Of memory and mourning: the hidden origins of an academic editorial

Experiences of co-authorship often remain strangely silent, oddly invisible.

In academic publishing, co-authorship is common; and yet, how often do we think about whose voice we are reading, and how a collaborative narrative emerged? How often do we teach students to write together rather than apart? What visions do we have of co-authorship?

I don’t think we talk enough about these experiences and issues.

This week, an editorial I co-authored for the forthcoming Sexualities special issue ‘Trans Genealogies’ was published online. For me, this short piece carries a great deal of emotional weight. It was written under pretty unique circumstances, with my fellow author and former PhD supervisor Deborah Lynn Steinberg close to death. In this sense, it was hardly a standard experience of collaborative writing.

Screenshot of the editorial article "Introduction: The Emergence of Trans". The three authors' names are listed underneath the title.

However, in discussing my experiences of this article and others, I hope to offer some insight into an oft-hidden process of co-authorship, while encouraging readers to maybe reflect on their own experiences of collaboration.

~

Some co-authored articles owe their existence primarily to one of their authors. We might hope that this is the lead author, although this is not always the case.

Last year, I contributed to an article on research ethics for the journal Transgender Health. This was an exciting collaboration and a very interesting experience, with an international team of authors working remotely through the Internet to pool our ideas and expertise. It was an honour and a privilege to work with Jaimie Veale, Asa Radix, Danielle Castro, Amrita Sarkar and Kai Cheng Thom, and I learned a great deal from their considerable expertise in doing so. However, at the core of the writing project was lead author Noah Adams. While myself and the other authors did put a great deal of work into the article, Noah initiated the collaboration, produced the original article draft, oversaw the integration of our respective contributions into the piece, and acted as the primary point of contact for our communications with the Transgender Health editorial team. It was only right that he was credited as lead author.

On other occasions, I have seen how this kind of collaboration might be an exploitative one. During my time as a PhD student, I witnessed other postgraduates put this kind of effort into supposedly joint projects with their supervisors, only for the said supervisors to be credited as lead authors (or, on a depressing number of occasions, as the sole author). This was particularly disappointing in the context of social science subjects, where the presumption tends to be that the lead author did the majority of the work.

I had a very different experience of collaboration with Kirsty Lohman. Our article on de/constructive trans DIY music scenes will also be included in the ‘Trans Genealogies’ special issue. We wrote together, in the same room; sometimes taking turns to tackle individual paragraphs, other times constructing sentences together with one of us sat at the keyboard and the two of us almost competing to find the next word. It was a real joint effort in which we both put an equal amount of energy into the work. I am named as lead author only because one of us had to be; at the time the article was accepted, we agreed that it was more beneficial to my career at that point in time than it was to Kirsty’s.

Deborah related a similar history of writing collaborations with a close colleague and friend. She vividly described how she would furiously lay ideas down onto a Word document while her colleague paced the room impatiently, bursting with ideas of her own, before the two would swap places. Whole afternoons, whole days could be spent in fruitful (if sometimes fiery) joint authorship.

~

There was no such option for the ‘Trans Genealogies’ editorial. The special issue was originally Deborah’s idea, a follow-up to our 2012-14 seminar series Retheorising Gender and Sexuality: The Emergence of ‘Trans’. She pitched the series to the editors of Sexualities, wrote the Call For Papers, and provided extensive advice and support to authors who made contact prior to the January 2016 deadline. At the time I was happy for her to take the lead, as I had finished the majority of the data collection for my PhD and was focusing on writing up my thesis.

The deadline came and went, but myself and fellow co-editor Igi Moon didn’t hear from Deborah for weeks, then months. As her cancer advanced, she was increasingly ill and unable to continue leading the editorial work for the journal. Eventually, Igi and I took over the editorial process, overseeing peer review and seeking to ensure that Deborah’s vision could be fulfilled.

By January 2017 we had identified the seven research articles that would comprise the special issue, most of which were provisionally accepted or near completion. Unfortunately, it was also apparent that Deborah would not live to see the publication of the special issue. She was first house-bound, and then bed-bound. We visited her as often as we could, sharing stories from our lives and updating her on the progress of the issue.

I had originally envisaged that Deborah would take the lead on writing the editorial, just as she originally took the lead on editing the issue more generally. By the time we had a firm idea of the issue’s contents, however, it was painfully apparent that this would be impossible.

