Learn all about the exciting academic work being done in the area of non-binary gender identities. Also learn what cars are and why assemblage is so important.
The blurby bit
About the author:
Dr Sebastian Cordoba (he/him) is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at London Metropolitan University, UK. Sebastian is a social and LGBTQ+ psychologist. His research interests include gender, sexuality, and language; new materialist approaches to research; and corpus linguistics.
His book, Non-binary Gender Identities: The Language of Becoming, was released in October 2022.
About the book:
Non-Binary Gender Identities examines how non-binary people discover, adopt, and negotiate language in a variety of social settings, both offline and online. It considers how language, in the form of gender-neutral pronouns, names, and labels, is a central aspect of identity for many and has been the subject of much debate in recent years.
Sebastian captures the psychological, social, and linguistic experiences of non-binary people by illustrating the multiple, complex, and evolving ways in which non-binary people use language to express their gender identities, bodies, authenticity, and navigate social interactions – especially those where their identities are not affirmed. These findings shed light on the gender and linguistic becomings of non-binary people, a pioneering theoretical framework developed in the book, which reflects the dynamic realities of language, subjectivities, and the materiality of the body. Informed by these findings, the text offers recommendations for policy makers and practitioners, designed to facilitate gender-related communication, and decrease language-related distress on non-binary people, as well as the general population.
This book is part of Routledge’s Gender and Sexualities in Psychology book series, which showcases scholarly work over a wide range of areas within gender and sexualities in psychology, and the intersection of gender, feminism, sexualities and LGBTIQ psychology with other areas of the discipline.
Dr Zowie Davy (she/her), Associate Professor at the Centre for LGBTQ Research, De Montfort University, UK
Zowie’s work centres on medicolegal constructions of gender and sexuality in healthcare, research, and pedagogical spaces. Her current research spans (trans) gender studies including critical approaches to gender dysphoria, a project on parents’ experiences of school cultures while supporting their trans children, and recent ongoing survey study looking at the perceptions of parents and youth and accessing primary healthcare in the UK.
Dr Kat Gupta (they/them), Honorary Fellow at the University of Roehampton in London, UK
Kat’s research interests are in corpus linguistics, critical discourse analysis, digital humanities, gender, queer theory, language and ideology and language and politics. Kat is interested in LGBT, queer and gender issues from both an academic and activist perspective. They are particularly focused on issues affecting non-binary people and non-white trans and/or queer people. Most recently, they have worked with Scottish Trans, Stonewall Scotland and LGBT Youth Scotland to explore and begin to address some of these issues.
Dr Karyofyllis (Lakis) Zervoulis (he/him), Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, London Metropolitan University, UK
Dr Zervoulis is teaching most topics within social psychology and is using both quantitative and qualitative methods and analyses. His main research interests are in social identity and politicisation as applied in the context of stigmatised and minority groups, sexuality and gender roles, internet psychology, and cross-cultural psychology.From the Eventbrite website
Dr Cordoba’s talk
Over the course of a thirty long minutes, after warning us several times that no dissent was allowed (‘this isn’t a debate about trans lives’) Dr Cordoba eventually managed to communicate three ideas. Firstly though the circular definition of ‘non-binary’ was explained in painstaking detail. Cordoba remarked that he had never met anyone who identified as ‘genderfuck’ which begs the reason why he included it on his list of non-binary genders, given that no one seriously describes themself as ‘genderfuck’ (even the Suitcase Stealer who surely deserves it). Cordoba himself identifies as a ‘cis gay man’, though sometimes, when he’s being edgy, it’s ‘queer man’, or edgier still simply ‘queer’. You get the gist of how language can be used to indicate one’s changing internal processes, don’t you? For example, today I identify as terf tastic. Powerful stuff, innit?
We were also given a long explanation regarding the importance of pronouns, though surely every single person in the room would have been drilled many times over. In typical Butlerian fashion it was explained that using the right language literally created the circumstances in which ‘non-binary’ could become socially constructed.
