Cars and Chapters

Last week I met with my supervisors about the chapter I’ve now (more or less) completed. They were really supportive and seem to understand what I’m trying to do, and they articulate it far better than I do. We’ve agreed that I should now move on to the next chapter which I’m relieved about. I don’t think I’ve got much more to give the old chapter at this point; I need some space from it.

The next chapter is probably going to be the most difficult one in the thesis. It’s going to tackle ideas of essentialism and if/how/where/why they fit into trans theory. Questions of surgery are undoubtedly going to be a part of that, but I really want to minimise that where I can. Issues of the ins and outs of transition are always the main thing that cis culture talks about with regard to trans people/communities and that kind of (oftentimes) dehumanising/objectifying nonsense is something that I’m keen to avoid. On the other hand, for scholars like Prosser, it’s a key part of the way he addresses issues of essentialism, so it still needs to be in there. It’ll be a tricky balance. The whole notion of essentialism/anti-essentialism is really complex anyway, so it’s just another layer of worry about this chapter. I’m looking forward to working on some different books though, and I know that by the end of writing this chapter I will have pushed my thinking and understanding that much further. Just need to actually do it.

I’ve got a meeting arranged with a prominent linguistics academic in my uni who has been looking at gendered language. It was suggested in the meeting with my supervisors that I talk to her about the ways I’m using pronouns – my inclusion of non-binary forms – and where they developed from, how they’re used and how I can talk more clearly about my usage of them outside of ‘well, they’re used within trans communities for these purposes, therefore I’m reflecting that’. I think it’ll be really interesting to get an academic take on it, but I’m also pretty nervous. I know nothing about linguistics, nothing, and I really admire this scholar. Fingers crossed I don’t come across like a moron.

I spent 24 hours in Birmingham at the weekend to attend a surprise birthday party for a friend who now lives in France and popped back to visit. It was lovely to catch up with them and the other mates who had come. I’m now socially exhausted and having some quality cave time.

Today, I’m going to finish the lesson planning I started at the weekend and then probably go to bed at 9. Tuesday and Wednesday are set aside to start thinking about this next chapter. Thursday I’m teaching and then heading back to Birmingham to collect Andrew. Then on Friday we’re going down to Exeter for the weekend to celebrate his birthday at Sonnie and Ted’s house. Sunday night I’ll head back up, either to Brum or fully home depending on my level of driving-boredom. Feel like there isn’t enough time in the world right now.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Feb 28, 2016 at 1:05pm PST

Bornstein, Lees and Late Posts

Forgive me, bloggers, for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last memorandum.

[For Kate Bornstein and Paris Lees business – skip to below the picture]

I don’t really have any excuses – I’ve just been editing the chapter (finally handed in) and planning lessons (ongoing and neverending). I have been outside more often though – I shimmied down south to see my besties and do our belated Christmas; I popped to London with Frizbot to see the brilliant Kate Bornstein and Paris Lees in conversation, and I’ve eaten out a couple of times.

Every week I’ve told myself that I needed to blog, but just never quite got round to it. I’m currently living between busy days and cave days. On busy days I’m out and about, lesson planning, editing, and haphazardly flipping through reference books. On cave days I’m mostly in bed telling myself that I should get up and do something that isn’t being in bed.

So, my chapter is handed in and it’s time to start planning the next one. I’ve had the previous one in my head for so long I literally can’t think of a single thing for the new one at the moment. When I was out with some of the staff from uni the other night I was reminded of mind-mapping, it’s always worked for me before, so I think I’ll give that another go.

IMG_2073

On the 9th I attended an event, ‘Kate Bornstein in conversation with Paris Lees‘ at the British Library. As a long term fan of both I was unbearably excited and ready to have all of their words just all up in my ears, all up in there. I was not disappointed. They sat together at the front of the room on a small stage, neither of them with any notes to hand, and were just brilliant. They sparked effortlessly off one another, they flipped from serious conversation to repeatedly purring “sex, sex, sex” at one another and there was never an awkward silence.

