Chapters and Christmas

I finally handed a chapter in. It’s not complete, but it’s in. I left off doing the conclusion, partly because I wanted some space from it and partly because I’m worried that my supervisors will tell me that I’ve gone in completely the wrong direction with it all. I’m meeting with them both on Wednesday, so we’ll see then.

Since sending it in I’ve managed to achieve very little actual work. I’ve caught up on some life stuff though – think I’m basically organised for Christmas now. I’m heading down south straight after teaching on Thursday (if anyone even turns up), so I need to pack tomorrow really. I’m planning on taking some thesis reading with me, although I doubt I’ll get time. Mum is getting married on Saturday, then on Monday I’m heading down to Dad’s, then I’m heading to some mate’s before we all go skiing. The coach to Austria will take 24 hours, though, so I’ll try and do some reading then.

I’m so thankful that it’s the end of term. It’ll be nice to have a few weeks without having to factor in lesson planning. Although, ideally I need to start reading for next term’s module on critical theory. The students are all exhausted after their first term at uni. Attendance has been less than stellar. I’m hoping they all perk up over Christmas, bless them.

Tomorrow I’m planning on having a bit of a think about the next chapter I’d like to tackle. I think it’ll be the one on embodiment, surgery and essentialism. Embodiment is a common theme throughout the thesis due to its prominence as a concept within trans theory; it needs tackling head on though, which will be the tricky bit. I’m aiming to find a middle ground between essentialist and non-essentialist arguments regarding surgery. I think I’ll revisit Julia Serano quite a bit.

 

That'll do for now #PhD #phdchat #thesis #writing #chapter #tired

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Dec 10, 2015 at 4:36pm PST

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Blogging is probably quite unlikely until January now. That’ll mark a year of having my blog, so I think I’ll do a bit of a round up of what’s happened and what I have and haven’t achieved.

 

 

 

Interrogating Queer, Crip & the Body [Conference]

Yesterday I attended a fab conference at Sheffield Hallam University called Interrogating queer, crip and the body: an international symposium. The aim of the symposium was to discuss the intersections of disability and queer politics.

We do this at a particularly pertinent time in the UK. A time where heightening austerity measures have and will continue to disproportionately affect already marginalised groups, including disabled and LGBT* people. Therefore we see this symposium as a chance to ask how academia, activism and the arts can work together for social justice.

The day started with a free lunch (who could turn that down) where we all got to meet one another, which set a really friendly tone for the whole day. I always think stuff like that makes a real difference when it comes to asking and answering questions after panels.

Prof. Nick Hodge introduced the symposium as being an investigation into how academia, activism and the arts can work together for social justice.

The first speaker was Freyja Haraldsdottir whose presentation was entitled: ‘The wheeling of shame: The political action of setting up disability and ripping up femininity’. Freja spoke eloquently about her disability and the way in which society interacts with her because of it. She stated that it was society that made her realise that her body was different and until then she hadn’t cared. The surgeries and physical therapy that her doctors had her undergo told her that the way her body worked was wrong – it involved relearning how to use a body that she’d already learnt to use – something she considered to be unnecessary and more so a ‘beauty treatment’ than a medical one. As such, as a teenager she chose to stop conforming to these pressures, to sit upright, force her legs into braces and her arms to work in front of her, rather than to the side as they naturally do.

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Freyja went on to discuss the common representations of disabled people, either as heroes who have overcome their disability and climbed Everest; or as someone who dies. She said neither of these visions particularly appealed to her, and therefore left her without any role models. She also spoke about issues of agency – when she was younger her home carers were assigned to her and numbered around fifty different people, a small number of whom she actually liked. She said that she was given no choice, and that her private space was constantly invaded by strangers. Those strangers would then control how she presented herself, what she wore, her makeup etc. It meant that she had no privacy and no agency. This is gladly something that has changed overtime, she now has personal assistants that she trains, they know how to do her hair and makeup and how to best assist her when she’s out and at work so that she may engage with the world in the way she wishes.

Freyja also discussed the (de)sex(ualisation) education she received at school, how only able bodies were discussed. She spoke of how people assume that she wouldn’t want to be sexy or desired and as such she often tries as hard to be as womanly as possible – which feeds into the issues of agency and having a team in place that enable to her present herself as she wishes. The desexualising and asexual assumptions placed on differently abled people was a common thread throughout the entire day and will come up when I speak about the other papers.

