The aims of TRANSforming Spaces are multiple but all, in different ways, seek to challenge the often narrow and fixed understandings of gender identities and gender experiences that are evident in much academic literature and British society more broadly. As such, the project foregrounds the experiences and voices of men who identify as and/or have experiences of being transgender, transsexual and/or FtM.
The ways that anybody and everybody experiences and expresses their gender is context specific and differs within and between identity categories, such as, male, female, genderqueer, transgender and/or cisgender. Yet, people with experiences of being trans still face the most misunderstandings, misrepresentations and prejudices. By collaborating with men that identify as and/or have experiences of being transgender, transsexual and/or FtM, TRANSforming Spaces aims to make diverse experiences and expressions of gender more visible. In doing so, the project seeks to challenge and change attitudes towards and misunderstandings about gender that contribute, albeit sometimes subtly, towards transphobia.
Why does the project only focus on London and Yorkshire?
As a geographer the context is very important, particularly because the places where people live affect their experiences. The project began in London but expanded its scope to include Yorkshire in response to concerns expressed by some members of trans communities about the number of projects that are solely London focused.
TRANSforming Spaces aims to explore ways that participants experience and express their gender and in relation to different spaces that are or have been significant in their lives. Focusing on two regions – London and Yorkshire – means that I’m able explore the relationships between gender and space that participants express in a way that allows me to more meaningfully engage with their complexities, particularly similarities and differences between participants’ experiences within and between two different regions.
Why only focus on men who identify as and/or have experiences of being transgender, transsexual and/or FTM?
This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into, and in honestly is not something I’m entirely comfortable with because I feel that inclusivity is important; in an ideal world the project would be able to be completely inclusive. Focusing on transmasculinity (which I know is a problematic ‘term’ for some and is something that I explored through the more academic side of the project) is one way I tried to make the project more open e.g. this could have included someone who has identified, or does identify, with transmasculinity as a trans man or somebody who is genderqueer. Because of time constraints I was limited in the number of participants I could include and felt that, while unfortunate and problematic in certain ways, it was better to attempt to do justice to the complexity and diversity of transmasculine experiences than broaden the range of gender identities and places involved and risk diluting the quality of the project.
Issues around representation
I cannot and do not seek to erase myself and my own identity and experiences as a queer, cis-woman from the project, but I can and have done certain things to attempt to account for my position and limit the impact that this has.
The project was designed to allow as much space as possible for participants to represent themselves and guide the direction of the research. Specifically, the images used are portraits composed and selected by participants and are accompanied by captions that they have written. The academic side of the project included interviews in which participants discussed their images and experiences more generally. These were conversations guided by participants and their images rather than a Q&A bounded to a rigid set of predefined questions.
Through engaging with academic and non-academic projects (to make a somewhat crude distinction), much of which is produced by trans* people themselves and the experiences of the project participants I identified certain themes that frame the wider project.
Often the best representations of trans people are by trans people themselves. My Genderation and The Test Shot are excellent examples of this, as the academic work of Susan Stryker, Petra L Doan, Jason Cromwell, Jamison Green and Stephen Whittle. That said, there is some excellent work by cis researchers (e.g. Sally Hines and Kath Browne) that I consider to make an important contribution to transgender studies as an academic discipline, which I too hope to contribute towards.
Academic/’real world’ tensions.
Part of what I aim to do with TRANSforming Spaces is bridge what might be considered an academic/’real world’ divide. Whilst the inter-related academic and more public aspects of the project impose certain constraints on one another, I hope the project can have a positive impact across this academic/’real world’ divide.
I welcome comments on the project, including those that are critical, and am open to discussing any concerns or clarifying any of the points made above or elsewhere on the website: laura.marshall.13[at]ucl.ac.uk