Black Lives Matter

I want to express my unconditional solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters in the US, UK, and beyond.

Over the last week I have watched the unfolding events in the United States with growing horror. I have been dismayed by the murder of George Floyd by police, the brutal, violent, but all-too predictable response to protesters from US authorities, and subsequent murders of further Black men including Tony McDade, James Scurlock and David McAttee.

I have so much respect for those who have taken to the streets again and again to call for a change to the corrupt, racist systems that made this violence possible. In this post, I want to take advantage of my platform to share pre-existing information and resources.

As a white woman living in the UK, I am aware that such deep systemic racism is hardly limited to the US. We know that Black and Asian people are more likely to die of coronavirus. This is due to pre-existing social and economic inequalities that result from racism, which mean that many racial minorities are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions, and work in low-income jobs which put them at risk. We know that 1,741 people in the UK have died in police custody or following contact with the police since 1990, and no police officers have been convicted; we know that Black people and other people of colour are disproportionately represented among these deaths. We also know that Black people are even more likely to be imprisoned in the UK than the US, and this disproportionate prison population is a consequence of overt discrimination in both the criminal justice system and wider society.

These problems do not result from the actions of “bad apples”. They are systemic, the consequence of a system of white supremacy on which the wealth of the UK was built, and from which those of us who are white continue to benefit, regardless of what other challenges we face in our lives. To bring about change, we – those of us who are racialised as white in a system of white supremacy – need to think seriously about what we can do in our everyday lives to address our own complicitly, support our Black neighbours, and bring this system down.

I am writing this post because I know this blog has a readership; however, I hope to primarily direct your attention elsewhere. I am not the person whose work you should be reading to learn more about this, nor to think through the actions you might take. I recommend turning to the existing work of Black writers to understand what is going on, and to support Black activists in the US, UK, and beyond. The remainder of this post includes a (non-exhaustive!) series of links that might help fellow non-Black readers especially with this, especially if you are not currently able to take to the streets. But please also do your own research.

Educate yourself. A list of readings, videos, and podcasts on a range of topics including racism, protest, allyship, and prison abolition.

Donate to bail funds. In the US, suspects who can afford bail may be released from custody prior to a trial. In practice, this disproportionately impacts low-income communities, and hence disproportionately impacts Black people. Protesters and innocent bystanders alike have been subject to mass arrests in the last week alone.

Donate to other causes in the US. These include funds for victims, Black-owned businesses impacted by the protests, and related organisations and initiatives.

Donate to Black Lives Matter UK.

Support QTIPOC and BAME LGBTIQ+ groups in the UK. Follow, listen, learn, and donate.

Support people subject to harassment on the streets. Take action when you witness racist acts.

Challenge racist systems in your workplace. Think about how you might work through a union and/or work collectively with your colleagues to address racist hierarchies, taking into account factors such as management structures, hiring practices, insecure contracts, and the operation of class.

Challenge everyday racism among your friends and family. Make time and space for difficult conversations. Create space for others to question and challenge your pre-existing prejudices in turn.

Finally, I encourage fellow white people to think critically about where they are putting their support. Is your local UK “Black Lives Matter” protest actually being organised by white people and centring white voices? Is it associated with a group like the SWP front Stand Up To Racism, who have been criticised by Black feminists for their deep complicity in rape culture? Are you putting more energy into discussing what does and does not constitute “violence”, or condemning people for taking the streets during a pandemic, than you are into condemning and acting against the racist sickness that is the cause of the protests? Are you spending more time thinking about your own white guilt than how you might make productive changes in your life and in the lives of people around you?

Again, I urge you to educate yourself, and read what Black writers and activists have to say about these issues. I will be striving to do the same.

Statement on Equality Minister’s comments

This statement, which I helped to draft, is cross-posted from Spectra.

~

As providers of health and wellbeing services for vulnerable people, we are dismayed by Women and Equality Minister Liz Truss’ poorly-informed comments on transgender issues.

