Trans Matters – GLRC Spring Research Seminar Summary

Our spring research seminar was dedicated to hearing about trans research in the UK and Dr Katherine Johnson (University of Brighton) presented her research-in-progress entitled ‘Trans Youth: What Matters?’

Katherine began her presentation by identifying her research beginnings, stating her focus on lived experiences, gender dysoprhia, trans youth health, violence and global activism. The national and global focus on trans health and violence against people, particularly trans women, set the context of the work. Katherine identified that at a National level there is an unprecedented number of referrals to NHS Gender Identity Services (50 in 2007/8, 1419 in 2015/16) and there is concern about their ability to cope with this.

 Existing literature focuses on the voices of parents rather their offspring and Katherine’s work addresses this gap in the research by focusing on trans youths themselves. The work documents the value of a community-based organisation and helps them evidence their importance to obtain funding as current budgets are being slashed by up to 80%. The research uses a range of creative-arts based methods in collaboration with a trans youth group. The group provides a place for young people to meet: it’s a youth group for those who are questioning their sexuality, and 60% of users are trans.

A range of participatory, creative, and visual methods are used by Katherine to facilitate group discussions among trans youth. These techniques are more effective than semi-structured interviews because young people can lack of confidence in voicing their experiences. Using visual methods such as photovoice changes the nature of the research process and shifts the focus onto the agency and voice of the young person and generates youth-focused understandings of experience, social exclusion, and mental health.

The methods of participatory creative arts research help participants to re-story and challenge dominant representations of trans lives, such as the assumption that trans people hate their bodies, which is not true for all. The research is on-going through themed discussions which ask participants to reflect upon: how group-users value the group; how the group works as a community; the difficulties and restrictions of gender expression and living in a binary world; and gender dysphoria.

 So far, the research has highlighted the role of community support in providing a sense of safety, acceptance, friendship, fun and support. The group plays a vital role in facilitating peer support and creating a sense of belonging. What is emerging for Katherine’s research is a rich picture of trans and non-binary identities and how they are expressed by young trans people.


Trans Matters – GLRC Spring Research Seminar 22nd Feb – abstract

Over the last year, Gendered Lives has seen the development of a research cluster on trans lives and oral history. We are dedicating our spring research seminar to hearing about trans research in the UK.

22nd February, 2-4 pm, Martin Hall, MHL.1.17A. All welcome. 

Katherine Johnson (University of Brighton), ‘Trans Youth: What Matters?’

The number of children and adolescents presenting as transgender or gender non-conforming has increased significantly over recent years. This increase has raised concern about access to healthcare and the capacity of health services to provide effective physical and psychological support. At the same time, much public discourse is dominated by accounts from health professionals and parents, with the media most frequently focused on moral and ethical debates about whether interventions should be offered to young people, in what form and at what age. This project takes a different tack and asks: what matters to trans youth? The aim of the project is to promotes the importance of listening to the complexity and variation in trans youth voices as they shape their own understandings of what it means to be different and how they find ways to live inside and out of dominant gender norms. Using a range of creative-arts based methods and working in collaborating with a trans youth group the research highlights themes that are pertinent to their everyday lives. Reporting on ‘research in progress’, this seminar will focus on the ethics and methods of participatory creative arts research with trans youth, and illustrate findings from two themes: the role of community support and changing the gendered world. 

Katherine Johnson is Reader in the School of Applied Social Science, University of Brighton where she leads the Transforming Sexuality and Gender research cluster. She has worked in the field of gender and sexuality studies for 20 years, specialising in topics related to identity and embodiment, suicide and mental health, health and access to healthcare. She is author of two books Community Psychology and the Socio-economics of Mental Distress: International Perspectives (Palgrave, 2012) and Sexuality: A Psychosocial Manifesto (Polity 2015). She is currently involved in a number of research and evaluation projects including LGBT end of life care (MarieCurie); trans youth: what matters? (Allsorts youth project); Bereavement outcomes for LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) and heterosexual partners (MarieCurie); Help Through Crisis (MindOut LGBT advocacy service) and is writing a book for Routledge with the working title Trans Matters.