Freyja cited her trouble at reconciling her feminism with her desire to be traditionally feminine. she questions whether she was failing feminists if she wore lipstick, or if instead she would fail disabled women by not wearing makeup and expressing her femininity. Ultimately she said we need to “sex up disability, crip up feminism and stop being ashamed”. A issue that the disability movement tries to counteract is the constant need for disabled people to explain themselves and explain why they should be entitled to live alone and in control of their lives. Freyja stated that it was the queer movement that taught her that you don’t always have to be what society thinks you should be whilst still deserving human rights. She also spoke about how black feminism taught her that she’s “allowed to be a disabled woman, I don’t have to choose between being disabled and a woman”.

Freyja went on to say that it is the medical establishment that pressures people into becoming ‘normal’; that controlling bodies is something that doctors just do automatically, such as with the leg and arm braces she was given at a child. Rather than enabling her to use her body as it is, they worked hard and caused her a great deal of pain to try and force her body into the established norm. She finished on the point that the core of the disability moment and feminist movement is taking control of the self.

I think this final point is what most links to my thesis. The basis of trans theory is respecting lived experience and allowing people to embrace their personal sense of self no matter what wider society may pressure you into becoming. There is also a long history of the medicalisation of trans identities being highly destructive. The normalisation of bodies is something that the medical establishment enforces as ‘healthy’; whereas in fact a wide range of bodies are perfectly serviceable.

The second paper of the day was given by Embla Agustsdottir who spoke about ‘Disability: A chance to rethink sex’. Ebla works with disabled girls and women discussing sex – therefore filling the gap in education that Freyja mentioned. She stated that disabled people are often shown as either not sexual at all or as creepily hyper sexual (giving the example here of Crazy Eyes [Suzanne] in Orange is the New Black). In films and TV, if someone becomes disabled they often go from being an actively sexual person to being entirely non-sexual. Therefore, the media makes is hard for disabled people to establish their sexual sense of self because there are no good role models.

Embla noted that, often, before we have sex we have well-defined ideas about sex – what is good and bad sex, how we should feel about sex – which is gained through the media and society, therefore opportunities for self-discovery are limited. She states that articles on disabled sex are always about how to do it as ‘normal’ as possible. The internalisation of sexual norms means that we become sure that our [disabled] sex must be boring and unsatisfying, even if you’re enjoying it. Ebla spoke about the trope of lift sex – citing that many lawyer and doctor TV shows feature people having sex in lifts. We had a giggle about this, but the point is that this sort of quick, spontaneous (and ridiculous) sex is seen as highly erotic, whereas communication and planning are seen as ‘non-sexy’, therefore promoting that disabled sex can not be sexy.

Embla mentioned that in the media, disabled people engaging with sexuality is often seen as a laughing point. She highlighted that partners of disabled people may often feel too ashamed to publicly show affection because they don’t want to be seen as ‘abnormal’ for dating a disabled person – there’s also the issue that the public may think that the partner is taking advantage of the disabled person – something that links to the infantilisation of disabled people that one of the later talks dealt with. She ended by linking back to a previous point about society’s assumptions about disabled people, stating that anyone seen with a disabled person is assumed to be a carer rather than a lover which is fundamentally based on the assumption that disabled people can’t be sexy or sexually active and are therefore not seen as adults in their own right as sex is linked with adulthood.

The next talk was given by the organisers of the symposium, Jenny Slater and Kirsty Liddiard who presented the paper ‘Learning to contain through youth, adulthood, disability and sexuality’. They opened by tracking the containment of disabled people through history, from asylums through to the group-homes and day-centres of today. This ‘containment’ extends from overt eugenic practices to the ability to access sexual health services. They stated that containment was an expectation of normative adulthood which leads to the infantilisation of anyone who isn’t cis/white/able-bodied/heteronormative, etc.

They stated that becoming an adult is to become contained and that becoming an adult is seen as a natural development, however, it’s actual a socio-economic set of hoops to jump through and norms to comply with. Containment was discussed in opposition with ‘leakiness’; they noted that sharing one’s leakiness is something that is accepted through childhood, but by the time you’re a certain age it’s expected that you’ll deal with your bodily fluids alone. An interesting point was made about gendering, childred are gendered from a young age and this can be linked to potty-training. It is often recommended that a child is potty-trained by the parent of the same gender (problematically assuming a nuclear, heteronormative family unit), and children quickly learn to use the ‘correct’ public bathroom based on gender. However, for disabled children, whilst still learning to become contained, there is a lack of this particular type of gendering because disabled toilets are usually gender neutral. This raises issues of the gendering of disabled people, which leads to questions of sexualisation and sexually, and ultimately personhood. As my thesis explores, the notion of being a person, of being a human, is intimately linked with the binary gender system.

