Paddle-boards and Drafting Chapters

It’s been over a month since my last post. Whoops. In that time I have written about half of my third chapter, visited family and friends, fixed my car, been on my first plane, been on my first hot holiday, relearnt how to swim, gone snorkelling, gone paddle-boarding in Mallorca, popped back up north, driven south to visit more friends, had my car fixed again, been paddle-boarding in Exeter, learnt about low G.I. foods, oh, and did I mention, written half of my third chapter.

This time last year I was gearing up for my transfer viva that allowed me to continue my PhD. I had written a rubbish draft of an intro that no longer reflects my thesis and I was throwing a paddy about having to do a gantt chart. As it happens, the hoop-jumping annoyance of the RF2 was well worth it. I’ve stubbornly stuck with the chapter plans that I made for it, something that gave me the direction I needed. I still disagree with comments made by some of the examiners, but that did give me the stubborn push to further defend my argument, even if it really shook my confidence at the time. I’m so grateful for my lovely friends, they really got me through that when I thought about quitting. Not that I actually would have, I never quit anything, but I fully thought about it.

Anyway, this chapter. It’s about society and violence – the way in which identity violence (where a person’s identity is denied or mocked) and physical violence are enforced and perpetuated by an essentialist and transphobic society. I struggled with the theory section – I have far fewer notes on this theme than I did for the previous two. I was a bit worried that it would be too similar to the previous chapter about essentialism where I spoke somewhat about society. This chapter also seemed to be the most obvious – society is shit and therefore: violence; but actually, as I’ve taken some time to scuttle about between ideas I’ve managed to come up with some points to work on. I’ve managed to hit my word count for that section, although it definitely needs some heavy editing.

The other issue I had for this chapter was that I wasn’t entirely certain which books I’d be analysing. Initially I thought that Sassafrass Lowrey’s Roving Pack would be included, but as I went back through it I realised it would work better in the next chapter about trans community and visibility. I’m currently writing about Imogen Binnie’s Nevada, which was one of my favourites, and I think it’s going ok. I’ve ordered another book which might be useful, but if not I’ll have to have another peruse through my shelves.

I’m still down south at the moment, and stretching out my trip for another couple of weeks – I’ve got my PhD stuff with me, so I’ve been working. I just happen to have also been to the pub and out paddle-boarding considerably more. Also there’s a new baby in the family that I need to go an celebrate and certainly never hold.

Oh, I also had an abstract accepted for a special edition of a narratology journal. I’m looking forward to working on that. If my book doesn’t arrive in time I’ll probably switch to that paper and finish this chapter at a later date. And I need to read the papers submitted to the book I’m editing.

My plan at the moment is to have my thesis drafted by Christmas – finished in two and a half years, eeep. That means I’ll have six months to edit it and read over any new publications. Starting to get a bit worried about the job situation too, so I might look into some further qualifications/experience.





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


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.


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.


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.

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


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.




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.


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.

Teaching: As easy as installing an oven.

This week has flown by. I think it’s been pretty productive. At the beginning of the week I was finalising teaching preparation before attending the lecture/workshop on Wednesday. The 2 hour lesson was actually fab, I don’t think that the undergrads really appreciate how interesting the module leader has made it. He discusses the topic for a while and then sets a task for them to discuss in groups. He, the other seminar tutor and I go around the class and talk about their thoughts. He does this a few times during the lecture and the two hours go really quickly.

My seminar class is on Thursday morning. Most of my students turned up, which is always a good start. We were discussing four poems. I split the room into two groups and gave them two poems each to look at. We then came together and discussed them. Most of the students seemed to engage really well. They came up with some fab ideas. I’m looking forward to working with them this term.

This week my housemate and I rearranged the living room into a PhD hub. She found another desk in the cellar that we’ve cleaned up and moved various bits of furniture around to accomodate. I work at the dining table with her on the other side of the room at the desk. We’ve been challenging each other to write 500 words a day, and for two out of the three days we’ve hit target. The day we didn’t was due to the furniture moving and the fact that we had to collect and install a new oven as ours went kaput. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to do it without blowing us up.

