Of trans fathers and male mothers – the importance of centering experience

By Ruth Pearce, Sally Hines, Carla Pfeffer, Damien W Riggs, Elisabetta Ruspini and Francis Ray White. Cross-posted from the Trans Pregnancy blog. An article based on this piece has been published in The Conversation.

On Wednesday 25th September the UK’s High Court ruled that Freddy McConnell, a man who gave birth to his child, does not have the right to be registered as a “father” on his child’s birth certificate. The court also ruled out the possibility of registering him simply as the “parent”. McConnell, who is trans, has indicated his intention to appeal.

We feel that this is a disappointing outcome, with concerning consequences for the dignity of trans parents and the safety of their children. The law will continue to require that people who give birth to a child in the UK are always registered as the “mother” – even if they are legally men. For example, McConnell’s legal team noted that, “Freddy is legally a man and his legal papers display the same.”

Most importantly, the verdict wrongs the human rights of the complainant and his child, through failing to provide them with consistent legal documentation and intruding on their privacy. More widely it is wrong in terms of its failure to legally recognise diverse family forms and contemporary practices of intimacy, which question traditional gendered reproductive certainties.

Yet, paradoxically, the ruling brings into being a new legal category of “mother”, which is based on reproductive experience, rather than the traditionally sex/gendered body. From today, a ‘mother’ is not defined through binary sexed characteristics. And so, a man may be a a mother as much as a woman.

Judge Sir Andrew McFarlane is explicit on this point in his ruling. For example, in his concluding comments, he states that, “the term ‘mother’ is free-standing and separate from consideration of legal gender, thus in law there can be male mothers and female fathers” (noteably, there is no distinction between “sex” and “gender” in UK law).

This is why legal cases around gender recognition are so important. Even when they seem to fail the individuals who bring them to court, they very often also radically chip away at normative understandings of gender in unforeseen and unintended ways. Such paradoxes and contradictions are subsequently brought to light, unpacked and, very often, readdressed at appeal stages.

McFarlane’s ruling, then, may be seen as the first step in the legal undoing of binary understandings of reproduction and gender, sex and the body, wherein all families of all genders and all bodies will be recognised.

This is particularly important for the trans and non-binary birth parents we have spoken with for this research project, who seek forms of legal recognition that are consistent with how they experience gender in their everyday life.

Promotional image from the film Seahorse. Photo by Mark Bushnell.

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Interview on Acadames podcast

webfront8Earlier this year I took part in an interview for Acadames, a super-cool podcast “that explores whether being a woman in academia is a dream, game, or scam”. The episode is now available! I really enjoyed speaking with Whitney  Robinson about my work, and hope you will enjoy our conversation just as much.

Today Whitney speaks with Dr. Ruth Pearce, a social researcher and feminist scholar based at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Ruth discusses her current work with the Trans Pregnancy project, why gender equity schemes are so important in academia, and offers tips for resiliency when facing online harassment and political backlash. Along the way, she shares stories of her life as a trans woman, how academic institutions in the UK differ from those in the US, and the similarities between organizing a concert and organizing a conference.

Click here to listen.

Seahorse screening and live Q&A in Leeds

Hyde Park Picture House are hosting a screening of the documentary film Seahorse tomorrow evening (Tuesday 27 August), in association with Leeds Queer Film Festival. I will be participating in a live Q&A session afterwards, representing the Trans Pregnancy project.

The film follows the experiences of Freddy as he becomes a father:

Freddy is 30 and yearns to start a family but this poses unique challenges. He is a gay transgender man. Deciding to carry his own baby took years of soul searching, but he was unprepared for the reality of pregnancy, both physically and challenging society’s fundamental understanding of gender and family. To him what feels pragmatic, to others feels confronting; this was not part of his plan.

Against a backdrop of increasing hostility towards trans people the world over, Freddy is forced to confront his own naivety, mine unknown depths of courage and lean on every friend and family member who will stand by him.

For the Q&A, I will be joining Freddy, director Jeanie Finlay, and Yuval Topper-Erez, a member of the Trans Pregnancy project Advisory Board who became famous in Israel following his own experience of giving birth. The discussion will be chaired by BAFTA-nominated producer Mia Bays.

You can reserve a ticket for the event here.

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!

Trans Pregnancy poster: initial findings presented at WPATH

Cross-posted from the Trans Pregnancy blog. Image shows a woman standing in front of a poster display board, smiling.

In early November, I presented a poster at the 2018 World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Symposium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The poster outlined a number of initial findings from our first research interviews, which have so far been conducted in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The WPATH Symposium is attended primarily by healthcare professionals working specifically in the field of trans health, so the poster was designed especially with this audience in mind. Our future work will also speak to the needs and interests of trans people who become pregnant as well as professionals specialising in fertility and reproductive health. Plus, we will be exploring what trans pregnancy means for understandings of sex and gender.

You can click on the poster image below to read and download a copy for yourself, or click here for a PDF version.

Through our Twitter account I also reported on two sessions at the WPATH conference which were all about trans fertility and reproduction. You can read these Twitter threads by clicking on the links below:

WPATH oral presentations: Fertility

WPATH oral presentations: Reproduction

To find out more about the context of trans pregnancy and people’s experiences, please do explore our website. We have already published a series of law and policy reviews and are adding more resources all the time.

We are also still recruiting research participants from Australia, European Union countries (including the UK) and the USA. If you are a trans person who has been pregnant and you would like to talk confidentially with us about your experiences, please click here to find out more.

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.

Family Planning workshop at Trans Health Matters (23 October)

In a couple of weeks I will be attending the Trans Health Matters conference, which is held at Resource for London on Tuesday 23 October.

You can read about and book tickets for Trans Health Matters 2018 here.

Co-hosted by holistic sexual health centres cliniQ (London) and Clinic T (Brighton), this event offers an insight into cutting edge practice and research, particularly with regards to sexual and mental health.

I will be speaking at a workshop entitled Trans Family Planning: Contraception, Fertility, Pregnancy and Childbirth, alongside Kate Nambiar, Michael Toze and Francis Ray White.

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Resource for London, Holloway Road

Trans people often find there is a lack of information available on their own fertility, or that they have been misinformed about the reproductive capacity of their own bodies. Similarly, trans people wishing to form families continue to face social, legal and medical barriers to parenthood. The workshop will comprise three short interventions, reflecting on current challenges and opportunities for trans reproductive autonomy, and an opportunity for attendees to reflect on how this might relate to their own work.

Kate Nambiar is a medical doctor and researcher who works at Clinic T. She will be discussing issues around contraception for trans people.

Michael Toze is a Research Fellow in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Lincoln. He will talk about UK medical practice and law with regards to trans fertility, parenthood, and sterilisation procedures.

Francis Ray White is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster, and I am a Research Fellow in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. We will be discussing intial findings from the Trans Pregnancy Project.