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Jack Halberstam: A short history of the trans* body in visual culture

Jack Halberstam a short history of trans bodies

The terrifying realities of neo-liberal corporate dominance, Trump, populism and new form of fascism means that we don’t have time to fight amongst ourselves.

Jack Halberstam

We have done ourselves a disservice with - and I know this is controversial - the idea that sex and gender are different. The concept of biological sex is upheld by a structural violence that suggests the shape of my genitals has anything to do with whole I am as a person.

Teddy Cook

In the last decade, public discussions of transgender issues have increased exponentially. However, with this increased visibility has comes not just power, but regulation, both in favor of and against trans people. What was once regarded as an unusual or even unfortunate disorder has become an accepted articulation of gendered embodiment as well as a new site for political activism. What happened in the last few decades to prompt such an extensive rethinking of our understanding of gendered embodiment? 

How did a stigmatized identity become so central to US and European articulations of self? And how have people responded to the new definitions and understanding of sex and the gendered body? In Trans, Jack Halberstam explores these recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and explores the possibilities of a non-gendered, gender optional, or gender-hacked future.

Following the keynote, Jack was joined onstage by Teddy Cook and Liz Duck-Chong for a discussion on the ways that this history and representation of trans bodies intersects with contemporary approaches to securing health equity and inclusion for trans and gender diverse people. The panel will be facilitated by Associate Professor Christy Newman.

This talk was proudly supported by the UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health and the Division of Equity Diversity & Inclusion.


UNSW Centre for Ideas: This panel is going to move on from that history and representation of trans bodies to think about how this intersects with contemporary approaches to securing health equity and inclusion for trans and gender diverse people. So our first panellist, Oh I'm so glad they're all organised in the right order for me, that's terrific, well done. Is Teddy Cook. Welcome so much Teddy. Teddy's, a health promotion specialist, regional community champion, takes amazing photographs. LGBTIQ advocate, speaker and educator with expertise on trans and diverse health needs. Teddy's worked at ACON since 2012, and is now manager of trans and gender diverse health equity, where his work is particularly focused on implementing the recommendations of ACON’s recently launched blueprint to improve the health and well being of trans and gender diverse communities. And that report is also available for free at our table outside. Liz Duck-Chong, welcome Liz. Liz is a writer, sexual health nerd and filmmaker who's had articles, poetry and essays in a range of publications including in The Guardian, Crikey, SBS and Archer Magazine. Liz sits on the board of 2010, and in her spare time, where does that fit in? Spare time? Co-hosts the wholesome queer sex-ed podcast, Let's Do It. And Christy Newman, welcome Christy. Our very own Christy is Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Research and Health, as and has worked there for the last 15 years, doing well. Investigating social issues related to health, sexuality and relationships, particularly in the fields of sexual and reproductive health, blood borne virus prevention and care, and sexual and gender diversity. And Christy is going to manage and lead this panel. So over to you.

Christy Newman: Thank you, Carla. Hello, everybody, and thank you so much for dedicating your Friday evening to this incredible discussion. I've been really looking forward to the chance to expand out from Jack's fantastic lecture, to talk a little locally about some of the ways that issues around transgender diverse people are shaping the way that we think about health equity and health systems. And part of the reason for that focus is that we are the Centre for Social Research in Health. We do have a focus on health, but we're very much more broadly interested also. So please think about questions as we speak. And we do have time after we've each had a bit of a discussion here. 

Before we start, I just wanted to say that at our centre, which has been going for 30 years now, we've been documenting the lived experiences of communities affected by blood borne viruses, because that's where the research funding has come from, predominantly, for you know, for 30 years, and it's included collaboration with the community based organisation to represent the needs of sexually and gender diverse communities right from the beginning. But there's absolutely been an almost complete emphasis on the G in LGBT as part of that history. There has been nowhere near enough recognition of the distinctive experiences of trans and gender diverse people in that history of research. And nowhere near enough research resources invested at a national, state or local level in capturing those stories. So I just wanted to start there. 