Nobody’s fundamental rights should be subject to ‘checks and balances’, as the Minister suggests. Single-sex spaces are already protected under the Equality Act; trans and non-binary people deserve the same access to relevant services and provisions as everyone else.

Trans and non-binary people face discrimination and exclusion in all areas of life. They are disproportionately likely to experience sexual violence and domestic abuse, plus encounter severe difficulties in accessing healthcare, housing, education, jobs, and benefits. This is especially the case for trans women and girls, plus trans and non-binary people of colour.

Trans and non-binary people of all ages require support in accessing services, and making informed decisions about their own lives and bodies. The Minister’s statement that young people need to be ‘protected’ from making ‘irreversible’ decisions appears to contradict existing legal precedents.

These include the principle of Gillick competence, and the Fraser guidelines, which together protect the rights of minors to make their own decisions around medical treatment, if they can demonstrate appropriate capacity to consent.

Any move to undermine these principles will have deeply concerning implications for all minors. In particular, young people’s confidential access to contraception, sexual health services, abortion services, counselling and therapy will be at risk. Rather than positioning trans and non-binary people as a problem, the Minister, along with the Women and Equalities Committee, should focus on ensuring that the Government delivers on the recommendations of the 2015 Transgender Equality Inquiry.

These include the expansion of healthcare provision, and reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to ensure full legal recognition for trans and non-binary people of all genders, on the basis of self-determination.

~

A brief personal addition. Our communities and activist networks are stronger, louder, and more visible than ever. We will stand resolute against any attempt to roll back the legal rights of trans people and/or young people. If the Minister follows through on her threats, she will find she has severely underestimated us. We will fight and we will win.

 

Public lecture: Clinical Discourse and Becoming Trans

“Who is the gender expert? How did they get to be a gender expert?”

Last year I undertook a research visit to Aotearoa New Zealand, to learn more about trans activism and healthcare provision, and speak about my own work. During the visit, I gave an invited lecture at the University of Waikato, titled The Gender Experts: Clinical Discourse and Becoming Trans.

I drew on my PhD research to explore how understandings of what it means to be trans, and what it means to be an expert on being trans, are shaped by power relations in medical contexts.

My talk was recorded using lecture capture software, so is now publicly available for anybody to watch!

 

QUEERPOCALYPSE

QUEERPOCALYPSE

Today is Trans Day of Visibility, apparently. I have felt very strange about this day since it became a Thing over the last decade, as visibility is double-edged sword for many of us. With visibility comes community, and increased access to trans and queer arts, culture, politics, ideas. But in the last few years this has met with a cultural and ideological backlash. We are more visible to those who hate us, those who fear us, those who would cause us harm.

Last year I wrote some lyrics about this dichotomy, which are now part of a new song from noise/punk band Dispute Settlement Mechanism. It’s called Queerpocalypse.

 

One of the great things about being in a band is that the process of creation is always  collaborative. I like that this enables us to express ourselves, be that as queer, as trans, as woman, as people, in different ways that come together as a whole. Communicating through riffs and percussion which tell their own stories alongside lyrics and vocal performance.

This, at least as much as my research and formal writing, is the visibility that matters to me in 2020.

I fear your hate inside
I fear the turning tide
I fear your time will come
I fear you think you’ve won

moral panic
moral panic
moral panic
moral panic

you fear with desperate pride
you fear the turning tide
you fear our time will come
you fear that we have won

well guess what?

this world is ours
this world is ours
this world is ours
this world
is ours

Queerpocalypse is available as part of the compilation album Songs From The Vaults. All proceeds from digital sales of the album (available from £5) go towards supporting important Coventry venue and community centre The Tin Music and Arts through the COVID-19 crisis.

A Methodology for the Marginalised

This is a deeply strange time to have a new peer-reviewed article out. I’ve been on strike for weeks, and otherwise on annual leave, planning a move south (for my new job) which may well be indefinitely postponed. It’s hard to comprehend the enormity of the COVID-19 crisis, nor the fact that the most helpful thing I can do right now is stay put.

