Beyond the TERF Wars

For the past couple of years, I have been working quietly on a new edited collection with my colleagues Sonja Erikainen and Ben Vincent. It is titled TERF Wars: Feminism and the fight for transgender futures.

Cover of the Sociological Review Monograph: TERF Wars.

TERF Wars is being published as part of the Sociological Review monograph series. This means it is available digitally as a special issue of the century-old journal The Sociological Review, and will also be available to buy as a reasonably-priced paperback book.

Digital special issue
(available now with a subscription to The Sociological Review)

Paperback pre-order
(UK only for now – more and better links coming soon!)

Read the Introduction for free

Our aim has been to provide a critical, scholarly response to the growing circulation of both “pro-trans” and “anti-trans” ideas within feminism, especially in the academic context in which we work. As the “trans debate” has grown ever more extensive and complex, newcomers often express confusion around why this has happened, what the fiercely contested language actually means, and how it has all become so polarising.

The collection therefore addresses a range of issues, including (but not limited to) definitions of sex and gender, trans/feminist histories, racism, autogynepilia, “rapid-onset” gender dysphoria, detransition, access to public toilets, and contestation over the “TERF” acronym (“Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism”) itself. We have been privileged to work with a range of amazing authors, including Jay Bernard, Lua da Mota Stabile, Jen Slater, Charlotte Jones, B Camminga, Rowan Hildebrand-Chupp, Florence Ashley, Julia Serano, María Victoria Carrera-Fernández, Renée DePalma, Emi Koyama, Cristan Williams, and Sally Hines.

I am proud of what we have achieved, and hope the collection will serve to move some of these debates forward. However, I also believe it is important to emphasise that trans people face far more significant issues than debates within feminism.

I have long felt that the “TERF wars” are a distraction from the endemic discrimination and gross inequalities faced by trans people in all areas of public and private life. There is a reason that my own research and activism has focused primarily on healthcare, both before and during the editing of this collection (which I have very much treated as a side project). Arguing with strangers about sex and gender on Twitter won’t reduce waiting lists or stop doctors from sexually assaulting patients. Equally, it becomes harder to concentrate on the task in hand when vicious anti-trans columns are constantly published in the mainstream media, and when your research plans are derailed by a malicious Freedom of Information requests from anti-trans campaigners hope to access your work emails.

There is no easy solution to this conundrum. However, I urge readers to consider how they, personally, might aim to move beyond the TERF wars. My main hope for this edited collection is that will be helpful for people to better understand this particular realm of transphobic discourse, and to counter harmful and inaccurate arguments. Having done so, I urge you to turn to the real tasks of trans liberation: fighting sexism, racism, and ableism, protecting personal autonomy, building collective solidarity and mutual aid networks, providing services to our communities, and imagining new worlds.

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

~

Update 17 July 2020: the article has now been published in Volume 54, Issue 4 of Sociology, and is also now available free to read on the journal’s website. I have updated the links to reflect this.

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!

 

Trans pregnancy study – new article and podcast

Over the last year I have been working on the largest international study of conception, pregnancy and childbirth among trans men and non-binary people: the Trans Pregnancy project. We have now undertaken fifty interviews with trans and non-binary people about their experiences in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, the UK and US, plus further interviews and focus groups with young people and healthcare professionals.

In this post, I share a new peer-reviewed commentary and podcast from the project.


Article: Beyond the pregnant man: trans pregnancy in A Deal With The Universe

Our first published academic article is now available in the journal Feminist Media Studies, authored by myself with my colleague Francis Ray White. This is a short commentary on the representation of trans pregnancy in the media, centring on a review of Jason Barker’s autobiographical film A Deal With The Universe.

Click here to read the article in Feminist Media Studies.

If you do not have access to this journal through an institutional login (e.g. through a library) or personal subscription, I have uploaded an “open access” version of the article to this website. Click here to read the article for free.


Podcast: Making Space for Trans Pregnancy

In November 2018, Francis and I presented initial findings from the project at the Gendered Intelligence Transforming Spaces conference in London, UK.

This presentation was recorded, and is now available as part of the Transforming Spaces podcast series.

Topics under discussion include:

  • cultural amnesia around trans pregnancy
  • contradictions in UK law and policy
  • the importance of trans “possibility models”
  • the myth of testosterone and infertility
  • gendering in pregnancy
  • trans birth parents in international guidelines


Looking forward

There is a lot more to come! Over the next few months, we will be undertaking our final interviews and focus groups, conducting an in-depth analysis of these, and publishing a law and policy report focusing on the European Union.