Cordoba wrongly claimed that the 2010 Equality Act included non-binary people whilst simultaneously explaining that non-binary people weren’t protected in law.
Cordoba told us about his ‘assemblage theory’. Unfortunately for him it relies on biological reality to compare male to female and made not one iota of sense when one essential claim of the non-binary brigade is that sex does not exist. No matter for this audience though, as noting contradictions is not their strong point.
His assemblage theory arose from the pisspoor survey sample he had undertaken with just 22 participants, who were all (but one) white middle class women identifying along the supposed range of non-binary identities. The participants also submitted a sample of writing to him so that he could analyse the types of language they used (because, you know, the types of language they/thems use is, er, very indicative of their ‘coming into being’).
Cordoba also created a ‘2.9 million word corpus’. Impressive, huh? It was drawn from an online forum in which non-binary people chatted. He then analysed the popular words and phrases used and found these were ‘they, them, themself’ and ‘blue hair’.
Not really, the most popular word was ‘woman’, which is slightly interesting given how contested it has become. ‘Restroom’ also scored high and suggests that the participants in the forum were North American.
Cordoba used a fancy graphic to explain to us the amazing paradox that misgendering hurts the most when people you know do it on purpose but contradictorily when people you don’t know do it unintentionally it carries the same weight of offence. And vice versa. Notice how close friends and partners form the inner ring, then the LGBT community comes next, then close family members are third, etc.
Then Cordoba shared ‘a really intense example’ of a woman who described being misgendered ‘billions of times’ as like a ‘thousand paper cuts’. Sounds like a pretty favourable ratio to me. Cordoba checked in with us to ensure that none of us had had a blue hair fainting fit in hearing this devastating testimony.
Lastly Cordoba told us that he combines his academic work with activism. No shit.
Dr Zowie Davy’s talk
Davy read out an from the essay he had prepared. He thought that Cordoba’s book was very important and was going to talk about ‘affect’ and ‘assemblage theory’ in real life terms and that the book had given us the tools to think through ‘trans and non-binary politics’.
On free speech
Complaints from those on the right about free speech being restricted were performative and a mechanism of power. According to Davy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had suggested in her recent Reith lecture that social censure stopped people voicing their opinions on specific issues and that this was limiting peoples’ mind to go anywhere they pleased and that this was key to creativity. Davy said this was very much like the ‘language of becoming’ that was essential to people with trans and non-binary identities thriving.
Davy was ‘theoretically in favour of free speech’, but there was a ‘but’. There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there? Davy then shared the full text from this Daily Mirror article, which details how The Family Foundation, described by the Mirror as an ‘anti-LGBT organisation’, were refused service at a restaurant, i.e. their booking was cancelled. Davy took issue with the idea that the group were cancelled, claiming being refused service a completely different thing.
Quoting other lunatic academics
Davy also spoke about Sara Ahmed’s essay An Infinity of Hammers, which I did my best to read. Essentially it is an anti-free speech lament which upholds the idea that all identities are self-created, even ‘cis’ ones. I can understand why Davy settled upon this essay, written as it is by a self-described ‘cis lesbian’, to bolster his argument about the dangers of free speech and that those critical of the LGBTQ lobby ‘had gone too far for their claims for human rights’.
(As an aside Ahmed runs a blog site called Feminist Killjoys and was previously a feminist researcher at Goldsmiths (she resigned because of the ‘problem of sexual harassment’). More interestingly though her lesbian partner Sarah Franklin is a ‘Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator’ whose research ‘addresses the history and culture of UK IVF, the IVF-stem cell interface, cloning, embryo research, and changing understandings of kinship, biology, and technology’.)
Words had an actual effect on bodies (not your bodies by the way, but the bodies of those who are on the right side of history) and lives were endangered. Words could be ‘microfascisms’. Then we got onto Nietzche’s superman theory, I think.
On the child as theory
Davy mentioned several times Hickey-Moody’s appraisal of Deleuze and Guattari’s work on the child and talked about the ‘becoming of a child’ as if it were a process of ideation, just like the made up gender identities he prescribes to. From this point Davy went full Butler. A speech of continuous name drops interspersed with philosophical sound bites like ‘new semiotic systems’ and ‘lines of flight’. Acting out desires, good. Not being able to act out desires, bad.
