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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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.

Trans pregnancy study – new article and podcast

Over the last year I have been working on the largest international study of conception, pregnancy and childbirth among trans men and non-binary people: the Trans Pregnancy project. We have now undertaken fifty interviews with trans and non-binary people about their experiences in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, the UK and US, plus further interviews and focus groups with young people and healthcare professionals.

In this post, I share a new peer-reviewed commentary and podcast from the project.


Article: Beyond the pregnant man: trans pregnancy in A Deal With The Universe

Our first published academic article is now available in the journal Feminist Media Studies, authored by myself with my colleague Francis Ray White. This is a short commentary on the representation of trans pregnancy in the media, centring on a review of Jason Barker’s autobiographical film A Deal With The Universe.

Click here to read the article in Feminist Media Studies.

If you do not have access to this journal through an institutional login (e.g. through a library) or personal subscription, I have uploaded an “open access” version of the article to this website. Click here to read the article for free.


Podcast: Making Space for Trans Pregnancy

In November 2018, Francis and I presented initial findings from the project at the Gendered Intelligence Transforming Spaces conference in London, UK.

This presentation was recorded, and is now available as part of the Transforming Spaces podcast series.

Topics under discussion include:

  • cultural amnesia around trans pregnancy
  • contradictions in UK law and policy
  • the importance of trans “possibility models”
  • the myth of testosterone and infertility
  • gendering in pregnancy
  • trans birth parents in international guidelines


Looking forward

There is a lot more to come! Over the next few months, we will be undertaking our final interviews and focus groups, conducting an in-depth analysis of these, and publishing a law and policy report focusing on the European Union.

Early next year we will discuss our research findings in a report and free conference. We are also planning to write many more academic articles on a range of topics, which will be published gradually over the next few years.

We are hugely grateful for everyone who has shared their story with us so far – thanks to your contributions, we have an enormous amount of material to work with. We very much look forward to sharing more of our work with you.

This post is based on material originally written for the Trans Pregnancy website.

You can also follow our research through the Trans Pregnancy Twitter account.

 

“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.