Early next year we will discuss our research findings in a report and free conference. We are also planning to write many more academic articles on a range of topics, which will be published gradually over the next few years.

We are hugely grateful for everyone who has shared their story with us so far – thanks to your contributions, we have an enormous amount of material to work with. We very much look forward to sharing more of our work with you.

This post is based on material originally written for the Trans Pregnancy website.

You can also follow our research through the Trans Pregnancy Twitter account.

 

“The Emergence of Trans” – out now, read the introduction!

Emergence of Trans finalThis book is intended as a statement of hope, and of possibility. It is about the context and consequences of trans emergence. It is about how “trans” becomes, and how we “become” trans. It is about how trans people are changed by the experience of emergence, and how trans emergence might change our worlds.

I’m delighted to announce that The Emergence of Trans was published last week!

The book includes essays, poetry and a comic strip on topics such as monsters, eugenics, performativity, epiphanies, music, relationships, language, pronouns, picture books, robots, research methods and ethics.

It was edited by myself, Igi Moon, Kat Gupta and the late Deborah Lynn Steinberg.

If you want to learn more about the book, there is no better way to start than through the introductory chapter. I have uploaded a copy to this website, which you can read for free here:

The Many-Voiced Monster:
collective determination and the emergence of trans

by Ruth Pearce, Kat Gupta and Igi Moon

 
In addition to this introduction (and a number of short editorial essays) the contents of the book are:

Chapter 1: In the Shadow of Eugenics: Transgender Sterilization Legislation and the Struggle for Self-determination
by Julian Honkasalo

Chapter 2: Reconceiving the Body: A Surgical Genealogy of Trans-Therapeutics
by Eric Plemons

Chapter 3: Becoming: Discourses of Trans Emergence, Epiphanies and Oppositions
by Natacha Kennedy

Chapter 4: the seam of skin and scales
by Elena Rose Vera

Chapter 5: Creating a Trans Space
by Kat Gupta

Chapter 6: DIY Identities in a DIY Scene: Trans Music Events in the UK
by Kirsty Lohman and Ruth Pearce

Chapter 7: On Being a ‘Wife’: Cis Women Negotiating Relationships with a Trans Partner
by Clare Beckett-Wrighton

Chapter 8: Sticks and Stones Break Our Bones, and Words Are Damaging: How Language Erases Non-binary People
by stef m shuster and Ellen Lamont

Chapter 9: Response and Responsibility: Mainstream Media and Lucy Meadows in a Post-Leveson Context
by Kat Gupta

Chapter 10: ‘Girl Brain…Boy Body’: Representations of Trans Characters in Children’s Picture Books
by Clare Bartholomaeus and Damien Riggs

Chapter 11: Make Yourself
by Rami Yasir

Chapter 12: Co-producing Trans Ethical Research
by Rhi Humphrey, Bróna Nic Giolla Easpaig and Rachael Fox

Chapter 13: Nonnormative Ethics: The Ensouled Formation of Trans
by Mijke van der Drift

Chapter 14: A Genealogy of Genealogies – Retheorising Gender and Sexuality: The Emergence of ‘Trans’ (ESRC Seminar Series 2012-2014)
by Igi Moon

 

The book is now available in paperback and hardback formats from many bookstores, including publisher Routledge. Ebook and Kindle versions will also be released soon.

Gender equality, ambivalence and Athena SWAN

This morning I was delighted to see that an article about Athena SWAN I co-authored with Charikleia Tzanakou has been pre-published online.

Entitled ‘Moderate feminism within or against the neoliberal university? The example of Athena SWAN‘, the article reflects on findings from research undertaken by Tzanakou in 2013-2017 and myself in 2017, looking at the experiences of individuals involved in Self-Assessment Teams (SATs) for the Athena SWAN gender equality scheme. It will eventually be published in a special issue of the journal on the topic of ‘moderate feminisms’.

You can read the article here (for free!) in the journal Gender, Work & Organization.

Something we thought about a great deal when writing the article was our own ambivalence regarding Athena SWAN.