Davy then claimed to quote Deleuze and Guattari:
We can know nothing about bodies until we know what they can do, in other words, and I quote, what a body’s affects are, how they can, or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy that body or be destroyed by it. Either to exchange actions and passions with it, or to join with it in composing a more powerful body.Quote from Deleuze and Guattari as given by Dr Zowie Davy
The quote itself appears to be taken from their book A Thousand Plateus, the blurb to which boasts a ‘galvanising influence on today’s anti-capitalist movement’. The quote has been used in arguments for disabled bodies and ‘deterritorializing fat bodies‘, but to my mind, in the context that Davy used it, it sounded like paedophile apologia.
Davy also spoke about Deleuze and Guattari’s book Anti-Oedipus (Michel Foucault wrote the preface and features esoteric discussions, such as the ‘Body without Organs’ and ‘Desiring Machines’) and said it directs us to:
[T]he question of productive relational ethics within the oscillating relationship between adults, children and the world in which they all emerge. Often oppositional relations are compelled to witness a series of forces that demand them to say ‘I am’, instead of understanding themselves as passing through a series of states of politically sanctioned cisnormativity and heteronormativity.Dr Zowie Davy appearing to suggest that the child is a construct
Blah, blah, blah
Then Davy then went onto claim that sex wasn’t real and that it was a racist colonial endeavour, the evils of cisheteronormative patriarchy, etc. Even ‘trans normative people’ got a barb for upholding ‘cis sexist tropes’, rather ironic when Davy goes to pains to be perceived as a woman, uses she/her pronouns and rather forget to mention to his audience that he was trans himself.
As such those claiming these pressures to conform to transnormativity but are non-fluid people, assume that they are adversaries and themselves as fixed and immovable, rather than a series of intersecting forces that are normative, attempting to define in a moral sense what is within the bounds of good and bad bodies through the over-coding of human speaking positions, as identity positions.Dr Zowie Davy going full word salad towards the end
Dr Kat Gupta’s talk
I thought Davy talked for too long but Gupta topped that by rambling on for over half an hour. Truly she is the dumbest academic I have ever come across.
Using corpus linguistics across disciplines
Cordoba had asked her to do to the talk and of course she used his book to illustrate the amazing discovery that people use language to create the fiction of gender identities. She gave a content warning that some ‘transphobic material’ would be discussed but she would warn us immediately before that was shown so that we could look away.
Gupta correctly asserted that you can’t talk about stuff unless you use language, e.g. you can’t talk about what a wedding or a date would look like unless you talked about it. Phew! Hope this material isn’t too taxing for you all. If it’s too difficult to understand have a little break and try reading the paragraph out loud again.
What did it mean to live life with a trans body? Trans terminology articulated a very particular set of experiences but these were socially and historically contextual. Gupta explained that our understanding right now, at this time, in the UK, with a fairly academic audience, was unique. People in other countries and times would have a different understanding. In fact the terminology was incredibly unstable, contradicting herself from a few moments earlier when she had emphasised that trans/non-binary experience was shared.
Gupta identifies as non-binary but before she had those words to describe herself she had nothing. We needed to think about how we felt inside our bodies and the dysphoria but reflected: ‘What were we without our bodies?’ And that, ‘we hadn’t quite got to brains in jars yet’ (or even brains in skull in her case). Why was dysphoria considered an essential component of being trans? Could you be trans or non-binary without dysphoria? She decided not to say.
Gupta doesn’t have the right to identify herself as non-binary on her passport and when she recently got married she was forced to identify either as a wife or a husband; again she didn’t say.
Every trans or non-binary person had faced the question of why did they have to transition? Why couldn’t they just accept they were a masculine woman or feminine man? Why couldn’t they expand the category of woman or man? Why did they have to transition? This is what Gupta experienced (I expect from bewildered parents) and yet again failed to address the rhetorical questions she’d posed.
