Cass Review GRA study an appalling breach of research ethics

Logo of the Cass Review

I was dismayed to read that the UK Government are amending the Gender Recognition Act. Specifically, they are removing the offence under section 22(1) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 for the disclosure of protected information, to enable this disclosure where it is “necessary for the purposes of facilitating, assisting or undertaking relevant research”.

This amendment enables NHS England to obtain trans people’s confidential information about their medical treatment for the purpose of research into child and adolescent gender services by the Cass Review. Specifically, it enables the acquisition of information (a) that could contain personal identifying details, (b) without that person’s consent, and (c) for individuals who obtained specific legal protections with the reasonable belief that these would remain in place. There has been no community consultation ahead of this move.

As a social researcher and expert in ethical methodologies, I believe that any research undertaken under these circumstances would represent an enormous breach of the basic principles of research ethics. Moreover, it will could significantly undermine the already extremely low existing low level of trust between trans community members, researchers, and medical practitioners.

Finally, the amendment also represents a significant weakening of the Gender Recognition Act’s legal protections for trans people (although for a full and measured analysis, see this post by What The Trans).

I have therefore written to the NHS England’s Gender Identity Programme Board to express my concerns about this development. I also hope that any university or NHS ethical panel overseeing the approval of such research will prevent it from taking place.

You can read some of my published work on ethical research with trans populations here.

You can write to the Cass Review to express your concerns here.

Posted updated 2 July to include new details.

Upcoming talks: April-May 2022

I am speaking at a series of exciting events over the next few weeks! All are free to attend, you will just need to register in advance if you’d like to come.

Tuesday 26th April – Manchester
Trans Healthcare: Past, Present and What Might Have Been

In-person roundtable discussion, with Ellis J Johnson, Stephen Whittle, Krishna Istha, and Laura Salisbury.

6pm-8pm BST, International Anthony Burgess Foundation
3 Cambridge Street, Manchester, M1 5BY

Wednesday 27th April – Online
Queer and Trans Mobilisations – Possibilities and Challenges

I am incredibly honoured to be giving a keynote talk for this two-day event hosted by the Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad, and the Centre for Writing and Pedagogy, Krea University. I will be speaking about “Building Queer and Trans Communities in the UK” towards the end of the first day, and am enormously excited to be learning from colleagues in India during the event.

10am-6pm IST, 27-28 April
Register online to attend

Thursday 5 May – Online
UK Workshop in Trans Philosophy

I will be delivering a keynote on the first day of this groundbreaking event hosted by the University of Glasgow. My talk is provisionally titled “Let’s (not!) fight a TERF war: Trans feminism in a time of moral panic”.

9:30am-4:30pm BST, 5-6 May
Register online to attend

Wednesday 11 May – Online
Reproductive Justice Research Network seminar (link to come)

I will be joining colleagues from the Trans Pregnancy project to discuss findings from our international study of trans and non-binary people’s experience of conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. Our talk is provisionally titled “Reproductive Justice for Trans People”.

Full details TBA – watch this space!

Fantastic “TERF Wars” and where to find them

Are you trying to understand anti-trans debates within and beyond feminism? Wanting to get to grips with the relationship between “gender critical” advocacy, medicalisation, and traditional conservative ideologies?

Cover of the book TERF Wars: An Introduction.

Our Sociological Review edited collection TERF Wars: Feminism and the Fight for Transgender Futures is now more widely available than ever. Challenging the framing of ‘transgender activists versus feminists’, it features a range of peer-reviewed essays from expert writers such as Jay Bernard, Florence Ashley, Julia Serano, and Emi Koyama, on hot-topic issues including gender ideology, autogynephilia, rapid-onset gender dysphoria, detransition, migration, sex work, and public toilets.

None of the authors or editors receive royalties for this work – we simply want to share our knowledge with others.

You can download digital copies of the collection from the Sociological Review website or for free from the Open University.

Hard copies of the book are also available from just £10, e.g. from Foyles (UK), AbeBooks (USA), and (sigh) Amazon. If you can though, please support a local independent bookseller! I am most excited that TERF Wars is available from the amazing Leeds-based queer bookshop The Bookish Type.

