I would like to thank the LSA for awarding me third place for the 2017 Student Abstract Award. I appreciate those who took the time to read the multitude of student abstracts and deliberated over the presumably numerous outstanding applications. This award encourages students to present at the LSA Annual Meeting and assists some of us with the costs associated with attending.
Also, a wholehearted congratulations to the other winners: Emily Moline and Jon Ander Mendia. I look forward to attending your talks in January.
Over the past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural conference of Trans*Studies: An International Transdisciplinary Conference on Gender, Embodiment, and Sexuality, at the University of Arizona, USA. I was thrilled to be invited to present on a linguistics panel (Language, Power and Materiality in Trans Communities, organized by Lal Zimman and Jenny Davis) that sought to showcase the many benefits of employing linguistic analyses in the study of transgender identities. This provided an interesting opportunity to carry linguistic knowledge into a different social domain and present it as valuable for other academic fields.
As a sociolinguist, it was interesting to observe how little the use of language, and even of other semiotic resources, featured in the current trends of the field. Though the field of trans studies does bridge many diverse disciplines, some of which need not necessarily be occupied with human behaviour, it was none the less surprising to find a lack of studies relating to how individuals do gender. Just as within the broader field of gender studies, here too the notion that gender is somehow performative is widely accepted. However, the exploration of how people do such performative iterations is not a focus for much of the field. Despite this rarity, the research presented by our panel was of great interest to attendees, pointing to the possibility that this deficiency relates to the unavailability of such research and not to its inessentiality.
Sociolinguistics, as a field, has a tendency to view interdisciplinary efforts as a means of bringing social theories and methodologies into the field of linguistics. In this sense, we remain at least somewhat au courant with the latest trends in various fields. However, it is not all together common for linguists to cross the arbitrarily constructed discipline boundaries as the propagators of academic knowledge. This experience, then, has reinforced that such crossings can truly facilitate the construction of interdisciplinary bridges and serve to place the field of linguistics at the forefront of the study of human behaviour. It appears that the field of linguistics occupies an important research space capable of examining exactly how individuals are able to do gender, rendering it quite valuable to researchers in other disciplines.
The announcement that singular they had been chosen as the 2015 Word of the Year came as a pleasant surprise to many researchers focused on gender studies, as it seemed to mark progress for gender diversity and non-conformity. At the very least, it signalled greater social awareness of gender identities that do not fall neatly on either side of the gender binary. However, when I sought the reaction of non-binary consultants in the community I study (many of whom use singular they), I was shocked to find a general lack of enthusiasm.
Some of the individuals I asked were indifferent to the announcement, and others hadn’t even heard about it. I had expected to find at least some excited individuals amongst the group, but instead I mainly found criticism. Apart from the apathetic few, the group viewed the announcement as a media stunt that sensationalized singular they (and its users) in order to draw public attention to the organizing bodies. Instead of viewing this event as a milestone towards public acceptance, the group felt that their struggles and hardships had been erased by being symbolically “awarded” recognition. Importantly, they felt that this announcement will do nothing to change the treatment of trans individuals, and instead will only serve to make cisgender people feel good for having made an effort to socially include individuals who reject the gender binary.
Whether this announcement has a positive effect on non-binary communities or makes an impact in the lives of trans individuals is yet to be seen. For now, perhaps all we can do is ask: Is this truly a victory for non-binary individuals, or just for those who study gender diversity?
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who stopped by my poster and decided to vote on my behalf, as well as to the NWAV Committee at Penn for sponsoring this award. I would especially like to thank those who stopped by with questions and suggests for furthering this research project; I greatly appreciated the comments.