Thursday, 28 April 2016

Be wary of researchers

A lot of the time, trans folk are approached by students, artists, TV companies, etc. to be part of their research, projects, documentaries and so on.

Sounds good, huh? People interested in transgender matters want to make us better known.

And sometimes the research is legitimate. I've taken part in a couple of peer-reviewed academic studies and they were all to the good.

But so much of the time the person contacting you wants you to be part of their project for which the agenda has already been set by them:

"I want transgender people to be interviewed for my dissertation on the discrimination suffered by them everywhere so that they can give real-life examples of this common occurrence"

"I want transgender people for my performance art project where performers will eat endless candies to represent the oppression of having to take hormone pills"

"I want transgender people for my photography show which will show your male and female portraits side by side"

"I want transgender people for this great documentary we're doing about how transgender girls find it a struggle to come out to their families. We'd like to film you telling your family that you are a transgender and show their reaction. We will be very respectful to all participants, of course, and you will be on national TV. We retain control of all content and editorial matters."

Yes, these are the kinds of requests I've received and seen over the years. Students who have already decided what the outcome of their research should be and want examples to back them up. (Evidence-based conclusions? What's that?) Media types who want to exploit vulnerabilities for entertainment (sorry, educational, sensitive documentation for improving public awareness). Artists with all the greed of hedge fund manager, the bullying of a sargeant and the sensitivity of a brick.

So what I would say to you if you want to take part in research or a project is: it may be good and worthwhile ... or it may not. Find out what's really going on before committing yourself, and don't support other people's set agenda or preconceptions. We are who we are, not who they say we are.

I do so wish there were more legitimate, properly funded and peer-reviewed neutral research by professionals on trans life - why we are, how we are, not what we are or are deemed to be, especially not for prurient curiosity or entertainment.

Sue x


  1. Wise words, if I may say. The phrase from a well known trans book comes to mind: "you can die from exposure"

    Harsh? Perhaps, but the media and society aren't always as forgiving as our social circles.

  2. I've yet to accept any such request, It doesn't appeal to me. I've heard of far too many pitfalls and seen far too many recent programs.