Summary of Autumn Research Seminar: Not White & Male

Last Wednesday saw the second Gendered Lives Research Seminar take place with talks from Rachael Grew (Art History, Loughborough) and Zara Dinnen (English, Birmingham). Rachael’s talk started by outlining the three main areas her presentation would seek to cover; androgynous bodies, Leonor Fini’s work on challenging gender binaries and stereotypes and her work on the post-human body. Her talk explored bodies which go against the norm, that have no fixed state or identity but are linked to other bodies. Rachael presented an example by Ernst (1942) of this changeable identity, an image of two birds in one body, she explained how Ernst used this idea of male only procreation through a bird which was an alter ego of himself. Rachael then moved onto the work of Leonor Fini, explaining the background of Fini and highlighting some of her illustrations and theatre costume designs including her designs for the ballet Les Sorcières. Rachael explained how Fini reproduced her own costumes for theatrical designs using the body as a catalyst of change and producing ‘monstrous bodies’ in terms of their hybridity and inability to be defined. Rachael identified that the audiences could be simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by these as they could not categorise them. Rachael then moved onto her resent research looking at the designs for the opera Tannhäuser, here she described how Fini used Fish-human hybrid bodies and encouraged contemplation of alternative bodies through the textiles she used including hologramatic materials. Fini uses various manifestations of monstrous bodies to blur cultural binaries and physical bodies themselves. It is the body and the way we experience the body which is vital for gender identity and it is this link which Rachel concluded her talk on. During the Q&A, Rachael was asked what she thought about the role of theatrical artists nowadays and if it was there was anything significant about that period of time which allowed Fini to have a greater platform than perhaps artists nowadays.

The role of the hacker in popular culture was the subject of Zara’s discussion; in it, she identified stories of hackers and recent popular interest in hackers, explaining how hackers draw on old habits in new contexts. Zara identified that identity is at stake in hacking and the hacker might be a useful figure to be considered when thinking about contemporary identity politics. She expressed that if digital networks are a means for neoliberalism to thrive, hackers are Ur figures of neoliberal identity politics. Zara’s comparison between computing and neoliberalism was thought-provoking; she expressed how networked computing enables society without society, individual and self-governance. Zara showed the audience a clip from David Fincher’s film ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, in this we saw how popular culture presents the computer as an entity that can be mastered by hacker super-users. Zara highlighted how Lisabeth Salander’s character is both controlling of and subjugated by the computer and how her outsider-ness is also being a good neoliberal subject. Zara also made a comparison to this character and the women who operated the switch boards in the 20th century; Zara suggested that the gender politics of Lisabeth’s character and those women are similar. In addition, Zara expressed how the development of computation means history is fixated on technology shrinking and therefore, we haven’t cared for the women who operated programmes. Zara concluded her talk by identifying hacking as a way to think about neoliberalism and identity politics. Zara expressed that in order to explore identity politics; we need to look at figures that sit on the fault lines of networked agency, hackers in popular culture. Questions from the audience included reflections on hacker culture, and in the words of Gabriella Coleman ‘how did we get here?’ with hackers holding so much political power. We thoroughly enjoyed both of the speakers presentations and thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion.

Trans Lives: East Mids Inaugural Event with Paris Lees





On Thursday 17th November, in the Broadway Cinema Mezzanine Bar, Trans Lives: East Mids, a research cluster within the Gendered Lives Research Group, held its first event for the trans communities in the East Midlands.

After an introduction by Catherine Armstrong, who is leading the research project, we welcomed Paris Lees, a leading trans journalist and activist, who talked about growing up in Nottingham, giving an insight into her childhood and teen years in the area. Lees also addressed the areas that she sees as the most important facing the trans community today, including the treatment of teens and the need to combat continuing discrimination. She also talked about her exciting autobiography, due out next year, which she described as employing six different voices in order to recount her past, including its more traumatic elements.

The event was publicised through various trans and LGBTQI groups in the East Midlands, and attracted a wide audience of approximately 40 people. The atmosphere was fantastic: welcoming, warm, and friendly, and the audience clearly enjoyed what Lees had to say, as was evident in the lengthy and engaged questions which followed her talk.

Trans Lives: East Mids is an oral history project for the trans community in the East Midlands. The next phase of the project is to move into consultation with members of the trans community who signed up on the night to be involved. We are seeking collaboration in designing the project, so that the archive can be useful to the trans community, as well as participants who would be prepared to share their stories. Trans Lives: East Mids has an advisory committee of trans and LGBTQI people, both academics and non-academics.

If you think you might like to be involved in any way, do please get in touch with Catherine Armstrong or Jennifer Cooke. You can use the email on these pages or contact us directly.