Finally, I am deeply honoured to announce that the opening essay of the collection, “TERF Wars: An Introduction” (by myself and co-editors Sonja Erikainen and Ben Vincent) is now also available in Turkish. We are honoured that this version has been published in the latest issue of the journal Kaos Q+. I was so excited to recieve my copy in the post!

Photo of a parcel with a copy of the journal Kaos Q+ sitting on top. The journal cover features a person with blond hair and make-up lying on a table, looking blankly towards two spoons and a knife, their face reflected in a place mat.

If you find this work useful, please do tell other people about it, and feel free to share download links or hard copies with others. We have felt very supported by The Sociological Review, but the publishers SAGE have been absolutely awful at distribution and publicity (if you are an academic, I would definitely recommend against working with them on a book if at all possible). It’s up to use to make this work a success!

A brief history of all-gender toilets in UK universities

To celebrate this year’s umpteenth hit-piece on trans equality, I thought I might tell a little story about toilets.

On Friday, The Times reported that the University of Warwick has been “criticised for its ‘capture’ by Stonewall”, as evidenced by guidance asking people to challenge their biases, plus a proliferation of gender-neutral pronouns and toilets.

This coverage struck me as both unsurprising and bizarre. Unsurprising, as Stonewall have recently been subject to a barrage of homophobic and transphobic coverage from the likes of The Times, the BBC, The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail etc etc. But also bizarre, as this is simply not news – all of the initiatives described have been underway for many years now, and they were hardly introduced by Stonewall.

As such, this feels like a good opportunity to explore the forgotten history of one of these initiatives: the introduction of all-gender toilets at Warwick, and in UK universities more widely.

I first became involved in campaigning for all-gender toilets in 2007. Using public toilets was a huge fear for me when I first transitioned. Fortunately, it turned out I was able to use women’s toilets without any trouble, but many of my queer siblings were not so lucky. I met and read about many trans people and other gender-nonconforming individuals, especially butch lesbians, who faced abuse and harassment in toilets due to their appearance. All-gender toilets offer a level of safety and access for people who don’t necessarily tick binary gendered boxes.

I was inspired therefore to learn about campaigns for all-gender bathrooms in US universities, through blogs, forums, and the 2004-05 TV documentary TransGeneration. I teamed up with some friends to write a motion for the 2007 National Union of Students (NUS) LGBT conference, calling on the NUS LGBT to campaign for equal toilet access. The motion passed with a near-unanimous vote, and you can see the text of the resulting policy below:

Conference believed:
1. Gender is self-defined according to an individual's gender identity.
2. That a large number of people who may be identified as trans have a gender identity or gender presentation that is
ambiguous or confusing to others.
3. That gender presentation and gender identity do not necessary fit within a simple male/female binary.
4. A lack of awareness regarding such issues means that trans people have difficulties in areas of life others would take for
granted.
5. That trans people are often inappropriately forced to use disabled toilets or (more often) gender-specific facilities in which
they may face serious discrimination.
Conference further believed:
1. That trans people should have the right to use facilities that they feel most comfortable with, free of discrimination and
harassment.
2. Many trans students would benefit from the availability of gender-neutral toilets, which may exist alongside the genderspecific
amenities currently available.
3. That educational institutions are environments in which trans students should be able to feel as comfortable in themselves
as anyone else.
4. That motions in favour of gender-neutral toilets in universities such as the University of Bradford provide a positive
precedent.
Conference resolved:
1. To mandate a national drive by the NUS LGBT liberation campaign for the establishment of gender-neutral toilet facilities
2. To encourage student LGBT groups and student unions to fight for gender-neutral toilet facilities in their educational
establishments and student union buildings by producing a briefing pack offering support, advice, and educational
literature to these organizations.
3. To mandate the LGBT Officers and committee to produce an online briefing for constituent members on the issue of
gender neutral toilets, including best practice policy, examples of constituent members who have successfully passed
policy in favour of gender neutral facilities and strategies for winning the arguments.
4. To encourage student LGBT groups and student unions to fight for gender-neutral toilet facilities in their educational
establishments and student union buildings, and to offer support, advice, and educational literature to these
organisations.
5. To offer support for trans students so that they can use the facilities that they feel most comfortable with - whether
gender-neutral or gender specific -free of discrimination and harassment.