On the one hand, we found that the scheme tends to play an undue burden on women, who are disproportionately represented on SATs and can face hostility from colleagues and managers for undertaking the assessment process. Some women even reported being threatened or turned down for jobs if their department, school or faculty failed to obtain an Athena SWAN award, even though this typically reflected the failings of the institution rather than the SAT. Women experiencing intersecting forms of marginalisation were particularly vulnerable, and trans people were rarely acknowledged at all. We regarded this as a consequence of the neoliberal context in which Athena SWAN operates, in which the scheme may be regarded as “just another metric”, a box-ticking exercise with a reductionist notion of womanhood.

On the other hand, several participants did argue that Athena SWAN had helped to raise awareness of gender inequalities in their institution, leading male colleagues especially to take the issue more seriously. In some cases, SATs used the scheme to push for important changes, such as better support mechanisms and financial support for new parents, more diverse and intersectional curricula, and gender neutral toilets. Of particular benefit for this purpose was the requirement for continual re-assessment every few years should institutions want to retain their Athena SWAN award, or upgrade from Bronze to Silver or from Silver to Bronze. This requirement for re-assessment gives the award “teeth”, meaning that institutions can sometimes be actually held to account for actively pursuing the action plan they have to draw up in order to obtain an award.

I also reflected on some of these negative aspects of Athena SWAN and potential benefits in a report published by the University of Warwick Centre for the Study of Women and Gender in 2017: Certifying Equality? – A critical reflection on Athena SWAN and equality accreditation.

Ultimately, Athena SWAN is not simply “good” or “bad”. It is often implemented poorly, and suffers from operating within a neoliberal environment, but has the potential to be used as a tool for real change. Multiple actors are responsible for how the scheme works in practice.

If you are a SAT member, I would urge you to see Athena SWAN not simply as a box-ticking exercise, but as a means through which universities might be required to change their practices and provide additional resources. Think about how your team might take a more intersectional approach to planning actions, and if you receive an award, use it to hold your institution to account.

If you are a Head of Department/School/Faculty or otherwise work in university management, I would urge you to remember that inequalities abound in our institutions; Athena SWAN offers a real opportunity to reflect on and address this. Identifying the problem does not necessarily reflect poorly on your institution, but failing to act certainly does.

Finally, I should note that there is currently an ongoing review of Athena SWAN, which closes on the 28th January. I encourage anyone with an interest in this topic to respond to it!

Athena SWAN Steering Group listening exercise consultation

Trans Temporalities and Non-Linear Ageing

Transgender lives may require mixed strategies—not only healing and an achieved coherence but also the ability to represent and to inhabit temporal, gendered, and conceptual discontinuities.’
– Kadji Amin

I’ve recently ha9781138644939d a chapter published in a new book about LGBT ageing: Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People: Minding the Knowledge Gaps, edited by Andrew King, Kathryn Almack, Yiu-Tung Suen and Sue Westwood. My essay is titled Trans Temporalities and Non-Linear Ageing.

This blog post includes an extract from the introduction to the chapter (updated slightly to reflect my advanced age from the time of writing – what temporal webs we academics weave), along a link at the end where you can download and read a free version of the entire essay.

At the time of writing, I am 12 years old, 16 years old, and 32 years old.
I was born 30 years ago; in chronological terms, I have lived for 32 years. Chronological time is, however, just one means by which ageing might be understood (Baars, 1997). When we talk about age in terms of chronological time, we make a number of assumptions. Most importantly, we assume that our journey through the life course is linear, progressing from birth (at the beginning of the journey) to death (at the end). But my age can also be understood in terms of trans time. As a trans woman, I have experienced non-linear temporalities of disruption, disjuncture, and discontinuity.

By temporality, I refer to ‘the social patterning of experiences and understandings of time’ (Amin, 2014: 219, emphasis mine). Through conceptualising time as a social phenomenon, we might think about other beginnings and other ends, as well as wider temporal shifts and discontinuities across the lifecourse. It is not unusual for trans people do this: for example, through talking about age in terms of trans years in addition to years since birth. What if we were to regarding my coming out at the age of 16 as a beginning (and, for that matter, as an end to my ‘previous’ life)? In this case, I might say that I am 16 years old in trans years. This does not, of course, change my chronological age: I am both 16 and 32. Or, we might regard my commencement of hormone therapy as a beginning, in which case I am 12 (but also 16 and 32, still).