I also just wanted to mention three projects that people here might be interested in finding out a little more on. So through the efforts of Ted, Liz and others, working to really change this real lack in Australian research. These are three examples, there are many more we could talk about. The first is the queer generation study, which was led by Peter Aggleton, my colleague at the centre. We interviewed LGBTQ people born in the 70s and born in the 90s, and included a whole heap of people who identify as trans, non-binary, genderqueer and other descriptions. And they suggest some really important shifts in how these two social generations are navigating health, school, work, sex, kinship, and a whole range of other domains in everyday life. And there's going to be some really great publications coming out of that project over the next few months into next year. Also, my colleague Martin Holt, who's here, has been supporting the leadership of Teddy, Liz and Denton Callendar in conducting the first national trans and gender diverse sexual health survey. So fantastic props to everybody involved in that survey. The first thing coming out of that will be a community report, which was led by Shoshana Rosenberg, and it's going to be available online this year, I think? Soon? Excellent. Also, I've been working with Kerynn and Ted to document on a small study how funding from the National Cervical Cancer Screening Program has been taken up as an opportunity to make this women's health issue more inclusive of the experiences of everyone with a cervix. And that's a really interesting, another moment to be looking at how some of our national health policies and funding programs are taking account of that now, in small areas, at least. So please email or direct message me on Twitter, if you have any interest in these kinds of projects. We love hearing that people are interested, we love sending our papers out. So please contact us please, please, please do. 

Okay, so we're going to turn now to our panellists, and I've got a few questions. And then we will open up to people in the audience. So I'm gonna start by asking question to Liz. So Liz, I've been trawling your writing online, I'm a, I've been a fan for a long time. I've got two quotes that I want to share back to you. So the first quote tells the history, you wrote, “If you were to understand two facts about transgender people, I'd want it to be these. Number one, that we have always existed. And number two, that we have always been under attack for existing.” The second quote, urged young queers to find your people in a time when you say, “We are simultaneously the most visible we have ever been, but also the most legislated against and the most condemned.” As a young, queer, trans, non-binary woman, yourself and someone who works to promote the rights and well being of sexual and gender diverse young people in this state, New South Wales. What does community mean to you? When you say find your people?

Liz Duck-Chong: Good, simple question to start off with, thank you. Um, community I think is really… it comes down to two things. I think we see this in health, and we see this in so many areas that people are looking for a combination of affirmation and safety. And that's kind of a framework that we can look to what community means, what services mean, what support means, because the community is also providing support in many ways and safety being being able to be open, being able to be heard, being able to be looked after in health care and other forms, by people, by strangers, and by friends and lovers, but also affirmation in both in and out of those processes seeking to be affirmed, to have identities and aspects of oneself that aren't related to gender and sexuality, truly taken into account and looked after. I think that when we talk about communities, it often comes down to finding communities and identity or finding communities in place, or I think the advent of like spaces online is incredible, because it allows communities to exist beyond geographical bounds. But I think what we can break it down to is looking for affirmation and safety and think so when we're looking at finding those things, we can actually target those specific needs and those wants in ourselves. And that can be a start. Yeah.

Christy Newman: Can I just also add to that, the book has a chapter which has generations as one of its kind of key themes, or one of the concepts that are in there. You haven't talked about, I guess, generational aspects of that idea about community. Is that something that you think about that you see there's been changes?

Liz Duck-Chong: There's definitely been changes. It's difficult, because it's, I think, as with any part of the wider queer community, I think that people do come in and out, not in terms of like, coming out as identities, but come in and out of spaces, move in and out of social circles, and out of need of social circles, like the people who will go to one particular type of venue, may not go there forever, because they may have use for other venues or they may go to not go to venues. And so the ability to access the generational sides of community differs in terms of where people are. And so I think that's, kind of, when we talk about community, I think, how that has expanded holistically and what that can mean, I think has to include generations, but we're not really answering those questions yet in terms of how.

Christy Newman: I've got a question for Ted. So you've just released the blueprint for improving the health and well being of trans and gender diverse community in New South Wales. Why was this so important as a document to produce at this time?