The article was originally drafted in 2018, and based on experiences I had during fieldwork and while disseminating my research between 2013 and 2017. With the pandemic upon us, this previous decade feels like deep, distant history. Here in the UK, the true, awful toll of the illness is yet to become apparent; yet cities are beginning to turn silent as we self-isolate, political axioms are turned on their head, and all conversation turns eventually to the virus.

In this context, it’s easy to wonder if any of the work we did a month or more prior could possibly still be relevant. And yet.

~

Cover image of the journal Sociology.My new piece is titled A Methodology for the Marginalised: Surviving Oppression and Traumatic Fieldwork in the Neoliberal Academy, and it is published in Sociology, the journal of the British Sociological Association. I use my experiences as a trans academic as a case study to talk about the huge inequalities endemic within universities, and how these disproportionately impact those who already experience forms of social marginalisation. My aim is not simply to chronicle the harms of marketisation, transphobia, sexism, and racism, but to also propose a way forward. We need to start thinking and acting more collectively; in addition to workplace organisation and union activity, this is relevant to how we design and implement our studies.

My proposed “methodology” involves bringing questions of solidarity and mutual support to the procedure of research design. Universities have long been bastions of privilege, with mechanisms of exclusion are unthinkingly built into every aspect of academic life. The only way we can possibly open up higher education is through creating systems of support which acknowledge and account for pre-existing inequalities, and these must be embedded within the process of knowledge creation itself.

My article uses the example of suicide within trans communities to illustrate this principle. Suicide ideation and suicide attempts are especially common among trans people. As such, it is highly likely that any given trans academic will either be suicidal, or will have friends who are. Consequently, if trans people are to stand a reasonable chance of surviving within the university, this is something that should be accounted for in research design and funding proposals as well as in wider institutional support structures.

~

It’s impossible right now to know when and if the world will return to “normal”. I have seen some contend that this cannot be possible given the devastating number of predicted deaths, the shock to our economic and political systems. Others observe that the prevailing social order has survived before, and argue that any emergency measures to support workers who have lost their livelihood and/or increase police powers will inevitably be reversed in the long term.

However, what we do know is that universities have historically been remarkably resiliant – as have the inequalities in our society. Whatever happens next, we must continue to fight for a better world, and that includes within academia.

We can already see this beginning to play out in the UK as universities scramble to shift their activities online. Managers are relying on staff to carry on teaching, conducting research, and undertaking assessment and monitoring activities such as the REF. Meanwhile, most of us struggle to balance working from home with looking after partners, housemates, and/or families, wrestling with IT systems that have been heavily undermined by cuts as shiny new buildings stand empty on our campuses. We cannot possibly expect to carry on as normal.

It is in this context that I invite you to read my new article, as and when you find the time and mental energy. It is one of the most difficult and vulnerable things I have ever written. I am really proud of it. It helped me think through some small ways in which I might change my work patterns and practice of solidarity, as part of a far larger push for change. I hope that in turn, it might help you also.

A Methodology for the Marginalised:
Surviving Oppression and Traumatic Fieldwork in the Neoliberal Academy

[click here to read in Sociology]

[click here to read a free open access version]

 

New job with the Trans Learning Partnership

I am very excited to announce that I will soon begin work on a new project. From the beginning of April I will be working full-time with Spectra as Research Coordinator for the Trans Learning Partnership.

The Trans Learning Partnership is a groundbreaking collaboration between trans and non-binary community representatives, academics, and four organisations who work to directly provide community services: Spectra, Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, and the LGBT Foundation. The aim of the Partnership is to drive the development of a robust service and advocacy-oriented evidence base, enabling trans services and their service users to have needs-based, impactful services.

This also means that I will be leaving the Trans Pregnancy Project at the University of Leeds, but rest assured that I plan to continue supporting my colleagues from that project in writing up and publishing our findings. We have a number of academic articles currently in the pipeline, along with a themed special issue of the International Journal of Transgender Health.

I will of course continue to update this website periodically with information and reflections on all of my ongoing research.

