Whimsical, queer exploration of all things gender.

I was inspired to write this primarily by reading the powerfully emotive reflection on co-authorship by Ruth Pearce. I believe she is absolutely right when she says that there is a lack of attention given to the process by which multiple people produce single pieces of writing together – that there is a question mark which replaces any number of interpersonal processes as different people navigate collaboration. Pearce reflects on particular key experiences for her, which exposes how the journey between the beginning of a project and the end can result in unexpected changes in who is responsible for doing what, altering our relationships with both the project and (I would argue, inevitably) our co-authors. This carries an emotional element, particularly pertinent to those with an interest in feminist research ethics. Classic pieces such as Ann Oakley’s ‘Interviewing Women: A Contradiction in Terms?’ radically challenged disciplinary conventions around how ‘appropriate’ emotionality can be in professional contexts, and although Oakley was writing about relationships between researchers and participants, I see applicability in the context of collaborative academic production. It is common for people to co-write (or edit, or co-arrange conferences, or collaborate on funding bids) with people felt to be friends more than colleagues.

Z Nicolazzo has also responded to Pearce’s post, with some really valuable reflections about how ‘solo works’ really aren’t in many ways (there’s a reason there’s almost always a small film-credit long list of names in an acknowledgements section). Further, our interconnectedness means that our intellectual ideas are inevitably built upon and refined through reading, and speaking to others. Drawing a hard line between our own outputs and how the influence of other writers is manifest through us, is, I would argue, an unhelpful framing – symptomatic of an individualising neoliberalism within scholarship. Is there ever such a thing as a solo voice in academic writing? Nicolazzo’s discussion of their first book resonated with my own experience of putting together ‘Transgender Health: A Practitioner’s Guide to Binary and Non-Binary Trans Patient Care’, even though this was a book without participants in any kind of research. While writing this, I created a Facebook group containing several dozen trans friends, all of whom had something to contribute to the process.

So what do I have to add to this unfolding ‘conversation’ between blogs? Based on the above, I offer that those of us who frame ourselves as activist-academics may particularly appreciate what collaboration can offer, in knowing that solidarity is profoundly necessary in resisting oppressive manifestations of power. Intellectual work is less framed as capital to be guarded jealously – a hoard of individually produced outputs that we use to climb to the top of the ladder – rather, pooled resources motivated by a socialist ethic.

Secondly, I want to draw attention to the role of kindness in academic writing, which I think is incredibly important. With impostor’s syndrome an embedded problem among early career researchers, and the market forces of late capitalism necessitating the infamous ‘publish or perish’ anxiety, it is distinctly easy for many precariously positioned scholars to struggle with practising kindness to themselves. It is, I think, generally easier to be kinder to other people – and so collaboration is a site where we can (in a positive environment/relationship) share the load, producing the things we need for our careers without retreating into intellectual isolationism. There have been times where I, or my collaborator(s) have needed to cancel and rearrange Skype meetings because one or other has been simply too drained – we’ve needed to sleep, take leisure time, or otherwise do something that had to get bumped in priority in the moment. This can risk guilt – but with kindness from our collaborators it can be deeply reassuring to know that our work hasn’t stopped just because we have, for a moment.

I have learned a lot from Ruth in particular about what I conceive as academic kindness, which she (and Z too) has attributed to Sara Ahmed’s work in turn. This includes how we lift (or pull) each other up through citation practices, the ordering of authors on published outputs (perhaps a balance between who did what work, disciplinary conventions, and giving a boost to the scholar in greatest need), or other cases where one can gain experience, exposure, or other forms of cultural capital that can be more difficult for marginalised researchers to access.

One of my favourite aspects of an academic career is the attendance of conferences. Not so much to speak, or even to listen, but because of the conversations that I tend to find occur in those spaces. It is through forging relationships with colleagues through conversation (sometimes in person, but maybe on Twitter, or Facebook, or on the telephone) that I have been inspired and steered into particular directions of focus. Certainly, the biggest ideas I have that I want to take forward in the future were not resultant from an internal process and a ‘light bulb’ moment. I feel like I’ve had collaborations with some trans activists (in particular) whose names I don’t even know, primed by injustices they indirectly identify or emphasise to me.