Teddy Cook: I will just say I was really expecting to hate your presentation. I really was because I hate the asteriks. And then I really liked what you had to say, and now I feel really conflicted. So, academia. I just wanted to say that because, I hate it, still, but I like what you had to say. I think the blueprint is a really interesting document. And the process was, was almost in some cases more powerful than the thing that we ended up with. You know, I think for the first time Australia's like, biggest LGBTI, queer health organisation, you know, we we have tea in a lot of our, you know, acronyms and our work, for the first time, we really took a really deep breath, and really good sit, and a good listen. And it was a good, important time for that to happen. And it was really challenging, as you know, there's not a lot of trans people working in queer health spaces. And it was a process of bringing together a really public and transparent process of consultation, where we went to community and said, what are the things that are important for you? After having done a bit of a literature review, and we assessed all of ACON’s, programs and services and staff and systems. And then went pretty much all across the state and said, what's important. And I, I wondered if we would have like a strategy or an action plan or something, and that people would say, I'm really interested in cancer prevention, you know – I didn't think that people would say that – or I'm interested in alcohol use or substance use, and people, people said, you know – what I wanted, I really wanted people to talk about how sexual health is really important, because really important to me –  but people said, going to the doctor is really important, and I want my identity documents to reflect my gender, and I want to be able to access gender affirming care, without gatekeeping or barriers, and I want my workplace to be inclusive, and I want to be able to go to school being treated as who I am, and not be expelled, and I want to do that at university as well. And so we rounded out with, you know, a document that has some key themes, that's less about, trans people are overburdened by poor mental health, but more about, these are the recommendations to improve our health in really simple, accessible ways. And I'm really proud of it, though. And but there's a lot of work to do, you know, at a time where we're being confronted, I think, for the first time, maybe, with an attack from the right, I think, that will be much more virulent than the marriage equality process. And I think it's something that we need to be really prepared for. During that process, it was trans people, and particularly trans kids that were really framed as being the end of the slippery slope, or the start of the slippery slope or somewhere slippery. I think, you know, the right wing commentators in the media realised, and the activists for the no campaign realised that talking about gay people wasn't going to fly. Because too many people know gay people, now, less people know trans people. We have to go and make cis friends, I think, to further the cause. But they used us and chucked us under the bus. And that's about to happen again, with this religious freedoms bill. And it's something that we need to really come together about, because it's not going to be pretty. Thank you. We can do it, we can do it.

Christy Newman: Can I ask one more thing, we don't need to talk about now. But I guess I've been very struck by… in the last few weeks, evidence of the impacts on a community of a healthcare provider being taken out of the system, when they are, kind of, critical to the provision of gender affirming care. And I guess the precarity that that reveals around what the existing system is able to provide. So anything for the, kind of, health system interested people in the room that would be useful to share around that?

Teddy Cook: Yeah, I mean, who knows that John Hayes? Every trans person puts their hand up. This is what happens when the health care of an entire population sits in the powerful hands of a very few. And, and also, when that is taken away, we're left in a situation of panic and fear. Because continuity of care is like an important thing, because we want to actually be living our lives, as you know, regular people, not wondering about how we are going to be able to get access to basic medical care. And, yeah, it's actually really, it's actually a bit of a shitty situation, because, on one hand, you know, there's some mystery about what's happened. And on the other hand, this specialist really could have been referring people back to their GPS, many, many years ago. And the fragile nature of trans health in this state and in this country is very dire, I would say, and anything we can do to mainstream trans health considered within primary care, ie, your GP, will be very beneficial, I think long term.

Christy Newman: I feel slightly differently about this question, having seen that wonderful final section about how TERFs are not the thing to be most worried about, at this point. However, I was also, I guess, it's frightening to see some of what's happening on university campuses around the world. I guess that, you know, is kind of part of my community of practice. So, the explicit targeting of gender studies by far right groups in Europe, which we've seen, you know, over the last few years, and also, just in the last two weeks, a group of UK academics have, kind of, come out very strongly against a trans inclusive policy on University campus. And there's been a response to that, but it's beginning to feel a little like new battle lines are being drawn in academic contexts which reflect divisions in how we value, conceptualise, and research gender diversity on campuses. So how should we be thinking about and responding to this? Should I be as worried as I am?

