Academic common room
'Coming out' as critical of trans ideology-impact on career?
headinavice · 26/11/2017 11:04
Long time lurker, signing up in the hope that it'll help clarify my thoughts by talking it through, so...
I'm a PhD student working in health/socsci area that closely borders trans issues (and as such will probably have to devote some of my thesis to discussing my work and its relationship to trans stuff). I am a gender critical feminist, but it feels like this is a bit of a no-no in the academic circles I'm working within.
This is making me feel:
a) that I am 'wrong'/ out of touch for not believing that 'you don't need a vagina/uterus to be a woman, and if you disagree you're TERF scum', that men in women's space is fine and I'm a bigot for not agreeing, and (my favourite so far) that being critical of the oppressive nature of gender is 'creating trans corpses'.
b) that I can't vocalise my views and reasoning in a professional context. For example, I recently attended a meeting for a professional group that I represent at postgrad level. This group is concerned with furthering research and visibility of sexuality research (sorry I can't be more specific..small world/potentially outing). All the usual trans-ideology vernacular was used this meeting, 'cis women' etc. ...basically it was made clear that this was a space where TI rules. I am fairly new to the group, and to see established academics advocating this reductive way of thinking was a really ostracising experience. Do they really believe that 'lived experience as a woman' trumps being an actual woman, or is it toeing the party line?
This week, I have been asked to collaborate on a paper with a colleague (also at postgrad level) that discusses LGBT issues and mental health. Having read the paper proposal, colleague also uses 'cis' terminology and appears to also support TI.
I feel like I have two options
a) 'come out' as critical of all this shit, break professional ties with those who are not trans-critical (before they do it for me, I imagine) and feel like an island. As a very early ECR/still doing my PhD, I feel like I this is a risky move career wise. I already feel pretty marginalised in terms of my area of research, my approach to it etc..
b) pretend I agree and basically go along with it all for the sake of my career, whilst raging inside at the insanity of it all.
Neither of these is ideal. Both A and B are terrifying for different reasons, both have huge implications for me in terms of my values and my research career. Where are the GC academics? I feel like if we were more of an open, 'me too' critical mass, it might be easier to 'come out'. Am I looking in the wrong places, or are we too afraid of the backlash to put our hands up? If academia isn't the place to discuss this, then where is!?!
I completely respect that individual university policies on this whole issue might prevent people from speaking up. As a PhD student I probably have a little bit more freedom to do so, but it still feels so risky.
TL;DR: where are all the critical of trans ideology- academics/PhDs and how do you navigate this in the current climate if it has the potential to have a real and specific impact on your research/teaching?
headinavice · 26/11/2017 11:07
I should also add that this isn't all about me and concerns about my career. We NEED open and frank discussion within academia of the dangers of TI and its implications, and to do this, we need to be able to speak freely.
Malvoglia · 26/11/2017 12:35
I too have these concerns, although they are less serious for me than for you as it does not impact on my teaching or research in any meaningful way (I have had trans students, but have no problem addressing them using their preferred names, pronouns etc., and don't do any teaching in which sex/gender segregation would be an issue.) I am, however, profoundly troubled by the speed and totality with which TI has been accepted within academic and policy-making circles, and is not an acceptable subject for dissent. I think there are very serious consequences both for biological women specifically and for intellectual freedom more generally in the total shutting down of discussion that some trans activitists are encouraging, via comparisons with homophobia, racism, etc.
YetAnotherSpartacus · 26/11/2017 12:57
I'm in a similar boat although in a different area. I don't know what to do either.
DullAndOld · 26/11/2017 12:58
I would keep quiet, you don't want to lose your job. That is the way this thing is going these days.
museumum · 26/11/2017 13:06
Man that’s hard. Can you not avoid trans specific papers for a while? I feel that soon the tide will turn and some people will deeply regret some of their published writings.
headinavice · 26/11/2017 13:08
Hi @Malvoglia, it is troubling isn't it?
