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.

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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.

“The Emergence of Trans” – out now, read the introduction!

Emergence of Trans finalThis book is intended as a statement of hope, and of possibility. It is about the context and consequences of trans emergence. It is about how “trans” becomes, and how we “become” trans. It is about how trans people are changed by the experience of emergence, and how trans emergence might change our worlds.

I’m delighted to announce that The Emergence of Trans was published last week!

The book includes essays, poetry and a comic strip on topics such as monsters, eugenics, performativity, epiphanies, music, relationships, language, pronouns, picture books, robots, research methods and ethics.

It was edited by myself, Igi Moon, Kat Gupta and the late Deborah Lynn Steinberg.

If you want to learn more about the book, there is no better way to start than through the introductory chapter. I have uploaded a copy to this website, which you can read for free here:

The Many-Voiced Monster:
collective determination and the emergence of trans

by Ruth Pearce, Kat Gupta and Igi Moon

 
In addition to this introduction (and a number of short editorial essays) the contents of the book are:

Chapter 1: In the Shadow of Eugenics: Transgender Sterilization Legislation and the Struggle for Self-determination
by Julian Honkasalo

Chapter 2: Reconceiving the Body: A Surgical Genealogy of Trans-Therapeutics
by Eric Plemons

Chapter 3: Becoming: Discourses of Trans Emergence, Epiphanies and Oppositions
by Natacha Kennedy

Chapter 4: the seam of skin and scales
by Elena Rose Vera

Chapter 5: Creating a Trans Space
by Kat Gupta

Chapter 6: DIY Identities in a DIY Scene: Trans Music Events in the UK
by Kirsty Lohman and Ruth Pearce

Chapter 7: On Being a ‘Wife’: Cis Women Negotiating Relationships with a Trans Partner
by Clare Beckett-Wrighton

Chapter 8: Sticks and Stones Break Our Bones, and Words Are Damaging: How Language Erases Non-binary People
by stef m shuster and Ellen Lamont

Chapter 9: Response and Responsibility: Mainstream Media and Lucy Meadows in a Post-Leveson Context
by Kat Gupta

Chapter 10: ‘Girl Brain…Boy Body’: Representations of Trans Characters in Children’s Picture Books
by Clare Bartholomaeus and Damien Riggs

Chapter 11: Make Yourself
by Rami Yasir

Chapter 12: Co-producing Trans Ethical Research
by Rhi Humphrey, Bróna Nic Giolla Easpaig and Rachael Fox

Chapter 13: Nonnormative Ethics: The Ensouled Formation of Trans
by Mijke van der Drift

Chapter 14: A Genealogy of Genealogies – Retheorising Gender and Sexuality: The Emergence of ‘Trans’ (ESRC Seminar Series 2012-2014)
by Igi Moon

 

The book is now available in paperback and hardback formats from many bookstores, including publisher Routledge. Ebook and Kindle versions will also be released soon.

Rainbow resources from Aotearoa: accessibility, takatāpui, and healthcare

This is the second in a short series of posts on my recent trip to Aotearoa. See also:
Part 1: Trans health and rainbow futures.


During my April/May visit to Aotearoa (New Zealand) I picked up a lot of amazing resources. In this blog post, I share some brief reflections on three great documents which contain an enormous amount of interesting and useful material produced by and for Rainbow communities (takatāpui, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and queer people), on topics that include disability, Māori experiences of gender and sexuality, and affirmative care.

These documents will be of interest to people who want to know more about rainbow activism, communities and healthcare in Aotearoa, but also clearly have a wider relevance and importance. In writing about them, my intention is to highlight the expert contribution of the authors. As a UK-based scholar and activist, I learned a great deal and it is my hope that readers will too.


All of Us

59b7fa1e4a1c5a438395612258da“Imagine how engaged our communities would be if we were curious about our strengths and values, rather than our limitations.”

This beautifully illustrated guide addresses topics such as structural stigma, intersectionality, accountability, minority stress and (de)colonialism from the perspective of a queer disabled politics. It promotes a mode of solidarity and understanding that recognises and works with difference.

All of Us was created by Stace Robertson, a queer trans man of Pākehā (European or non-Māori) descent who lives with Cerebral Palsy.

