Trans in Academia Conference

On Saturday I was in London to give a paper at a very special academic conference. It was specifically for trans-identified people to talk about their research, and their experiences of life in academia.

Before I go any further, however, a brief word on terminology. The official title of the conference was Trans, Intersex and Gender Non-Conforming in Academia 2. I’ve been using trans as a very loose umbrella term because the whole thing needs a bit of unpacking. Firstly, while some intersex people do end up transitioning gender, many of them are perfectly happy with the gender they were assigned at birth. Therefore they should not be included in the term “trans”. Gender Non-Conforming is a relatively new term that is being used to indicate those people whose presentation is outside of social gender norms, but who are happy with the gender that they were assigned at birth. Again those people don’t strictly count as trans, but they are generally discriminated against as if they were trans. Yeah, I know, it is complicated.

I’m not going to say too much about individual papers and presentations, because the conference maintained a media blackout. Some of those presenting were concerned about their own safety, or the safety of their families, if it became known that they had attended. However, I can make one general point.

A lot of the issues we covered dealt with policy in various forms. There was policy to keep trans people safe in an academic environment, policy in the health service, and policy within areas control by the government (passports, prisons, legal gender recognition). In all of these cases it was very clear that there is a lot of good policy around, but that policy was useless if it wasn’t backed up by enforcement. All too often, policy exists, but most people ignore it, and those with the power to enforce it don’t have the will to do so.

Aside from that, I got to meet lots of interesting people, found some more trans historians, and had lots of conversations about science fiction. It was fun day, and the whole thing was very well run by Sahra Taylor. We need to do this again, and next time we need to make sure that Sahra (or whoever else is in charge) gets more support.