New Publications by GLRC Members

Home/Land: Women, Citizenship, Photographies by Marsha Meskimmon (Author, Editor) and Marion Arnold (Editor), Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016

In May 2016 one long-standing research network project delivered an important outcome: Liverpool University Press published Home/Land: Women, Citizenship, Photographies, co-edited by Marion Arnold and Marsha Meskimmon of the School of the Arts, English and Drama. This project, which directly addresses the questions of communication, culture and citizenship, anticipated the Challenges by several years. The publication is tangible evidence of the Lens of Empowerment research network, conceived in 2009 by Meskimmon and Arnold and formalized in a partnership between Loughborough, the University of the Fraser Valley, Canada, the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the International Academy of Art Palestine in Ramallah. Edited by Arnold and Meskimmon, the book’s primary identity is established in the key concepts of home and land. Fractured by a slash in the title, used as a single word or two separate words in discussion, and finally united by a hyphen in the postscript, language permits the expression of the geo-political, cultural and personal commonalties and differences which women experience.

Home/Land does not arrive at a unified conclusion, nor does it identify a singular form of photography, a fixed definition of ‘citizenship’ or ‘woman’, or a universal home or land. Rather, this compendium demonstrates that women, from many different places and in many different times, have used photography to image and imagine belonging in a world marked by movement and migration.

Drawing Difference: Connections Between Gender and Drawing by Marsha Meskimmon and Phil Sawdon, London: IB Tauris, 2016

Drawing has been growing in recognition and stature within contemporary fine art since the mid-1970s. Simultaneously, feminist activism has been widespread, leading to the increased prominence of women artists, scholars, critics and curators and the wide acknowledgement of the crucial role played by gender and sexual difference in constituting the subject. Drawing Difference argues that these developments did not occur in parallel simply by coincidence. Rather, the intimate interplay between drawing and feminism is best characterised as allotropic a term originating in chemistry that describes a single pure element which nevertheless assumes varied physical structures, denoting the fundamental affinities which underlie apparently differing material forms.

The book takes as its starting point three works from the 1970s by Annette Messager, Dorothea Rockburne and Carolee Schneeman, that are used to exemplify critical developments in feminist art history and key moments for drawing as a means of expression.

Marsha Meskimmon is a Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History and Theory in the School of the Arts, English and Drama at Loughborough University.

Dr Marion Arnold is a Lecturer in Critical and Historical Studies, also in the School of the Arts.

Gender Incongruence of Adolescence and Adulthood: Acceptability and Clinical Utility of the World Health Organization’s Proposed ICD-11 Criteria 

Gemma Witcomb (Psychology, Loughborough) has been involved in a WHO study looking at whether the diagnosis for trans should change and the perceived implications if it does.


Working Lunch, 2nd November 2016

Last week saw the first Gendered Lives working lunch of the academic year. In it, the aims of GLRC were identified and funding opportunities and forthcoming events were highlighted.


The Wellcome Trust: Funding theme on Sexuality and Health, see more at: (deadline March 2017).

LU Funding opportunities: CALIBRE Research Development Fund and CALIBRE International Collaboration Fund (both deadlines 20th November 2016)

Please do get in touch if you intend to apply for one of the CALIBRE funds with a Gendered Lives slant.


Gemma Witcomb (Psychology, Loughborough) has been involved in a WHO study looking at whether the diagnosis for trans should change and perceived implications if it does.

Gender Incongruence of Adolescence and Adulthood: Acceptability and Clinical Utility of the World Health Organization’s Proposed ICD-11 Criteria 

Beek TF, Cohen-Kettenis PT, Bouman WP, de Vries ALC, Steensma TD, et al. (2016) Gender Incongruence of Adolescence and Adulthood: Acceptability and Clinical Utility of the World Health Organization’s Proposed ICD-11 Criteria. PLoS ONE 11(10): e0160066.


The Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (FSWA) has a forthcoming conference on Making Space for Feminism in the Neoliberal University. CFP deadline 3rd March 2017.

Line Nyhagen will be running a workshop in the new year entitled Embedding memory work / experience stories into your research / teaching practice- more details coming soon!

The Association of Art Historians is coming to Loughborough in 2017. Read more here:

The ‘new woman’ writer George Egerton has a conference dedicated to her work coming up next year. Read more here:

Reminder of Gendered Lives Activites 2016/2017


17th November- Trans East Midland event (invite only)

20TH November, 2-4pm: Research Seminar- Rachael Grew (Art History, Loughborough) and Zara Dinnen (English, Birmingham).


22nd February, 2-4pm-: Research Seminar- Gemma Witcomb (Psychology, Loughborough) and Katherine Johnson (Psychology, Birmingham).

29th March, 1-2pm: Working Lunch

29th March, 3-5pm: PGR Research-in-progress presentations


3rd May, 2-4pm: Research Seminar- Sarah Parker (English, Loughborough) and Jana Funke (Exeter, Medical Humanities).

