Cafes, Drafts, Escapes.

I have finished the second chapter! Well, for a given value of finished. I haven’t written the conclusion. I’m contemplating leaving all of the chapter conclusions until the very end – give myself some space from each chapter before I try and summarise the main points. Is this a good idea?

I spent most of last week in various cafes with my laptop. I’ve definitely found that working outside helps me concentrate, I tend to get very distracted at home. Although I also found that in doing that I left myself very little personal time. By the time I got home each night I didn’t have the time or energy to make a proper dinner and I definitely didn’t have time to go to the gym. I’m pretty sure that’s just weakness from not having been in full-time employment for the last year and a half.

I do feel pretty accomplished right now. I’ve written this chapter in two months, give or take, and I feel like I can finally see myself progressing. So much of what I did in first year felt like treading water. I never felt like I was really achieving anything and I felt so buried by it all. It’s all coming together now though. Those months of research, tears and spider diagrams are adding up to something that (I think) makes sense.

Having said that, though, I reread some bits of my first chapter yesterday – I’m borrowing from it for a paper I’m writing – and it’s a bit embarrassing how bad it is. Three months ago I was proud of it. Shows what a bit of time and space can do for the writing process, I suppose. I’m not going to edit it again, though. I want to try and bash out all of my chapters ASAP and then go back to them all. Editing is easier to dip in and out of when I’m teaching, so the more I can get done during the holidays, the better.

This week I’m hopnig to get this paper drafted and I’ve got a meeting with my supervisors before heading away for the whole of June – trekking down south via various people’s houses and ending up in Exeter before I head abroad for a week. I’m taking my work with me, of course, and plan on seeking out some hidey-holes to start drafting my next chapter in. Work/Life balance? I think it’s going well.

 

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Voices And Timelines

The chapter is taking shape. I had a meeting with my supervisors just after my last post, they seemed happy but wanted to spend some more time with it before giving further feedback. The chapter is very theory-heavy, and I sent it rather late in the day. They agreed that the layout I discussed in the last post was absolutely the one to run with. It always seems the way that after spending weeks or months hammering away at something, the solution happens in a sudden flash at the last possible moment.

We also discussed the PhD in general, how I’ve found teaching and what I might teach in the next academic year. I’ve loved teaching, in spite of the hours of lesson planning, the actual time with the students is great. I’m planning on creating some of my own module plans at some point, possibly next summer, just so I have the experience and also so I have something concrete to offer when I start job hunting. We also spoke about my doing some lectures, which is a bit scary, but also really exciting. I’ve enjoyed all of my teaching experiences so far, and I always enjoy presenting papers at conferences, so I feel like lecturing would be a cool combination of the two.

We met again the week after to discuss the chapter in more detail. There are a few niggles here and there that I can bash into shape – it is very much a first draft at the moment. I also sent an additional bit of writing I’d done in the week – some literary criticism of one of the chapter texts. I bloody love lit crit, it’s very much my natural habitat. We did discuss some issues, though – because my chapters are very theory based, sometimes the real-world applications, which is something my theory and I focus on, mean that the analysis can seem similar to what I was discussing in the previous chapter. It was good to have that highlighted this early on as it allows me to better streamline and explain my work.

I’ve been continuing with the chapter since then. I’ve done some more analysis of the first text and started some for the second, just to mix things up a bit. I try to bob back and forth between texts as I write as it helps me make connections and discoveries – something obvious in one text might reveal something more hidden in another.

The speed with which this chapter is progressing has surprised me. My first chapter took me almost a year and it’s still not really finished. This one is moving much faster – partly due to closer deadlines, but also, I think, because I’ve found my voice. It’s something people are always talking about with the PhD – finding your voice, locating in an appropriately academic position, but still having yourself in there. I like things to make sense, I like my writing to be accessible. Judith Butler, for example, is crazy smart, and her work is oftentimes amazing, but bloody hell, if I never have to plough my way through one of her books again it’ll be too soon. Surely the point is people can understand what you’re saying? Anyway, that seems to have sped things up. One of the comments my supervisors made was that sometimes I can hammer a point home a little too heavily – which is fair. It’s usually a point I don’t really care about and therefore don’t spend much time trying to pick apart – which is something I need to work on.

A question I’m working through at the moment is whether or not to try and complete in three years. I’m only funded for three years, and I think I could probably just about manage it if I really pull my socks up over summer. On the other hand, the cost of the write-up year is about a third of the cost of council tax for a year – so, if I don’t immediately get a job, which I probably won’t, I’d be more financially stable if I dragged the PhD out for four years. How much does completion time really matter? Does anyone know?