Importantly, trans years are not necessarily linked to chronological years. For instance, two different trans people who are both aged 80 in chronological years might have aged quite differently in trans years: perhaps one of them came out many decades ago, while the other has only been out for a couple of years. These individuals are likely to have had vastly different trans temporal experiences, which belie their apparently similar chronological age.

In this chapter I explore the consequences of trans temporalities for ageing. Non-linear ageing is not simply a matter of theory, but an approach which can enable us to ‘do justice to the complex ways in which people inhabit gender variance’ (Amin, 2014: 219). As Louis Bailey, Jay McNeil and Sonja J Ellis note in chapter 4 of Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People, ‘Mental Health and Well-Being amongst Older Trans People’, trans people tend to face a range of specific challenges as they age, and may fear accessing mainstream forms of care, such as mental health services. It is therefore vital that academics and service providers alike understand how temporal phenomena such as trans years can shape trans identities and experiences.

I begin by outlining theories of queer and trans temporality that help to make sense of community terminology such as ‘trans years’. I then show how trans people may experience ageing in a variety of quite different ways, drawing on a range of literature as well as findings from two qualitative research projects. Finally, I detail two common features of non-linear trans ageing:anticipation, and delayed adolescence. These discussions draw primarily on evidence, issues and challenges that have been identified in Western European and North American research.

Read the full essay here.

This is an open-access version of my book chapter – you are welcome to read and share it freely. However, if you are a student or academic, please do cite the published version of the essay, and encourage your library to purchase a copy of the book if they have not already done so.

For further reading, I recommend Trans Temporalities, a 2017 special issue of the journal Somatechnics. You can also read more from me on the topic in Chapter 5 of my book, Understanding Trans Health.

Book publication and launch

Today sees the publication of my book Understanding Trans Health. I’m really happy to be finally sharing it with the world.

Yesterday I hosted a launch event at the University of Leeds. I felt really strongly that this was an opportunity not only to celebrate the book, but also to explore some of the other fantastic work happening in the field of trans health. One of the things I write about in the penultimate chapter of Understanding Trans Health is the importance of collaboration and building one another up – I wanted to help start a conversation that encompassed more than my own work, and give something back to others from whom I have learned so much.

De7WApQX0AQEM6r.jpg large

Photo by Rob Noon.

Zowie Davy and Michael Toze opened the event with a discussion of the term “gender dysphoria”. They have conducted a systematic review of literature on the topic, and found that there are huge conceptual differences in how the term is deployed and understood. This can lead to diagnostic confusion and issues with empirical claims, especially given the continued contemporaneous influence of alternative and older diagnostic languages. Davy and Toze have written an academic article based on this work which is currently under peer review; I very much recommend watching out for its publication. [Twitter thread]

Chris Dietz offered a fascinating insight into gender recognition reform in Denmark. He noted that the positive international press afforded to the country’s new gender recognition law contrasted with the views of many actual trans people in Denmark. Concerns were raised in particular about the contrast between the liberal provisions of the law, which enables a form of self-declaration, and the strict requirements of the Sexological Clinic, which has a monopoly on gender identity services. [Twitter thread]

Kate Nambiar argued for the importance of trans-led healthcare services. She touched upon the inspiring history of pioneering women doctors in the 19th century, before offering a nuanced analysis of what we do and don’t know about trans sexual health and why trans-led services offer an opportunity to address endemic issues. I was particularly inspired by the description of her work as part of the Clinic T team. While my own work has primarily explored the problems that exist within the provision of healthcare services for trans people, I feel it is deeply important to explore possible options for a better future. [Twitter thread]

My own talk offered a broad overview of my book’s central ideas and themes, as well as some illustrative examples from research participants, healthcare literatures and resources. I also touched upon what it means to become an “expert” from my own experience as a trans academic, and the sometimes severe challenges that come with this. Several attendees tweeted summaries of my talk, which I have linked below.One attendee also very kindly filmed sections of my talk, so these may be uploaded to the Internet at a later date.

Summary from @K_A_Longhurst

Summary from @Chican3ry

Summary from @LilithBrouwers

You can read more about the event on the Twitter hashtag #transhealthleeds. But ultimately, to learn more about my work, I encourage you to buy the book!

The success of Understanding Trans Health will depend in part on word of mouth, so if you find the book interesting or useful, please do write a review to share your thoughts! Similarly, if you work or study at a university, please do talk to your subject librarian to see if they can order in a copy.

