Trans health and rainbow futures: learning from Aotearoa New Zealand

This will be the first in a short series of posts on my recent trip to Aotearoa.

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Poster in the RainbowYOUTH centre

I recently returned from a month-long journey to Aotearoa New Zealand. This trip was funded by a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship with the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.

My aim was to learn more about trans health services and community advocacy, while also sharing findings from my own research in a European context. I feel deeply privileged to have had the opportunity to meet many amazing people, who are doing a great deal of incredible work.

In this post, I share a number of resources and reflections from the trip. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg – I have no doubt that will no doubt that the experiences from the Fellowship will inform my research and thinking for many years to come.

Before I begin, I should quickly acknowledge that many readers of this blog will be unfamiliar with the word “Aotearoa”. This is a term from te reo Māori (the Māori language): it’s the current name for the islands known as “New Zealand” in English. Both are official names for the country that governs this land. For simplicity (and out of respect Māori history and culture, which long predates the arrival of Pākehā, or white European settlers) I use mostly use Aotearoa alone for the remainder of this post.


Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington: the Gender Centre and Aunty Dana’s Op Shop

20190426_141647After a brief visit to Auckland (where I recovered from the long flight) I began my trip in earnest with a visit to the capital city of Aotearoa New Zealand, on the south-west tip of the North Island. I was told that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day – certainly, the bay of Whanganui-a-Tara is one of the mostly stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever had the fortune to visit.

My first priority was a visit to the Gender Centre. This amazing new community resource, which was founded only last year and is currently based the front room of the 128 Radical Social Centre. It is run by members of Gender Minorities Aotearoa, a group who campaign and provide information for transgender, takatāpui, and intersex people. Takatāpui is a term in te reo which “embraces all Māori with diverse gender identities and sexualities“.

Photos of 128 Radical Social Centre and the Gender Centre, taken with permission.

The Gender Centre includes a small office space, where people working for Gender Minorities Aotearoa can work on current campaigns and meet with visitors. Anyone can drop by to ask for advice or support, or pick up information. For example, the organisation has recently started running a free binder scheme. Materials on display included forms for name and gender changes, advice on accessing healthcare services, and information on the BDMRR bill.

BDMRR stands for Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration. Groups such as Gender Minorities Aotearoa are campaigning for non-binary recognition, and to make it possible for people to legally change the gender marker on their birth certificate without going through an expensive process involving medical oversight. Unfortunately, proposed changes have been delayed by the actions of anti-trans hate groups. UK readers will recognise the similarities with the campaign of misinformation waged against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. This is not a coincidence. Anti-trans groups in Aotearoa are directly influenced by the language, aesthetics and (in some cases) the direct interventions of UK anti-trans campaigners, in what can be understood as a form of neo-colonialism.

While I was at the 128 Radical Social Centre I also visited Aunty Dana’s Op Shop. This is a second-hand clothing and accessories store run by trans and non-binary volunteers and open to people of all genders, with proceeds donated to Gender Minorities Aotearoa. It’s such a great way to raise money for campaigning, while providing an important resource and social space. It can also serve as a less scary space than the Gender Centre for people who are just coming out and looking for support. I had a great time browsing the shelves and chatting with the volunteer who was working there that afternoon.

Photos of Aunty Dana’s Op Shop. Taken with permission.

You can watch a fantastic video about the Op Shop here:


While I was in Whanganui-a-Tara I also took the opportunity to visit a trans and non-binary artists showcase at the NZ Games Festival and meet with some brilliant academics and students working on LGBTIQ research at Victoria University of Wellington. I will be sure to share their work as it is published!


Ōtautahi / Christchurch: queer art and affirmative care

I next travelled to Ōtautahi / Christchurch, taking a train down the east coast of the South Island. During this trip I began to understand the extent of the damage caused by 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. There was evidence of huge landslides and roads were still being rebuilt. Several metres of new coastline were visible for many miles, clearly identifiable through rocks bleached white by dead organisms that once lived under the waves. The city itself is still being rebuilt. Huge building projects and areas of empty land can be found throughout the central business district, a reminder of the unforgiving power of the Earth.

Photos: day and night – urban art and public protest.

It was apparent that the people of Ōtautahi were still recovering from tragedy even before the horror of the recent neo-Nazi mosque shootings. Nevertheless, the city struck me as a great centre of culture. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet some amazing queer and feminist artists and heard about both radical public interventions and commissioned works. If you want to learn more about this, the websites of Jennifer Shields and Audrey Baldwin are great places to start.