Gupta told us that assemblage was the means by which we construct ourselves and included all the clothes we wear, objects we engage with, our thought processes, our embodiment and the things wot interest us. Gupta reliably informed us that if you had never seen the trans flag before (unlikely), you wouldn’t know it was the trans flag.
Hilariously the ‘corpus linguistics’ Gupta had chosen to analyse was drawn from ‘trans erotica’. She explained to us that computers were very good at counting, e.g. a computer could count all the instances of the word ‘the’ in a text, but that humans were very bad at that. However, humans were very good at then analysing the patterns that computers found, but when I tell you about her findings I think you might beg to differ.
Look away now
The word was tranny. With zero irony or understanding Gupta explained to us that previously crossdressers and even transsexuals used to describe themselves as trannies and organised as the same, using the example of the magazine below, The Way Out Tranny Guide (old copies go for a song on Ebay). Now however the term was ‘offensive’ since powerful LGBT organisations deemed that it was.
So how did that happen?, Gupta asked. The answer was to look at the meanings in historical texts.
Tranny has two meanings
After putting billions of words into a computer programme Gupta was able to ascertain that the word ‘tranny’ has two meanings. One referred to trans people and the other referred to ‘motor transmission’. As a ‘massive queer’ she didn’t understand ‘car things’. Let me give you a little clue. They travel on the road with four wheels and go Vroom! Vroom! Postman Pat used to drive one. Trust me, I’m not a doctor.
It’s a term of abuse
Even though Gupta had provided us with a historical example of the word being owned by the ‘community’, she now gave several examples where it could possibly be construed as a term of abuse.
Yes, those were the historical texts Gupta chose to consult and reminded us that it was 1.4 billion words big. The computer programme looked through the words and found the most popular ones were (starting from the most): transsexual, shemale, sissy, transvestite, transgender, fem, butch, fag, and queer. There were hundreds of less popular words on the pictogram but too small to see. When I enlarged there were clearly words like bondage and kinky but Gupta offered no explanation as to why she hadn’t done an analysis of the types of fantasies the texts dealt with.
Then she showed a slide of the excel spreadsheet that the computer programme was processing. The stories had titles like ‘how I became a cum junky’, ‘cherry pop’ and ‘trailer tranny trash’ and many of the lines of text went well beyond the genre of erotica into base pornographic description.
Gupta told us ‘trannies are women and not men, they might have non-normative bodies, but they are very definitely women’. Yeah, women who write about sticking their ‘tranny cocks’ up ‘hot tranny asses’ is so womanly. Gupta had analysed this pornography and felt it was about transcending gender and the rituals people do to make those transformations, though did admit there was a lot to do with ‘desirability and how hot it is’ and, of course, ‘topping and bottoming’ (i.e. which is lexicon only males use and understand, as far as I’m concerned).
Negative trends in the data tended to be ‘forced feminisation’, where femininity was imposed rather than embraced, but even then it was something the person wanted secretly. Don’t think ‘Oh, she was very close to getting it,’ this really was nothing more than coincidence.
Gupta then read out an example of a story she really liked. It was shit. Really shit. Really tokenising and problematic. She, however, described it as ‘intensely affirming of transgender people as sexual beings’.
Where I’m ending up here is that we’ve got assemblages that are working in different ways, on one hand we got this assemblage of methodology, that corpus linguistics and carefully chosen corpora can help identify these non-mainstream discourses.Dr Kat Gupta
Gupta ended on the tantaliser of what ‘non-binary’ might mean in fifty years’ time, briefly imagining that future enbies would see it as a regressive term, she assured us that using ‘methodological assemblages’ would help decodify this complexity now and into the future.
Academia is fucked.
Completely worthless research which was grounded in ‘evidence’ drawn mainly from North America, though these UK academics forgot to mention that, ironic really when they are so obsessed with cultural dominance when it comes to skin colour. That’s all I have to say really, that and that transhumanism was lingering in the background, though never mentioned explicitly.
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