WPATH 2018: learning on multiple levels

Today I arrived in Argentina for the WPATH Symposium in Buenos Aires. It will be my second WPATH Symposium, after I attended the previous event in Amsterdam in 2016.

I’m attending the conference in a number of capacities. Firstly, I will be representing the Trans Pregnancy project. I will be presenting a poster on some of our initial research findings, which I will share on this blog also in the next few days. I am also planning to attend a number of talks by other researchers working on trans people’s experiences of fertility, pregnancy and childbirth. Look out for tweets about two of these sessions from the Trans Pregnancy Twitter account on Monday 5th November.

Secondly, I will be presenting as part of a mini-symposium on research ethics alongside colleagues from Canada, New Zealand and the United States. This will also be on Monday 5th November, and I will be talking about how clinical research can have unintended and undesirable consequences for patients/participants if power dynamics are not taken into account.

Finally, I’m hoping to continue my long term project of learning more about how trans healthcare operates in different parts of the world, and sharing that knowledge with others in turn. In addition to attending sessions on research and clinical practice regarding trans-specific healthcare in various contexts, I also aim to learn more about activism, health advocacy and the law in various parts of the world, especially Argentina and other Latin American countries. I will be writing about this on my personal Twitter account, and hopefully also this blog.

I’m excited and honoured to be at this event, but also trepidatious, as I found the 2016 event pretty overwhelming. I learned an incredible amount in a very short period of time and was inspired by the world of many academics and practitioners from around the world. At the same time, as a trans studies scholar who happens to also be trans myself, I felt that a background hum of cisgenderism permeated the event, sometimes shifting into outright transphobia. Examples include pathologising language and misgendering within conference presentations, binary gendered toilets, and racist presentations that exoticised trans women of colour. A number of intersex conference attendees also protested against a number of surgical posters which graphically depicted infant genital operations.

WPATH itself has a very mixed history and reputation within trans communities. As I examine in my book, WPATH’s Standards of Care have worked to both open up and close down possibilities for people seeking medical interventions to facilitate a medical transition. In recent months, the organisation has issued welcome statements in opposition to both the Trump administration’s attempts to redefine gender and unfounded claims regarding “rapid onset gender dysphoria”. There is also now code of conduct for WPATH events which may help to address some of the worst examples of transphobia (and racism, sexism etc) at conferences. However, WPATH is also highly undemocratic and has recently appointed a treasurer who misgenders trans patients and promotes discredited psuedo-scientific concepts such as “autogynephilia”.

In this context of controversy and heated debate, it is important not simply to understand trans health, but also to understand the processes of knowledge production that inform trans health in theory and in practice. As a sociologist, this is something I will be very interested in at this year’s symposium, and I hope to share my thoughts and reflections in coming days.

New job at the University of Leeds

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just begun Research Fellowship in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. I’ll be working as part of an international team on the ESRC-sponsored projected Pregnant Men: An International Exploration of Trans Male Practices of Reproduction, which is being led by Sally Hines. This study will explore the sociological, health care and policy implications of trans men’s reproductive practices.

Some initial information on the scope and plans for this research are currently available on the project website. I’ll be writing more about the project there (and here!) as it progresses.


Forthcoming books!

I’m delighted to announce that I have recently signed not one, but two book contracts. Both books are scheduled for publication in 2018.

My first monograph, provisionally entitled Understanding Trans Health, will be published with Policy Press. This book will draw upon extensive qualitative fieldwork in the UK to examine how trans identities, experiences and healthcare needs are differently understood within community, activist and professional contexts. It shall explore how these different understandings can lead to conflict and mistrust within medical settings, and propose means by which more collaborative relationships might be fostered in the future.

An edited collection, provisionally entitled The Emergence of Trans: Essays on Healthcare, Culture and the Politics of Everyday Life will be published with Routledge. Assembled in collaboration with Dr Iggi Moon and the late Professor Deborah Lynn Steinberg, this book builds on the success of our 2012-2014 seminar series Retheorising Gender and Sexuality: The Emergence of Trans. It will feature international contributions from a range of authors based in different academic disciplines.

Academic books are often unaffordable to lay readers, and unavailable outside of academic libraries. I was therefore really keen that both books would be available in paperback and ebook format as well as the traditional hardback. I’m really pleased to say that both publishers have agreed to print paperback editions in the first run, in recognition of how the book topics are relevant to ordinary people within trans communities.

I’ll be sharing more details on these books as the publication dates approach.

TeachHigher: a critique of claims from the University of Warwick

Edit: a couple of months after this post was published, the University of Warwick ‘disbanded’ TeachHigher.

Last week I received an email from a departmental secretary about TeachHigher. The department I am based in – Sociology – has been enrolled in the TeachHigher pilot scheme for several months now, but this is the first time that PhD students have been officially informed of this.

TeachHigher emailI strongly suspect that this email (identical to emails also sent to PhD students in the Politics & International Studies and Philosophy departments) was written to counter some of the negative publicity received by TeachHigher over the past couple of weeks. It repeats a number of claims also made on social media and in press statements by University management and their representatives.

It’s a horrible feeling to have, but I honestly believe that our institution is being deeply dishonest with us.

In this post, I outline why this is the case, with reference to claims both made in the above email and more widely.

“TeachHigher [is] designed to give a fairer, more transparent and consistent approach to the recruitment and remuneration of hourly paid teachers and researchers”

The actions of the University over the past few months suggest that TeachHigher will be anything but fair, transparent and consistent.