The Trans Learning Partnership feels like such an important opportunity to design and undertake research intended to directly improve people’s lives. I can’t wait to get started!

 

Gigs in March and April

I’m playing some super cool gigs with my two bands over the next couple of months! You should totally come and see us play.

85063535_2769728823121741_5866758282172956672_nSunday 8th March
Tin Music and Arts, Coventry

I’ll be shouting at Boudica Festival’s International Women’s Day event with the noise rock/punk experience Dispute Settlement Mechanism.

We’ll be sharing a stage with Human Resources, Paradise of the Titans, Jen Haigh, Nyotaa, and the Yap Collective.

Muncie Girls poster
Sunday 29th March
Gullivers, Manchester

I’ll be playing bass in fuzzy pop rockers wormboys at this super cool gig where we are supporting Muncie Girls!

We’ll also be playing alongside the awesome Perkie and Bleach Body.

 

Wednesday 22nd April
Wharf Chambers, Leeds

Another exciting wormboys gig – we will be supporting DIY supergroup Somnia on their UK tour.

 

New band – wormboys!

Over the past couple of years or so, this website has been host to a series of Increasingly Serious Academic Posts. So it’s time to interrupt this trend to share some exciting personal news – I’ve joined a new band! I am now playing bass in super cool Leeds-based fuzzy noise-pop group wormboys.

Line drawing of the band wormboys

 

I’m using the word “new” in a relative sense here. wormboys have been around a few years now – I first met my future bandmates when they shared a lineup with my other band Dispute Settlement Mechanism back in 2018. And I’ve actually been playing with them since the summer – but better late than never when announcing these things, huh?

 

Anyway, you should totally come and see us play sometime! We play pretty regularly, and our next confirmed gig is at Gullivers, Manchester on 29th March, supporting Muncie Girls.

You can follow wormboys on Bandcamp, Instagram, and Facebook. We also have a super-cool EP out, called eartime (recorded before I joined the band) and will be back in the studio again soon.

 

New article: Transnormativity in the psy disciplines

Today sees the publication of the first full article from the Trans Pregnancy project team, in the journal American Psychologist:

Transnormativity in the psy disciplines: Constructing pathology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and Standards of Care

[click here to read in American Psychologist]

[click here to read free open access version]

In this article we provide a brief history of how certain narratives and expectations around how trans people should behave and be treated have been constructed through the disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis, especially in a US context.

It is part of a great new special issue on Histories of psychology after Stonewall, edited by Peter Hegarty and Alexandra Rutherford.

We examine how the interests of cisgender clinicians and transgender patients have variously been opposed and entwined, and contextualise this in relation to wider structures of racism, sexism, colonialism, and binary thinking around sex and gender. We focus especially on how guidance for diagnosing trans people and managing trans healthcare has been contested across various versions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) and the International Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA, later WPATH) Standards of Care.

This article does not focus specifically on questions of fertility, pregnancy and childbirth (although we briefly touch very on this topic). Rather, it provides important historical background on the evolution of certain medical services which have help to shape how trans people are treated and percieved. We are also currently writing a number of articles that will report on specific research findings from the Trans Pregnancy project, and I am really looking forward to sharing them also when they are published!

 

Fighting back in the precarious academy – FWSA address 2019

On 16 October I spoke at the 30th Anniversary event hosted by the Feminist and Women Studies Association UK and Northern Ireland (FWSA). This is the text of my short talk.

Thank you for having me, I am very honoured to be here today.

I was invited to speak about doing feminism in the academy through my research on trans experiences. I am a trans woman known for my research on trans health.

I am interested in how discourses of consent, autonomy, sex and gender circulate between patient communities, activists, and professionals, and how these are shaped by power relations. I also work on new approaches to healthcare that might centre patient knowledges, rather than patriarchal medical authority. At present, I am part of an international study of pregnancy and childbirth among trans men and non-binary people.