This is Kate’s first UK tour, she’s ‘imparting her wit & wisdom through the medium of workshops, performances & talks in Manchester, London and Brighton throughout February 2016‘. She and Paris opened their conversation on the topic of the transgender tipping point – Kate noted that all trans people have to be careful where they’re out unless they’re a ‘balls-to-the-wall anarchist’ – she stated that the tipping point is ‘bullshit’ and that the trans narrative was starting to be ‘a tired white trope’. One of her main issues was that the ‘trans’ that society seems to be engaging with is still very binary and ‘all of the outsiders are still outside’ – and noted that ‘binary trans people have a certain deal of privilege – non-binary and intersex are the new “final oppressed”‘. Paris said that rather than feeling like a man or a woman, she ‘feels like a human being’ – something that I think gets pushed aside far too often in the high theory concepts of gender in academia.

Kate also spoke about her concerns about the in-fighting in the trans world, with the intersectional question being at the heart of it – ‘we don’t accept eachother’s truth of gender’ – and this is what her next book will address. [By the way, Gender Outlaws is getting a new edition to reflect the differences in the way language and definitions are being used these days]. Paris questioned the point of the academic study of gender, asking whether it actually had any real life impact. Kate stated that the value of writing/studying/debating gender theory is that it bubbles up in areas of culture that other activism doesn’t reach.

Something that I found massively interesting was the way that Kate used the ideas of ‘queer’ vs ‘straight’ with regards to trans communities – queer meaning the more liberal, sexpositive side, and straight meaning the more conservative, sex conservative side – irrespecitve of sexuality. This reinterpetation of existing terminology reminds me of the use of the word ‘passing’ – first used in homosexual and race contexts and then applied to trans communities (and now heavily criticised). I think such uses of queer and straight are more American at the moment, I’m not sure many people here in the UK would cotton on to your meaning immediately; but I like it, and I think it could do with being imported.

Kate took a minute to ask Paris about her forthcoming book, much anticipated and now almost a year overdue. Paris noted that the area in which trans people have been allowed to flourish is autobiography due to society’s obsession with transition- Paris wanted to do something different in her memoir so it wasn’t just a cookie-cutter transition narrative, however, it is kind of about transition because she transitioned and that’s been a massive part of her life. She wanted to talk about something aspirational, but she still needs to talk about her mental health because that’s the truth – social exclusion is scarring. They asked the audience if anyone had come away from transition unscarred, not a single person raised their hands.

Returning to the question of gender theory, Kate stated that it’s akin to particle physics, you need to go to new experiments – if you know what you’re doing, don’t do it. She stated that it discusses things that aren’t spoken about in mainstream culture. However, Paris countered that she finds that gender theory gets used as a justification, which is offensive. She stated, ‘just treat them like a fucking human – if you meet someone with one eye you don’t need to watch a documentary about it to understand it’ – just treat people like they’re actually people [unless they’re TERFs, then just put them in the bin].

In their closing remarks Kate stated that as a ‘trans elder’ her role is to provide context. She said that morality is a binary way of thinking and that’s something that computers can do; we need to get rid of morality and step up to ethics. She lambasted queer/trans infighting that is about trying to preach a dominant narrative, promoting instead the need to practice empathy and compassion with people who should be family.

It was an amazing evening and I felt richer for having been there.

P.S.

Everything I’ve written here has come from some very messy notes that I wrote at the time – if you were there and notice anything awry/misquoted/misunderstood, let me know and I’ll sort it out.

Time Flies

I was talking to my lovely housemate about how it was already nearing the end of January. How? She’s in the third year of her PhD and teaching on two modules this term. She said that last year flew from January through to Christmas and that she can’t believe that it’s all come round again. For me, time didn’t start thundering out of control until October when I started teaching. January to April was mostly spent getting my head in order, and then I just did lots of reading. Reading is pretty hard to quantify in an objective manner, so it really felt like I hadn’t achieved anything.

I now have a chapter, a module of lesson plans and 2 round of marking under my belt (I finally finished that last five essays). So that feels like something. Of course, I still feel woefully behind on my personal targets. I really need to get this chapter edited and sorted and sent back off to my supervisors. I wanted to have started my second chapter by now really. Not least of all because there is an AMAZING conference in America in September that is currently accepting abstracts. I feel like it’d be a bit of a copout to send something based on this chapter as I’ve already done a paper on it and have an article based on it being published. So. Need to get my thinking cap on IN A BIG WAY. And soon. Really soon.

I’m going to spend the next three days editing my chapter and finishing my lesson plan for Thursday. On Friday I’m helping in a workshop and then heading straight off for the weekend with my besties down South to finally do our Christmas.