Of course, we were hardly the first people to undertake such campaigns in the UK. In 2002, Benjamin Cohen wrote an (unsuccessful) motion in favour of gender-neutral toilets for the King’s College London Student Representative Council. In 2005, an NUS LGBT briefing stated that ‘ideally a unisex toilet would […] be provided for those who feel uncomfortable defining into male or female’. Plus, throughout the 2000s “unisex” toilets were introduced in many UK nightclubs, although their owners were generally not so interested in the welfare of clubbers.

Buoyed by the success of our NUS LGBT motion, I took a similar proposal to the Students’ Union (SU) Council at the University of Warwick later in 2007. The motion was passed, albeit with an amendment to say that we would “investigate the possibility” of providing accessible toilet facilities for trans people, instead of committing to actually providing them. I invited Riley Coles, a student campaigner from the University of Bradford, down to Coventry to speak in support of the motion as they had recently introduced all-gender toilets at Bradford SU (you can hear Riley’s side of the story here). In turn, I was invited to speak in support of all-gender toilet policies at various Student Unions, including at Manchester and Sheffield as well as Bradford.

Trans Access Needs

Proposer: Ruth Pearce
Seconder: [name redacted]

This Union Notes

1)	Its own equal opportunities policy.
2)	The Sex Discrimination Act 1976, that makes its unlawful to discriminate against gender, and the Sex Discrimination Regulations 1999, that make it unlawful to discriminate against people intending or undergoing gender reassignment.
3)	Sex, biologically, is not a straightforward issue as many are born with an ambiguous sex and gender is not binary.
4)	That gender is self-defined, as recognised by Union institutions.
5)	That trans people are widely discriminated against, facing ignorance, harassment and sometimes violence.
6)	Warwick has a hidden population of trans students, including those who are transsexed and those who identify as genderqueer, and there are no doubt also intersex students.
7)	Trans students at Warwick are currently forced to use gender specific facilities when some have an ambiguous appearance that invites discrimination, whilst others do not identify within the gender binary.
8)	That the NUS LGBT liberation campaign recently passed a motion to campaign for gender-neutral toilets in all educational institutions and student unions.

This Union Believes

1)	Trans people should have the right to use the facilities they are most comfortable with, free of discrimination and harassment.
2)	Confining gender to a binary distinction discriminates against students unable to define as only either male or female.
3)	The availability of gender-appropriate facilities is an access issue, as trans students may be reluctant to make use of the Student Union buildings due to a lack of facilities that they would feel safe and comfortable using.
4)	Both those trans students who identify as neither male nor female and those transsexed students who are transitioning in their social role from one apparent gender to another would benefit greatly from the existence of gender-neutral toilets.
5)	That gender-neutral toilets may also be made use of by cisgender (non-trans) students.
6)	That moves towards making gender-neutral toilets available by student bodies in USA institutions and UK universities such as Bradford and Sussex provide a positive precedent that deserves following.
7)	That the redevelopment of Union South provides an unapparelled opportunity for the provision of gender-neutral toilets in the Students’ Union, given the extortionate cost of creating them under normal circumstances.

This Union Resolves

1)	To provide accessible toilet facilities for trans people as well as exploring the possibility of gender-neutral toilet facilities.
2)	To publicise the existence of these provisions, their locations, and the reasons for them at the beginning of every year.
3)	To make feminine hygiene services available in these facilities in a similar manner to in the female toilets, for those trans students with particular needs associated with the female sex, and female students who choose to use  them.
4)	To mandate the Students’ Union to campaign for the provision of gender-neutral toilet facilities in the University.
5)	To support all trans students who wish to use the facilities appropriate to their gender, whether these facilities are gender-neutral or gender-specific.

What we rapidly realised was that having a policy isn’t the same as achieving an outcome. NUS LGBT introduced numerous policies at its conference every year, and student officers simply didn’t have time to campaign on all of them. Moreover, at the time the campaign was dominated primarily by cis gay men and lesbians. Consequently, all-gender toilets were not to become an NUS LGBT campaign priority until the 2010s.

Similarly, having a policy at Warwick SU did not translate into the immediate introduction of all-gender toilets in the SU building, let alone across the university campus. It took a concerted campaign across many years to make that happen, involving innumerable staff and students. All-gender toilets were first introduced in odd corners of the SU building, then occasionally elsewhere on campus, and then gradually in new buildings before being more widely rolled out. This process took well over a decade.