  • Hourly-paid staff have not been consulted about the implementation of TeachHigher.
  • The TeachHigher website has been edited on numerous occasions over the past few weeks in order to remove elements that have attracted criticism. [1] For instance, all references to Warwick Employment Group (WEG) have been removed from the site. However, it appears that TeachHigher is still part of WEG. [2]
  • The University of Warwick has a poor record on remuneration. Hourly-paid teachers are usually not paid for preparation time, office hours or module meetings. In many departments, hourly-paid teachers are also not paid for marking.
  •  At present, hourly-paid teaching and research staff at the University of Warwick are provided with contracts of employment. [3] TeachHigher will instead provide “Temporary Worker Agreements” that “[do] not give rise to a contract of employment”. This will have a significant (negative) impact upon the employment status of hourly-paid staff.
  • The University and College Union (UCU) has made numerous requests for information about remuneration for workers hired through TeachHigher. It has still not received a response.
  • At the University of Leicester, hourly-paid teaching staff employed through TeachHigher sister company Unitemps are paid £11.75 an hour for teaching, with no payment for preparation time. [4] This is not an inspiring record for WEG.

These concerns could be dispelled if the University was to share information demonstrating that hourly-paid staff will be paid fairly.

TeachHigher is “not an outsourcing”

Many critics of TeachHigher have described the new body as a scheme for outsourcing teaching work within academic departments. Warwick has been keen to counter these claims, noting that TeachHigher is owned by the University.

This situation is not a straightforward one, and the comparison with Unitemps is important for understanding why.

Unitemps is run through a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Warwick. This means that it is owned by the University, but also that individuals working through Unitemps are technically working for a body distinct from the University. This has consequences for pay and conditions (as Unitemps employees can be treated differently to other University staff effectively doing the same work). It also has consequences for industrial action, which I discuss later.

This is a very canny business move. Rather than use an external employment agency to hire workers on less favourable terms and conditions, Warwick has created its own.

All existing evidence points to TeachHigher also being run through a subsidiary.

Warwick map

In a sense, hiring teaching staff in this way could more accurately be described as ‘internal outsourcing’. I have also seen it described as ‘insourcing’. Regardless of what you choose to call it, however, the entire point of these organisations is to create a situation where university departments have (at least) two tiers of academic workers. This makes it easier to treat the lower tier poorly, and to prevent different groups of academic staff from working together for better conditions.

It’s also worth making the point that Unitemps is already used to employ hourly-paid staff at a number of universities (including Leicester and Nottingham) and Warwick is intending to roll out TeachHigher to other institutions also. This will by definition amount to the outsourcing of teaching and research staff.

TeachHigher is “an academic services department”

I’ve seen this phrase used a lot by University management and their representatives. The more prominent recent example would be in the Warwick Insite news article Update on TeachHigher, which states the following:

“Discussions over the last few months clearly established that TeachHigher should be constituted as an academic services department. That has been done and staff and students will now find it listed amongst the other academic services departments on the University’s website.”

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. TeachHigher is indeed now listed on the “Services and facilities” quick links mean at the bottom left of the Warwick home page; as is Unitemps. This classification, however, tells us nothing about TeachHigher’s place in Warwick’s corporate structure, nor about the way it will treat hourly-paid staff.

Staff hired through TeachHigher will have the same opportunity to participate in union activity

There have been no official statements on this issue, but numerous discussions have occurred both on social media and in private correspondence. The University line appears to be that TeachHigher will recognise UCU, and that staff hired through TeachHigher will therefore be able to participate in union activity in the same manner as at present.

However, the TeachHigher Temporary Worker Agreement clearly states that: “TeachHigher may terminate this Agreement and TeachHigher or the Client may terminate any Assignment at any time without prior notice or liability.”

Whilst in theory hourly-paid staff working through TeachHigher cannot be fired for participating in industrial action, in practice it will be hard to prove that this has happened.

Moreover, as Philosophy Head of Department Matthew Nudds has noted, hourly paid staff will “not [be] covered by collective bargaining”.

An equitable solution?

There are two actions that senior University management can take to dispel criticism around TeachHigher.

1)    Provide written confirmation that TeachHigher is not (a) a subsidiary company, (b) run through a subsidiary company.

2)   Replace the Temporary Worker Agreement with a proper contract of employment that clearly states how staff will be paid for every hour worked.

I would like to see more than this, of course, but would personally welcome these actions as important steps in the right direction.

I’ll end with a quote from UCU Warwick:

“Teach Higher claims that it wants to make the employment of casualised academic staff more ‘standardised and efficient’. We say that the best way to achieve this is to end casualised contracts and give fractional and fixed-term staff the same rights as permanent staff.”

[1] TeachHigher front page before and after modification (click to enlarge):

 TeachHigher front page old
[old front page]

TeachHigher frontpage new[new front page]

[2] Note: the WEG website has also been edited. The site previously stated unambiguously that TeachHigher was part of WEG. This has been replaced with a somewhat more coy (and less meaningful) statement: “[WEG] is also supporting the new TeachHigher service at Warwick which is an Academic Services Department designed to support university departments engage their flexible teaching resource”. However, TeachHigher is listed as part of WEG in this map of the University’s services (also reproduced above).

[3] In theory. In practice, contracts can take months to arrive, and are often inaccurate.

[4] Source: PhD student teaching at the University of Leicester.

Ruth Pearce at TRED 2011

My talk at the Trans* Education and Determination teach-in.

Part 1:
– Introduction to the teach-in
– My decision to undertake social research
– A brief history of trans academia
– Gender pluralism

Part 2:
– Introduction to my research on experiences of primary health
– Existing research on trans health in the UK
– The role of the internet in trans community
– Methodology and research ethics

Transcription available below.

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