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

[click here to read in Sociology]

[click here to read a free open access version]

 

New job with the Trans Learning Partnership

I am very excited to announce that I will soon begin work on a new project. From the beginning of April I will be working full-time with Spectra as Research Coordinator for the Trans Learning Partnership.

The Trans Learning Partnership is a groundbreaking collaboration between trans and non-binary community representatives, academics, and four organisations who work to directly provide community services: Spectra, Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, and the LGBT Foundation. The aim of the Partnership is to drive the development of a robust service and advocacy-oriented evidence base, enabling trans services and their service users to have needs-based, impactful services.

This also means that I will be leaving the Trans Pregnancy Project at the University of Leeds, but rest assured that I plan to continue supporting my colleagues from that project in writing up and publishing our findings. We have a number of academic articles currently in the pipeline, along with a themed special issue of the International Journal of Transgender Health.

I will of course continue to update this website periodically with information and reflections on all of my ongoing research.

The Trans Learning Partnership feels like such an important opportunity to design and undertake research intended to directly improve people’s lives. I can’t wait to get started!

 

Gigs in March and April

I’m playing some super cool gigs with my two bands over the next couple of months! You should totally come and see us play.

85063535_2769728823121741_5866758282172956672_nSunday 8th March
Tin Music and Arts, Coventry

I’ll be shouting at Boudica Festival’s International Women’s Day event with the noise rock/punk experience Dispute Settlement Mechanism.

We’ll be sharing a stage with Human Resources, Paradise of the Titans, Jen Haigh, Nyotaa, and the Yap Collective.

Muncie Girls poster
Sunday 29th March
Gullivers, Manchester

I’ll be playing bass in fuzzy pop rockers wormboys at this super cool gig where we are supporting Muncie Girls!

We’ll also be playing alongside the awesome Perkie and Bleach Body.

 

Wednesday 22nd April
Wharf Chambers, Leeds

Another exciting wormboys gig – we will be supporting DIY supergroup Somnia on their UK tour.

 

New article: Transnormativity in the psy disciplines

Today sees the publication of the first full article from the Trans Pregnancy project team, in the journal American Psychologist:

Transnormativity in the psy disciplines: Constructing pathology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and Standards of Care

[click here to read in American Psychologist]

[click here to read free open access version]

In this article we provide a brief history of how certain narratives and expectations around how trans people should behave and be treated have been constructed through the disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis, especially in a US context.

It is part of a great new special issue on Histories of psychology after Stonewall, edited by Peter Hegarty and Alexandra Rutherford.

We examine how the interests of cisgender clinicians and transgender patients have variously been opposed and entwined, and contextualise this in relation to wider structures of racism, sexism, colonialism, and binary thinking around sex and gender. We focus especially on how guidance for diagnosing trans people and managing trans healthcare has been contested across various versions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) and the International Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA, later WPATH) Standards of Care.

This article does not focus specifically on questions of fertility, pregnancy and childbirth (although we briefly touch very on this topic). Rather, it provides important historical background on the evolution of certain medical services which have help to shape how trans people are treated and percieved. We are also currently writing a number of articles that will report on specific research findings from the Trans Pregnancy project, and I am really looking forward to sharing them also when they are published!

 

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

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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