Jack Halberstam: Oh, God, we should all be really worried about everything. But that… a few academics, a few conservative academics saying no to gender studies and gender inclusive policies. I mean, I don't know whoever thought that all academics were radicals. I didn't. I think, I mean, I always want to go a little bit bigger, though. And I think here, what we should be doing is rethinking the university period, not just trying to get some policies on the books for trans people, you know, the whole point of that set of programs that were developed in the 1960s, to change the curriculum, women's studies, gender studies, Black studies, Chicano studies, and so on, was to challenge the way in which we had divided up knowledge. And I feel like that's an unfinished project right now. So that we're still working with the same old disciplines. I mean, particularly in the US, very wealthy universities who are still working with disciplines like English, what does English mean, you know, in a post colonial world, for example, and history where you have three quarters of your history department all focused on Europe. There's a coloniality, to knowledge that we began to challenge and we did not complete that challenge. And that's why, right, that's why we're like, oh, wow, why would people oppose that? Well, because it… why would they oppose gender studies? Because gender studies is supposed to be the beginning of the big unravelling of the disciplinary logics. And instead, we're, kind of, stuck on just turning it into its own little niche. Gender studies isn't the goal. The goal is to de-discipline the whole university so that we can actually ask proper questions in the university and not just always be on defence. So that's what I would say, like, I'm not surprised by that move. But I don't want this just to be about, again, about whether trans people are acknowledged or whether gender studies gets resources. Let's rethink the university period.


Christy Newman: But I might just wrap up, I'm going to quote from Liz again, because that – I just seemed to be fangirling here, badly. So in another piece you wrote, “Now more than ever, it is essential that trans allies step up and fight this battle alongside us. Lifting up the voices of trans people and asking us what needs to be done here.” Is there anything that you might leave us with on that point?

Liz Duck-Chong: Um, I mean, the first thing is that now more than ever, you know, that was published in October last year. And it's still true. And so I think, now, kind of, is this point of extinction, as Teddy was saying, and I think as you were talking about, there's this history of we're not… this is a fight that keeps going, and now more than ever, I think, is going to keep being now. I think it's not going to be something we look back on as that was the time where we needed to do that. But in terms of practical things, I think, listening to trans people, listening to trans voices, listening to a range of trans voices, not one or five, or 10, but as many as possible, have as many different experiences and backgrounds and as many disagreeing opinions as possible, I think. Trans people, this may be no surprise, some of you rarely agree, and I think that's – there we go – and I think that that can be a fantastic place to share in that disagreement when it's done in ways that are affirming and are safe. And, but thinking about the ways that our spaces and our lives form our… like schools and universities and workplaces, to our families and our homes, can be places that people can come out or come into. And it's not just purely a thing that's happening external to us, an allyship that we can exist into, it's about reshaping our lives and making space for trans people in those so that they can come to us, I think.


Christy Newman: Okay, we're gonna go to audience questions. Surely we have, we have so many questions overflowing. We've got one here.

Audience member 1: I've been having a conversation with Holly Lawford-Smith, recently. And one of the interesting things that I find is that there are so many important differences among us. And even though she gets very often portrayed as, seems to, get quite a lot of flack as being a trans exclusionary radical feminist. What I find from discussing things with her is actually that the differences are rich. And I don't necessarily agree with her on all the things. So I just wanted to get your feedback on just a nuance… the whole question of, so what exactly should we do? You know, should we all say, yes, we're all we're all the same? Because I don't think that's the case. Right? And I think it's important to recognise the differences, if only because of the fact that the differences matter. So for instance, like, do I really want to step into every every cisgender women's only space? I'm not sure. I think I want to give them some space as well as a transgender woman, anyway.