Next week I will definitely write that abstract.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Jan 24, 2016 at 5:52am PST

 

Marking Melodrama

I collected a pile of essays from work this week from last term’s module. My students were asked to write a 2,500 word critical essay on one of the texts we’d studied that term. I’d had some interesting discussions with students and was looking forward to reading what they had to say, but actually sitting down and marking? So boring. I sulked a bit on Saturday before I got stuck in. Sunday was easier, but by the end of play I still had five essays remaining. I’m now lesson planning for this term’s modules, so those five will have to wait until next weekend. I have no idea when I’ll fit in editing my chapter.

This term I’ll be teaching Intro to Critical Theory, which I’ve been looking forward to. I am getting a bit nervous. There’s a lot to cover and this module is literally the basis for all of their future essays. I want to give them all of the information they need, but I don’t want to bombard them and put them off. It’ll be a tricky balance. And of course there will be loads of students that just think it’s boring and pointless, so I need to try and get through to them too.

I’m eager to try and get my chapter edited and sent off again, but I’m knackered all the time. Officially too old for all-nighters. Will try and get this lesson planning done ASAP so I can salvage some week for that.

Oh, and I had a short story published in Severine Literary Magazine 🙂

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Jan 16, 2016 at 8:14am PST

What A Difference A Year Makes

This time last year I wrote my first post. It was about how I had spent the prior four months feeling woefully out of my depth and struggling with depression. I’m pleased to say that this post will be vastly different.

I often feel as though I’m achieving very little in any given week, and in all honesty, when I started contemplating this post last week I felt as though I’d achieved very little in the last year and a half. However, I’m feeling slightly more positive today, admittedly after a truly disgusting amount of caffeine and some rather frantic procrastination cleaning.

On paper, these are my achievements of my PhD so far:

  • Very rough introduction drafted.
  • Almost complete chapter drafted.
  • RF1 passed.
  • RF2 passed.
  • Five conferences attended, two spoken at.

I had initially, naively hoped to have the intro and first chapter entirely finished and the second chapter started by now. I absolutely did not factor in the amount of time and energy that goes into teaching, even when it’s only one module a term; that’s something I’m going to need to take into account this year.

Whilst my achievements may be fewer than I would have liked, they are ultimately overshadowed by my state of mind. This time last year I felt utterly worthless and genuinely considered quitting the PhD. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and no idea how to work it out. All of the motivational posts on pinterest couldn’t help me shake the notion that things would never get better and that I had little or nothing to offer to life, let alone academia. Luckily, that same sense of helplessness meant that I couldn’t work out a different direction to take, and so I carried on plodding along. Eventually my spider diagrams and half-digested journal articles started to click together in my brain and I gradually came up with some plans and ideas.

Although I hated them at the time, the things that pushed me through that block were the Rf1 and RF2 – hoop-jumping paperwork and presentations that make you explain and justify your project. For the RF2 I had to provide a chapter plan; at the last minute I chucked one down on paper, believing that it was just there so that I had something to say, but it stuck and gave me the structure that I needed to push on with my thesis. I could never have gotten to that point, however, without the months of reading and hopeless spider-diagramming that at the time felt utterly useless.

One of the turning points last year came in March, when I watched James Hayton’s video on surviving the PhD – which I blogged about at the time.. It gave me a new perspective on what the PhD actually is, ‘the entrance qualification to the world of professional academia‘ rather than the culmination of your academic achievements to date. It means that, of course you have no idea what you’re doing, you’ve never done anything like this before.

Another thing that helped me was attending conferences. Meeting other people who share your interests and worries, listening to people who are passionate about their work and having people get excited about yours is an invigorating experience that boosts your energy. Submitting abstracts and writing papers is also great for creating firm deadlines and helping you articulate thoughts that you might otherwise leave until later (forget).

Less tangible things that I have achieved this year are things like making amazing new friends, getting out of my comfort zone more often (attending conferences, talking to new people, talking in front of people), traveling, learning to ski, learning yoga, getting fit, getting healthy (or at least healthier). All of which have attributed to my increasing sense of wellbeing. Of course, I still have slumps, but I’m more able to deal with them. The sense of utter despair has dissipated, and when it starts to creep back in, I’m more able to knock it back.

