Remembering My Hat

7th September 2010

LGBT Health Summit

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 22:50
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I’ve just got back from the annual LGBT Health Summit which, handily for me, this year was at the University of Hertfordshire.

I was invited to run a workshop on ‘something to do with bisexuality’, so did one partly about how bisexual identities play out in health care, and partly trying to problematise the idea of ‘outness’ for LGBT people generally in health care settings.

I did a bit of teaching about bisexuality and life course perspectives, reusing the case studies from my chapter in my book and creating some new diagrams (which I might post later, as they’re pretty and might be something I reuse as an analytic tool). And I did a lot of getting them to discuss things in small groups and generate their own diagrams and accounts of their own experiences of outness in health settings. I was hoping to get enough/rich enough data from that to form the basis of a paper about outness in health and social care settings, but a quick skim of what I’ve got doesn’t look as if that one’s a go-er.

There was a startlingly biphobic person in my workshop (bisexual people break up relationships and are incapable of fidelity) but they weren’t too disruptive, not least because I spotted that one of the other participants wanted to respond so let her speak first. She made different, probably more effective, points from the ones I was going to (because she spoke without academic hedging and using a voice of personal experience) and that made me think about the general point about how you handle participants’ and students’ existing expertise in both workshops and teaching.

When I’m writing course material I sometimes feel as if I’m perpetuating a terrible OU cliché by constantly asking students to reflect on their experience and draw on their existing expertise. But this experience, and things witnessed in other workshops, have reminded me that actually, it’s a really good way of teaching, especially with mature students. In terms of ‘class’ management, it can stop people being disruptive because they don’t feel the need to assert their expertise if you’re already treating them as expert. And it provides the group with resources beyond those of the ‘teacher’ who [gasp] may not know it all, or be best placed to explain it. We’re writing quite a lot of online collaborative work into K319 and I’m going to be very interested to see how that works out in practice. I have high hopes (but also anxieties).

The other thing it confirmed in me was my love of case studies as a teaching tool. I stupidly hadn’t anticipated that there might be people with learning disabilities in my workshop, despite the fact that I had spotted that at another point in the conference there was a workshop run by a person with learning difficulties and his support worker. Some of the activities I had designed were not accessible to the PWLD who attended my workshop but the case studies, apparently, worked really well for them. Case studies, they’re great.

It was one of the most trans inclusive generic LGBT conference I have ever been to. There were trans plenary speakers, several trans workshops, a high number of delegates who appeared to be trans, and plenary speakers never forgot to include the ‘T’ in their general remarks e.g. they said ‘gay men, lesbians and transpeople [blah blah blah]’ Oops, notice anything missing? Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that trans issues were so foregrounded.  But, oh my, it did throw into contrast the invisible bisexuals.

What came home to me most strongly around trans issues (something I did already know but felt more powerfully today) was how strongly invested some trans people are in the discourse of the authentic self. The idea that a transwoman’s essential, true self is female and a transman’s male. In a context of awful transphobia, and as a cis-gendered person myself, I don’t want to do anything that undermine’s people’s sense of self and the narratives they find necessary for self preservation.

But as a social constructionist I just don’t belive it. I don’t think gender works like that. I don’t think selves work like that. And I really don’t like the ways those narratives disallow other forms of gender variance, such as androgyny, genderqueerness and two-gender people.

I’ve got a new PhD student starting in October who’s planning to look at some aspects of transwomen’s experiences of the NHS. I’m really looking forward to exploring these issues with him.



  1. The foregrounding of trans compared to invisibility of bisexuals was much the same at the Health Summit I attended in (I think) 2007. There are of course specific T issues with health that are easier to consider discretely from LGB matters, where bi stuff is perhaps more nuanced?

    I’m not sure if anything can practically be done to challenge that, if one year an organising team seeks to really shift that balance, but the amount of stuff being presented at the London BiReCon recently suggests to me that it might be possible to effect that change.

    Comment by Jen — 8th September 2010 @ 00:24 | Reply

    • Oh that’s very interesting to hear, thank you. I assumed that the foregrounding of trans issues was new to this year, but it may have become part of the tradition of this conference. Which is great.

      I take your point about there being more obviously medical/health issues for trans people than bi people, although the focus of this year’s event was supposed to be mental health, which, as you know, is extremely applicable to bi people. Getting involved in the organising team for next year would be the obvious way to shift the balance but I *so* don’t have time to do that! I did write ‘include bisexuality’ all over my feedback form…

      Comment by rememberingmyhat — 8th September 2010 @ 10:52 | Reply

  2. ooh, interesting.