I’m meeting my supervisor tomorrow to discuss my first chapter. I’ve got just over 6000 words written, so I’m about a third of the way through. My aim is to have it finished by December so I can move onto the next chapter after new year. The chapter is about passing and crossing in two texts – Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues and Renee James’s Transition to Murder. They both deal with the topic in different ways. Jess in Feinberg’s text transitions to male, having top surgery and taking testosterone. They find it relatively easy to be read as cisgender, however, in doing so they feel as though they’ve lost their sense of self and therefore decide to stop taking the hormones and remove their beard. It is only then that Jess finds an authenticity of self in embracing the liminal, in living as what they describe as ‘a he-she’ – something that allows them to embody all aspects of their gender identity.

Bobbi in Transition to Murder, who I’ve spoken about before, transitions to female and from very early on in the text voices the fact that she’ll likely never pass as cisgender. She struggles with this during the novel, mostly due the the reactions of the public who are alternately unwelcoming, hostile or explicitly violent. Bobbi’s strong support network, her friend and therapist, her boss, and the trans community group she’s a part of are her real saving grace at that point. As the novel progresses Bobbi grows in confidence, she embraces her own sense of femininity and finds ways in which to be happy and places where her skills are admired.

Both texts highlight the dangers of passing and crossing, but both also show that embracing one’s own sense of embodiment is one of the most important things a person can do. However, it should also be noted that both of these texts feature white, working class protagonists who have, to varying extents, an existing support network when they transition. The ability to embrace an identity that society may frown upon is very much based in a certain level of privilege. My other chapters have novels by trans women of colour, so I’ll be interested to see if the same themes arise.

Today I’m getting on with this week’s teaching prep. And then I’ll probably try and edit what I have so far of my chapter into something resembling sense so I can discuss it tomorrow.

Transfer Seminar Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historicising Trans and Articulating the Future

As I write this I am eating the free sweets I scored at the Historicising Trans Symposium in Liverpool on Saturday. It was a fab day organised by Dr Emma Vickers. The call for papers stated:

In 2006, Susan Stryker called for ‘cross cultural and historical investigations of hu-man gender diversity.’ Discussions about the rights of the trans* community may be in the ascendency but historians have yet to historicise trans* identities in the same way as same-sex desire. This symposium seeks to address that absence and suggest ways that the study of trans* lives might be advanced.

The papers ranged from discussing Victorian cross-dressers, to WW1 and WW2 drag shows, to translating 17th century texts, to the cultural context of Thai trans women’s choices to move to Europe.  We live-tweeted throughout the day using #HistTrans if you want a blow-by-blow account of the papers.


Fab gift from Dr Emma Vickers

 ‘Love from Liverpool: Transgender Pride’ – card by artist Sophie Green

Excitingly Professor Stephen Whittle was the keynote speaker. Author of a number of the texts I’m using within my thesis, he spoke eloquently and humorously about his involvement in the trans rights movement from the 1970s to today. He mentioned that he might have another book coming out next year that focusses on the British side of the movement, something that tends to get left out in the generally Americanised field.

Additionally I got to see the lovely Cheryl Morgan again. We met at the Brighton conference a couple of months ago and it was fab to catch up with her. She presented a fascinating paper on ‘Issues of identifying gender variant people in ancient cultures’. We’re planning on seeing one another again at the LGBT History Conference in February if not before. Twitter nonsense will of course be happening in the interim.

This week before the conference I mostly concentrated on preparing the report and presentation for my transfer viva. The report can now be put away until after the presentation where I’ll need to edit in any of the suggestions made. I’ve got a couple of slides left to do for the presentation and a script to write so I don’t sound like a bumbling idiot.

The presentation sums up what I’ve done so far, gives an overview of the field, showcases my methodology and gives my plans for the next couple of years. I think it’s ok….maybe. We’ll have to see. Luckily I’m doing a run-through with some of the other PhD lot before the main event, so I’ll get their opinions. I’m feeling pretty nervous after the mess I made of the last bit of hoop-jumping. I understand that they need to check that we’re actually doing something for the PhD, but couldn’t they just ask for a draft of our first chapter or something? It’s frustrating having to take time out of my thesis work to do these bits and bobs, but I suppose it is the only reason that I’ve consciously thought about my methodology, so that’s something.

