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Research

This page has examples of research from around the University of Warwick that provides evidence of queer pedagogy and support for trans and gender-diverse students.

Queering Public History: Re/presentation and Identity - Museum of Transology

Department of Sociology

Contact: Hannah Ayres, PhD Researcher (Hannah dot Ayres at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Could you give a brief description of the case study?  
 
The Museum of Transology (MoT) is currently housed in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. It is a fascinating exhibition and contains the largest collection of trans material in the UK, with over 250+ objects donated by trans people. It was created to de-spectacularize trans lives in a time when the media perpetuates the fantastical trans identity. Attached to each item is a tag written in the donors handwriting that says what the item meant to the donor and their trans identity.  
 
My research looks at queer re/presentation in museums and how queer (used here as an umbrella term in lieu of LGBTQ+) individuals use these re/presentations in constructing and narrating their own identities. During Brighton Pride (19th-21st July) I will be conducting a photovoice study at this museum – I must add that they have been incredibly supportive of my research and more than happy to help me out and provide space for me. I will be recruiting participants on the 20th at the MoT stall in the park. On the 21st, I will be running a 2 hour long photovoice event. Photovoice in my study will allow participants to communicate what they identify with most and what is important to them, through photographs. I will ask them to go round the exhibition and, using their own devices, take pictures of the space, objects and any moments that they particularly identified with.  
 
If relevant, how did this case study come about? 

I particularly wanted to find an exhibition that re/presented trans lives and identities as this is an area of LGBTQ+ that has been massively under re/presented in museum spaces. Often, especially when looking at historical re/presentations, the focus has been on gay white men.  
 
In what way/s is your research queer?  

I believe the methodological approach I am taking is rather queer. I employ what Halberstam calls a ‘scavenger methodology’ (1998:13), bringing together methods in an interdisciplinary manner. I am based in sociology but I operate between the cracks of sociology and history – I believe queer methods and queer theory gives me the power to research from this space and question both disciplines.  

One of the reasons I chose the method of photovoice was because it allowed me to co-produce knowledge with participants and reject a ‘god-like’ researcher position. I do not know everything and come from a specific subjective viewpoint so allowing participants more control and more say allows other subjectivities and more knowledge to be added to the research.  

I understand that what I am studying is multiple, contested, messy and fluid and a queer approach allows me to approach the contradictions in a less binary way.  
 
If relevant, what kind of response has the case study provoked?  

Actually going ‘into the field’ was fantastic. I recruited participants at Trans Pride on the Saturday and many of the people who said they would attend the following day did. It was really heart-warming to feel that people cared about my research to the point where they went out of their way to come and take part in my study.  
 
I noticed that a few people either avoided or went straight through the exhibition but those that stayed really took their time and absorbed what it had to offer.  
 
Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy?  

A lesson that I have learnt is that dealing with queer theory and teaching in a queer way is not easy. Queer is meant to be uncomfortable; its power comes from its ability to disrupt and trouble. This means constantly holding yourself accountable and constantly questioning which can be difficult when you operate in an (often rigid) institutional space. There are many benefits to using queer theory, thinking and teaching queerly so give it a go if it sounds interesting to you. The great thing is, there is nothing strict saying how to implement queer pedagogy so it's about experimenting, thinking creatively and seeing what works for you.  

“Ugly as fuck”, the Martha Stewart lifestyle; or, how does Tranimalism drag sashay gay away from gender?  

Contact: Nick Cherryman, MA/PhD Sociology (nick dot cherryman at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Could you give a brief description of the paper you gave?  

This paper explored how Tranimalism, the drag movement coined by the drag artist Jer Ber Jones in 2006, is pushing for a new direction in the fabric of drag as performance art. I used video and images to explore how this movement stepped away from the gendered constructs that tend to define ‘drag’ as an artistic form (‘drag queens’, ‘drag kings’, ‘drag artist’, etc) and look at how this encapsulates the idea of chaotic, seemingly random, art, and more typical drag. Drawing on Judith Butler’s ideas of performing gender, I investigated how the ‘tranimal’ artist moves into realm of conceptual performance art, stepping into a post-structural performance of gender. Drawing heavily on those that precede them, the tranimal movement draws on various cultural phenomena such as the ‘Club Kids’ movement and artists such as Leigh Bowary and Kembra Pfahler, and I argued that there is an ironic detachment to the performance itself (allowing a post-structural reading), which differentiates this from other aspects of drag and performance. Tranimalism, itself, can act as a political movement, or even anti-movement, in the sense that seeks to embrace the ‘ugliness of mainstream culture’ (Jer Ber Jones, 2012), rather than subvert it. Whilst embracing mainstream culture, the form of the tranimal aesthetic itself comments on this ‘ugly’ culture, often through this self-aware detachment to performance itself. I hoped to encourage discussion in this paper that would provide a sense of the new directions this movement is heading towards, and content on the paper will be built on in future workshops with undergraduate students.  