As it become increasingly clear that Deborah had just weeks (if not days) to live, I became obsessed with writing the editorial while she was still alive. I wanted it to be a true collective work, but how to do this when my collaborator could barely speak, let alone write – when this woman who had dedicated herself utterly to her work was finally unable to enjoy the intellectual pursuits that had been such a driving force in her life?

In the end, I decided to revisit Deborah’s previous writings and reflections, the ones that had inspired and galvanised the editorial project in the first place. I poured over her notes from the Emergence of Trans series, the agendas and essays she wrote for individual events, her introductory talk for the ‘Trans in Popular Culture’ seminar.

I met with Igi to discuss the contents of the special issue: the contributions of the individual articles, and their thematic place in the wider context of the issue and of the wider literatures to which they speak. We listed key ideas and phrases we want to incorporate into the editorial.

I re-immersed myself in the literatures of transgender studies, thinking about recent trends and emerging concerns as well as longstanding debates and histories. I also thought about Sara Ahmed’s comments on the politics of citation, and committed to a centring of insights from trans scholars and/or scholars of colour.

And then I sat down. And I wrote.

~

After finishing the editorial, I visited Deborah one last time. I was excited to tell her that it was completed, and to explain how inspired I had been by working with her ideas, working with her words.

But by this point she was no longer with us. Her body fought on for just a few more days while she restlessly slept.

~

In retrospect, it’s a somewhat flawed piece. The editorial offers a very brief, broad summary of the context in which specifically ‘trans’ discourses have emerged and been contested. It was, in a sense, constrained through the need to address a set of themes originally outlined by Deborah, now a simultaneously absent and ever-present co-author.

When I re-read the editorial, I do what perhaps every author does. I notice every awkward turn of phrase, every moment of repetition, every missing references (perhaps most prominent of these is Stryker, Currah and Moore’s piece ‘Trans-, Trans, or Transgender?‘, which I was unable to access through my institution at the time). Following Deborah’s death, neither Igi nor I had any appetite for further revisions. We sent it off to Sexualities, and thought little more about it.

Yet, perhaps the brief, intense process by which the editorial finally came into being is one of its greatest strengths. I wrote it in a fit of passion, pulling together our collective ideas with a sense of deep love and purpose. In this sense, my commitment to the field, and to the wider promise of trans liberation, was one with my commitment to my fellow authors, my collaborators.

And I feel it is a better piece of writing for that.

~

You can read the special issue editorial ‘Introduction: The Emergence of “Trans”‘ in the following locations:

Sexualities [with institutional access]

My website [free pre-proof version]


I will be writing a follow-up piece about the broader contents of the special issue next week.

 

Forthcoming talk: The Transgender Moral Panic

I’ve been invited to give a guest lecture at the University of Warwick next week, on Thursday 8th February.

This will be part of the “Hidden Histories” alternative lecture series, organised by Warwick Students’ Union with support from a number of academic departments.

The talk will take place from 7pm in S0.21 (Social Science Building), and is open to all. I will speak for around an hour and there will be time for questions and discussions.

Here’s the blurb from the Facebook event page:

The Transgender Moral Panic: A Brief Social History

Over the last few months, there has been an enormous upsurge in media commentary that expresses concern about the role of trans people in public life. Gendered changing rooms, non-binary people, trans children and notions of self-definition have all come under intense scrutiny, with psychologist Meg-John Barker describing 2017 as “the year of the transgender moral panic”.

For the 2nd lecture in our Hidden Histories series, Ruth Pearce will explore the background to the recent wave of media interest, taking in radical feminist theories, scientific racism and proposed changes to UK law. She will show how the transgender moral panic has been shaped by deep-seated cultural anxieties around sex and gender, brought to the fore by the precarious successes of the trans liberation movement.

Ruth Pearce is a trans feminist scholar. Her research primarily examines discourses, practices and experiences of trans health. Her PhD was awarded by the University of Warwick in 2016. Her thesis looked at how trans health is differently understood within trans communities, activist groups and professional literatures, with a range of meanings and practices contested within and between these spaces.

Come along for what is set to be a fascinating event exploring a topic which is generally erased from mainstream curricula. Refreshments will be provided!

