Heteronormative Notions of “Professionalism” and Writing Center Consultants by Kayla Miller

posted Mar 20, 2017, 10:24 AM by Writing Center
Recently, a call for papers asked questions regarding the garb of Writing Center consultants and how/if it affects the tutor-tutee relationship and ensuing session. As a former high school butch-goth and a current hard-femme dyke, fashion has been and continues to be the frontlines of where identity is formed or, at least, expressed. The locus of garb for the formation of identities, and for their perpetual reformation and malleability, has been integral to my own and countless others’ experience of the interplay of gender, self expression, identity formation, and fluid non-essentialist dialogues. When high school and collegiate dress codes provide additional layers of contextualization and increasing criticism, the question of what should I wear? is crucial.

Though there is an expectation of “professionalism” in a given workplace, and though there is an accompanying idea that “professionals” dress in certain garb and most certainly do not don others, I reject this and all heteronormative, male-centric notions of “appropriate” attire. As a Writing Center consultant, I work as a “first responder” of sorts with students -- often, students will bring questions and concerns to the Writing Center that they do not take to their professors. Furthermore, as a one-on-one tutor and not a professor in front of a classroom, the effects of “professionalism” are further filtered through this context.

My approach is to dress as hard-femme-former-high-school-goth as I like -- my students and tutees should (ideally) recognize my sincerity as a professional from my language, lessons, and acts. The choice to dress as most comfortably expresses my gender and identity formation, and not necessarily as a “professional,” further bonds the tutee and tutor (or student and professor) in a mutual recognition of the life-giving necessity of identity expression. Though a student or tutee may doubt my capabilities upon first seeing me in combat boots and jeans, the likelihood of this feels far less relevant than the content of our session. Doubts about my professionalism are mitigated, perhaps entirely offset, by the comfort of freedom in identity expression and re-expression, formulation and reformation.

Thus, in short, my capabilities can and do speak of their own accord. My wardrobe’s role is not to represent my skillset and knowledge -- it is to liberate my identity from essentializing shackles, to allow its fluidity, iterations and reiterations to sit atop my skin without definition.

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