I’ve already mentioned impostor’s syndrome. I can certainly feel insecure that my academic voice lacks originality, flair – that there’s a lack of ‘personality’ in my outputs, such is my sense of reliance on the brilliance I see in those thinkers I respect. Collaboration can feel like a space where it’s easier to intellectually experiment, as the direction of a project is shaped as it bounces between you. One can put something out there and get something back a little more informally (and quickly!) than asking stretched friends and colleagues if they can spare the time to look over a draft. Collaborators are up to speed on your context, and offer not only the potential for synergy of your ideas, but also to innovate your day-to-day practices. It is only in the context of collaboration that I have (or possibly ever would have) done academic work in a gay cabaret bar at 11.00 in the morning. It has made me gain greater competence with intersecting technologies (Google Drive, Basecamp).

My experiences with collaboration thus far have been hugely different from each other. In no particular order, they have included:

  • Being required to have a second author on a piece due to my junior (then unpublished) status. I wrote entirely solo, and got some edits the second author – who was doing me a favour, by agreeing to fulfil the role I needed to get a foot in the door, even though the piece was not really her area at all;
  • Being invited relatively late in the process to a five-author piece of only 1000 words, but which still took over a year due to some complex editorial issues. This was associated with frantically rapid turn-arounds when an editor would ask for over-the-weekend responses after months of silence (and not tracking the changes made to our work!);
  • A two-year (plus!) project on an article with a colleague who was a friend long before we imagined collaborating together. This is probably the closest I’ve gotten to ‘slow scholarship’ – and this piece has evolved through many iterations. While it was recently rejected at one journal, we’ve received a lot of constructive feedback through peer review, and so the slow metamorphosis is far from over. We live on other sides of the world, but navigated time difference through ping-ponging word documents with the date in the title to each other;
  • Another international effort, but instead approached through late night (for me) Skyping, which has allowed us to develop a friendship through the process of work that was barely there at the beginning. This has moved faster, and I’ve been happy to play second fiddle, getting to grips with working on a project where a lot of data had been processed by previous people who could no longer continue with it;
  • A three-way piece navigated through Skype, Facebook chat, and in-person work sessions, including conference presentation. All of us already established as good friends, and working on something dear to all of us for activist purposes as well as academic ones;
  • A particularly intimate 2-person project done entirely in person, where we were both the subjects and authors of empirical research we conducted. We had a previous wonderful collaborative history through co-arranging a conference together, but this was easily the most intimate writing I’ve ever taken part in. This was also the only case where the personal connection I felt with my co-author directly inspired both the topic and method of the piece;
  • A different three-way collaboration – I feel I was invited onto this one to help me out, to get my name onto something that the person who did practically all of the writing felt fit with me and my career. I’m deeply appreciative of this, and enjoyed the (very easy) job of editing and making a mark;
  • An editorial process with one other person – very early days this one, but precedent of working with them suggests to me that it will be a way to accrue a new skill set in parallel with nurturing the roots of a friendship.

Collaboration is in very large part responsible for equipping me to find and become myself, as a writer. It is a form of work that is inherently social, encouraging care for the self and for others. Even if/when an output is ‘finished’, the connection is not, but is something born of the process. I see collaboration as something that causes me to grow, allows me to give, makes it easier for me to survive academia, and hopefully help others do the same. I associate collaboration with a sense of becoming that I don’t with ‘solo writing’ – I feel more readily the ‘difference in my me-ness’ when passing through the collaborative process. In short, collaboration is transformative of identity. I certainly acknowledge that all writing can be, but this is the site where I feel this phenomenon (phenomena? It’s always different) most keenly.

I am grateful to Ruth not only for her writing and friendship, but specifically for encouraging me to ‘write in to the conversation’. I am grateful to Z too – although we have never spoken or met, it would be fitting if our respective reactions to Ruth might bring us together in some other – as yet unspecified and unpredictable – collaborative form.

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This is the first of two books I intend to review that look at womanhood and working class experience. In beginning to prepare for the term’s worth of lectures, I inherited slides from the previous year’s version of this lecture which positioned this book along with Democracy in the Kitchen by Valerie Walkerdine and Helen Lucey as landmark texts in the field. Published in 1986, Carolyn Steedman uses her own childhood (in South London in the 1950s) and her mother’s (Burnley in the 1920s – a town 20 miles north of Manchester) as case studies for psychoanalysis. Honestly, this approach leaves me dead cold. Neither the semi-frequent references to Freud’s work (particularly the case study of ‘Dora’) nor the figurative parallels drawn with fairly stories (The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen) assisted me with learning lessons from her story. However, I had been drawn into the story from the opening two-page vignette. Steedman writes of visiting her mother for the first time in nine years, two weeks before she died of cancer:

We’d known all our childhood that she was a good mother: she’d told us so: we’d never gone hungry; she went out to work for us; we had warm beds to lie in at night. She had conducted a small and ineffective war against the body’s fate by eating brown bread, by not drinking, by giving up smoking years ago. To have cancer was the final unfairness in a life measured out by it. She’d been good; it hadn’t worked.