In opening up new conversations about toilets, we rapidly realised that all-gender toilets were not just beneficial to trans and gender non-conforming people. For example, single parents benefited from being able to accompany young children of a different gender into facilities, and carers could do the same with people they cared for.

Equally, we knew that all-gender toilets were not appropriate for all people. Some women and men do not share gendered spaces for religious reasons. Women and girls who have experienced male harassment and violence may also not wish to share spaces with men. We therefore campaigned for an “additive” approach, with all-gender toilets available alongside women’s and men’s facilities: the approach eventually adopted by the University of Warwick.

Additionally, some service providers sought to introduce all-gender toilets at the expense of disabled people, much to our frustration. If single-cubicle “accessible” toilets are the only all-gender toilets available, it can increase the number of people using these facilities, to the detriment of disabled people who require them. We therefore urged university bodies that this was not an adequate solution.

These issues were explored in detail in a briefing published by West Midlands Area NUS (WMANUS) in 2007. This document also included a series of sample arguments in favour of all-gender toilets, case study examples of their implementation, and model motions for Students’ Unions. I also included a section on toilets in the Under Construction: Trans Students guide I wrote for the NUS in 2008.

By 2009 I started my postgraduate studies and took a step back from toilet campaigns. However, there was no shortage of new activists to step into the breach. There are too many to name them all, but one of the key figures has been Sam Parr, who continues to push for more accessible toilets for all on the University of Warwick campus through endless meetings and consultation exercises.

By the mid-2010s, all-gender toilets could be found on many university campuses and other public buildings, including at Warwick. In 2017, when I organised a conference about the gender equality scheme Athena SWAN, I was delighted hear a conversation among a group of cis equality and diversity workers about how best to make the case for all-gender toilet provision at their institution.

Meanwhile, when I spoke to a new generation of student activists, I began to hear complaints around how some campaigners focused too much on toilets as an “easy” campaign priority, rather than tackling issues such as trans healthcare, employment, and housing. Certainly, an all-gender toilet will not put food on your plate or a roof above your head. They must be part of a wider struggle for liberation.

Still, that struggle continues. So I was delighted to hear from colleagues this week that sanitary bins will soon be available in all toilets across campus at the University of Warwick, especially for the benefit of trans and/or disabled men who might require them in men’s facilities. You can see a reference to this idea in our original 2007 policy, albeit with some pretty awkward phrasing!

Trans histories tend to be forgotten. They are frequently not written down, and are often lost due to a lack of intergenerational contact. The only way we can change that is through sharing our stories and building back our history. I hope this post can help with that a little.

I have not named numerous individuals involved in the campaigns I describe in this post as I am aware that doing so could result in harassment. However, if you see yourself in this story and would like to be named, please let me know and I will gladly edit this post to credit your work!

New roles: University of Glasgow and CATS

I am very excited to announce that I will be starting a new job at the University of Glasgow this summer!

I have been appointed Lecturer in Community Development at the School of Education. I will be teaching and conducting research on a range of topics relating to social justice theory and movements, community action, and collective empowerment. This will build on my previous work on topics including trans health, queer music scenes, and gender inequalities in Higher Education.

St Andrew’s Building, University of Glasgow

I am also delighted to have been appointed Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Transgender Studies (CATS) in Chicago. As a Fellow at the Center I intend to collaborate with international colleagues in conducting and disseminating impactful research by and for trans people and communities.

All of this does however mean that sadly I will be leaving my current role as Research Coordinator at the Trans Learning Partnership. We have achieved an enormous amount with this new partnership over the last year, including co-production of community research priorities, design and pilot of shared data collection, participation in public consultations and advisory groups, and support work around groundbreaking research with trans birth parents in England. I wish my former colleagues all the best with their future work, and fully intend to continuing collaborating with them as a university-based researcher.

Trans Pregnancy: new articles on conception and pregnancy loss

Cross-posted from the Trans Pregnancy project blog.

We are delighted to announce that the first two peer-reviewed articles on findings from our research interviews are now available. Both draw on an analysis of 51 interviews with people who had concieved. One looks at experiences of pregnancy loss among a subset of research participants, and the other explores routes to conception.