 

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on May 16, 2016 at 4:14am PDT

 

Also, I did some mandatory health and safety training for the workplace and was alerted to the existence of these little riser things – happy spines make for happy academics,

 

Chapters and Ruins

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy, dealing with stuff and forgetting that weeks happen every seven days.

Teaching has finished. I have to say I’m a bit relieved. Whilst lesson planning and teaching only take two days out of my week, it tends to interrupt my flow just as I’m getting into whatever I’m writing PhD-wise, which then takes another day to get back into. I will miss my students and our discussions, though. It’s been really great to watch them improve, especially in their comprehension of theoretical papers, something they really struggled with at the beginning of term. They’ve got an exam in may that I’ll be marking, but after that I’m fully done until September. I’m hoping to finish my current chapter and hopefully get most of the next one done before teaching starts up again.

I’m working on my second chapter at the moment. It’s the one that’ll probably be the hardest to do. It’s very theory heavy, which is fine, but it’s all very tricky. I’ve split the overall theory into four sections, all of which contradict one another and relate differently to each other section. So, that’s fun. I think (think) I know what I’m trying to say, but saying it in a way that other people will understand is a struggle. Did I mention that I’m on my third draft attempt? I completely changed the entire thing today. I couldn’t decide on the best way of structuring it – I’ve gone through a plethora of various subheadings. I think the one I have now is the one, though. So hopefully things will speed up. However, I have a meeting on Tuesday with my supervisors and I really wanted to have more done by now. Also, I probably should have sent it to them by now. Literally the worst.

So, why was I gone for so long? I could say some nonsense about being busy, reading, typing up 10,000 words of notes and quotes and teaching, which would be true. But it was mostly just life happening at me. One lovely thing was my Mum and her husband took me away on a mini-break to practice being outside. We went to Harrogate and York for a couple of days, and various National Trust places in between. It was all very middle class, so I took them to a student bar for 2-for-1 cocktails and made them day-drink. I don’t drink, so I got all of the amusement of watching my mum in actual bits over some very not-funny jokes, bless her.

We also visited a place called Fountains Abbey, wich is basically Khazad-DĂ»m meets Hogwarts in ruin-form. Legitimately one of the best places I’ve ever seen. It was hammering it down with rain, so we were the only ones there and I got to prance about with no one to judge me.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Apr 16, 2016 at 10:20am PDT

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The plan for the next week or so is to try and bash this chapter into shape. Then I’m going to a wedding – two people that I introduced are getting married. MARRIED. What even is life? But yeah, they’re doing that. After that I’ll be back to this chapter and will hopefully regain the ability to be smart at some point.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Apr 16, 2016 at 7:01am PDT

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A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Apr 17, 2016 at 12:16pm PDT

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SexGen Conference

Last week I attended a SexGen seminar ‘Trans Studies: Reflections and Advances’ organised by Dr Sally Hines at the University of Leeds. It was an amazing afternoon with six speakers who are prominent in the field. I fangirled. A lot.

I took the train to Leeds in the morning, giving myself a couple of hours to walk to campus and inevitably get lost. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the reality of Leeds was not it. It’s big. Not necessarily directionally, but height-wise. The buildings are tall and closely packed. There’s lots of impressive architecture, statues and sculptures. It was lovely, but imposing. I definitely want to go back and properly explore.

I made it to campus in about twenty minutes. That was the easy bit. The campus itself is insane. It’s possibly bigger than the town I grew up in. I followed the concept of ‘when in doubt, keep walking straight’. After twenty minutes of muttering to myself, storming about, staring at maps and the information that had been emailed to us, I eventually came across the right building. It was fancy.

Usually in gender studies type conferences, we get shunted to the back of a slightly dingy tower block or squeezed into a large-ish seminar room. For this seminar, we were in the Great Woodhouse Room. There was plush carpeting and a cabinet of trophies. The tea and coffee were fair trade. I’d stepped up in the world for a brief moment. Having arrived early, I engaged in awkward small talk with the other people who had managed to find the right room in the right building in the insane campus. I met some really lovely people who study properly interesting things.

The afternoon was opened by Dr Hines and our first speaker was Prof. Surya Monro. Her paper was called ‘Beyond gender Binaries: Issues of liminality, categories, and equalities’. She noted that her concept of ‘beyond the binary’ was rooted in the works of Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein. She spoke about the expansion of gender categories, the elasticity of gender binaries, and concepts of gender pluralism and a gender spectrum in community groups. Her work is on citizen frameworks and she’s currently working on a book called Transgender Citizenship, which sounds interesting. In the questions there was a discussion of the potential differences between gender pluralism and a gender spectrum. It was noted that pluralism allows a way to link essentialist and anti-essentialist identities within a community group, whereas a spectrum may be problematic in that it is inherently fluid and some people embody fixed identities. Another comment was that, as language shifts, people continue to negotiate their own identities – an identity once negotiated is by no means fixed. This led to a discussion of differentiated models of citizenship and position theory, both of which I need to look into.