    I’m curious now what sort of material the participants came up with & how it fell short of what you’d want for a paper.

    On the trans front, do you follow the blog Questioning Transphobia? It’s really good. There was a thread the other day (after we’d spoken) which I was thinking I must point you at. See e.g. this comment about language of identity from Marlene.

    Comment by Jennifer — 8th September 2010 @ 13:18 | Reply

    • More about quantity and length than quality – only 8 participants handed in their diagrams to me. Which might be ‘enough’ data for a paper if they were long discursive accounts, but they’re not – brief paragraphs and timelines. I will try do something with the data at some point, but I’ll probably need to supplement it with something else.

      Thanks for the blog tipoff – will have a look.

      Comment by rememberingmyhat — 8th September 2010 @ 17:16 | Reply

  3. I’m glad you said that about trans because it Bothers Me immensely – but as a decidedly cis-(and almost completely straight-)person myself I don’t feel able to say “no actually what you’re feeling is Wrong”. I have had it described to me as if there were a kind of compass in their heads pointing to gender, and obviously those of us who don’t feel that way don’t have the compass. Which, yes. But I still “don’t think gender works like that”.

    Comment by Julie paradox — 8th September 2010 @ 21:39 | Reply

    • Hello! Nice to hear from you.

      I guess there’s something about cis privilege in there – you (and I, most of the time) don’t have to be aware of a compass in our heads pointing to gender because we experience the relationship between our selves and our gender as (relatively) straightforward and in ways that society valorises. Like the way that as White people we can often forget that we too have race and ethnicity.

      Comment by rememberingmyhat — 8th September 2010 @ 22:59 | Reply

    • Something to factor in here is the enormous warping effect on trans narratives of having to interface with medical gatekeepers. Some cis medical blokes* made up the “rules of who’s a legitimate transsexual person” years ago, based far more on their own theories and prejudices than on actual trans people. My impression is things are maybe changing slowly for the better these days, but basically, there was a very specific (binary-gender) narrative you had to present with if you wanted to get help to change your body. If you didn’t know the right story to tell, it wasn’t happening.

      (* and I bet they were mostly white and straight as well)

      So what’s out there in the world is heavily shaped by the narrative of those cis blokies from the past, and it’s reasonably accurate for some trans people but very very far away for others.

      And support for transition is still, for some people, incredibly hard to get, so a lot of trans people are wary about the effect of rival narratives becoming current (e.g. genderqueer can be seen as confusing funders who NEED to understand that transsexual people NEED to transition).

      As it happens there’s a beautiful post just gone up this week at Questioning Transphobia which is partly about the “acceptable narratives of trans-ness”:

      The Soul of History: Breaking the Silence of Biography

      See also the one I linked to in earlier comment above.

      See also this description of what it’s like to be transsexual and not (yet) able to transition.


      Comment by Jennifer — 12th September 2010 @ 00:00 | Reply

      • Yes, absolutely. Stuart Lorimer from the Charing Cross clinic was one of the plenary speakers (he was great!) and he said that they are no longer requiring or expecting those normative narratives but a) I suspect it is still easier to get treatment if you stick to those scripts and b) even if the medical establishment has changed, that doesn’t necessarily mean the narratives commonly used in the trans community have changed.

        Julie paradox: One of the chapters in my book is (mainly) written by a transperson who is ‘gender disidentified’ and very critical of the idea of two clear genders. If you’re interested, I can email you a pre-publication copy.

        Comment by rememberingmyhat — 13th September 2010 @ 10:58 | Reply

        • Nipping back to this thread to add a tip top article which I saw today, again from QT:

          I Am Whoever You Say I Am

          he said that they are no longer requiring or expecting those normative narratives

          Maybe he isn’t (and even that I’d take with a pinch of salt, since people don’t always notice what their own assumptions are). But presumably he meant by “they” his own clinic and not the whole world. I bet he isn’t speaking for every gatekeeper around the world.

          Comment by Jennifer — 2nd October 2010 @ 15:04 | Reply

          • Oh absolutely, but I was encouraged that at least he was saying that, and clearly recognising that it had been a problem.

            Comment by rememberingmyhat — 3rd October 2010 @ 21:31 | Reply

    • sorry, seem to have got a linky bit wrong there. It was meant to be this:

      Comment by Jennifer — 12th September 2010 @ 00:02 | Reply

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