Transfer Seminar Blues

I did my transfer seminar yesterday. By some awkward twist of fate I woke up at 5am, which did mean that I had plenty of time to drink numerous cups of tea and play dress up as a grown up. I walked up to uni early to meet the others who were presenting. We had tea and a scone in the cafe and then headed to our presentation room to set up before everyone else arrived. With the powerpoints on the screen we had  a few minutes to panic bounce and pop to the loo. Rapporteurs started turning up, except, unfortunately, for the presenter who was going first. When it was decided that they likely weren’t going to arrive, the rapporteurs went on a hunt for other suitable academics in the building. Luckily one was found and we were able to begin.

The first two presenters did an amazing job, they were clear, engaging and answered questions without pause. Then we had a quick coffee break. The third presenter was a part-time PhD student that we don’t know that well; four people from her department turned up to support her. Her project sounded fascinating, and again she answered the questions really well.

Then it was my turn. I was quietly proud of my presentation, I thought I’d covered everything I needed to and I’d managed to fit it all into the assigned 20 minutes. Not to mention, I didn’t projectile vomit over the front row, which I personally think is an achievement. Then it came time for the questions. I knew this was going to suck. I was so right. My rapporteur is the person who failed my first piece of paperwork – which was totally fair as I’d gotten the wrong end of the stick about what I was supposed to include – and I can’t tell if this is me just trying to defend myself, but I feel that they came in with a preconception about my ability and the validity of my project. I was expecting questions about my methodology, which I have been struggling to articulate as its never been something I’ve had to think about before. Instead they questioned my choice of texts – something that I’d spend a few slides discussing.

I’ve chosen to just use trans-authored fiction – in my presentation I’d spoken about how trans theory is rooted in lived experience, self-definition and embodiment. I said that I’d chosen to use these texts because not only are they they most relevant to the topic, but they’re also the least studied – cisgender authored texts that include trans themes, like Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, Kathleen Winter’s Annabel and, of course, Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve, have all received far more acclaim and far more criticism. Therefore, I’d thought that I was covering my decisions. Apparently not.

They said that they could understand politically why I’d take such a stance, but not the effect it would have on the literary motifs. They said that they were a poststructuralist and as such didn’t care about authenticity and therefore why should they care that I’d only used trans authors? They started talking about how I’d discounted a load of literary texts, such as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando by making such a choice. I tried to mention that trans academics have discussed how cisgender authors fail to adequately portray trans characters, instead reducing them to a string of stereotypical events and reactions. That didn’t seem to make a dent in their conviction that I was wrong, and they continued.

So I obviously came out of it feeling like shit. Luckily we all immediately went to the pub for carbs and booze.

I still don’t really know how to address their questions outside of what I’ve already said. That’s what I plan on tackling this week.

I’ve got a meeting with my supervisors next week, I guess I’ll see what they say.

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