24th May, 1-2pm: Working Lunch

Autumn Research Seminar: Not White & Male – from good monsters to hackers on screen

Our first research seminar of the academic year welcomes two researchers of gender and visual culture.  These paired papers will take place on Wednesday 30th November, 2-4 pm in room NN.0.07 in Martin Hall. All welcome!

Zara Dinnen (English), University of Birmingham, ‘An Intersectional Gender Politics of Hacking in Furious 7 and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’.

Whether we watch it in documentaries about our real life hacker saviours—The Internet’s Own Boy (2014), Citizenfour (2014), We Steal Secrets (2013)—or in fictive accounts of hacker heroics—The Social Network (2010), Blackhat (2015), Spectre (2015), Live Free or Die Hard (2007), Swordfish (2001) to name some—our popular consciousness knows well that the hacker who will protect us all from our own naivety is almost always white and male. This paper will consider the intersectional gender politics of hackers onscreen by turning away from witnessing the reproducibility of the computer programmer/hacker as a figure of power whose maleness and whiteness presents as neutrality, to look instead at two mainstream Hollywood films that disturb the ease with which we might accept such claims about hackers and hacking: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and Furious 7 (2015). Both films feature a woman hacker, and in the case of Furious 7 the racially and ethnically diverse cast further skewers the dominant frame. In dialogue with critical work by Wendy Chun, Lisa Nakamura, and Robin James, this paper will consider these films as offering a popular feminist and multicultural politics of hacking, whilst acknowledging the anxieties such representations produce onscreen, the problematic neoliberal aesthetics that undercut the radical potential of these narratives, and the limits of popular genre in imagining the hacker community otherwise.


Rachael Grew (Art History), Loughborough University, ‘”Monstrous” Bodies: Subverting Gender Binaries in Surrealist Art’.

My research to date revolves around various conceptions of the non-normative body in visual culture; bodies that are often considered ‘Other’ at best, and ‘monstrous’ at worst. This monstrosity is not necessarily a reflection of the appearance of the body in question, but rather its ability to disrupt culturally constructed understandings of the body and the self. Rather than promoting a whole, clearly delineated (but also white, masculine, ‘Western’, heterosexual, and healthy) body with a fixed sense of self, the monstrous body is a leaky body: it embraces the fragmented, the shifting, the ambiguous, and the fluid. This talk attempts to tie together various strands of research through this concept of the monstrous body. Beginning with an exploration of androgynous bodies found in alchemical manuscripts, and their adaptation by Surrealist artists in the mid-20th century, I will then move on to discuss one Surrealist artist in particular – Leonor Fini (1907-1996) – and the ways in which she blurs the boundaries between different types of bodies in terms of gender, selfhood, and even species in her art and design work. I hope to demonstrate that, for certain Surrealists, the monstrous body is a positive concept to be embraced; a catalyst for dismantling cultural norms and labels.


Gendered Lives Mini-Profile: Faye McCarthy

Faye is currently in the third year of her PhD in the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University. Her research focuses on exploring the experiences of Ab Initio pilots and the shaping of their gender and professional identities. Upon completion, she hopes the thesis will be used to inform and influence working practices of pilot training schools and airlines in hope to promote more women into piloting.
As an aviation enthusiast, she studied Air Transport Management. Previous research has identified the factors influencing the decision to pursue a pilot career and examined the possible effects of women pilots’ token status. Key areas of interest include gender, organisations, inequalities in society and qualitative research methods. Faye regularly attends events and conferences aimed at promoting women in STEM and has received grants to attend international conferences for scholarly activity in the fields of feminism, gender or women’s studies.

Women on the Left: Summer Research Seminar – 8th June

Our final research seminar of the year will take place on 8th June in NN.0.07, Martin Hall, at 4 pm. As usual, we welcome two speakers from different disciplines.

Glyn Salton-Cox, (English), UC Santa Barbara, ‘“Red Loving Heart”: Reconstructing Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lesbian Leninism.’

In an essay on Sylvia Townsend Warner and Patrick Hamilton, Arnold Rattenbury inveighs against how published editions of her correspondence and journals have ripped out the “red, loving heart” of his old friend and comrade. His polemic against the anti-Communist principles of selection deployed by her editors William Maxwell and Claire Harmon is based on personal recollection, but is amply confirmed by a close look at Townsend Warner’s archive at the Dorset County Museum. In this paper I read correspondence and journal entries excised from editions of Townsend Warner’s journals and correspondence, arguing that these missing documents reveal a strikingly assertive personal-political formation, that I name “queer vanguardism.” Crucially informed by engagements with Lenin and with other important Soviet figures such as Comintern chief Gregori Dimitrov and invigorated by her relationship with the equally politically committed Valentine Ackland, Townsend Warner fashions a uniquely lesbian Leninist conception of political praxis, according to which the dynamic pairing of herself and Ackland would bring political consciousness to the rural masses in Dorset.