Upstairs, a long time ago, she had cried, standing on the bare floorboards, in the front bedroom just after we moved to this house in Streatham Hill in 1951, my baby sister in her carry-cot. We both watched the dumpy retreating figure of the health visitor through the curtainless windows. The woman had said: ‘This house isn’t fit for a baby’. And then she stopped crying, my mother, got by, the phrase that picks up after all difficulty (it says: ‘it’s like this; it should be light this; it’s unfair; I’ll manage): ‘Hard lines, eh, Kay?’ (Kay was the name I was called at home, my middle name, one of my father’s names).

And I? I will do everything and anything until the end of my days to stop anyone ever talking to me like that woman talked to my mother. It is in this place, this bare, curtainless bedroom that lies my secret and shameful defiance. I read a woman’s book, meet such a woman at a party (a woman now, like me) and think quite deliberately as we talk: we are divided: a hundred years ago I’d have been cleaning your shoes. I know this and you don’t (pp. 1-2).

Steedman is efficiently telling of her intimate past and its shaping of her experience of always. The clarity of the imagery I constructed in my head when reading the childhood memories that are woven throughout this book was more educational in and of itself than the psychoanalysis, for the most part. In terms of theorists, there are many other than Freud referred to. Most helpfully I think were reflections and expansions on Gayle Rubin’s essay ‘The Traffic in Women’. To contextualise, Steedman’s parents were not married – her father had come away to London with her mother, but there had been another woman and child before. Steedman’s mother had attempted to seduce her father into marriage – in order to gain the stability, respectability and material benefits she felt owed to her (there is very little mention of love throughout the book). Steedman writes “years later it becomes quite clear… my mother set in motion my father’s second seduction. She’d tried with having me and it hadn’t worked’ (p.53). The relationship this has to Rubin’s work is Steedman’s assertion that her mother had “exchanged herself for a future” (p. 69): that women’s ownership of “their labour, and the babies they produce” (p. 69) alters the framework of patriarchal law – Steedman’s mother is both transacted and transactor. The circumstances of Steedman’s childhood meant that whilst her father was materialistically important (he paid the rent and bills, and gave her mother £7 per week for ‘housekeeping’), but functionally semi-absent and unimportant. The argument draws productively on Juliet Mitchell’s work to articulate the patriarch’s “presence even in his absence” (p. 77).

While considerably more time and detail is given to Steedman’s own childhood than her mother’s (due to drawing heavily on remembered anecdotes, and lacking first hand access to the latter), this does ultimately read as a book about her mother. Not a book written about a loving relationship – or, implication might suggest, an embittered or estranged one. Steedman writes in a cool and matter-of-fact manner about her mother’s frustration at having children not giving her what she had aimed for from the having. There is a continual emphasis on the ‘ordinariness’ of their lives, neither horrific (like a Dickensian representation of the workhouse) nor a heroic ‘salt of the earth’ pride of identity. Political analysis appears occasionally in the text, as Steedman reflects on her mother’s lifelong Conservative voting: “for the left could not embody her desire for things to be really fair, for a full skirt that took twenty yards of cloth, for a half-timbered cottage in the country, for the prince who did not come. For my mother, the time of my childhood was the place where the fairy-tales failed” (p. 47). In places like this, I could see how the narrative device of the fairy-tale did work, and tie things together. The use of quotation to open chapters is also extremely pertinent, my favourite being by Alice Schwarzer:

One can hardly tell women that washing up sauce-pans is their divine mission, [so] they are told that bringing up children is their divine mission. But the way things are in this world, bring up children has a great deal in common with washing up sauce-pans (p. 83).