Avoiding infantilisation is achieved by proving oneself to be an adult, however, trisect of proving is not a one-off event, it is a continual process that involves hiding one’s leakiness. The labour that goes into maintaining the contained trip body is continuous, failing, even for a moment, can disrupt ‘normative neoliberal adulthood’. Breaking the boundaries of containment required from female bodies in particular means failing to meet the culturally defined norms of attractiveness. The restrictions of containment are not only relatable to the body but also the environment. Lucille, someone who was interviewed for their research, stated that her husband was required to clean them both after sex, and there was a pressure not to mess up the sheets because a PA would be be in to transfer her in the morning. Both of these things made Lucille feel that she was ‘failing in her self-conceptualisation of her feminine identity’. Another point they made was that the impaired body is always medicalised or able to be medicalised – sexuality is not a right of self when private care is performed by external forces.

They concluded that one cannot prove one’s adulthood without proving one’s containment; however, containment is not natural, it is a learned act taught through processes that say that leakiness must be private, contained and dealt with autonomously. These are very ableist requirements that mean that some people are doomed never to be able to prove themselves to be adults and are therefore denied sexual selfhood.  Containment is a form of oppression for women and disabled people. You must fight to prove yourself all the time and it’s easier to reject certain assumptions/norms of adulthood if you’re in a position of privilege.

After a tea-break Julia Daniels read her paper ‘Conditions of reciprocity: The possibilities and potentialities of a feminist perspective on theorising dis/abilty’. She opened by stating that ‘The project of ableism, as I see it, is to mark the unmarked categories of “man”, “white”, and “able-bodied”, thus lessening their ability to contain us and push us aside by marking us as “other”‘. She suggested that feminism is in fact multiple feminisms that give voice to unfinished concepts and embracing the becomingness of theories. In giving value to subjective experience, feminism acknowledges pain and the limitations caused by impairment.

Julia stated that she sometimes struggles with identifying as a disabled person due to the negative and derogatory connotations of doing so. Engaging with various theorists has allowed an understanding that ‘disability’ is socially constructed, something that echoes what Freyja mentioned previously about doctors trying to normalise disabled bodies because normative  able-bodies are the only bodies understood to be acceptable. Feminism has enabled Julia to accept her disability and to speak candidly about her impairment as feminism’s validation of personal experience and subsequently the notion that the personal is political has given her a stronger foundation from which to base her stance. It allows the construction of a personal process of understanding life that may defy external frameworks.

Julia also mentioned something that I spoke about in one of my previous posts (and consequently my conference paper), that having only one recognised voice for an entire movement or group of people leads to other voices being marginalised and silenced. This is particularly problematic in the case of disability where those voices are already being heard and may exist at an intersectional level of oppression (i.e. being female, black, gay and disabled). Julia suggested that a deeper connection between feminism and critical disability studies could have a huge impact on censuring the structures of neoliberal society and the ability to think critically about how we value autonomy. I would also argue here that trans studies could have a huge part to play in this as it is based in self expression, lived experience and embodiment.

Finally Charlotte Jones and Jenny Slater ran a workshop called ‘On the toilet: the politics of public and private spaces’. They opened by discussing how the issues of access, comfort and safety tie into social issues of equality. Public toilets can often be a place of privacy in public spaces, so who is included and excluded from specific toilet spaces is impacted by issues of equality and personhood. Their project analyses these issues alongside how issues of access doesn’t just mean for wheelchairs and the issues of toilet signage.

We were split into groups after this introduction and given toilet-based pictures to discuss. Our pictures were open urinals and a queue of women that extended out from the door to a public loo. Our group discussed issues of gender and toilet access, how it is assumed certain genders will be comfortable in different spaces; the issues of genderqueer people being scorned for being in a particular toilet even if it happens to align with their biological sex and how we might alternately label bathrooms. Each group had a different picture and after twenty minutes the room came together to discuss our various thoughts. This workshop was based on their project Around the Toilet which runs other discussions and workshops: found here.

The day was highly informative and utterly enjoyable. It was really interesting for me to see how a topic which I had previously assumed was completely unrelated to my thesis shared certain concerns. I only really popped along out of interest, but I think I might now need to look further into everything I learned and see how I can work it into my thesis.

Singing the Alphabet

I’m a PhD student with 12 GCSEs, 3 A levels, 2 AS levels, a first at BA(Hons), and a distinction at MA and I still have to sing the alphabet to know what letter comes after what. This proved to be a bit of a hindrance when I finally got round to alphabetising my notes this weekend. Up until now they’ve just been put in my folder as I’ve read them, which was fine in the beginning. However, eight months in to the Phd my brain has become a soup of nonsense and I have no idea when I read what. To be honest sometimes I don’t even remember if I’ve read something before, I get to the third paragraph and realise ‘this feels strangely familiar’.