As for the event, I would like to offer a huge amount of thanks to everyone who came, as well as to the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds for supporting the event, and to Sally Hines for her warm contributions as a fantastic chair.

Understanding Trans Health – book launch and mini conference

Understanding trans healthMy research monograph Understanding Trans Health will be published in just over a month! To celebrate, I will be holding an event on Tuesday 5th June at the University of Leeds, where I will be discussing the book and the findings it reports. I have also invited a number of people I admire enormously to talk about what they’re working on at the moment.

The event is FREE but places are limited, so please do register if you want to come!

Register a place here.

 
Talks will include:

‘The Gender Experts’: Clinical Discourse and Becoming Trans
Dr Ruth Pearce (University of Leeds)
https://ruthpearce.net/about/

What is Gender Dysphoria? – at least, in the Literature
Dr Zowie Davy (De Montfort University) and Dr Michael Toze (University of Lincoln)
https://zowiedavy.wordpress.com/about/

Body Parts in Trans Erotica
Dr Kat Gupta (University of Sussex)
http://mixosaurus.co.uk/about-me/

Accessing trans healthcare: what role for medical law?
Dr Chris Dietz (University of Leeds)
http://www.law.leeds.ac.uk/people/staff/dietz

Trans healthcare at Clinic T
Dr Kate Nambiar (Clinic T, Brighton)
https://www.stonewall.org.uk/people/dr-kate-nambiar

The event will be chaired by my colleague Professor Sally Hines.

There will also be plenty of time for questions and discussion. The event will be followed by a reception with free drinks and nibbles.

I hope to see you there!

Trans Genealogies: special issue articles now online!

trans symbol

Trans symbol by Chris Hubley

[Edit 14/02/19 – the special issue has now formally been published, and is available here.]

I’m delighted to announce that the articles written for the Sexualities special issue ‘Trans Genealogies’ – edited by myself, Deborah Lynn Steinberg and Igi Moon – have now been pre-published on OnlineFirst.

While the creation of this special issue has been a particularly long and difficult affair, it was really fantastic to work with such interesting and thought-provoking articles. I’m really excited that we can now finally share them with the world.

The articles will be formally collated and published in a single issue of Sexualities in a few months’ time. This will be available both online and in print format, and I’ll no doubt be using that as an opportunity to once again encourage people to read them.

However, for now you can read the special issue articles here:


Introduction: The Emergence of ‘Trans’
Ruth Pearce, Deborah Lynn Steinberg and Igi Moon
[OnlineFirst] [open access]

Axiomatic: Constituting ‘transexuality’ and trans sexualities in medicine
JR Latham
[OnlineFirst]

Response and responsibility: Mainstream media and Lucy Meadows in a post-Leveson context
Kat Gupta
[OnlineFirst]

Rethinking queer failure: Trans youth embodiments of distress
Katrina Roen
[OnlineFirst]

‘Boying’ the boy and ‘girling’ the girl: From affective interpellation to trans-emotionality
Igi Moon
[OnlineFirst]

Genderqueer(ing): ‘On this side of the world against which it protests’
Zowie Davy
[OnlineFirst]

De/constructing DIY identities in a trans music scene
Ruth Pearce and Kirsty Lohman
[OnlineFirst] [open access]

Mak nyahs and the dismantling of dehumanisation: Framing empowerment strategies of Malaysian male-to-female transsexuals in the 2000s
Joseph N Goh and Thaatchaayini Kananatu
[OnlineFirst]


Here’s what we have to say about the special issue content in the editorial introduction:

We open with JR Latham’s ‘Axiomatic: Constituting ‘‘transexuality’’ and trans
sexualities in medicine’. Latham provides a genealogy of medical becoming, draw-
ing the reader’s attention to the manner by which trans identities may be consti-
tuted in and through a pathologising discourse that retains the influence of
pioneering mid-20th century clinician Harry Benjamin. Through his elucidation
of four axioms of transsexualism, Latham also unpacks the role of sexuality in
the becoming/emergence of trans in medical settings, and explores the manner by
which we might arrive into entirely contingent spaces of gender subjectivity and
enactment that we nevertheless take for granted.