More information on each of these articles can be found below, along with links to open-access versions which are free to read.

~

Men, trans/masculine, and non-binary people’s experiences of pregnancy loss: an international qualitative study

Abstract text for the article. Follow the link to read it.

Published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (BioMed Central). The article is fully open-access and free to read.

This article examines male, trans/masculine and non-binary gestational parents’ experiences of pregnancy loss, an experience that more broadly affects millions of people every year. We found that, like cisgender parents, our research participants often faced grief following a pregnancy loss, and like heterosexual cisgender men in particular, they often faced barriers to support.

However, the research participants also reported experiences specific to pregnancy loss among male, trans/masculine and non-binary gestational parents, including difficulties in accessing inclusive healthcare, and resistance to “failed” or “wrong” body narratives. We therefore make recommendations for healthcare providers regarding the importance of appropriate language, and the need to sensitively attend to emotions attached both to the loss itself and to the possible desire to attempt another pregnancy.

~

Men, trans/masculine, and non-binary people negotiating conception: Normative resistance and inventive pragmatism

Abstract text for the article. This can be read by following one of the links to the full article.

Published in the International Journal of Trangender Health (formerly the International Journal of Transgenderism). An open-access version of the article can be read for free here.

This article explores how men, trans/masculine and non-binary people navigated different social norms and/or practical obstacles to conception. It shows that individuals engage in diverse practices that normalise their experiences of conception, while also highlighting the unique needs and challenges they can face.

The article will also form part of a special issue of the International Journal of Transgender Health that we are editing which will be published in full in early 2021. This special issue will more broadly explore issues of fertility, reproduction, and sexual autonomy among trans and non-binary people. Two other great articles from the special issue have also already seen advance publication:

Administering gender: Trans men’s sexual and reproductive challenges in Argentina, by Andrés Mendieta & Salvador Vidal-Ortiz.

“Just because I don’t bleed, doesn’t mean I don’t go through it”: Expanding knowledge on trans and nonbinary menstruators, by A.J. Lowik.

There is of course a lot more to come – watch this space for more new research findings from both ourselves and our colleagues in the field.

QUEERPOCALYPSE

QUEERPOCALYPSE

Today is Trans Day of Visibility, apparently. I have felt very strange about this day since it became a Thing over the last decade, as visibility is double-edged sword for many of us. With visibility comes community, and increased access to trans and queer arts, culture, politics, ideas. But in the last few years this has met with a cultural and ideological backlash. We are more visible to those who hate us, those who fear us, those who would cause us harm.

Last year I wrote some lyrics about this dichotomy, which are now part of a new song from noise/punk band Dispute Settlement Mechanism. It’s called Queerpocalypse.

 

One of the great things about being in a band is that the process of creation is always  collaborative. I like that this enables us to express ourselves, be that as queer, as trans, as woman, as people, in different ways that come together as a whole. Communicating through riffs and percussion which tell their own stories alongside lyrics and vocal performance.

This, at least as much as my research and formal writing, is the visibility that matters to me in 2020.

I fear your hate inside
I fear the turning tide
I fear your time will come
I fear you think you’ve won

moral panic
moral panic
moral panic
moral panic

you fear with desperate pride
you fear the turning tide
you fear our time will come
you fear that we have won

well guess what?

this world is ours
this world is ours
this world is ours
this world
is ours

Queerpocalypse is available as part of the compilation album Songs From The Vaults. All proceeds from digital sales of the album (available from £5) go towards supporting important Coventry venue and community centre The Tin Music and Arts through the COVID-19 crisis.

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.

Fighting back in the precarious academy – FWSA address 2019

On 16 October I spoke at the 30th Anniversary event hosted by the Feminist and Women Studies Association UK and Northern Ireland (FWSA). This is the text of my short talk.

Thank you for having me, I am very honoured to be here today.

I was invited to speak about doing feminism in the academy through my research on trans experiences. I am a trans woman known for my research on trans health.

I am interested in how discourses of consent, autonomy, sex and gender circulate between patient communities, activists, and professionals, and how these are shaped by power relations. I also work on new approaches to healthcare that might centre patient knowledges, rather than patriarchal medical authority. At present, I am part of an international study of pregnancy and childbirth among trans men and non-binary people.