The next speaker was Dr Katharine Johnson, who I saw at the Trans Studies Now conference in Brighton last year. Her paper, ‘Trans matters: Exploring the now and then of trans studies’ look at how the field has evolved in the last twenty-odd years. She noted that trans theory emerged from two camps, clinical and socio-cultural. She referenced Susan Stryker’s work on trans subjectivity and Sedgewick’s critique of the clinical and socio-cultural – we can ask new questions and find new places to begin. She asked: how arechildren able to understand themselves as gender uncertain and how can we support young people in ethical ways? In the questions it was aked how Judith Butler became the main voice regarding concepts of gender performativity, rather than Kessler and McKenner, or Zimmerman, who were working at the same time. It was noted how we, as gender theorists and trans theorists are always trying to define ourselves in relation to Butler – something I had to struggle with in the opening to my thesis and again in this new chapter.

Unfortunately Sally Hines was unable to present her paper on the day, but luckily Dr Francis Ray White was able to jump in with their fab paper ‘Teaching Gender, being Non-Binary’. They reflected upon their experience of teaching gender and being non-binary, discussing how and when it is possible to be non-binary. Francis changed their name and pronouns, ‘coming out’ as non-binary, however, for two years, little changed; students still used female pronouns. They had to repeatedly come out, it didn’t seem to stick – there was a persistent non-recognition of non-binary identity. They noted that in coming out as non-binary trans there was no physical reveal to mark the change – there was no ‘after’ to demarcate anything. They tried to shed as many markers of femaleness as possible, but this never seemed to be read as ‘not female’. As such, their gender presentation was read less as ‘not-female’ and more as lesbian feminist, as ‘the typical female academic who teaches gender studies’ – that cliche produces a specific way of being viewed as female. Gender studies is almost always taught by women, which further places Francis as female in the students’ minds. Assumptions and cliches have worked against their legibility as non-binary, and undermines the autheticity of their trans identity. As such they have worked towards teaching students about non-binary pronoun use and finding ways to identify self as non-binary, even in non-gender studies classes – they acknowledged that this was largely possible due to their job safety as a department head. During questions, Jay Prosser discussed how the autobiographical narrative has changed – there is no ‘becoming’, there is just a coming out – it shows how ther personal narrative has changed – as in Juliette Jaques’ book (who was also in attendance). It was also discussed how the term non-binary is problematic in that it is still in relation to the binary, the term ‘genderqueer’ was highlighted as it used to be the more popular term.

After a tea break we had a paper from Dr Meg John Barker, ‘Non-Binary Gender So Far…’. they described their work as ‘anti-self-help’ – locating problems in the world, not in the self (which I love). They noted that Western psychology is predicated upon the binary gender system and considered it self-evident. As such, in mainstream psychology binary gender is taken for granted and added to all research questions, whether or not it bears any relevance to the study at hand. They noted that studies have shown that M&F in one culture show more similarites than M&M/F&F from separate cultures – showing that gender isn’t all that important for single location studies. They discussed Sandra Bem’s work on androgyny, noting their shift from the eradication of gender in the 70s to the proliferation of gender in the 90s – which would ahve the effect of undoing the supposed ‘naturalness’ of the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. They also discussed the movement between lexis – genderqueer, non-binary, enby. They noted that both sex and gender are non-binary at all levels (chromosomes, etc), adn that gender is psychosocial.They also discussed the diversity issues of the majority of non-binary images, if you google non-binary, you’ll see a lot of young, white, thin, able-bodies fashion conscious people.