There is also a brief but powerful reflection on state intervention in the validation of life in the 1950s: “I think I would be a very different person now if [free] orange juice and milk and dinners at school hadn’t told me, in a covert way, that I had a right to exist, was worth something” (p.122). This is deftly related back to the broader point that politics shapes the world of the child – and the argument that adults “consciously know and unconsciously manipulate the particularities of the world that shaped them” (p. 123). The book sugar-coats absolutely nothing – life can lack love, crush dreams. But we carry on anyway. I’m reminded of a quotation from my favourite play and mini-series, Angels in America. Fittingly, the character, Hannah Pitt, is talking to her daughter-in-law, and says:

At first it can be very hard to accept how disappointing life is, Harper, because that’s what it is and you have to accept it. With faith and time and hard work you reach a point… where the disappointment doesn’t hurt as much, and then it gets actually easy to live with. Quite easy. Which is in its own way a disappointment (Perestroika, p. 184).

Whilst the analytic style is, for me, rather obfuscating, There are some wonderful historical insights throughout. Maybe the freshness and originality of the work is lost to me due to it being older than I am – but at 144 pages it’s a quick and easy read. The value lies not in any particular theoretical perspective or analysis that can be applied to one’s own considerations of gender and/or class, but on hearing an underrepresented story in a (perhaps) unexpected way.

 

I’m really delighted that a team (of which I was a member) comprised entirely of trans voices has been published in the BMJ (the British Medical Journal). Our article provides basic information for GPs providing healthcare to transgender people. Of course, we could’ve said a great deal more, and desperately wanted to. However, both the word count and editorial decisions created firm limitations around what this piece could do. Nonetheless, my colleagues and I are all proud of the piece, and would be hugely grateful if you’d take a look. Perhaps most importantly, if you know any medical practitioners, we’d be indebted if you’d send the link their way – the more practitioners who are comfortable and equipped to assist trans patients (with transitions and generally) the closer we come to best practice, and equal treatment.

The link is below. The language is non-technical, and there is no paywall (article is approx. 1000 words):

http://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2963

uncumber

If you know of Saint Wilgefortis, you probably have an uncommonly large knowledge of hagiographies – the biographies of saints. This particular saint gives some interesting but amusing insight into how gendered cultural signifiers have… caused confusion.

I should say, Uncumber was her English name, while also being known as Wilgefortis, and various other names such as Ontkommer in Dutch, and Liberata in Italian. One commonality is that her name often translates to mean unencumbered, liberated, or escaped (or similar), as she was venerated by those seeking freedom from hardship. More specifically she has been the patron saint of women wishing to escape from abusive husbands.

The story of Wilgefortis goes that she was the daughter of a pagan king (sometimes in Portugal) who had arranged her marriage to another pagan. Because she’d taken a vow of chastity, she prayed to her (Christian) god to make her ugly and undesirable so the marriage would be called off. When she awoke, she had her bushy beard. Her father duly called off the marriage, but also had her crucified.

st w

So, presuming that you don’t take this history entirely literally, where did this representation come from? Medieval imagery doesn’t have a tremendous reputation for representing gender non-conformity after all, let alone venerating those who express it.

‘Bearded figure on a cross’ usually only brings one name to mind, and this is no coincidence. It is thought that because Eastern representations of Christ were in, by Western standards, feminine robes or even a dress, when miniature copies were brought over by pilgrims and traders, a narrative sprang up in order to let the image make cultural sense. This argument was first made in 1906 by Hippolyte Delehaye, a Jesuit hagiographical scholar. Volto_Santo_de_Lucca.JPG

The Volto Santo di Lucca, or ‘Holy Face of Lucca’, a 13th century copy of the early 11th century original, which contributed to the rise of depicting Christ in long robes. 

The link between the Holy Face of Lucca and Wilgefortis is underscored further by her name being a corruption of ‘Hilge Vartz’ – or holy face. Gender roles were so rigid that god granting an overnight insta-beard was far more reasonable than ‘men wear different things in other lands’.

bearded-lady

This statue is in Westminster Abbey in London, specifically in the Henry VII Lady Chapel (fittingly). 

As one might expect with a process akin to theological Chinese Whispers, the different articulations of a bearded lady’s crucifixion got hashed out in all sorts of different ways. Santa Librada (as represented in the North-Western Spanish town of Bayona) is clean-shaven, and one of nine sisters who were all martyred. Additionally, robes on men somewhere like medieval Italy wouldn’t have inspired the same unfamiliarity as perhaps in more north-westerly contexts. I take some pleasure, however, in imagining a medieval snake-oil salesman having to really think on his feet when put on the spot by a sceptical Bavarian, French, or British peasant over his statuettes.