This research stems from my wider interest in gender, sexuality, and power relations within institutions. I have published empirical work on equality schemes in Higher Education, focusing specially on Athena SWAN. My research with Charoula Tzanakou shows how Athena SWAN places a burden on the very women it is supposed to help, through expecting them to participate in the extensive work of self-assessment.

I also have been involved in anti-casualisation campaigns, especially while working on hourly-paid contracts for six years at the University of Warwick. I feel it is important to recognise this as feminist academic work too, an argument I expand on shortly.

I am very often invited to speak about trans health. At least as often, I am invited to speak about being a trans woman.

I am very rarely been invited to speak about my wider feminist research or activism.

I know why this is. While our numbers are growing, there are very few trans people and especially trans women working in universities. I am used to being the only visible trans person in the room. I am painfully aware that I am frequently present as a token. I am also aware that if I am not present, often no trans voices are heard at all, let alone trans women’s voices.

I know it is important to talk about how a vast majority of trans staff and students face substantial barriers in Higher Education. These include rigid administrative procedures, plus high rates of verbal abuse, physical and sexual assault. I know it is important to talk about how transphobia is tied closely to misogyny, racialisation, ableism and class, and how the challenges we face are especially compounded for trans people who face intersecting forms of marginalisation, such as Black trans women and disabled trans people.

I know it is important to talk about how we currently face an unpreceded rise in open transphobia. Cis academics talk about stripping our legal rights in public lectures and newspaper columns. Trans studies scholars face constant abuse and harassment on social media, malicious freedom of information requests, and threats of legal action. I know it is important to talk about how anti-feminist talking points from the religious right, such as the supposed threat of ‘gender ideology’, are laundered through anti-trans groups.

Still, there are times I want to talk about other things.

There are times I want to talk about being a woman more than I want to talk about being trans. There are times when I want to talk about solutions as well as problems, about collectivity and solidarity rather than division.

New postgraduates frequently ask me for advice on surviving in departments where they are the only out trans person. My advice is always the same – build alliances across difference. You may be the only trans PhD student, but you will certainly not be the only student who faces marginalisation.

To quote Patricia Hill Collins: “Who has your back, and whose back do you have?

In 2015 the University of Warwick faced scrutiny over TeachHigher, a proposed wholly-owned subsidiary designed to facilitate the outsourcing of teaching at universities. These proposals were defeated by organised resistance within numerous academic departments, led primarily by casualised staff.

Our campaign relied on recognising how the economic precarity of casualization is also about the myriad ways in which many of us are additionally oppressed. As my comrade Christian Smith passionately argued, “TeachHigher is sexist, and TeachHigher is racist”. We knew that women and people of colour are disproportionately represented within the pool of casual labour on which our institutions rely. We knew that increased casualization only exacerbates conditions in which those who are already the most privileged are most likely to thrive. This was a feminist campaign, an anti-racist campaign, a campaign about class, a campaign against ableism, homophobia and transphobia.

In my department, where over 40% of teaching was undertaken by people on hourly-paid contracts, we organised a teaching boycott. None of us would sign up to teach the following year unless the department took an active stance against TeachHigher. This could only work if all of us agreed to openly sign a letter announcing the boycott – otherwise, we could be played off against one another. It took many careful meetings and discussions to organise. Many of us relied on this work to pay our bills, and in some cases, look after families.

In response to our letter, the Head of Department disparaged us in a departmental meeting, calling us “childish”. He proposed replacing our labour with PhD students from other universities. He said we would never win, that the university would never back down.

A week later, the university backed down.

So how do we claim space for feminism in the precarious academy?

By remaining aware of our differences, working with and across them to build alliances.

By campaigning through formal and informal unions as well as our research.

By speaking out and supporting our colleagues, especially if we are in a more secure position than them.

The university is not built for us. We know this in our hearts when we see the statues and paintings of worthy men around campus. We know this in our bones when we the climb steep steps to lecture theatres designed to centre a patriarchal pedagogy. We know this in the sharpness of our breath when men known for sexual abuse talk over us and claim responsibility for our work in departmental meetings.

It’s time for change on our campuses. Let’s make that change together.

EHAOIH6W4AAdiCi.jpg

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.