Hidden Histories banner

Report: “Certifying Equality? A critical reflection on Athena SWAN”

Certifying EqualityEarlier this year I organised an event on Athena SWAN and equality accreditation for the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender at the University of Warwick. It was a really great opportunity for attendees from a range of HE institutions to reflect on the benefits and limitations of equality accreditation schemes, and share thoughts on our experiences of Athena SWAN.

I’ve now completed a report on the event, which I hope will be helpful for galvanising discussions in universities that participate in the Athena SWAN charter mark.

You can download the report here.

It includes reflections and insights from the Certifying Equality event, including:

  • Background to Athena SWAN
  • Athena SWAN as a catalyst for change
  • The contradictions of equality accreditation
  • Proposals for change
  • Presentation summaries

If you find this document helpful and interesting, please do help distribute it by sharing with your colleagues!

 

 

Event: Trans Feminism talk at University of Wolverhampton (10 March)

Friday 10th March, 2017
City Campus, University of Wolverhampton
1.30pm in MD165

I will be talking about some of the key issues and debates in trans feminism as part of the University of Wolverhampton’s International Women’s Week programme, highlighting areas of commonality and difference between the political struggles of trans women and cis women. I will also explore both historical and contemporary disputes over the place of trans issues (including challenges faced by trans men and non-binary people) within a women’s movement.

(Free) registration for the event is available here.

Certifying Equality? A critical perspective on Athena SWAN (17 February)

certifying-equality-posterI’m currently part of a team working on an Athena SWAN submission for the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick.

Many of us are feminist academics. The process has got us thinking both about how equality accreditation mechanisms such as Athena SWAN can create space for new ways of thinking and tackling sexism, and also about what can go “missing” or get “lost” in such processes. For example, there isn’t much space for an interrogation of intersecting inequalities in Athena SWAN (or Race Equality Mark) submissions.

We’ve therefore decided to organise an event to think about and discuss some of these issues. It will be taking place on Friday 17th February in the Wolfson Research Exchange, University of Warwick Library.

Further details and a registration form can be found here.

I have seen the future of feminism, and it is beautiful

Yesterday’s social media furore over a dodgy letter to the Observer left me questioning my place within the women’s movement for the umpteenth time. However, within hours I was powerfully reminded that those who advocate an exclusive feminism are less influential and important than they might like to think.

Last night I joined a room of people committed to building a feminism that is compassionate, reflexive, inclusive of all women and sensitive to our different experiences.

Last night I found myself in a room of brown, black and white faces; gay, bi and straight; cis and trans; working class and middle class; disabled and abled. Last night I heard a teenage Muslim woman speak out about the importance of representing all faiths in activism after a question from a Jewish woman in the audience. Last night I heard from a white middle-class straight woman who has turned up to learn with an open mind. Last night I heard cis women talk about about trans rights, and felt that my identity and experience as a woman was simply not in question.

I had been invited to contribute to a panel discussion at the University of Bristol Students’ Union (UBU). Entitled How do we make the Women’s Movement intersectional?, the panel was was of UBU’s “Festival of Liberation“, which also includes events looking at the challenges faced by LGBT people, disabled people, and people of colour. I was honoured to share a panel with three truly awesome women: Susuana Antubam and Sammi Whitaker of the NUS Women’s Campaign, and Fahma Mohamed of Integrate Bristol.

Panellists at UBU's intersectional feminist event
Last night was promising and encouraging and heartwarming, and was not unusual in being so. I have seen similar scenes repeated across the country over the last few years at talks, workshops, protests and riot grrrl gigs.

This is the new feminism. A feminism that is discarding the model of monolithic female oppression and in its place building a movement around diversity and inclusion. A feminism that seeks to base both theory and action upon what different groups of women have to say about their lives and experiences, rather than imposing a top-down model of liberation drawn from academic theory. A feminism that sees cis and straight women take responsibility for supporting the work of their trans and queer sisters, white women take responsibility for supporting the work of their sisters of colour, abled women take responsibiity for supporting the work of their disabled sisters and so on.

Last night we talked about the importance of intersectionality as feminist praxis: of putting ideas into action. We talked about the importance of education: of sharing the knowledge and tools necessary for women’s liberation with people of all genders. We talked about the importance of representation: of working to ensure that women of all backgrounds feel welcome and able to attend feminist events through the use of accessible venues, ensuring diversity within organising teams and (where relevant) speakers/acts, and thinking about the language we use. We talked about the benefits of building groups around intersectional identities (such as black womanhood); groups that can then work alongside other bodies of people with a broader remit, feeding in ideas and holding them to account.

