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ERIC Number: ED519728
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 349
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1242-5197-4
"How Do You Spell Family?": Literacy, Heteronormativity, and Young Children of Lesbian Mothers
Ryan, Caitlin L.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, The Ohio State University
There are an estimated 14 million children with one or more parent who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT), but there is little to no research about these children's experiences in schools. This study investigated elementary school-aged children with lesbian mothers from five families as they moved between their (gay) homes and (straight) schools. It drew on a theoretical framework that combined sociocultural theory, queer theory, and New Literacy Studies to foreground the social nature of the self and language. The research design was a multi-sited ethnography that combined qualitative, ethnographic methods with queer theory to create a project appropriate for researching the liminal positions of children with lesbian mothers with/to larger LGBT communities in a variety of discursive locations. Data was collected via participant observation and informal interviews in homes, schools, and community sites over fourteen months. The data demonstrated that even young children with lesbian mothers are attuned to normative expectations of families and adjust information they share in socially savvy ways. The study illustrates how literacy is one mechanism through which they manage information about their LGBT-headed families in the face of heteronormative demands. At home, representations of family that included LGBT people and relationships were normalized. Such kinship was frequently indexed by language and literacy practices, yet not discussed on a regular basis. In schools, heteronormative representations of family were normalized, yet again not explicitly discussed. The discursive and textual representations of family by children with lesbian mothers served as the bridge connecting these two extremes, and comparing these uses of language and literacy became a way to bring the unspoken assumptions of different contexts into greater relief. A summer book club conducted by the researcher with a subset of the participants served as an example of a hybrid space where children with lesbian mothers spoke openly about their families, as in their homes, but with their peers, as in their schools. In this space discursive productions about family were not assumed nor silenced, but instead actively negotiated by the children in new ways. Overall, this study documented the ways young children with lesbian mothers undertake sophisticated discursive work to position themselves in social situations that are shaped to various degrees by heteronormativity. They are attentive to and monitor their discursive productions of family and other self-authoring practices as they participate in settings of their everyday lives that may or may not be queer friendly. These children use an awareness of the contextualized nature of talk and literacy to understand heteronormative assumptions in these settings and shape knowledge about their families appropriately. The study encourages teachers' attempts to respect children's own choices about discussing their families, while still including books and language that represent LGBT-headed families in their classrooms. The research finds that the more choice children have in their immediate work environments, and the more they are surrounded by others they know to be supportive of their families, the more likely they are to share information about their family comfortably. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway, P.O. Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Tel: 800-521-0600; Web site:
Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: Elementary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A