Physical and symbolic violence imposed: The difficult histories of Lesbian, gay and trans-people

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Just hours before purposefully stepping in front of a moving tractor trailer along Interstate-71 in Warren County, Ohio, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn posted a suicide note on her Tumblr account. The note-that would be visible only after her death had occurred-read in part: If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue…. When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’ t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’ t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’ t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’ t do anything but make them hate them self. That’ s exactly what it did to me. (Malm, 2014) For the young trans-person who penned this message, the note represents the symbolic violence she endured each day living an existence that did not embody who she truly was. In this case, the symbolic violence was perpetrated by her parents, which led Leelah to inflict the ultimate physical violence upon herself, suicide. Less recent examples from history also demonstrate physical violence enacted toward members of the various lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. Some of these historical incidents include first contact between European explorers and the indigenous people living in the “New World,” the experiences of gay and lesbian soldiers serving in the military during times of war, the plight of gay prisoners of war during the Holocaust and the violent death of college student Matthew Shepard on October 12, 1998. Though many other examples exist, they are far too numerous to explore in meaningful ways 210in this chapter. Therefore, I will highlight two specific historical moments-European explorers’ encounters with Two Spirit indigenous people and the murder of Matthew Shepard-indicating how they exemplify what Britzman (1998) calls “difficult knowledge,” which she defines as representations of social or historical trauma in pedagogical situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTeaching and Learning Difficult Histories in International Contexts
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Sociocultural Approach
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781351788496
ISBN (Print)9781138702479
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


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