My aims for the year ahead are to write a couple more chapters, try and get at least one paper published (publish or perish), and to travel more. I’m hoping that I get better at teaching, I think I did ok last term, but I want to do the very best by my students. Ultimately I’d like to happy, or, at the very least, moderately stable.

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.

 

 

 

Marking and Larking

On Tuesday I spoke at an event held by the careers service. It was about getting on to a PhD and what it involves. There were two of us speaking, both second years. Rachel was far more upbeat, it must be said. She was great at talking without a script and still actually making sense, which is just not somrthing I can do. I shared with them the horror story of my first PhD interview, which is still to this day the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to me. And I embarrass myself a lot. Ultimately it was entirely worth it, it gave me more focus, it prepared me for what was to come. Taught me that expecting the unexpected isn’t just for paranoid Aurors.

The end of this week was a dark pit of marking. I did two mammoth sessions and just got them all done. It was an interesting experience. It took me about five essays to get in the swing of locating the assignments within the grade boundaries. I was really chuffed that my students did so well, they came up with some really intersting ideas and have clearly been listening in class. I can’t wait to see them improve over the next couple of years.

Marking left me entirely brain dead, so I pretty much lost the weekend to staring at the walls and hoping that the world would make sense soon. Not ideal. I wanted to get all of my lesson planning done over the weekend so that I could work on my chapter today and tomorrow. Oh well. Will just have to knuckle down.

I’m heading to Birmingham from Thursday to Monday for my birthday and to see various beautiful people. Feel a bit guilty about sacrificing so many days to larking about, but I miss my mates something fierce and I’m so bloody excited to see them.

Stuck on a short story I’m writing. Have about half of it done, but no idea where to take it. Hopefully the weekend will shake something loose.

Feminist Research Methodologies Conference

Friday saw the culmination of almost a month’s worth of work. I presented my paper on trans and feminist theoretical interactions (available to read here) at the Feminist Research Methodologies Conference at Sheffield Hallam University. It seemed to be received pretty well, a few people asked for my slides. I had started to regret spending so much time on something that probably wasn’t going to go into my thesis, but the conference gave me a boost. Everyone needs an excuse just to do a bit of research into something they’re interested in rather than something practical. I also got to meet other people interested in my area, which is always nice.

The conference itself was brilliant. I was astonished by the sheer range of speakers – different universities, different areas, vastly different topics and opinions. It was a really well put together day. And it was bloody amazing being in a room full of feminists.

Another person on my Panel, Ben Vincent, presented on their research into transfeminism beyond the binary. They mentioned the importance of trans women openly being a part of the feminist movement. A key point they made was the policed access to feminism experienced by those who identify as non-binary or at the intersection of non-binary and woman, particularly if they are assigned male at birth. They defined non-binary as a family of identities and reflected upon the difficulty of occupying gendered spaces and receiving medical care as a non-binary person. It was a fascinating talk and their research looks really interesting. I’m hoping to pick their brains in the future.

After the conference a friend and I attended a Kathryn Wiliams gig in Sheffield cathedral, which was lush. You just can’t beat cathedral acoustics. I think the main thing that I miss about attending church is the reverberation of clear notes in high stone rafters.

kathryn

The plan for this week is to get back into writing my chapter. It’s due at the end of the month and I’m away for at least two weekends, not to mention lesson planning and marking. I’m also working on a short story for publication, the deadline for which is also at the end of the month. It’s going to be a bit of a squeeze getting everything done in time. But that’s good I suppose. Better than being bored witless.

Achievement? How long’s a piece of string?

I didn’t blog last week for no reason other than it slipped my mind. My teaching prep felt impossible and took me way longer than it should have which meant that I was then rushing to get in all of the reading I had planned for this conference paper. I’m actually really enjoying being really busy – it helps keep me focussed, it’s cut down on my procrastination and subsequent sense of under-achievement. But for weeks like last week and the week before, it feels like I’m running to keep up. Which leads me nicely on to the fact that I’ve taken up running (again).

