Teaching Trans* as a Portal to Inclusion for All

Ashley Couch

During the PNCA Graduate Symposium held October 12-13, 2018, the esteemed visiting professor Z. Nicolazzo conducted a workshop entitled “Teaching While Marginalized.” In her opening statement, Nicolazzo noted, “it is important to remember, every time we do the work of gender liberation, we also need to be doing the work of decolonization” (Nicolazzo, 2018). For those familiar with Nicolazzo’s "Teaching Trans*: Strategies and Tensions of Teaching Gender in Student Affairs Preparation Programs," the notion of interdisciplinary action against the oppression of the establishment as a means to enrich the education of both student and teacher is no new theme (Nicolazzo & Jaekel, 2017). In "Teaching Trans*," authors Nicolazzo and Jaekel explain their employment of “scavenger methodology” that “uses different methods to collect and produce information on subjects who have been deliberately or accidentally excluded from traditional studies of human behavior” in “an attempt at cobbling together from a variety of areas a pedagogy that is our own: one that centers trans* bodies, voices and experiences” and draws from “Queer Theory, Poststructuralism, Postmodernism, Feminism, Critical Race Theory, Critical Trans Politics and Intersectionality” (Nicolazzo & Jaekel, 2017, p. 168).

But how does one resolve the seeming contrast of such a notion when paired against the argument found in Decolonization is Not a Metaphor (Tuck & Yang, 2012). In this text, Tuck and Yang posit that “the easy absorption, adoption, and transposing of decolonization is yet another form of settler appropriation,” and as such, “decolonize (a verb) and decolonization (a noun) cannot easily be grafted onto pre-existing discourses/frameworks, even if they are critical, even if they are anti-racist, even if they are justice frameworks” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 3). Thus, for them, the notion of decolonization is not a metaphor that can be substituted to encompass other forms of oppression.

One might reconcile the above notions by first noting how Nicolazzo, while conjuring a cry against colonialism, spent a moment to intentionally honor a tribe whose land was misappropriated by settlers in an effort to pay homage to their culture, although perhaps a trite gesture when compared to the suffering felt by the Chinook and other tribes who originally inhabited the land now known as downtown Portland. Further, beyond this note of tribute, and as described in “Teaching Trans*,” given the lack of critically vetted, peer reviewed content currently held in the academy recounting experiences and tactics specific to those identifying as transgender and their specific experiences as marginalized teachers and students, Nicolazzo and Jaekel, and other pioneers in their field, have little choice but to engage in such scavenger methodology (Nicolazzo & Jaekel, 2017).

So one must ask, does consideration of all marginalized groups in a critical context bring a general awareness that can push forward movements that benefit them all? Or must each oppressed group be dialectically considered in its own space and time, without intrusion from “others” who cannot fully contemplate and grasp the gravity of their plight? Tuck and Yang argue that true decolonization requires “repatriation of indigenous land and life” that would likely prevent the juxtaposition herein presented (Tuck & Yang, 2012, 21). But, the notions Nicolazzo conjures of shattering and breaking open pedagogies with our bodies strikes me as a unified call to arms that could encompass many of the marginalized – the tired, the weary, the trans*, the colonized, and everyone else left alone in the margins to fend and find education for themselves—all can come together in the classroom to find what Nicolazzo mentions in her workshop as the “momentary utopia” (Nicolazzo, 2018). By creating trouble with our bodies and pedagogies, in our own particular ways, in any and all ways we can, we can work together to build strategies to find justice in educational settings and combat racism, sexism, colonialism and all of the other “isms” still present in modern day “liberal” bastions. This may not be a solution, I am inclined to agree with Nicolazzo that it is perhaps it is a start.


Nicolazzo, Z. “Teaching While Marginalized.” Pacific Northwest College of Art Graduate Symposium. 13 Oct. 2018, Portland, Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Nicolazzo, Z, and Kathryn S Jaekel. “Teaching Trans*: Strategies and Tensions of Teaching Gender in Student Affairs Preparation Programs.” Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education, vol. 2, 2017, 165-179.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2012, 1-40.