During this visit, I learned about a fantastic initiative to build and publicise new public health pathways for gender-affirming care in the Canterbury region. Until recently, services such as specialist counselling, hormone therapy and surgical referrals were only available on an ad-hoc basis, and information was not easy to find. Relevant information on what services are available and how they can be accessed is now easily available, thanks to the work of the Ko Awatea gender-affirming care co-design group.

These services are still not perfect – several interventions are not publicly funded, and they still involve a certain level of medical gatekeeping. However, they represent an important step forward. Notably, I was informed that these achievements can be credited to the willingness of particularly motivated medical providers, who were prepared to put energy into working directly with trans community representatives to work for reform.


Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland: RainbowYOUTH

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The next stage in my journey was a visit Kirikiriroa / Hamilton, back on the north island. I was here for the Aotearoa New Zealand Trans Health Symposium. This will be the subject of a future blog post, so I am going to finish this piece with a look at an organisation based in Aotearoa’s largest city.

In finish my journey with a return to Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland, meeting a number of community workers, activists and academics living and working in the city. I was especially honoured to visit the RainbowYOUTH offices and drop-in centre: a spacious explosion of colour located in an otherwise unobtrusive side street on the edge of the queer distract around K Road.

RainbowYOUTH are an organisation run by and for queer and gender diverse youth, with a remarkably long and successful history. They are currently celebrating their 30th anniversary, having been founded in 1989. The organisation’s members and executive board are all aged 27 or under. Executive advisors aged over 27 are invited to attend and speak at board meetings, but do not have voting rights. I was really impressed by this commitment to centring youth perspectives in support work and activism, something which has been missing from the UK since the dissolation of Queer Youth Network.

I was also interested in how common the language of “rainbow” community was in Aotearoa, as an addition and alternative to acronyms such as LGBTIQ. I like the way this word avoids the “alphabet soup” and potential exclusions tone of the acronym. I can also see how – like the term “gender minorities” – it can work to be inclusive both of intersex people and of takatāpui in a way that is more expansive than just attempting to rework the Western/anglophone framework of “LGBT”.

Photos of the RainbowYOUTH centre. Taken with permission.

The RainbowYOUTH centre was a wonderful building. For a long time, the organisation ran out of a very small office on Karangahape Road, but in recent years an increase in income and activity enabled a move to the new space. This features several offices, a therapy room, a large social space with a TV and gaming consoles, a library, a community wardrobe, free hygiene packs for people in difficult circumstances, and once again a whole range of resources and information. I can see how the very existence of this space is helping to create new possibilities for a generation of young people who I hope will achieve things that currently remain unthinkable.

I left Aotearoa incredibly inspired by the work and imagination of everyone I met, and am hugely grateful to everyone who helped with advice and organisation, made time to speak with me, and shared ideas and information. Ngā mihi nui!

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Rockefeller Fellowship – visit to Aotearoa New Zealand

University of Leeds logo

I am very grateful to have been awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Travelling Fellowship by the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. This will be used to fund a research trip to Aotearoa New Zealand.

The object of the Rockefeller Fellowship is to enable early career researchers working in the Social Sciences to make personal contacts and/or visit universities overseas. My aim is to build networks with trans health activists, researchers and practitioners, plus share research findings from the Understanding Trans Health and Trans Pregnancy projects.

I will be in Aotearoa from 18 April to 12 May, visiting Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton. In addition to strengthening existing relationships, I hope to spend time meeting new people and learning more about trans health services and community advocacy. While the UK and Aotearoa differ in many ways, we are both island nations with public health systems that face various forms of privatisation; we are both seeing a rapid growth in the visible trans population; and we are both currently seeing proposals for reform within trans healthcare. I am very much interested in exploring how activists, researchers and practitioners in both countries might be able to exchange ideas and information.

I am excited to been invited to present my work at the University of Waikato, Hamilton during the visit.

On Friday 3 May I will be speaking about my PhD research in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waikato. My talk, The “Gender Experts”: Clinical Discourses and Becoming Trans, will explore how expertise is contested within and between trans communities and clinical settings, reflecting on what this might mean for patient experience and differing understandings of trans possibility.

On Saturday 4 May I will be describing initial findings from the international Trans Pregnancy project at the Aotearoa New Zealand Trans Health Symposium. In this talk I will look at how and why some trans men and non-binary people choose to conceive and bear children. I shall explore some of the challenges and opportunities that arise for trans birth parents, and explain what kind of support research participants want to see from healthcare providers.