Jack Halberstam: Wow. I mean, fantastic. Thank you. I mean, I think you're deepening the nuance, that I'm after, which is to say, when we come up with these, these terms, and we draw our lines in the sand, and we set up our camps, the TERFs over here, the trans women over there, the women born women here, you know, then exactly as you say, we don't recognise the fact that while there may be some disagreements, there may also be places where we share some opinions. We're just, we're creating a kind of demonisation, and we as the abroad we have both, both of women on Mumsnet in the UK who are actually having a bit of an impact on policy because what they're worried about in the UK, they're being called TERFs, but they're not, they're transphobic moms, I don't know what the whatever acronym that is, TPM. So there you go. They're transphobic moms, and they're worried about their kids being in the bathroom with either other trans kids or the big, you know, the spectre of the trans woman in the bathroom. And what you want to say is, do you know who you should be worried about in the bathroom? Like, the same people you should be worried about in terms of serial killers, I mean, what you really worried about is that there's a guy in the bathroom, who's there to assault somebody. Trans women are not going to the bathroom to assault people. Trans women are trying to go to the bathroom. So it's just ridiculous that there's all this focus, you know, but then the other thing that those moms are worried about is that their kids are gonna get confused. If they're in relationship to say, trans kids or trans people. It's like, I think it was Zippy the Pinhead who said that confusion is a small price to pay for social justice. Exactly, you know, exactly that. Like, having kids… kids actually are very comfortable, it seems to me, a lot of kids nowadays with the idea of trans people because they're growing up with other peers who are trans and so on. So, I'm with you, I'm trying to stop the drawing of hard lines. And yes, one of the arguments I made, which is not a super powerful argument, is there are bigger things to worry about. But what I think I'm trying to say is, let's think about scale here. Because at the end of the day, the the task that trans people face in terms of, you know, making the world more livable, or whatever, is probably not about opposing TERFs, it's probably got it's got much more to do with these right wing governments who are making transphobia into a big part of their populism. So I'm not saying that, you know, we shouldn't be worried about TERFs. I'm just saying that in this wave of right wing populism around the world, in Brazil, across Europe, the anti gender movement in Europe, and so on. They, you know, that's who we should be worrying about. Why is transphobia central to that? Why is transphobia absolutely consistent with right wing populism? That's what I'm asking, not why are some women transphobic and calling themselves feminists? I'm more interested in why right wing populism needs trans and homophobia. I think that that would be worth our while to investigate. 

Audience member 2: I first wanted to confirm I went to pee before this. And that was all I was doing in the bathroom, was just peeing. Thank you. But I think I really…

Jack Halberstam: You didn’t mug anyone then?

Audience member 2: No, no, no, just washing my hands thoroughly. 


Audience Member 2: I think something that we lose in talking about allyship is this way of bringing people together is that inherent in the word ally is difference. Like ally is talking about a group of people that are different to you, that you are aligning yourself with. And I think there's a real power in that and saying, I may not understand everything, I may not fully know everything but I'm with you. I stand with you. I support you. And I think that is the power of that word and what we should take away from it.

Teddy Cook: Thank you for your urination journey. 


Teddy Cook: I think that right wing ideology. And conservatism to the point of impacting policy requires a level of transphobia because trans people and trans bodies present a challenge to normative cis thinking, or cis normative thinking about what bodies look like, and who has bodies, and who owns bodies. I consider myself to be a man of trans experience. And every part of my body is male and always has been. I don't prescribe, I suppose, to the idea that I was born with a female body because I don't know what a female body is, when I know lots of women that have all types of bodies. And I think that we have done ourselves a disservice by, and this is very controversial. Ready? The idea that sex and gender are different, I know, terrifying. That when actually, the concept of biological sex is upheld by structural violence that suggests that the shape of my genitals has anything to do with who I am as a person. Every part of me is male, because I'm a man. And that means my pussy is really a man. No, he's male, or whatever he is. I don't often ask. Sometimes I ask. But wow. And I question the thinking if we say that, for instance, you know, trans men have female bodies without saying that trans men are women. I don't see that, that difference. I think we're saying the same thing. And they're used interchangeably by society. And if we, and I know we will be in this state, progressing, an advocacy agenda for birth certificate reform, we need to be very careful about how we frame who we are, at risk of, who we’re not being used to exclude us. And I… that's my thinking.

Jack Halberstam: But when when you say, yes, sorry about that, when you say, I'm really with you on this, we have to be careful when we frame questions of birth certificates because we don't then want trans people's getting to decide what's on their various papers become the logic for a new form of exclusion that, for example, would be projected onto immigrants. Is that what you're saying?

Teddy Cook: I think that, like legal markers, like, they’re provisional and optional, I think they should be. And arbitrary, they’re arbitrarily based on the shape of your genitals that the physician or taxi driver sees when you pop out. And when we are thinking very rigidly about how legal classifications need to be listed, we need to be very mindful about who else this might benefit. And it's likely that in that division, people that want to act against us at a policy level will win, potentially.

