Contributing to debates beyond borders
PhD student Gina Maya Roberts tells us what she’s learned about bringing a range of people together for an international conference on the transgender experience.
Transgender: Intersectional/International (28th-29th May 2019) is a conference that aims to explore the diversity of transgender experience throughout the world.
Co-organised by researchers of transgender identity and experience in Scottish universities - including Gina Maya Roberts from the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) - the multidisciplinary conference will go beyond mainstream representations to look at the kinds of structural inequalities often ignored.
“Diverse, colourful. These are the kind of descriptors that transgender and gender fluidity should evoke”, says Gina. “Can people be complex, paradoxical, at odds with what they’ve been educated and conditioned? Yes, and why not? To value transgender identity is to ‘get’ what humanity is about: as a thing difficult to predict at birth, the process of creation of a person gradually making sense of themselves.”
“This feeling of wonder and an accompanying sense of the beauty of gender is partly what’s driving our conference”, she adds. “It will, I hope, aid a social learning curve from Edinburgh to far beyond”.
‘We need to talk about race, class, and disability’
As well as academics, the conference will welcome activists and artists from all over the world to speak about transgender experience in some of its many cultural, regional and national manifestations.
History, sociology, law, and the arts are just some of the themes speakers and delegates will address as they engage with the gamut of elements that contribute to identity-making.
“There are intellectual ideas and causes that will emerge at our conference, of course, and not just related to gender theory”, says Gina. “For some trans communities, the major issues aren’t marriage or healthcare but racism and dis/ability. Our conference aims to highlight injustices and some of the things we as a society can do better.”
“If the conference leaves a legacy, it will be in contributing to debates beyond any supposedly sealed transgender borders. We need to talk about race, class, and disability, the way they are shaped and influenced in Scotland, the way different factors shape and influence people all over the world.”
If gender identity can at times seem like two rigorously policed urban domains, in an either-or scenario, then I hope our conference presents gender as a whole new landscape of breath-taking, eye-opening diversity.
A huge learning curve
Gina is currently in her third year of a PhD in Global Transgender Narratives in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, having graduated with an MSc in Creative Writing (distinction) from Edinburgh in 2016. She also teaches on the University's undergraduate Introduction to Queer Studies course led by Edinburgh College of Art.
The conference marks the first time she’s organised an event of this size, something she describes as “an intense learning experience; there are things I’m pleased about and areas I want to learn from.”
“The skills I’ve developed include the huge learning curve about all the stakeholders and duties involved, and the budget required to cater for it. This includes things I hadn’t appreciated at the outset, such as our note-taking service for people who are hard of hearing or D/deaf, and also the awareness of wheelchair access to both audience and speakers. Overall, my appreciation of the facilities and support for different needs has grown hugely.”
“I’ve learned that having a pro-active organising committee is important. Setting up expectations at the outset is important, the role of each committee member needs to be clear so there are no misunderstandings.”
Mostly what I love is that doing a conference allows you break out of the academic bubble and connect your studies to the real world.
Transgender: Intersectional/International is generously funded by the University of Edinburgh’s Information Services, the Institute of Academic Development (IAD), the University’s alumni-funded Student Experience Grant, and the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, and College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, together with genderED and the Staff Pride Network. Beyond the University of Edinburgh, the conference is also being funded by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, and the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences.
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