If you are a trans activist, trans health researcher or healthcare provider in Aotearoa and would like to meet during my visit, please do be in contact – I would love to hear from you!

Clinical research with trans patients: a critique

WPATH_BuenoAr_Logo_reverseIn November I participated in a panel on research ethics at the 2018 WPATH Symposium in Buenos Aires, “Ethical Considerations in Transgender Health Research Practice”.

I presented a talk based on work I have undertaken with Dr Michael Toze (who sadly could not join us at the conference). Entitled Trans Health Research at a Gender Identity Clinic, the talk critiqued clinical research methods employed at a UK gender clinic, using the example of published research on video gaming.

I argued that clinical researchers should be mindful of the power dynamic that exists between them and their patient/participants. I also presented evidence that methodological and ethical issues have resulted in harm to participants, and undermined the validity of empirical claims.

This talk was kindly recorded by Ellen Murray, and you can listen to it below.

 

I have also uploaded produced a transcript of the talk:

Trans Health Research at a Gender Identity Clinic

And you can download the slides here.

Please do feel free to download and share this talk with anyone you think might find it interesting or useful, as long as myself and Dr Toze are credited.

The talk followed a remote presentation by Ali Harris, and preceded a talk by Noah Adams, who discussed the paper we wrote in collaboration with Jaimie Veale, Asa Radix, Danielle Castro, Amrita Sarkar and Kai Cheng Thom: Guidance and Ethical Considerations for Undertaking Transgender Health Research and Institutional Review Boards Adjudicating this Research.

LGBTIQA+ research seminar at Åbo Akademi: 11-12 January 2019

In January I will be travelling to Turku, Finland to speak about my trans health research for a seminar at the Åbo Akademi university. Details of the event can be found below.

 

Image shows the grand two storey building main building at Åbo Akademi. It is built in a neo-classical style with fix pillars above the central entrance,and faces onto a cobbled road.

© Samuli Lintula / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

Future research on sexual and gender minorities in Finland?
Friday and Saturday, 11-12 January 2019
Åbo Akademi university

At this seminar, keynotes from across Europe will tap into the issue ‘what are relevant and urgent questions for future research on LGBTiQA+ from their respective perspectives and horizons, and hopefully the discussions will nurture thoughts and ideas on new research projects. This seminar is part of the Åbo Akademi University profile on minority research.

Our main keynote contributions are:

“Towards sustainable scholarships on trans and intersex: critical studies of cisnormativity”
Dr Erika Alm, from University of Gothenburg (Sweden)

“Enhancing sexual health, self-Identity and wellbeing among men who have sex with men”
Dr Rusi Jaspal from De Montfort University (UK)

“A brief history of the Finnish closet”
Dr Tuula Juvonen from University of Turku (Finland)

“The politics of trans health: condition or movement?”
Dr Ruth Pearce from University of Leeds (UK)

“The mobilizations of LGBT organisations in Europe between homo-normativity and homonationalism: challenges and opportunities”
Dr Luca Trappolin from University of Padova (Italy)

In addition, some ongoing research projects at Åbo Akademi University will be presented by Panda Eriksson and Minna Laukkanen. Finally, actor Boodi Kabbani, known from the film “A moment in the Reeds”, Dr Julian Honkasalo from University of Helsinki, Dr Jukka Lehtonen from University of Helsinki, and Secretary General Kerttu Tarjamo from Seta, will together provide input and critical comments in a panel discussion.

The seminar is open to students, researchers, activists and people engaged in NGO:s. Coffee, lunch and dinner are included in the registration fee of €50.

Please register no later than the 3rd of January at: https://survey.abo.fi/lomakkeet/10813/lomake.html

 

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!

Forthcoming talk: Hysterical Bodies

event posterWednesday 28 February
7pm – 9pm
Birmingham LGBT Centre
Free entry and food provided.

Bread and Roses for All, and Hormones Too!
A panel discussion with Aquila Edwards and Luke Dukinfield, facilitated by Robin Lynch and hosted by Birmingham Women’s Strike Assembly.

I will be giving a short talk about intersections between trans health and women’s health, focusing on how our bodies have historically been pathologised and disciplined in medical settings.

There will then be a facilitated discussion. I’m honoured to be sharing the panel with some fantastic speakers so it’s sure to be a really interesting event.

Register to attend for free on Eventbrite.

Facebook event page.

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.