I think that the policy side of things, with university management wanting (quite rightly) to be inclusive and accepting of diversity amongst students and staff, has become conflated with the issue of intellectual freedom and pushing back against harmful narratives.
I am more than happy to support the expression of diversity, but this does not trump biological fact (and the consequences of biology that have been used to disadvantage women). It just feels like we are faced with 'support TI unquestioningly or you're a bigot'.
I am now seeing how this has the potential to impact on my work, my teaching, my professional relationships and my own integrity. I don't know what the answer is, because it feels risky to even bring it up with colleagues. Feeling very confused about it all, and how to move forward.
headinavice · 26/11/2017 13:17
Dullandold-its not really an option. My research overlaps with trans health issues, so even if I never discuss with anyone, I still have to work with these ideas.
museumum-see above. I hope the tide does turn asap, but in the meantime it limits my chances for collaboration with peers and established academics if I'm not prepared to write papers that support the idea of 'cis women' etc. I won't be the only one facing this issue, and it feels like another way in which women can potentially be disadvantaged in academia, where publishing counts for so much.
Of course I could just 'come out', stand firm and (try to) publish what I truly believe in, but how will that look when i'm on the lecturing job market in 18 months time? Probably not great.
YetAnotherSpartacus · 26/11/2017 13:20
I would keep quiet, you don't want to lose your job. That is the way this thing is going these days
I think this ... and then I think that unless someone does take a real stand so many children are going to be harmed. For me, it's not just ideological or about language.
It is scary seeing so many otherwise sensible and intelligent people drink the kool aid and then I wonder how many really think it's crap but are willing to put their careers first.
headinavice · 26/11/2017 13:30
Exactly Spartacus, its a real world issue and ignoring it is (IMO) not a solution. Transing kids, dictating who lesbians should find attractive and all the rest of it are actual THINGS that need to be dealt with.
I wonder how many really think it's crap but are willing to put their careers first.
I empathise with this (careers support families etc.), but how far are things going to go before there is a pushback? We need to assemble as a critical mass idealistic postgrad call to arms
YetAnotherSpartacus · 26/11/2017 13:39
Have you been in contact with transcritical professionals?
headinavice · 26/11/2017 13:51
Do you mean outside of academia? Or the youth transcritical professionals website?
Outside of a few people I trust/have the same concerns I haven't spoken to anyone about it, in my capacity as a PhD.
Malvoglia · 26/11/2017 13:56
Well exactly, headinavice, this distinction is key for me. Everyone is entitled to courtesy and respect, but that shouldn't be equated with intellectual acceptance of a quite radical theory of sex and gender.
YetAnotherSpartacus · 26/11/2017 14:01
I meant the website sorry. It's mainly re youth issues. It would be nice if there were a similar one for gender critical feminists in academia, or health professionals more generally.
I don't want to derail, but I see this as symptomatic of deeper problems in academia to be honest.
headinavice · 26/11/2017 14:06
Yes-the website is great, a more general health one would be fab.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by deeper problems? I'm still fairly new to academia so would be great to get a more experienced take on things.
Thetreesareallgone · 26/11/2017 16:31
There are people writing in more neutral but evaluative ways about some of the claims relating to trans, trying to appraise the evidence. I can't think of their names, but I have read several papers by psychiatrists and child development people recently which were not hostile to trans thinking but were concerned with which claims could be evidenced and what the evidence was on things like puberty blockers.
I would steer as far away from this as possible myself though, or at least, just put it in a neutral way in your PhD, state positions, but don't 'out' yourself, because I don't see how it will work for you career-wise in a good way if you make bold statements on the issue, I'm not sure there's a huge amount of money in grants about sexuality (if you are a social science person) as I know people who were in the field and don't bother with it so much any more, this being one reason. I also think you have more to lose than Germaine Greer, put it that way.
There are other places you can be more activist if you want to.
Thetreesareallgone · 26/11/2017 16:33
Also, if you are new to academia, then attracting public hate for your work won't make you feel good about taking this career path.