I mentioned in my previous post that exercise is helping me remember that my body is more than a vehicle for my brain and a handy prop with which to hold books. But in taking up running, or jogging really…probably somewhat closer to a moderately paced lumber, I’ve realised again how taking up a new exercise is like doing the PhD. Especially if you work in fits and starts like I do. I mentioned this in my PhD Plank Challenge post back in March – but what do you know, nothing has changed and I keep on making the same discoveries. Essentially it’s about working your way up slowly from complete incompetence to a sustained and regular achievement. I seem to get stuck about half way every time I try. I like the initial sense of accomplishment – whether that’s completing a certain amount of time spent running, or writing 500 words every day. The bit where I struggle is when the initial high has worn off, but you still haven’t quite built up that sense of take-it-for-granted-habit. You sink back into the mentality of ‘well, I was really good yesterday, so it doesn’t really matter if I have a little break today, I totally deserve it’, which is fine, until the next day where you think ‘I’m still kind of recovering from doing so well the day before yesterday, and it’s ok because I’ll do brilliantly tomorrow when I’m really well rested’. Newsflash. It isn’t going to happen. You’ll wait until something comes up and makes you get your arse in gear, whether thats a deadline or the fact that your jeans don’t fit.

The other thing that hinders this development of a constant sense of achievement is the fact that in the PhD accomplishment is pretty hard to measure. It would be easy to say ‘do 500 words a day or you’ve failed’ – but then what about days where you’re reading texts – should you have to finish a whole book or you’ve failed? Or maybe half a book? But what if the book is really complex and each page takes ages to pick apart? Well, in which case, surely you can measure it by hours worked? 9-5, right? Like a job. But realistically, are you actually properly working for those hours? Or are you making yourself feel like you’re working simply because you’re at your desk and there’s a book somewhere in the vicinity? This is, again, where I think pomodoro is handy – you can keep track of exactly the amount of time you’ve been properly working. Saying that, I can’t remember the last time I actually used pomodoro.

Something that I’m finding really handy is having an external source of accountability – in my case it’s working in the living room with my new housemates, both of whom are also PhD candidates. We tell each other off for procrastinating and help each other brain storm. This is something I would have found massively helpful when I started and I’m so grateful to have it now. I can’t express enough how important it is to have a sense of community during the PhD – whether that’s having other PhD mates, or working up at uni in a post-grad suite, or keeping in contact with other PhD victims online via hashtags like #phdchat #phdlife #acwri etc.

This week I’m teaching my students about career prospects, which is hilarious seeing as my current life plan is to stay in education for as long as possible and then hope that it sorts itself out.

Feminism and Shoulder Stands

This week’s teaching went much better I think. They seem to be more productive when I ask them to work in pairs than in groups. I think it’s because they each get more of a chance to talk about their ideas, rather than leaving it to the more verbose members of the class. I’ll definitely be bearing that in mind for future lesson planning. I’m not doing any teaching this week as they have a library workshop, but I’ll be offering the spare hours towards tutorials closer to the essay deadline.

Productivity-wise I haven’t been great this week. My lesson planning took longer than I thought it would and I gave myself a day off on Friday that seemed to extend through the whole of the weekend except for a couple of hours of reading on Sunday. I really need to crack on with a conference paper that I’m presenting at the end of the month. I wrote and submitted the abstract in ten minutes and honestly didn’t think I’d get chosen to speak. That showed me. The conference is on feminist research methodologies and I’m going to present on transfeminism. I think my plan is to give a bit of an overview, as most people outside of my research area won’t know much about it. I’ll probably talk about previous interactions with mainstream feminism and the future possibilities of the two working more closely together. I haven’t done a terrific amount of work on transfeminism, so I’m mostly doing lots of reading at the moment, which is nice. Just got my fingers crossed that I can get it done in time…I don’t have much choice really.

I saw my supervisor this week to talk about my first chapter. She seemed pretty pleased with my progress. We’ve agreed that I’ll get the draft to her and my director of studies by the end of November and have a big meeting in the last week of term to discuss it. This means that November is going to be pretty manic as I’ll be working on the conference paper until the end of this month probably.

In other news, my yoga classes are progressing. We started on shoulder stands on Friday, which I just couldn’t for the life of me do. I’ve been practicing every day and I think I’m vaguely getting there. I’m probably doing it wrong, but I’m still counting it as a personal win. When doing the PhD you tend to forget that your body isn’t just a handy piece of transport apparatus for your brain. Having something like yoga and morning gym sessions with my housemate is helping me remember that it’s all connected. My brain actually works better when my body is working too. Not that it makes getting up at 6:30 any easier.