Jack Halberstam: Right. And it's not just that people would act against us, it's that we are feeding into administrative logics that could then have different repercussions for people who are, you know, absolutely dependent upon papers, migrants, refugees, and so on. Someone like Dean, Dean Spade goes so far as to say, why does the state need to know your gender? Why are we even fighting this battle to, you know, change our driver's licences or whatever? What we should be doing is asking questions that seem to be banal and administrative, but are actually at the very root of governance, which is why does the state need to control these markers of the population? And what are these markers doing on a larger scale, again, that is not just about the management of trans people, which when it comes to middle class, white trans people, we are managed in different ways. But actually might have terrible repercussions for people who are very dependent upon papers and passports, and don't have the same access to mobility and so on. That's the question I think we should be asking.

Teddy Cook: And in New South Wales, in order to have your birth certificate corrected, you need to essentially have had a sterilising surgical intervention, which is violence against our bodies for an administrative purpose.

Audience member 3: So I guess there's no question that the trans people are visible in media. But the idea of gender expression seems to be completely, sort of, absent. And like, butch lesbians are sort of grouped with trans men, and like L Word or whatever, or like femme men to trans women, I guess. Do you think currently that the space for, sort of, like a focus on giving trans people variant gender expression, like butch trans women, or femme gay trans masc people? 

Jack Halberstam: I don’t know if I get the question.

Audience member 3: I guess, like, do you think there's space right now in media for a focus on exploring gender expression among trans people? Or is that something that you don't think that the wider audience of cis people is ready for? Or are there more important things to get across? I guess with, like, Pose, and that type of thing having such a precedence on a political agenda, and sort of educating cis people, especially about things that happened in trans history or, yeah.

Jack Halberstam: Yeah. I mean, I don't know about educating straight people, that takes too long, I think…


Jack Halberstam: It's just, that's just tiring to think about. But I… what I would want to say to that is… is what I'm trying to… what I tried to present today is about the different kinds of visual regimes that determine in advance, before you even walk into that space or before you put images in that space, there's already a determination about what can be read and how it can be read because we live in and in a visual ideological culture right? So when a body walks — you know, and I think you're getting at this a little bit –- when a body walks into a space there is already a protocol for reading that body and that's no different on TV or in cinema. Which is why in the crying game had to be a big reveal, because there was an assumption that you would read this body as female with no contradictions. And so the visual reveal was supposed to be a revelation, which to many people, it was not. So yes, we do need these other kinds of nuances. But in the presentation that I made, I'm trying to get at some of these histories that are easily buried, because many of our visual regimes simply demand that somebody present as male or female unambiguously, and that if they transition, that the transition be sort of complete, and full and without any further questions. So I think that I agree with what you're saying that we need to figure out what some of these other kinds of visual forms of representation could be, that do justice to a wide range of gender expressions. We're just not there yet. As far as I can tell. Yeah.

Liz Duck-Chong: I feel like, you're absolutely right, in terms of what Pose is doing, I think it's fantastic. But it is also, it has an agenda for a cisgender audience, in terms of, representing this experience and these people, but I think that a value there is that because you have this cast full of transgender characters, it starts to do that work, which is so long overdue, like as also Jackie was saying earlier, in terms of like having more than one trans person on screen, who have disagreements and who have different backgrounds and identities and personalities. And I think that we can bring into that different presentations and different gendered experiences, bodily, as well as socially and experientially. And, yeah, I think there's so much room for that. And I think it's sorely overdue, and that's, you know, Pose  is doing something political, we'd have to keep doing the political thing.

Teddy Cook: In my activism, life, I've tried to work really strongly around the meaningful difference of what it means to be trans, from a sexual health perspective. And as a trans man who's pretty gay, a person like me, who predominantly has sex with cis gay men, has been completely erased from the HIV response. And being positioned really, as somebody who has a similar risk to cis lesbians, right? And it's interesting spending a lot of time with cis gay men. It's almost as if they see their gender as being gay, as well as being male. And I often hear, you know, the comparators to someone like me, like, I'm a trans man, and they're a gay man. And that's the difference. And when I say oh, cis gay man, they go, oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. When I say, you know, trans gay man, like, alright, yeah, yeah. But I wonder about the complexity of the gendered experience for cis gay men. And how that plays into this ravaged history that HIV has played out in, in that population, in our population. And so I think that I celebrate, and I think we need more and more representations of trans people of diverse sexual orientations. Because I think in lots of cases, it's assumed that we either just fuck each other, or we’re straight, or we’re sexless, or were eroticised, and you know, that we're in porn, and that sort of it. It's this extreme experience, either not having sex or having lots of it, but largely for cis men. And that nuance I think is really important. Is it for the cis hets? I don't know. Is it for us first? Maybe. 

