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Blog post Part of special issue: Researching gender and sexuality

Should I leave ‘those kids’ alone? Determining youth participants in gender and sexuality research

Kim Snider, PhD Student at University of Auckland

In recent years, educational research in gender and sexuality has shifted its focus from studying homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to examining the normative systems that make them possible. Allen (2019; 2020), Airton (2013) and Formby (2015) have documented the ways in which narratives of heterosexual youth can reveal new perspectives on homophobia. These findings have prompted me to question my initial intention to work with LGBTQ+-identified participants in my PhD study, which uses arts-based approaches to explore students’ experiences of cis-heteronormativity in school. Would taking a more expansive view – one that includes young people of all identities – potentially ‘queer’ traditional research practices (Allen, 2020)? What benefits and limitations might surface when shifting my gaze beyond LGBTQ+ participants and, in Airton’s (2013) words, ‘leaving them alone’?

‘Adopting a more fluid outlook on identity may be appropriate given that my Gen Z participants are increasingly shrugging off such labels.’

Adopting a more fluid outlook on identity may be appropriate given that my Gen Z participants are increasingly shrugging off such labels. Quinlivan and Town (1999, p. 521) describe this as ‘the pluralism of queer pedagogy’, in which youth explore sexuality as a continuum of possibilities rather than a choice between binaries. At the same time, as a teacher I have witnessed affinity-based spaces such as gender and sexuality alliances acting as powerful places of belonging for queer and trans youth. My research site needs to be an environment where those perspectives are valued and not drowned out by the voices of straight and cisgender students. Nicolazzo (2017) agrees, asserting that ‘just as trans* people need physical space to be themselves, we also need epistemological spaces of our own’ (p. 517). This statement poses a dilemma for me, a cisgender researcher with mixed-identity participants: Will the inclusion of straight and cisgender youth truly make my research design more ‘queer’? Or does it simply reinforce ‘the perspective of the gazing cisgender eye’ that dominates gender and sexuality research? (Nicolazzo, 2017, p. 513). Additional complications lie in the ‘double bind’ of being ‘out’ in school and research, which can make queer and trans youth more visible and potentially vulnerable (McGlashan, 2021; Nicolazzo, 2017). Limiting my study to LGBTQ+-identified youth may also overlook students questioning their gender and sexuality, whose perspectives are often missing from educational studies. These constraints reveal benefits to an inclusive approach that does not require participants to ‘out’ themselves or identify in any particular way.

Problematising the rigid conceptions of gender and sexual normativity calls for a more expansive view of gender and sexuality to examine the culture in which these beliefs operate (Martino et al., 2022). My arts-based research into the impact of gender and sexuality norms on youth of all identities hopes to reveal this phenomenon more fully, while also addressing Airton’s (2013) call for a reconceptualising of queerness in all its forms.

‘How can education welcome queerness, whatever it is or will be? What could make all of these things easier to live with and live through, or how might queerness be helped to flourish in education?’ (Airton, 2013, p. 549).

These provocative questions are ones I will use to frame my study of students’ experiences of cis-heteronormativity in school. To accomplish this, I will broaden this view of queerness in hopes of revealing new insights into their experiences of queer joy and challenge. This orientation looks beyond the obvious spaces where queerness is thought to dwell and casts its gaze to seemingly straight sites, pedagogies and practices. In doing so, might it unearth new and potentially ‘queer’ possibilities for arts-based gender and sexuality research?


Airton, L. (2013). Leave ‘those kids’ alone: On the conflation of school homophobia and suffering queers. Curriculum Inquiry, 43(5), 532–562.

Allen, L. (2019). Bearing witness: Straight students talk about homophobia at school. Sex Education, 19(6), 661–674.

Allen, L. (2020). Reconceptualising homophobia: By leaving ‘those kids’ alone. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 41(3), 441–453.

Formby, E. (2015). Limitations of focussing on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic ‘bullying’ to understand and address LGBT young people’s experiences within and beyond school. Sex Education, 15(6), 626–640.

Martino, W., Omercajic, K., & Kassen, J. (2022). ‘We have no ‘visibly’ trans students in our school’: Educators’ perspectives on transgender-affirmative policies in schools. Teachers College Record, 124(8), 66–97.

McGlashan, H. (2021). Queer youth and schooling: A critical ethnography of how queer youth experience and navigate their intersectional and fluid identities at school (Doctoral dissertation, ResearchSpace@ Auckland).

Nicolazzo, Z. (2017). Imagining a trans* epistemology: What liberation thinks like in postsecondary education. Urban Education, 56(3), 511–536.

Quinlivan, K., & Town, S. (1999). Queer pedagogy, educational practice and lesbian and gay youth. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 12(5), 509–524.