How did this paper come about?  

So, the paper came about in response to the original call at Talking Bodies where I wanted to look at something that subverts expectations of what to expect. Then, whilst working in admin and doing my MA (Manchester – Gender, Sexuality and Culture), I was asked if I would like to contribute to the school research seminar. This then developed into the paper I gave above.  

In what ways do you think you queered the experience of the audience?  

I deliberately wore heels to highlight the point that items are gendered by the observer, rather than being innately gender. The heels were 5.5” stilettos, red PV – with a rubber sole and a small metal buckle. None of these items are gendered by themselves, but constructed in a particular form that inserts a gendered reading onto the materials. In wearing male-passing clothes and presenting as masculine, but then disrupting this with items that refocused the attention elsewhere, it subverted – queered perhaps? – the expectations of the viewer. I also started the paper by playing the video ‘Juice’ by Chromeo, which takes the same performance as I was doing, but for amusement. I used this to open questions on why this was amusing in and of itself, and that the shoes weren’t the amusing part, but the expectations of gender being subverted were.  

What kind of response did your paper provoke?  

Overall, pretty good! There was a bit of resistance in the Q&A regarding my reading and the ideas of gender/sex at the university – but this was for a broad audience, so not everyone was completely familiar with these concepts and the difference between them. The paper I gave at Talking Bodies, which was a slightly more targeted audience, was very well received.  

Are there any lessons or advice you learnt from this experience? 

Honestly, it reinforced my belief that theoretical concepts in and of themselves risk being meaningless without application. The heels I wore concretised the specifics of my argument in a way which, whilst not groundbreaking, did make a point much more tangible then I otherwise could. The practical application of pedagogy is something I love, and involvement of students in the tasks themselves is something I particularly encourage – the appreciation is strengthened, and the point is often more clearly made. Queering [anything] can absolutely be an important pedagogical tool when looking at topics, and its use at rethinking and redeveloping old ideas into new – it’s essentially what my PhD is intending to do! 

(In much the same way, but not queer at all really, is when I teach GCSE students English Literature when I tutor in the evenings sometimes. I get them to write a sonnet in iambic pentameter for homework. They realise very quickly the actual practical limitations of the rhythm and thus come to appreciate the application of it in poems they analyse.) 

Non-binary readings of Renaissance French love poetry

Centre for Applied Linguistics

Contact: Dr Gerard Sharpling (Gerard dot sharpling at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Could you give a brief description of the case study? 

Non-binary readings of Renaissance French love poetry, with particularly reference to Louise Labe (developed from some teaching I undertook at the University of Birmingham between 1997 and 1998).  

If relevant, how did this case study come about?  

The case study arose because of the dissatisfaction I felt from my earlier studies about the gendered and heteronormative readings commonly encountered in love poetry, which excluded trans and asexual readers. 

In what ways do you think that you queer the learning experience of students? 

Generally, I tend to avoid any heteronormative approach to reading and understanding social circumstances and phenomena. I consciously avoid stereotyping, and am very careful about pronoun usage. I try to encourage my students to appreciate that whilst there may be one text, there are different ways of interpreting it. Physically my dress is not stereotypical and this is sometimes unexpected for the students but they get used to it.  

If relevant, what kind of response has the case study provoked?  

The case study was published as a short article on the University of Warwick web site and attracted some interested comments – some challenged the readings and some went along with them.  

Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy?  

Major point is to be true to yourself and not put on an act just to offer students a version of yourself that is more in line with what they are expecting. Be open to their questions and be prepared to answer them. Talk about your life as one normally would do in a professional classroom situation. Challenge aspects of the curriculum that present a stereotypical, heteronormative picture of experience. Avoid using exclusive language such as ‘everyone’, ‘no-one’, ‘most people’. 

Is there anything else you would like to add that you feel I haven’t covered? 

I am asexual and we are virtually always erased from critical discourse or seen as something else (celibate, etc). We should be able to formulate our own response to texts and academic research. Not ‘pretend’ to be straight, gay or bi because that falls more within others’ experience.