The following describes the academic basis for TRANSforming Spaces in greater detail. Please read on if you’re interested…
TRANSforming Spaces draws upon strands of queer theory, transgender studies and non-representation geographies and uses self-portraiture and interviews to explore experiences and spatial negotiations of transmasculinity in London and cities in Yorkshire. The project is oriented around, yet seeks to explore the limitations of, key themes: Invisibility/Visibility; Categorising identities; Gender expression and transmasculinity.
Invisibility/visibility is used here as a way of thinking through different ways that visibility or invisibility may be preferable in certain spaces and social situations. This builds upon what Jamison Green calls the ‘visibility dilemma’ and seeks to better account for the complexities of trans* peoples’ experiences of negotiating invisibility/visibility without resorting to notions of ‘passing’, which have problematic implications. Rather than treating visibility/invisibility as a binary opposition, or linear spectrum, it is understood as a shifting lens that provides multiple ways of thinking about invisibility/visibility in relation to time and space. For instance, the extent to which someone may wish their trans* experience and/or identity to be visible will likely vary in relation to changing contexts, e.g. certain times in their lives or the nature of the spaces or social situations they are in. Yet, invisibility/visibility is not always a choice and when imposed by others, in either well intentioned and transphobic ways, this clearly affects peoples’ experiences within particular socio-spatial contexts.
The project seeks to explore various ways in which identity categories function in relation to men who identify as and/or have experiences of being transgender. It will look at categories as important sites of knowledge, power and exclusion, that in their most fixed and essentialised forms can be highly problematic and at odds with more complex realities; for example, that someone may simultaneously identify as a man and a transman, having perhaps identified otherwise at different moments in their life, without contradiction. While it is important to critique the implications and limitations of identity categories, TRANSforming Spaces will also attempt to understand potentially positive and validating aspects and experiences of identifying with ‘categories’.
Gender expression, embodiment & (trans)masculinity
Understanding gender as being, in part, a means of communication that is both expressed and interpreted in relation to different spaces, TRANSforming Spaces explores how gender is expressed, in response to particular socio-spatial norms and contexts. The focus here is upon ways that gender and transmasculinity is embodied through clothing, hairstyles, voice, language and posture etc… revealing complex intersections between sociality, materiality and spatiality. That is, relationships between bodies, ‘things’ and space, regarding how gender identities are experienced, expressed and interpreted in ways that may be affected by and affect the spaces in which these interactions occur.
Focusing upon (trans)masculinity is not to imply that this is the only dimension of gender expressed by transmen or that gender is the only ‘thing’ communicated through fashion and embodiment, far from it. (Trans)masculinity is used as a term that is less confined by male/female, masculine/feminine gender binaries (although it is not entirely ‘free’ from them either) and potentially leaves greater space for thinking in less bounded ways about intersections between gender, sexuality, culture, class etc… For example, how a trans man may express his sexual orientation, affiliation with a particularly social group, role or subculture and/or different aspects of his gender identity and experience, and how this is done, and perhaps changes, in relation to different contexts.