“Trans (self-)advocacy isn’t some amusing pastime of mine. It’s a survival technique, and it’s exhausting & unrewarding.” – Morgan Potts (@mrgnptts)
Earlier this year, I rolled up to my sociology 1B The Body within Society classes full of fresh-faced, naive enthusiasm; as a non-binary trans person, I was certain that my unconventional experience of having a body within society, and the wisdom that I’d acquired because of it, would provide me with a deeper understanding of the lecture content and equip me with plenty to talk about in seminar discussions.
The reality, however, was quite different. Despite having read up extensively on gender, bodies, etc, in my own time, studying these things in an academic context was incredibly alienating. Being transgender, never mind non-binary, was a phenomenon that was either overlooked completely or totally misrepresented. None of the academic reading I encountered about trans issues resonated with me, or how I’ve navigated my identity, whatsoever. Once, in a class discussion, I tentatively suggested that not all women had vaginas and not all men penises – and you could’ve cut the tension with a knife. It was all very invalidating. I started to doubt myself a lot.
A lot of people just don’t “get” the concept of being transgender. I’m one of them. I’ve done my research; I have the lived experience and yet how gender works on an individual level – why some people suit the labels given to them while others very much do not – is a total mystery to me. And therein lies the problem: academia requires things to be “got”. As long as trans identities and issues exist, academia will take them on and overanalyse them into abstraction – meaning that folk like me have to spend a lot of time and energy having tiring debates and writing articles such as this one.
I feel I can’t offer a definitive solution to the alienation of transgender people in academia and the study of gender: I see indubitable value in research about any aspect of social and psychological life; however, on a real-life level, I’d really rather not have to deal with my existence being the object of scrutiny or the subject of competing discourses.