A second example of the disciplinary impact of categorical thinking is explored
in Kat Gupta’s article, ‘Response and responsibility: Mainstream media and Lucy
Meadows in a post-Leveson context’. Like Latham, Gupta describes how trans
might ‘emerge’ and ‘become’ through the interventions of non-trans actors: in this context, journalists writing about trans teacher Lucy Meadows after she came out
in the workplace. Meadows’ dreadfully sad fate is only compounded by the con-
tinued construction of an unwanted male identity for her in British newspaper
reporting. However, as Gupta carefully demonstrates, this was not entirely the
outcome of intentional prejudice: rather, the misgendering of Meadows emerges
through the subtle contingencies of repetitious reproduction and metacommentary.

The four articles that follow critique binary thinking from a range of perspec-
tives, and question both cis-normative and trans-normative approaches to categor-
isation. These articles ask how we might think about bodies and psyches in a more
open and ethical manner, informed by ‘trans’ discourse but with wider conse-
quences for understandings of gender and sexuality. They look at how we might
move beyond the axioms described by Latham and the cultural forces analysed by
Gupta, inviting us to consider how we might re-think our approaches to bodies and
identities, avoiding binaries in inhabiting these ideas while building new solidarities
and allowing new possibilities to emerge.

In ‘Rethinking queer failure: Trans youth embodiments of distress’, Katrina
Roen explores how we could seek to break from normative thinking, including
the transnormativities that have emerged with ‘trans’. Noting that trans youth
are frequently associated with narratives of distress and self-harm, Roen draws
upon Jack Halberstam’s concept of queer failure and Sara Ahmed’s feminist cri-
tique of happiness in order to ‘unsettle’ these narratives and imagine new trans
possibilities ‘that do not involve straightening or alignment’.

Igi Moon also looks predominantly at the experiences and narratives of trans youth in ‘‘‘Boying’’ the boy and ‘‘girling’’ the girl: From affective interpellation to trans-emotionality’. In their article, Moon argues that emergent trans discourses offer an important alternative to binary notions of emotionality. Moon describes ‘trans-emotionality’ as a pluralistic approach to understanding gendered feeling that has been made possible through non-binary and genderqueer peoples’ responses to experiences of sexual liminality and dis-orientation.

In ‘Genderqueer(ing): ‘‘On this side of the world against which it protests’’’,
Zowie Davy questions the categorical lines that are frequently drawn between
‘transsexual’ and ‘genderqueer’ trans identities, desires and bodies. Revisiting a
series of interviews from the early 2000s, Davy employs the Deleuzian notion of
‘assemblage’ to question frequently taken-for-granted assumptions around trans
difference. She asks us to be reflexive in our understanding of the terminologies of
trans, transsexualism, transgenderism, genderqueer and non-binary; terminologies
that can be used to help us understand specificity but which can also be used to
close down analyses of connection and similarity. In this way we are effectively
encouraged to be attentive to the limitations of a ‘non-binary’/‘binary’ binary in
our accounts of trans possibility.

An optimistic account of such possibilities is provided by Ruth Pearce and Kirsty Lohman. In ‘De/constructing DIY identities in a trans music scene’, the authors draw upon a case study of an ‘underground’ scene in the UK to explore how trans discourses and everyday political approaches can feed into processes of cultural production. This offers an insight into what possibilities might emerge and flow from ‘trans’ as a pluralistic approach to gender and identification.

The issue closes with an account of Malaysian legal and media advocacy, ‘Mak
nyahs and the dismantling of dehumanisation: Framing empowerment strategies of
Malaysian male-to-female transsexuals in the 2000s’. In this article, Joseph N Goh
and Thaatchaayini Kananatu effectively revisit a range of themes from across the
special issue: processes of becoming and definition (including self-definition
as well as being defined by others) and the manner in which activism intersects with the media and law as well as the medical and political establishments. Like the UK case studies, this account is one of both specific importance and broader relevance. It is vital to acknowledge the particular context of the struggles for gender liberation by mak nyahs in Malaysia: a context shaped both by local law and religion, and the
complex post-colonial impact of Western discourses and political interventions.
The emergent language of mak nyah identity effectively stands in opposition not
only to the cis and binary gender norms of conservative politics and religious
fundamentalism, but also to a homogenised white, Western, Anglophone discourse
of ‘trans’. At the same time, Goh and Kananatu highlight how high the stakes are
and how difficult the battles for liberation can be for gender diverse peoples around
the world, in an important account of the dangers and possibilities that come with
‘trans’ visibility.

I hope readers find the special issue articles as fascinating, challenging, and useful as we did. Enjoy!