We talked about calling people out and challenging oppressive behaviour both within wider society and within the feminist movement. We also talked about being kind and prepared to forgive, and allowing people space to learn and grow. We talked about how everyone will make mistakes, because intersectional feminism is a constant experience of doing and being, rather than a closed process where you jump through a series of hoops and then become a Good Feminist who is capable of always passing judgement upon others.

We talked about our experiences of activism. Fahma talked about giving a piece of her mind to a nervous Michael Gove, resulting in a letter to every school in the country about FGM. Sammi talked about productive conversations with working class male friends, and building liberation into the very fabric of Anglia Ruskin’s fledgling Students’ Union. Susuana talked about her work on addressing lad culture as a gendered, racialised and classist phenomenon. I talked about my contributions to trans and non-binary inclusion within the NUS Women’s Campaign, and how we seek a diverse range of performers for Revolt, Coventry’s feminist punk night. We heard stories and ideas and questions from the audience, and I reflected on how we were not “experts” with a monopoly on solutions, but just one part of a wider movement.

These are just some of the things that we talked about.

So why have I been led to question my place within the women’s movement?

Because I see Julie Bindel referring to other feminists as “stupid little bellends” whilst misgendering trans women, arguing that bisexuals do not experience oppression, and stating that Muslim women who wear religious dress are necessarily oppressed. Because I see Rupert Read suggesting that trans women should not be allowed to use public toilets. Because I see Beatrix Campbell repeating and defending these ideas.

When I read things like this, I am repelled by a feminism that is harsh, bitter and exclusionary.

When feminists gaslight me by claiming repeatedly that the individuals who wrote these articles are not transphobic I am saddened and confused.

When I hear about feminists disrupting conversations at events such as AFem in order to promote an agenda that excludes trans people and sex workers, I am disappointed and worried.

When I see exclusionary events like Radfem 2013 and Femifest 2014 promoted within feminist spaces and supported by organisations like Women’s Aid and Reclaim The Night London I am alarmed and concerned.

When I see feminist women and men – including both public figures as well as personal friends and acquaintances – sign a misleading letter that condemns attempts to debate and contest the above, I wonder how voices of those who work for an inclusive and diverse feminism can possibly stand against a “letter mob” representing the discursive might of the liberal Establishment.

The stakes are high. Too many of my friends have considered suicide. Too many of my friends have died. When I talk to my trans friends and fellow activists, I hear about fragile mental health, doctors and shopkeepers refusing to provide services, threats of violence and attacks in the street. All of these things are fuelled by the dehumanisation of trans people, the idea that we require intervention to save us from the misguided path of transition, the implication that we do not deserve to exist within public spaces. These discourses are perpetuated by feminists and defended by liberals in the name of “free speech”.

I don’t believe in historical inevitability and don’t buy into progression narratives. I had a debate about trans-exclusive feminisms with Jack Halberstam recently. Jack echoed my PhD supervisor in arguing that trans-exclusive feminisms are outdated and irrelevant, long-dismissed within the academic world. But the academic world is often divorced from the reality of the feminist movement on the ground. In this reality, exclusive feminisms continue to fester.

In spite of all of this, last night reminded me of the power and appeal of the new, intersectional feminism. It is this feminism that is popular amongst young people who are more interested in working together than apart, and veteran activists with the humility to share their ideas and wisdom with newcomers on an equal footing.

This feminism requires work and nurture, but – as I argued last night – this does not need to be an entirely arduous task. Working together across our differences and ensuring that more people feel welcome and included makes us stronger. Learning new things from others can be interesting and exciting. Having the strength to learn from our mistakes solidifies friendships and alliances. Discovering a more diverse range of feminist histories, activisms and performances can be fun and empowering.

The new feminism is beautiful. Let’s keep building.

Misogynists who know nothing about music shame Courtney Love for not being an entire band

Some sound guy who was hired (by who, it’s not entirely certain) to record a Hole show a few years back has put isolated vocal and guitar parts from Courtney Love playing “Celebrity Skin” up on Youtube.

This video is now being gleefully shared around by mainstream music websites and blogs that invariably describe Courtney’s performance as “terrible” or rhetorically ask if it is “the worst thing ever”.

The answer, to anyone who has the slightest clue about how live music happens, is “no, this really isn’t the worst thing ever”.