This research stems from my wider interest in gender, sexuality, and power relations within institutions. I have published empirical work on equality schemes in Higher Education, focusing specially on Athena SWAN. My research with Charoula Tzanakou shows how Athena SWAN places a burden on the very women it is supposed to help, through expecting them to participate in the extensive work of self-assessment.

I also have been involved in anti-casualisation campaigns, especially while working on hourly-paid contracts for six years at the University of Warwick. I feel it is important to recognise this as feminist academic work too, an argument I expand on shortly.

I am very often invited to speak about trans health. At least as often, I am invited to speak about being a trans woman.

I am very rarely been invited to speak about my wider feminist research or activism.

I know why this is. While our numbers are growing, there are very few trans people and especially trans women working in universities. I am used to being the only visible trans person in the room. I am painfully aware that I am frequently present as a token. I am also aware that if I am not present, often no trans voices are heard at all, let alone trans women’s voices.

I know it is important to talk about how a vast majority of trans staff and students face substantial barriers in Higher Education. These include rigid administrative procedures, plus high rates of verbal abuse, physical and sexual assault. I know it is important to talk about how transphobia is tied closely to misogyny, racialisation, ableism and class, and how the challenges we face are especially compounded for trans people who face intersecting forms of marginalisation, such as Black trans women and disabled trans people.

I know it is important to talk about how we currently face an unpreceded rise in open transphobia. Cis academics talk about stripping our legal rights in public lectures and newspaper columns. Trans studies scholars face constant abuse and harassment on social media, malicious freedom of information requests, and threats of legal action. I know it is important to talk about how anti-feminist talking points from the religious right, such as the supposed threat of ‘gender ideology’, are laundered through anti-trans groups.

Still, there are times I want to talk about other things.

There are times I want to talk about being a woman more than I want to talk about being trans. There are times when I want to talk about solutions as well as problems, about collectivity and solidarity rather than division.

New postgraduates frequently ask me for advice on surviving in departments where they are the only out trans person. My advice is always the same – build alliances across difference. You may be the only trans PhD student, but you will certainly not be the only student who faces marginalisation.

To quote Patricia Hill Collins: “Who has your back, and whose back do you have?

In 2015 the University of Warwick faced scrutiny over TeachHigher, a proposed wholly-owned subsidiary designed to facilitate the outsourcing of teaching at universities. These proposals were defeated by organised resistance within numerous academic departments, led primarily by casualised staff.

Our campaign relied on recognising how the economic precarity of casualization is also about the myriad ways in which many of us are additionally oppressed. As my comrade Christian Smith passionately argued, “TeachHigher is sexist, and TeachHigher is racist”. We knew that women and people of colour are disproportionately represented within the pool of casual labour on which our institutions rely. We knew that increased casualization only exacerbates conditions in which those who are already the most privileged are most likely to thrive. This was a feminist campaign, an anti-racist campaign, a campaign about class, a campaign against ableism, homophobia and transphobia.

In my department, where over 40% of teaching was undertaken by people on hourly-paid contracts, we organised a teaching boycott. None of us would sign up to teach the following year unless the department took an active stance against TeachHigher. This could only work if all of us agreed to openly sign a letter announcing the boycott – otherwise, we could be played off against one another. It took many careful meetings and discussions to organise. Many of us relied on this work to pay our bills, and in some cases, look after families.

In response to our letter, the Head of Department disparaged us in a departmental meeting, calling us “childish”. He proposed replacing our labour with PhD students from other universities. He said we would never win, that the university would never back down.

A week later, the university backed down.

So how do we claim space for feminism in the precarious academy?

By remaining aware of our differences, working with and across them to build alliances.

By campaigning through formal and informal unions as well as our research.

By speaking out and supporting our colleagues, especially if we are in a more secure position than them.

The university is not built for us. We know this in our hearts when we see the statues and paintings of worthy men around campus. We know this in our bones when we the climb steep steps to lecture theatres designed to centre a patriarchal pedagogy. We know this in the sharpness of our breath when men known for sexual abuse talk over us and claim responsibility for our work in departmental meetings.

It’s time for change on our campuses. Let’s make that change together.

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