Audience member 3: Thank you. 

Teddy Cook: I follow you on Instagram. That might be creepy, but I love your Instagram feed!


Teddy Cook: It’s so good to meet you.

Christy Newman: So we are out of time. But I have one final question. I believe it's going to be very very short. 

Audience Member 4: Thank you so much for your talk, by the way, that was really, really beautiful talk. I’ve been following your work for quite some time. And u,, I actually wanted to talk about the distinction between… about the closet with this idea of the closet as a thing about sexuality. And there's something… I just wanted to know… my experience of my gender and my gender identity is that I really… when I first heard about being butch, or being… was a book by Leslie Feinberg called The Stone Butch Blues. And, you know, they died recently and there was never a moratorium about it. And nobody ever talked about it. And it was kind of invisible and culture, here, in Sydney, that I knew. And I find that's my experience as well of my gender identity and my sexuality is that it's really, she described, or they described, that when they transitioned, or they modified their body, that being in that body was like being buried alive. And, and it's like that with being a stealth or being a stealth trans man, in a professional context, as an artist, that I'm read as a cis man, and the complexities of that, I just wanted to talk about that distinction is why is the closet attached only to sexuality? And is that, are you actually attaching the closet to gendered identities as well? Can you? Can you explain that a little bit?

Jack Halberstam: I know we're nearly out of time. But first, what just thank you. Lots of people acknowledged Leslie Feinberg's death in the US, it was a really big deal. I personally wrote a piece about their passing. And yeah, but I also noticed that Stone Butch Blues is not circulating widely among the next generation. So that's sort of interesting. But am I using the closet? No, no, not really, not really, the closet is a very specific mechanism. And Eve Sedgwick described it so well, but she really really was talking about a mechanism that emerged at the turn of the last century, mostly in relationship to canonical white gay figures, who were, in a way, flaunting who they were, but never saying it. And so she's trying to describe a mechanism that she calls an epistemology, a form of knowledge adheres to gay sexuality, that is about knowing what someone is, because it cannot be spoken. That's the epistemological form. There probably is epistemology for stealth. And I think… Toby Beauchamp has written a book called Going Stealth. I'm not sure if he uses that mechanism of epistemology, I'm not really using that. I'm saying more that we create these — not, I'm not saying hidden histories – but that we prefer histories that focus on one or two or three individuals, to these much broader and much more nuanced and contradictory histories that emerge. If you, you know, look across a wide range of experiences of both trans that is stealth and trans that is out in the open. And I gave examples of all of those. So I don't think I'm, I don't have any stakes in using the closet or not using the closet there. But thank you.

Audience Member 5: Jackie mentioned that universities need to change. And I know that universities aren't the beginning or end of learning. But we're in one right now. And so I wanted to ask, what you think, or what you all think, about how we can help change universities.

Jack Halberstam: I'll just be quick. I wrote an essay about something called anarchitecture which is the un-building as an art and as a practice. Un-building, instead of building. And that's where I'm at right now, let's un-build everything, unbuild it. This is a shit world that we put together. It's kind of like looking around your LEGO Universe realising no, this is not good. Get rid of it. So that's me.


Christy Newman: We're gonna, we're gonna un-build this event. So thank you, everybody, and we'll start… please join me in thanking Jack, Liz and Teddy.

Christy Newman

Christy Newman

Christy Newman (they/them) is a Professor of health, sexuality and gender at the UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health, and Associate Dean Engagement and Impact in UNSW Arts, Design and Architecture. Over the last two decades, Christy has had the privilege of documenting the lived experience of people whose ways of ‘doing’ gender, sexuality, relationships and families are considered diverse or unconventional, including queer and trans communities, and those intimately affected by HIV and viral hepatitis. Christy is endlessly inspired by the cultures of care and courage these communities bring to the intersecting tasks of looking after one self, and looking after one another, often in the face of ongoing social and political hostility.

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