I’m also in the process of reading back through everything and adding colour coded post-its according to theme for each chapter, but, as you can imagine, that’s quite slow-going. And I’ll admit, it’s really boring, so I’ve not being working as hard as I could be.

Last week after the conference I felt ready to hash out my first chapter, but having had a week with family I’ve kind of lost my motivation. I’m currently dog-sitting at my mum’s (hence the nice fireplace) and won’t be back up north until the weekend, at which point I have a date with a friend to head to a feministy-theatrey-discoy-shindig. So realistically, it’ll likely be Monday before I settle down with my books and get some writing done. I will try and crack on with my colour-coding though…probably.

Conference

Well, I was going to write a summary of the Trans Studies Now conference, much as I did for Talking Bodies, but Cheryl Morgan has done it much better than I could: here. I was lucky enough to have dinner with the Hugo award winning Cheryl and author Roz Kaveney the night before the conference which went some way to settling my nerves. They were both very lovely and chatty and it was a relief to have some friendly faces in the room when I was presenting.

I think my paper went fairly well. I could feel myself talking a bit too fast at points and tried to slow down. I’ve never really spoken in front of a crowd before but it wasn’t as bad as I was worried it would be. The room seemed to receive the paper well, no one actively hissed or booed anyway. It’s lessened my concerns about teaching in September too.

It was lovely meeting so many people who shared my interests and who did’t get the usual glaze in their eyes when I start talking about authenticity of self and lived experience. I would have liked to have actually spoken to more people but it was a pretty busy day and I had to shoot off a bit early to get on the road at a time that didn’t mean I’d be getting to the mate’s i was kipping at after midnight.

My plan is to turn the conference paper into the first chapter of my thesis. I think I’ll keep it as it is, with the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk part, but build more actual trans theory into the close reading whereas in the paper I just mentioned the themes. I’ll obviously also be expanding the close reading and using more texts. I think I’ve pretty much got my chapter plan sorted now, which makes me feel a bit more secure, like I might actually be able to do this PhD thing, which isn’t something I’ve really felt since I was first applying for scholarships. I do need to have a bit of a think about how I’m going to use blogs, I think I’ll need to add them into my main chapters rather than having separate chapters. In which case I need to actually find some blogs.

I also need to work out my methodology, how I’m going to justify my use of the specific narratives I’ve chosen. Which means I need to think up some specifications and find blogs/books to match. At the moment it’s just trans-authored, post-90s narratives, but for the blogs I’m hoping to be a bit more specific and find some by trans people of colour. There’s a serious lack of representation in the formal publishing world of TPOC which is my original reasoning for using blogs and self-published works. I just need to do some work on finding a few more and picking which ones to use.

Balance and Brevity

Unsurprisingly this week I’ve been writing my conference paper. I think it’s pretty much done now…I think. I’d like to write a jazzier ending, but we’ll have to see. The paper had its beginnings in last week’s blog and therefore started rather informally. I’ve found it rather tricky to get the tone right, how formal do you make a conference paper? On the one hand I want it to show my academic ability, after all I’ll be talking to potential future contacts; but on the other hand, I don’t want it to be boring, I don’t just want to just read an essay aloud. I’ve tried to make the language fairly informal whilst making, what I hope are, interesting points. I’ve probably driven everyone mad reading it to myself.

I spent the week back up North before heading South again on Friday. I spent the weekend in Gloucestershire and now I’m down in Devon before I head across to Brighton for the conference. I’ve just been trying to break the journey up a bit and pick a route that avoids the dreaded M25.

My next post will probably be some kind of summary of the conference, I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to post though.

Nothing to see here…

I’m not going to lie, I’ve done nothing this week. I went home to Cheltenham to help my Mum and step-dad pack ready for their move and now I’m in Cardiff for the week. I’m hosting my creative writing group tonight and I have a drag themed birthday party to attend on Saturday. I’ve bought a book with me to write notes on, but I don’t think I’m going to have much time to actually do anything.

I have arranged to go to another conference though, there’s one being hosted by Sussex university – Trans Studies Now which I am really excited about. They’ve got an open CFP at the moment, so I’m trying to think of something smart to write a paper on to submit.

I’ve written a short story to submit to an online magazine, which doesn’t really count toward my PhD, but a publication is a publication right? Especially as I might one day end up teaching creative writing (mu undergrad and MA are in English and Creative Writing).

So that’s it. I doubt I’ll have anything to write about next Monday either…but after that I’m really going to have to up my game!

Word count: 0

Gym sessions: 0

(Starting to think there two things might be more linked than I had originally thought).