The plan for this week is to finish off the presentation and carry on writing my first chapter. Although, I did just buy loads of new books, so…that might happen too.

Conference Countdown

[Today’s post edited to reflect the reveal of Caitlyn Jenner’s chosen name and pronouns]

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that rather than doing any actual work I was writing a conference abstract instead. It turns out that it was a really good use of time because it was accepted! I’ll be presenting at the Trans Studies Now conference on the 12th June down in Brighton. So now I just have to actually write the paper.

The paper is on the theme of passing in post-90s trans-authored literature. I’ll also be using Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on The Danger of a Single Story in which she suggests that oftentimes any existence outside of the Western, white, middle-class, cisgender male is narrowed down to a single narrative. This dominant portrayal of a single aspect of a certain group’s identity leads to the dehumanisation of that group. She states that if you ‘show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again […] that is what they become’ (Adichie, 2009). In the case of trans individuals, they become the story of transition. As has been seen with the coverage of Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner in the media, in the Katie Couric interview of Carmen Carrera, in Louis Theroux’s Transgender Kids documentary and numerous other examples, the main concern is always transition, always to do with physical change, always to do with an adherence to binary gender.

Rumours of Jenner’s transition have been appearing in the media for months, there has been a deluge of discussion on physical changes and sartorial choices. The In Touch Weekly magazine cover that photoshopped make-up onto a picture of Jenner was particularly reviled by trans activists (and anyone with a shred of decency) as being transphobic and highly inappropriate. Trans activist and pioneer Kate Bornstein said in response ‘DAMN IT. BRUCE JENNER IS BEING BULLIED, AND PUBLICLY SHAMED FOR  NO OTHER REASON THAN BEING TRANS‘ (2015). This cover not only highlighted the inherent transphobia of a media that believes that being trans is shameful, something that should be exposed, but also foregrounded the obsession with transition even, in this case, when transition hadn’t [yet] been declared.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests, ‘It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power […] How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power‘ (2009). In this case, the trans story is being told by the cisgender patriarchy.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person‘ (Adichie, 2009)

It is due to the prominence of this single story narrative that I chose to focus my thesis on trans-authored texts. Trans theory is based in lived experience, embodiment and in the acceptance of a huge range of gender identities, all of which are elements of trans that the dominant narrative ignores. What if Caitlyn Jenner, rather than transitioning, was simply exploring a new element of her expression of self? Why is it that society is so concerned with transition? Perhaps it’s because whilst trans unsettles identity categories previously considered to be unquestionable the notion of transition still somewhat upholds the gender binary. This is something I found during my MA when I looked at both trans- and cis-authored texts. The cis-authored narratives were far more rooted in a strict transition from one gender to the other, whereas trans-authored texts tended to embrace more flexible, liminal gender identities – as famously seen in Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues in the character of Jess who transitions from female to male before embracing a non-binary identity.

There’s a huge potential for academic work in the comparison of trans- and cis-authored texts but ultimately until trans-authored texts have been discussed on their own merit, until those non-dominant narratives have been explored, until the single story has been transcended and multiple experience has been accepted by culture at large, that comparison has the potential of focusing on how trans people ‘differ’ to dominant cis narratives, rather than foregrounding the diversity of trans experience and the failure of cis-normative culture to understand a range of identities previously ignored.

This started as a blog post at 5:30 in the morning, but now I think it might make its way into the actual paper. This is something I’ve found really useful about writing the blog, not only does it help motivate me and give me some sense of accountability, but it also helps me articulate my thoughts. I usually get really bogged down with trying to get my academic writing perfect and this causes no end of writer’s blog and panic-induced procrastination, but allowing myself a non-formal space to quickly chuck ideas at seems to break through the block and gives me a sense of achievement from which to springboard into my actual writing.

Last week while I was still at Mum’s I read another two and two half books (I got half way through one and realised it wasn’t relevant, the other is in my handbag waiting to be finished). This week will be focussed on writing this paper before heading back down south to Brighton via Gloucestershire and Exeter.