Why? Well, firstly, because Courtney actually sounds pretty good here if you like raw vocal parts. But let’s set that aside for a moment.

Live vocal feeds usually sound pretty terrible. There is a lot of processing that happens in a studio, and a reason why slick-sounding albums tend to take days, weeks or even months to record. It’s a very rare singer who can pull off perfect vocals live – particularly if they’re playing rock or punk, which tend to rely on energy rather than technical perfection.

We don’t tend to notice this when we see live bands – because if they’re a decent band, they will have that energy, and the singing will be good enough. This is one reason why you can see a phenomenal live performance at a gig, then watch an imperfect live recording on TV a couple of days later and wonder why it doesn’t seem anywhere near as good.

Similarly, guitar parts tend to undergo a lot of processing even in a live setting. Many professional bands don’t have pedals on-stage, and will rely on a sound technician to process any distortion or tone effects for them. Moreover, amps will be adjusted for the acoustics of a venue. Unless you apply serious production to a live recording, it will tend to sound a lot more tinny and empty than a studio recording.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Courtney isn’t even really playing much guitar in this video in part because she doesn’t need to. “Celebrity Skin” relies largely on one guitar part and the rhythm section (bass and drums) to provide the bulk of the song, with the second guitar throwing in a bit of additional “oomph” now and again. Of course the guitar parts in this video are minimal and imperfect – quite aside from the sound issues, Courtney is pretty much smashing the strings for occasional effect. This would sound a lot better if you were doing this in your room because you’d have the volume, distortion and acoustics that were clearly present in the room at this gig. But it’d sound even better if you had an entire band filling out the rest of the song for you.

Surely, the guitar could have been played a lot better here, but it’s clear from the audience response that no-one actually in the venue cares. Why? Because there’s an entire band filling out the sound, which means that one punk musician’s performance doesn’t have to be perfect. Besides, she’s still pretty tight with the rest of the group.

So why is this even a big deal? I’m sure there are those who will claim that this video is just being shared because it sounds shit, but there are plenty of musicians who would sound shit if you shared isolated guitar + vocal parts around the Internet.

Courtney Love is no angel by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel it’s no coincidence that she is being targeted. She’s one of the very few women to ever maintain a relatively high profile as a rock star for the duration of her career, and that has made her the target for the kind of judgementalism, conspiracy theories and ill-informed criticism that just doesn’t stick with well-known male performers.

And that’s misogyny.

edit 15/11/14

This post wasn’t particularly well thought-through – I wrote it in a brief fit of annoyance and threw at at the Internet, not really expecting it to stick. I stand absolutely by what I said – it’s just that if I was expecting to deal with the snobby pedant parade in its full uptight glory I probably would have spent some time making the argument really watertight. Oh well.

Still, since I’m currently getting yet another spike of several thousand hits, I figured I’d address a couple of things that people seem to be massively missing the point on.

Firstly, the guitar. Of course it’s out of tune and sounds shite. I’m a musician, and I’m not deaf. The implicit question in this blog was intended to be – do you think this never happens to other musicians? Love, like anyone else at her level, will not be tuning her own guitar – it’ll be done by a guitar tech on tour with her. And mistakes will be made. If you’re in the middle of a song and attempt to play a nice, big power chord only to find out that it sounds awful, you’re gonna barely play it. Alternatively, if you’re in the middle of a song and can’t hear yourself properly through the monitors and suspect something might be wrong, you’re also barely gonna play it. Were these the reasons Love played in the way she did? Or was it something else? There are many ways this could have played out. Honestly, I don’t actually really care, and I’m baffled at why everyone else does. Which leads me on to…

Yes, of course the coverage of this is misogynistic. There’s some more discussion of the double-standard in rock music at play in this discussion here. This isn’t about whether or not the performance was objectively good or objectively awful – it’s about how this one incident fits into a wider pattern in which female musicians are, as standard, treated differently to male musicians and subject to different expectations. Incidentally, the men who comment on my blog calling me a “bitch” for writing this or declaring that I “HATE MEN” are not gonna convince me that they’re somehow sensitive to the nuances of sexism.

Anyways, I’m off to do some research and listen to Against Me! because I have a life outside the Internet. Toodles.

Comments on this post are now closed, as I have better things to do with my time than approve dozens of comments with exactly the same content.