and accepting of diversity and inclusion. As with GSAs, the youth center did not just occur, it was purposeful and planned. It was the diverse array of services offered by the youth center that initially attracted the participants. The safe and welcoming environment that the staff created enabled young people to explore their identities, without criticism or judgment. This was a critical element of the center. Too often marginalized groups in our society are silenced. The center offered marginalized youth a voice. The center gave the youth a voice in terms of what type of programming was offered, thereby empowering them. The most important thing to know about this type of organization is that it works (Blackburn, 2004) to empower youth to do better in life and in school. Limitations This study is limited in scope for two reasons. First, because of the number of study participants and the nature of the methodology, the findings are not generalizable. A qualitative study, with its small non-‐random sample is by the very nature of the work designed to explain and describe rather than produce generalizable results. Secondly, this work is limited because it did not seek to quantify educational disparities. This work sought to describe the experiences of the participants rather than seeking to count how often various phenomenon occurred. In order to quantify educational disparities, should they exist, a different methodology would be needed.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 129 This research allowed for description of a particular group of participants and thus points the way forward for further research in the area. The group of participants was homogeneous in age, as this allowed a particular subset of all queer people to be better understood. Suggestions for Future Research
While this work has extended the literature in important ways, it by no means
explored the whole of the question of what is happening with regard to LGBTQ students and mathematics. This study points to the need to further explore the state of education with regard to LGBTQ students and mathematics.
An aspect of this study was the homogeneity of the participants in that all of
them experienced support for their queer identities and, as a consequence, most of them had a strengthened mathematical identity. It is necessary to explore the status of students who do not have support for their identities. We must explore whether students who do not have supports for their queer identity are able to succeed in mathematics as well as the students who do have supports.
Along with the need to explore students who do not have support for their queer
identity, there is a need to consider students who are being harassed for possessing a queer identity. The participants in this study, with the exception of Avis, were fortunate enough to not have the trauma of constant harassment. There is a need to look at these students as well as they are likely not receiving support for their queer identity, and this may be effecting their mathematics education.
Other topics for future research include how widespread is support for queer
identified students and how widespread are strong mathematical identities for queer
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 130 identified students. Other questions that arise from this research include examination of other subject areas and the intersection of those identities with students’ queer identities. The question remains to be answered, do queer identified students perform at the same level as their peers in Mathematics, English, Science, or Social Studies?
This study has identified a gap in the literature, and research needs to be
continued to fill that gap. The educational disparities faced by LGBTQ students and the impact of queer identity on mathematical and other academic identities must be studied so that any disparities can be addressed and resolved. This agenda moves forward the field of study, but is not exhaustive. Much opportunity for future research exists.
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Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity 134 Haj-‐Brossard. (2003). Language, Identity and the Achievement Gap: Comparing Experiences of Afrian-‐American Students in a French Immersion and a Regular Education Program. Louisiana State University. Heidegger, M. (1949). Existance and being. Chicago: H. Regnery Co. Heidegger, M. (1982). The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. (A. Hofstadeter, Trans.) Indiana: Indiana University Press. Higgenbotham, E. B. (1992). African-‐american women's history and the metalanguage of race. Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society , 17 (2), 251-‐274. Horn, I. S. (2008). Turnaround students in high school mathematics: constucting identities of competence through mathematical worlds. Mathematical Thinking and Learning , 10, 201-‐239. Jeffries, S. (1999). Bisexual politics: a superior form of feminism? Womens Studies International Forum , 22 (3), 273-‐285. Kumashiro, K. K. (1999). Supplementing normalcy and otherness:queer asian american men reflect on stereotypes, identity, and oppression. Qualitative Studies in Education , 12 (5), 491-‐508. Kumashiro, K. K. (2008). The seduction of common sense: how the right has framed the debate on america's schools. New York, New York: Teachers College Press. Kumashiro, K. K. (2002). Troubling education queer activism and antioppressive pedagogy. New York, New York: RoutledgeFalmer. Ladson-‐Billings, G. (2006, October). From the achievement gap to the education debt: understanding achievement in U.S. schools. Educational Researcher , 37 (7), pp. 3-‐12. Ladson-‐Billings, G. J. (1999). Preparing teachers for diverse student populations: a critical race theory perspective. Review of Research in Education , 24, 211-‐247. Ladson-‐Billings, G. J. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relavant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal , 32 (3), 465-‐491. Lawler, S. (2008). Identity Sociological Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Lee, C. (2002). The impact of belonging to a high school gay/straight alliance. High School Journal , 85 (3), 13. Loustalet, J. (2009). The Influence of Math Beleifs on Math Success in Introductory College Math Classes. George Fox University.
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Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity Education
Ph.D. Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies (Specialty Mathematics Education). Degree conferred June 2013. Drexel University. M.A.
Mathematics Education. Degree conferred September 2008. University of Minnesota.
B.S. Mathematics, Education Emphasis. Degree conferred August 1994. Saint Cloud State University. Magna Cum Lauda. B.A.
Mathematics. Degree conferred December 1987. University of Minnesota.
University Teaching Experience • Instructor, Advanced Math Methods, TFA program University of Pennsylvania.
• Instructor, Independent Study – Advanced Math Methods, TFA program University of Pennsylvania.
• Instructor, Elementary Math Methods and Content, Online Course, Drexel University.
• Instructor, Secondary Math Methods and Content, Online Course, Drexel University.
Winter 2012 Fall 2011
• Instructor, Advanced Math Methods, TFA program, University of Pennsylvania.
• Instructor, Independent Study – Advanced Math Methods, TFA program University of Pennsylvania.
• Instructor, Professional Studies in Instruction, Online course, Drexel University.
• Instructor, Teaching Secondary Mathematics, Online course, Drexel University.
• Instructor, Teaching Secondary Mathematics, Online course, Drexel University.
• Teaching Assistant. Algebra MTED program, Online course Drexel University.
• Teaching Assistant. Geometry MTED program, Online course Drexel University.
• Instructor. Elementary Math Methods. Drexel University.
Publications • Publication-‐ “Unpacking Online Asynchronous Collaboration in Mathematics Teacher Education” in ZDM: The International Journal on Mathematics Education. Third Author.
Exploring the intersection of Queer Identity and Mathematical Identity