Robertson explains that the project came about after he noticed that people are often not fully included even in minority communities if they experience multiple forms of marginalisation.

He therefore decided to create a resource that shared the perspective of people with these experiences, drawing on that advise of mentors, and advisory group and 14 people from a range of backgrounds who offered to share their stories in the document.

This resource will be of interest to people who want to learn more about experiences of multiple marginalisation. It will be useful to those who are new to this topic, as well as those who want to understand more about factors such as ableism or migrant status impact LGBTIQ experience and vice-versa.

There is also an excellent easy-read version of the guide available in the second half of the document.


Takatāpui: Part of the Whānau

Screen+Shot+2017-02-26+at+4.12.09+PM“Takatāpui is a traditional term meaning ‘intimate companion of the same sex.’ It has been reclaimed to embrace all Māori who identify with diverse genders and sexualities such as whakawāhine, whakawāhine, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer.”

The document was created to provide information and support for takatāpui and their whanau (family), but it will also be of interest to people wanting to learn more about mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge or wisdom) with regards to sexual and gender diversity. It was written by Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, a renowned takatāpui activist, scholar, and founder/chair of the Tīwhanawhana Trust.

Through colonialism, Aotearoa inherited the sexism and homophobia of the British legal system. Takatāpui narrative were erased through pathologisation, colonial records, and the imposition of the nuclear family model. In light of this, Kerekere highlights the importance of pre-colonial histories, and of contemporary resilience and the importance of pride, family and community support.

In the UK, we have begun to talk more in recent years about how binary gender norms were imposed on many societies by British invaders through colonialism. These conversations can only become deeper and more nuanced through respectful engagement with knowledge produced by Indigenous peoples on this topic, rather than relying on the flawed work of colonial anthropologists. As a white trans woman who experiences both gender marginalisation and unearned privileges afforded by the legacy of colonialism, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn directly from takatāpui perspectives.


Guidelines for Gender Affirming Healthcare for Gender Diverse and Transgender Children, Young People and Adults in Aotearoa New Zealand

Guidelines for Gender Affirming Health low res.pdf“These guidelines are based on the principle of Te Mana Whakahaere; trans people’s autonomy of their own bodies, represented by healthcare provision based on informed consent.”

These guidelines were produced by a coalition of healthcare practitioners, academics and community members, with the support of the Northern Region Clinical and Consumer Advisory Group. They are intended to supplement the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care, providing guidance relevant to District Health Boards in providing gender affirming healthcare throughout Aotearoa.

An important feature of the guidelines is the use of Māori health expert Professor Mason Durie’s health framework. The document highlights two key principles for health promotion development: Te Mana Whakahaere (autonomy) and Ngā Manukura (community leadership). There is therefore is an emphasis on trans and gender diverse people having collective control over their own destiny and decisions around healthcare.

Furthermore, Te Whare Tapa Whā, as described by Durie, conceptualises health and wellbeing as the four cornerstones of the wharenui (meeting house). As noted in the guidelines, this model recognises the equal importance of Taha Wairua (spiritual health), Taha Whānau (family health), Taha Hinengaro (mental health) and Taha Tinana (physical health). These four cornerstones provide the structure for the document.

Consequently, the guidelines highlight topics such as Māori and Pasifika genders, minority stress, social transition, health in the family and in schools, and mental health, positioning these as equally important a consideration as physical transition (for those who desire/require medical interventions). This strikes me as a really important move, de-centring hormones and surgery to instead provide a more holistic view on trans health needs.

Like many similar documents, the guidelines are not perfect. I met a number of clinical practitioners in Aotearoa who considered this document to be a good starting point for conversations around improving care, but with some limitations outside of the relatively well-resourced Northern region in which they were primarily written. I have my own concerns around the citation of somewhat inaccurate information produced by cis clinical researchers (for example, Table 5, based on the Endocrine Society Guidelines, underestimates how long it might take for certain bodily changes to take place). I also feel that the definition of “informed consent” used in the document could perhaps benefit from tightening to specify what does and does not constitute appropriate oversight in determining whether or not patients are “adequately prepared” for medical interventions.

Regardless, I am deeply grateful for the work from so many people that goes into producing guidelines such as this, and I hope they can contribute usefully to the ongoing depathologisation of trans health.

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. See also: Part 2: Rainbow resources from 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!