I was honoured to be asked by CN to offer a round of feedback on the manuscript for this book prior to publication (with Virago Press). I inhaled the text in a single evening, despite generally dragging my feet when reading longer pieces on my computer screen. The research was incredibly thorough, but at no point did this become dry or stuffy. This book isn’t an academic text in the traditional sense, but it’s certainly a very educational one – I’ve already cited it in my own academic writing.

Once I got my hard copy of the book, I felt it had been a long enough time since that editing process that I should really read it again before reviewing – plus, it wouldn’t be fair to assess a pre-final version. Generally I struggle with re-reading books, as my attention often wanes as a result of half-remembering what I’m encountering and having to fight the urge to skim. I was surprised with trans like me, that I was touched more deeply second time around than the first. Divided into 15 chapters over 214 pages, Lester’s conversational style creates an intimate and effective sense of a meaningful conversation over coffee with a friend. Before the journey has really begun, they explain how “to learn how to learn about trans people, about the ways in which what we know about gender is shifting and growing, we must first unlearn” (p. 5); their experience as a teacher comes through (which we are explicitly told about later, through their careful threading of personal anecdote through the narrative), and an attentive, skilled one at that.

Lester effectively conjures compassion in their audience through beginning by engaging with the worst exploitation of the tabloid press. Their points are consistently reasonable, relatable, and simple. There is no sense of polemic, only kindness. They give of their personal experiences and history generously, but without allowing any reader to fall into voyeurism. Lester gets us thinking about who has the power to tell stories, helping the reader to understand the incredibly invasive expectations, demands, and groping hands trans people can by explicitly targeted with. While there is a partial element of autobiography, trans like me reads as a collection of interrogative, well-evidenced essays that are absolutely committed to an empathetic and intersectional appreciation of many of the central discussions and concerns that come up when trans is on the discussion table. How race and class are profoundly relevant and necessary in any understanding of trans people is also not lost or buried.

It wasn’t far into the book that I started marking ‘wow moments’ in my margins. Brilliant, succinct ripostes to some of the most dangerous and disingenuous (yet pervasive) myths about trans people and communities. These are not incinerated in a blaze of adjectives, but quietly and decisively collapsed. The book manages to do this in a way that is not only affirming to those already familiar with the subject matter, but accessible to those who are not. Lester’s anger is something that one would hope everyone can agree with – anger about bigotry, injustice, violence, callousness, unequal rights, access, and experience. Lester hits the nail on the head by centring empathy in their education and discussion.

I mentioned that I was touched more deeply second time around. For me, this was most profound on page 35: “a question I am often asked is why, as someone who wants to subvert gender norms, i would want or need an additional gendered label. Couldn’t I simply refuse all descriptors? Or, failing that, call myself a feminine man or a masculine woman?”. This made me think of a line from Alan Bennett’s History Boys: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours”. Now I knew this wasn’t unique to me, but I remembered being asked by an exceptionally well-informed and sensitive friend “but aren’t you just a feminist man?” in relation to my own non-binary experience. The discussion that Lester unfolds in response to the rhetorical questions they use is far more helpful (and humble) than a discrete, essential ‘answer’. It made me feel better equipped to have these conversations when (and it is when, not if) they come about.

There’s no such thing as a perfect book. However from my perspective, any critiques feel embarrassingly trivial or unnecessary. When discussing how trans women have been portrayed in popular culture (“the victim, the freak, the joke, the threat” – p. 29) I felt a mention of Julia Serano as quite a marked absence – albeit undoubtedly many of the readers of this book wouldn’t be familiar with Serano’s work. Further, as an academic, while I was glad to see extensive references in the endnotes, I found the system of links listed by page a bit imprecise. These things say much more about me than about the book, and most certainly don’t detract.

CN Lester is one of quite a small handful of people capable of introducing so many aspects of trans lives so well. Doing so to a heterogeneous popular audience is doubly difficult. I can only echo Shami Chakrabarti’s back-cover comment that “I challenge anyone not to have both heart and mind a little more open after reading this book”. This is a book for everyone, living up to the title’s implication of ‘a journey for all of us’. I believe this book can make its readers both wiser and kinder, and makes an incredibly important contribution as a result, that I enthusiastically recommend.

“Don’t wear a suit, just a nice shirt is fine”. This was one of the last pieces of advice my primary supervisor, Sally, gave me prior to the viva. That PhD event so formative and significant, and approached with such trepidation by some that one might expect a crack of thunder whenever the word is uttered. My viva was scheduled for 10.30 am on Wednesday 14th December (2016), and so despite living only a 15 minute walk from campus I was naturally up and pacing at 8.00 am – just in case. I tried on several shirts and smart-casual trousers but I could not feel comfortable. “If in doubt, dress up, not down” my father had always said – and so whilst it might’ve gone against the advice I received, I really felt much more comfortable in a suit that morning. With a waistcoat, because why not, it was cold.