I work in an area about which there is slightly less but much more hysteria than some other areas, and I'm glad I am more senior and less buffeted by this type of public opinion, and I don't even say anything terribly controversial.
RaininSummer · 26/11/2017 16:38
So difficult. I said to my partner today that i feel its a shame I am so far from London as I would like to get more involved with the meetings discussing the issue as well as any protests and he replied that it's lucky as I would probably end up fired as my boss would disapprove. I teach but not in the rarified world of academia. I actually did say to him that if we are all too scared to speak up, countless young people could end up harmed. We were discussing the Girl Guide issue at the time.
NotDavidTennant · 26/11/2017 16:56
You just need to professional about it. If you object to the usage of "cis" then suggest to your colleague in as neutral manner as possible the alternative terminology you'd prefer and why think it is more useful/appropriate than "cis". Just as you would for any other concept in a collaborative paper.
headinavice · 26/11/2017 17:37
Thanks for the responses. Interesting that the majority of the advice is to take a moderate approach or avoid addressing the topic.
Lots to think about.
sauceyorange · 26/11/2017 18:56
I think NotDavidTennant has a good approach. It's the job of social scientists to define categories and problematise them so doesn't have to be sticking your flag in the sand, if you know what I mean. You could also say that you personally are using 'gender' in the technical theoretical sense as connected to x y and z writings, rather than in the populist sense seen in media.
FWIW I think most people do actually agree on the salient points: that trans people deserve to live free from harassment and discrimination, that gender stereotypes are harmful to both sexes, and that wishing don't make it so. Also that trans people actually have a different set of lived experiences than non trans people. F you can establish common ground there it will be hard for anyone to call you a bigot.
Having said that I would only say that I think gender identity is bollocks in front of selected colleagues. But I do use the spread
Of 'gender' in the media and in politics as an example in teaching, so I expect most know what I think. And if a student complains... well, I make sure I've covered my back by stating both positions and using neutral language but stilll asking them to critically engage with why some ideas spread and others don't. I think it's my job to do so
YetAnotherSpartacus · 27/11/2017 11:25
Could you elaborate on what you mean by deeper problems? I'm still fairly new to academia so would be great to get a more experienced take on things
This is brief only but,
- The general dumbing down of academia starting with UG teaching where in many courses students are not taught real critical thinking, research skills and suchlike. Many students who had such an education are now PG and lecturers themselves.
2. The oversupply of PhDs meaning that competition is tight for jobs and students/staff are scared to speak out.
3. Redundancies across the sector meaning that staff are afraid to speak out.
4. The student consumer culture where staff are afraid to teach real critical thinking and research / evaluation etc. skills because the students don't like them and they get poor evaluations - 3. comes into play here too.
5. Staff confusing activism and research.
6. Career paths whereby those who are not terribly good teachers or researchers end up in mid or top level management roles where they enact policies that have a lot to be desired (or earn their keep by getting rid of those who speak out). Often these people are also poor managers. They are good head-kickers though.
7. A host of management positions having power over academics but where the incumbent has little academic training and often some sort of quasi-qualification, but where they hold power and influence over what academics do or over university policy.
There are others, but this will do as a start :)
SoupyNorman · 27/11/2017 16:41
Anyone else been struck by the vehemence of pro-trans ideology on a certain academic FB support group? I wonder if gender critical feminist perspectives are really that absent in the academy, or whether people are afraid to speak up in that setting.
geekaMaxima · 27/11/2017 18:36
OP, would it be worth seeking advice from someone on the frontline of gender critical academia? Someone who could act as informal mentor in navigating your way through the minefield?
Even if it's outside your department, having a likeminded senior colleague could help to make you feel less isolated and perhaps start to set up a network for future collaboration. It's not my field at all, but I'm aware of Heather Brunskell-Evans who has a book coming out soon on TI and children with contributions from lots of gender critical folk www.cambridgescholars.com/download/sample/64273. I'm sure there must be someone closer to your area out there.
sauceyorange · 27/11/2017 19:11
yetanother your point 6 has been made much more entangled (worse) by the bloody impact agenda
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