This confident queer politics vitally informs her most famous novel, Summer Will Show (1936) in which the organized Sophia and the passionate Minna represent a distinctly Soviet dialectic of spontaneity and consciousness. Building on José Esteban Muñoz’s recent work on queer utopia, I thus argue that Warner opens up revolutionary forms of non-reproductive futurity. Finally, I situate Townsend Warner in a longer history of radical thought and activism, contending that the marked vanguardism of early gay liberation, and of certain strains of contemporary queer theory must be understood in a surprising genealogy stretching back not only to Soviet revolution, but to nineteenth-century Russian radicals such as Nikoli Chernyshevsky, whose 1863 novel What is to Be Done? not only provided Lenin with a title for his famous 1902 polemic, but also had a marked influence on Summer Will Show.


Ruth Kinna, (Political Thought), Loughborough, ‘Women Nihilists and Anarchist Ethics.’

West European interest in nihilism was sparked both the activism of Russian radical movements in the 1870s and 80s and by what appeared to be the negativity of the intellectual doctrines, famously modelled by Yevgeny Bazarov, the anti-hero of Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons (1862). In the period leading up to the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, nihilism became associated with terrorism and moral degeneracy, often used interchangeably with anarchism. The popularisation of Nietzsche’s work helped seal the reputation for violence and linked nihilism with slave morality.

In this paper I present an alternative account of nihilism, one advanced by the anarchist Peter Kropotkin. Finding the cultural inspiration for nihilism in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons and Nikolai Chernyshevksy’s What is to be done?, Kropotkin argued that nihilism was primarily a women’s movement and that it was driven by resistance to dominating norms and, particularly, marriage conventions. The nihilists, Kropotkin argued, joined forces with socialists, transforming the socialist movement and provided the model for anarchist ethics.

By focusing on the Russian women’s movement, Kropotkin tapped into a popular conception of nihilism but painted an altogether different picture of the movement and the women who defined it to those that prevailed in Victorian England. After looking at some of the literatures that derided and denounced nihilism, I show how Kropotkin absorbed his conception of radical women’s activism into anarchism and explore the distinctive features of his understanding.


Working Lunch, 11th May 2016

Last week saw the last Gendered Lives working lunch of the academic year. In it, we reviewed the achievements of 2015-16, highlights of which included an award of seed funding for a soon-to-be-disclosed research project, and a talk from Charlotte Proudman, feminist barrister extraordinaire, as well as a number of research seminars and a productive postgraduate Work in Progress meeting. The last event of the term is planned for the 8th June: a research seminar, in conjunction with the Modern and Contemporary research group, with Glyn Salton Cox  (English, UC Santa Barbara) entitled ‘”Red Loving Heart”: Reconstructing Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lesbian Leninism’ and Ruth Kinna (Political Thought, Loughborough) who will be speaking on ‘Women Nihilists and Anarchist Ethics’.


We discussed the possibility of  developing a Trans Lives cluster to support research in this area in 2016-17. There is a meeting arranged for 2.30 on the 8th of June in NN0.007 (immediately before the last Gendered Lives research seminar). If you would like to be involved, get in touch with Catherine Armstrong (


One postgraduate member, Jennifer Nicol, mooted the possibility of putting together an application for the FWSA postgraduate Small Grants scheme. Georgia Walker Churchman and Faye McCarthy also expressed an interest in developing an application. If any members of the group would be interested in working with us on it, email


Carys Page, the university incumbent women’s officer, came to the meeting to discuss her work over the past year, including setting up the project ‘Lads at Loughborough’. Ella Gibbons will be starting as women’s officer in the new academic year, so hopefully we will be able to work with the Students’ Union in future.


The Gendered Lives group is going to host a blogpost about the relative merits of decriminalisation versus the Nordic legal model dealing with prostitution after Charlotte Proudman gave a full-blooded defence of the Nordic Model in her discussion of gender and the law for the group. We are in touch with a well-known advocate of decriminalisation who has agreed to do an interview for us. Further to this discussion, Line Nyhagen suggested getting in touch with Dr Maggie O’Neil at Durham for an academic take on the discussion. Watch the blog for further details.