Prof. Stephen Whittle gave a paper called ‘The End of Gender: Invalidating the Trans-identity and the need to be someone’. He describedhimself as primarily an activist and lawyer, non an academic (despite his massive output). When discussing non-binary and the law, he stated “well, it’s fucked”. He noted that many people who identify as non-binary often transition in a binary way due to availablibity and that every trans person, when you look at what they’ve gone through is due to the construction of gender being natural. We don’t know what gender babies are, we just make a guess. As a child, his daughter didn’t want to “do” female gender because it was too restrictive and as such refused to be gendered. He noted how in the 90s the main focus of trans theory was discussing the construction of gender, how to challenge binaries and to get rights rcognised. He stated that we can all do gender in lots of ways in certain spaces, but we cant in other spaces because it’s unsafe – why do we ‘get away with it’ [pass]? – parimarily for safety reasons. He discussed the impact that access to information has on the understanding of personal and global identities, citing how India had no open trans men before the internet – many hijras, but not the other way round – since the internet has proliferated, there are now 20 support groups for trans men in India. He discussed how we don’t yet have a framework for the legal protection of non-binary people – he said that we’ve deconstructed gender, but haven’t reconstructed it for legislation at all – so we’re just ‘fudging it’. He finished by stating that the non-binary movement must be inclusive of those they assume to be stably gendered, because not everyone is, even if they present as though they are.

Dr Jay Prosser was the final discussant, he opened by asking, to what extent is non-binary new and to what extent is it continuous? He noted that there are diverse ways of being non-binary, but also ways to go back to old trans theory and show continuity. He had previously experienced non-binary as an interrogation of trans and asks why is it a term that’s emerging now? What is it about this moment? He highlighted the close proximty between theory and praxis, not just about academia, but within social contexts too – in the 90s there was not the closeness between academia and praxis, so why now?

This series of questions led to a discussion between Prosser, Whittle and the audience. Whittle noted that the increase in non-binary identities may have evolved from policy making in the 1990s that he was involved with that dismissed the term ‘trans children’ and replaced it with ‘gender variant’ – this was because if you start staing ‘trans youth’ you make them think that to be legitimated they must transition; by using ‘gender variant’ it allows them space to work it out. He noted that transition had always been about putting people in boxes – goal driven.

A few other notes from this discussion that aren’t long enough for their own paragraph:

  • It was noted that there has been a snowballing of the existance of trans communities, whereas previously it had been hard to get diverse voices, now, online and face-to-face communities are more prevalent.
  • Trans theory has proliferated through online spaces.
  • There is more than one history that has led to this point.
  • The asexual movement was before the non-binary one and created a space, particularly online.
  • Gender is just like race – it’s a power structure to control people.
  • The internet can also be negatve in that it can be reactionist/regressive – e.g. the bathroom acts in America – those people would not have had a voice if not for the internet.
  • There are bot good and bad sides of the internet, therefore we must use it cleverly.
  • We think of non-binary as being plural and trans man and trans woman as being fixed and singular – this ignores the various ways that those identities can be expressed.
  • Who can access non-binary identities is due to cultural capital.

This was a fascinating and invigorating afternoon. It got me thinking in new ways and revisiting old ideas from new angles. It has also made me worry a bit though. Whilst both of my supervisors are brilliant, neither of them work specifically within trans theory. I’m a bit concerned that if I do something ridiculously stupid, or miss something really obvious, it might not be caught until the viva. On the other hand, having them read my work means that I know that my ideas are accessible to those outside of the field. Still might need to bribe a trans theorist to skim my work at some point if possible though.

 

This week I really need to crack on with this chapter, finish reading a linguistic-y pronoun-y book and probably start marking my first years’ essays. AGH.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Mar 24, 2016 at 4:37am PDT

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Indoor Waterfall

I’ve started my second chapter. And by that I mean that I’ve been typing up quotes and copy and pasting from various other bits of work I’ve done during my PhD that seems to be relevant to this chapter. No original thought has happened. But it will. Soon.

I was supposed to meet the linguistics professor last week but the night before, my house flooded so I had to cancel for plumber related purposes. The header tank in our loft flooded and the overflow pipe had come disconnected, so litres and litres of water came pouring through the attic room’s ceiling and down into the first floor. Nightmare. I managed to get all of the water turned off and located an emergency plumber. Still waiting for them to come back and fit some new parts, though.

Other than that I feel like I’ve barely done anything. This has been my first weekend at home in a month, so I achieved a fair bit, previously I’ve been down and up the country visiting various people for various things. I’m away again next weekend, and possibly for the week for Easter. Planning on getting some writing done at my Mum’s house as it’s in the countryside with no distractions.

Lesson planning takes so much of my time and brain-power. I’ve had to limit myself to a day for it, otherwise I waste half the week, but even then I spend a good ten to twelve hours on it for just a one hour lesson. I wonder if anyone else does the same? Teaching is fun though, I like seeing the students grasping something, or at least getting enough of the gist that they know which questions to ask. It helps that I’ve got a fairly cheery group. they’re all bricking it over their essay at the moment though, so I’m getting a lot of panicked emails.

Hopefully next week I’ll have something more impressive to report.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Mar 13, 2016 at 7:45am PDT

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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.