Content note: institutional transphobia; Islamophobia; sexual assault mention
Tuesday 17 November 2015, 1900–2100
Main Building, City University, London
From the facebook event page: “This panel explores some of the complexities of transgender and academia as they intersect”
Host: Sahra Ray Taylor (she/her)
Panel: Natacha Kennedy (she/her); Charlie Oughton (they); CN Lester (they)
Natacha was very professional and a strong speaker despite some sound difficulties at the start. She opened by discussing the fragility of white liberalism, demonstrated by its cries of “censorship” at university students platform-blocking Germaine Greer and other transphobes (while ironically supporting the arrest of Bahar Mustafa for tweeting #killallwhitemen, whose right to free speech was not invoked by her institution). Most of her talk was spent discussing her research on discrediting the alleged comorbidity between autism and gender dysphoria, and her studies of young trans people’s experiences coming out which often take place in the university setting. Trans students, she said, research gender studies as a defense against discursive delegitimization—by necessity we arm ourselves with Butler. Because its the site of so many people’s coming out, the university needs to be a safe/r space for trans people.
Charlie was impassioned and their energy was defined by them saying, “I’m taking a risk, but damnit it needs to be done”. They talked about the importance of not preaching to the choir and bringing the uninitiated in to trans discussions, and making discussions on trans issues comfortable for people who may not know the right vocabulary. They also off-handedly, hypothetically, pitted “hardcore Muslims” against “American lefty queer” students, and noted that we all get offended by something these days (is it Political Correctness Gone Mad?); the “oppression olympics” was also cited. Most of their time was spent discussing how their institution refuses to change their name on institutional documents, and bar them from outing themselves to students. The law is on their side, but it’s not helpful to them if they lose their job in taking legal action. During the Q&A I raised the point that it shouldn’t fall on the trans students/lecturers to provide a “safe space” to discuss and dissuade transphobic opinions, and that it’s extremely empowering for trans people to bluntly shut down transphobic comments and demonstrate that they are unacceptable.
CN apologized at the start for being sick, but they still spoke articulately. They highlighted that transphobia isn’t only external (e.g. Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel), it’s within classrooms and institutions. They gave the example of a professor at CUNY (New York) sexually assaulting a trans student and claiming victimhood because he expected her to be cis; he was fired but has since been appointed at King’s College London and given tenure. Trans academics are apparently obligated to not only be experts in their fields, but to be up to date on trans/gender studies too. They made many other good points, but I failed to note them down because I was too busy vehemently agreeing.
Each of the panelists gave grave examples of transphobia that they had experienced within the academy: difficulty in getting names and pronouns recognized; third, non-binary gender options being unavailable; being the only trans person in LGBT student organizations; and using transphobia as a teaching opportunity. The event ended with an excellent comment from an audience member asking how we can utilize the power of the intersectional trans experiences and bodies in the room to find solutions to academic transphobia, and how to make academia more accessible to those outside of the academy; it was met with some defense, and ultimately unrealized.
Despite the few problems with this discussion I was so happy to go to a trans-led event about trans issues, and sit among a mostly (entirely?) trans audience. and I hope there will be many more. We should not only be visible when we are gender studies scholars, but also when our research has nothing to do with gender because—as should be obvious—our identities and interests are not limited to our transness.