I met with Sally 30 minutes before kick-off, for a cup of tea and general encouragement. It had previously been communicated that my internal examiner would come and collect me from my supervisor’s office. Sally would be sitting in – as a PhD student you’re allowed to have one supervisor (silently) observe your viva, if you so wish. Regardless of your choice, a supervisor always has to be available, just in case an examiner wants to discuss something before or after. The ‘mock viva’ I’d had the week before was an informal affair – just a chat really, that for me, sparked the recognition that I needed to avoid trying to answer every sociological question about gender at the same time, if being asked a small point about how I’d contributed towards scholarship on this, that, or the other.

My viva preparation in that single week simply consisted of re-reading the thesis. Those who’ve done a whopping piece of scholarship will know how hard this can be when you’re very close to a large piece of writing, and so I’d deliberately avoided looking at the document since I’d submitted it. This helped a great deal, and I found I was able to bear reading myself (yet again) much more easily than when I was agonizing over the final edits. I highlighted and made notes on things like how I had contributed to scholarship, what original turns-of-phrase I’d deployed, why I’d made certain practical choices or focused on particular bodies of literature over others. Whilst one can’t predict what will come up, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth having things covered which you could expect to be expected to answer. I put sticky labels to divide up the chapters and put it all in a ring-binder to take in with me. I also wrote a few bits on the inside of the folder, but nothing much.

The viva itself was… also, seemingly, an informal affair! I took my cup of tea in with me. My examiners were candid, friendly, and made a point of initiating that the viva should be approached as a peer-to-peer conversation about the details of the thing that no-one in the world is more familiar with than you. A bit of nerves is only natural given the symbolic importance of the day, but really, in the scheme of the PhD, it’s going to be the exception, not the rule, where the viva is make-or-break, and you’d be likely to know this weeks ahead of the fact if this were the case.

Probably the most difficult question I received was actually an ethical one, which surprised me, as I felt much more likely to fall foul of some complex theoretical niggle than simply how I did stuff. It was exciting in a way though, to consider a dimension I hadn’t considered in that way before. It also demonstrated (after the fact) that your examiners can disagree with you about something, and yet your position can remain entirely defendable. They’re not looking for perfection because there is no such thing – simply the necessary contributions.

The whole experience took about 90 minutes. My examiners asked my supervisor and me to step outside – we hadn’t managed to walk down the corridor before being called back in, due to a chance encounter (and frantic whispered dissection) with my second supervisor, who was passing. On being called back in, I was particularly humbled to receive no corrections, which did have me shed a tear of relief (just the one). In the haze of endorphins and surreal emotional diffusion that felt like a balloon letting out all its air, I was given a little information on what would happen next (which I’d already obsessively poured over in the ‘Guide to the thesis examination process’ document I had looked up).

In a way, (cynically), the result of a PhD pass is the same for everyone – more work, of one kind or another! Thus, one should not fear failure – your supervisor shouldn’t let you be going in there if that’s on the cards. Everything else is details, for the vast majority. I put a lot of energy into maintaining my well-being over my PhD, because ultimately, nothing is more important. Beyond survival, everything else is for happiness, and one should do the best one can to construct the PhD experience in a way that allows you to be. As one gains experience and confidence, this can increasingly empower you to tread your own path, even in small ways (like wearing a suit). Approaching the viva as an experience to enjoy rather than an ‘exam’ was certainly constructive. And whilst I couldn’t shake the idea that ‘it could all be taken away from me’ until the result was unequivocally stated, I was able to focus a little so as to ignore that irrational doubt.

The viva is a paradox, because it’s an ending and a beginning at the same time. No two are the same, and yet there’s overwhelming similarity in the way people describe their pre-viva nerves and post-viva relief (and subsequent collapse – put time aside for this!). Ultimately though, it’s yours – and it can be a pleasure.

My good friend and colleague S.W. Underwood and myself wrote a piece in response to Dr. Jordan Peterson’s recent comments at the University of Toronto, regarding his refusal to use the pronouns individuals identify with. Please see here for the article!

http://torontoist.com/2016/10/u-of-t-trans-rights/

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