Notes: Jonathan Alexander, “Beyond Texbook Sexuality: Students Reading, Students Writing” in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

Alexander, Jonathan. (2008). Beyond textbook sexuality: Students reading, students writing. Literacy, sexuality, pedagogy: Theory and practice for composition studies. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 75-98.


Alexander analyzes the ways in which student writers engage in the development of their own sexual literacies outside of the classroom, pointing out that the means by which they construct their literacies informs them in turn, by examining student newspapers, social media, blogs, etc. Alexander holds this saturated extracurricular circulation of discussion of sex and sexuality in contrast to the overwhelming lack of sex and sexuality within the composition classroom.

Keywords: composition, cultural rhetorics, literacy, literacy studies, LGBTQ, pedagogy, queer, queer rhetorics, sexuality, writing studies


Jordan, Jay. (2005). Rereading the multicultural reader: Cross-cultural composition readers and the reconstruction of cultural identities.” College English, 68.2.


“[W]e also need to keep in mind that the ‘ecologies’ in which those discourses [of sex/uality] take place are significant in constructing their ideological contents and shaping their reception” (p. 75).

“Certainly, the very act of talking in public forums about sex in direct, explicit, and even engaging ways seems boundary-pushing for many in our culture. These students are ‘outing’ sex as a not-so-strictly private issue, and their open discussion suggests their investment in providing information about sexual health and safety and sexual pleasure” (p. 85).

“In writing in these ways about sex, these students are participating in the construction and dissemination of discourses about sexuality that advocate for open exchange of information about sexual health as well as the right to enjoy actively sexual experiences, desires, and encounters. Participating in the shaping of such discourses constitutes these young writers’ sexual literacy” (p. 84-85).

“Moreover, queer authors are rarely identified as such—an omission we find disturbing since it contributes to the ongoing erasure of LGBT identities in our culture; while race and ethnicity are deserving of marking, queerness often isn’t considered relevant—or as worthy” (p. 91).

“[T]heir willingness to discuss sex in its social contexts… reveals an awareness of what I have been calling sexual literacy, a sense of sex not just as a private act but as connected to fundamental dimensions of identity, issues of social ideology, and aspects of political reality. Further, the sheer diversity of topics covered suggests a rich engagement with sex, sexuality, and sexual literacy. In many ways, then, the treatment of sex and sexuality in composition textbooks seems impoverished by comparison” (p. 92).

“When we think about, feel, and experience our gendered bodies, we have the opportunity to become aware of how we are called into specific gendered and sexual roles. When we think about marriage and our intimate relations with one another, we inevitably evoke difficult debates about the connection between personal happiness and public citizenship, and whose lives and relationships are honored—and whose are not. In each case—how we articulate our identities, how we annunciate and inhabit gender roles, how we describe the personal and political nature of our relationships—we are engaging in complex literacies that are inevitable wrapped up in sex and sexuality” (p. 98).


In what ways does encouraging the construction of sexual literacy discourse within the composition classroom shape their content? To what level does assessment influence the ways in which sexual discourse is discussed? Are there means by which assessment and the what we might call interior of the composition classroom be shaped in such a way to engage its exterior?

How might developing a critical sexual literacy allow help combat LGBT identity erasure? Would the spread of a greater language to discuss issues of sex and sexuality create a space in literacy to create markings and ways of talking about sex and sexuality that would be less uncomfortable? Would that contribute to a different kind of erasure? Or would a sexual literacy help create a means of discussing and articulating queer issues in compelling and critical ways that would allow queer issues to be met and discussed on their own terms?

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