Promoting understanding of transgender identities

The impacts of the research include: a) promotion of self-esteem in transgender youth; b) changing attitudes among school and college students and training teachers; c) modelling best practice in support organisations; d) opening discussions in influential forums up to Parliamentary level. These impacts are planned, centrally coordinated and delivered by an infrastructure developed out of the research for this purpose: Gendered Intelligence (GI). Co-founded by researcher Catherine McNamara, GI is the leading organisation in its field, with impacts felt nation-wide, from Plymouth to East Anglia. The value of GI’s impact has been recognised at governmental level by the Minister for Schools.

Transsexuality calls into question assumed categories of sex and gender. From 2004, as course leader and then Reader in Applied Theatre at Central, Catherine McNamara researched new ways of speaking of this beyond-category identity. Triangulating between medical discourses, arts practices and daily lived experience, her research has formulated ways of articulating a trans identity that feel appropriate to the subjects and comprehensible by others. It was highly innovative in proposing that specific focus on transgendered youth and their modes of community interaction can produce new understanding of how transsexuality ‘performs’ its social place and gender identity. In doing this it has questioned previous notions, from medical science or post-structuralist theory, of transsexuality’s ‘disorderly’ identity.

The first phase (2004-6) of the research enquired into how transgender masculinities were constituted in the specific context of performance. This ranged across settings with different sorts of performance protocols and contracts, from theatres, clubs and bars, through applied theatre projects to performance in everyday life. While one aspect of the research analysed already existing performances, a parallel strand used methods of applied theatre to facilitate creative activity within frameworks that could reflect on it critically. The emphasis was on participatory process and shared enlightenment, seen in the project on the function of voice and vocal performance in transgendered men.

While the work on performance continued, a new phase (2006-10) focussed on the issues of trans youth identity in everyday life. This was taken forward as the Sci:dentity project, funded by a Wellcome Trust Pulse Award (£50k), with McNamara as Principal Investigator. The project’s interdisciplinary remit was unusual in the applied theatre field and formally innovative, placing endocrinology (Prof Andrew Levy, Bristol) and sociology (Dr Allison Rooke, Goldsmiths) alongside performance. It worked with a group of trans youth to investigate the role of scientific discourse in constructing their self-image and their modes of self-presentation in society. A Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award (£12.2k) in 2010 funded consolidation of the findings. These led to modellings of best practice and case studies of their efficacy, with funding from such bodies as the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They have directly informed the training of new and experienced teachers, senior management teams in schools and care professionals.

The research has been recognized in and beyond the theatre discipline for its scholarly significance. In 2012 the Applied and Social Theatre Working Group of the Theatre and Performance Research Association nominated McNamara’s work for the New Career Research in Theatre/Performance Prize, as ‘an important new area of discourse in applied and social theatre, adding considerably to our understanding of the complexity of youth identities, and, methodologically, providing an excellent model of research impacting in both academic areas and public life.’ RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance invited McNamara to co-edit a special themed issue of the journal in 2013. Most recently McNamara has been invited to address an ESRC-funded seminar series entitled 'Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Ageing - Minding the Knowledge Gap' at Oxford University.

Following from Sci:dentity McNamara co-founded, with Jay Stewart, Gendered Intelligence (GI). Now the leading organisation in its field, GI has received funding from, among others, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Metropolitan Police, Allen Lane Foundation and Awards for All. Through GI’s organisational vehicle, the research impacts on: trans youth; mainstream youth; teachers; support agencies; policy forums. Kinds of impact include promotion of self-esteem, changed attitudes, new training for teachers, training in best practice for support, opinion forming among policy makers. Described as ‘invaluable’ and ‘ground-breaking’ in its impact on trans youth nationwide the work is recognised at governmental level, through formation of Equalities Office policy and commendation by the Minister for Schools.

A. Promoting self-esteem in trans youth

Using techniques from McNamara’s work GI developed a trans youth group and mentoring service. Sessions have involved over 60 family members and care workers. It has run 96 activities, some with Dulwich Leisure Centre and Tavistock Clinic, for 941 youth. Attendees said they were helped in securing their identity and self-confidence.

Phillip, 21:

Attending GI has been an invaluable social resource and a chance … to belong and feel safe somewhere…this experience has been a huge boost for me.

Kairos Soho, a London LGBTQ organisation and publisher, describe a workshop:

This impact in the moment was reported as ground breaking amongst participants ... This is a specific example of the way of working that impacts widely, one which is undoubtedly linked to the space that GI occupy spanning academia and practice. …. GI is an organisation that we would approach if we wanted to really think about something – we generally do not get this within the sector.

B. Delivering understanding and best practice in public bodies

GI offers both community resources and training sessions and workshops, based on the research, for institutions seeking to develop more inclusive policies and practices. More than 69 organizations have commissioned sessions. GI also works with influential forums including The Gender Recognition Panel User Group, Stonewall Education Coalition, the Anti-Bullying Alliance, the Parliamentary Forum.

In Bristol the NHS, City Council, LGB Forum and Bristol Primary Care Trust have used GI’s specialist knowledge. Other clients include universities (UC Falmouth, East Anglia, Anglia Ruskin) and charities (Action for Children, Brook London, Antidote, Camden Sexual Health and Education Team) alongside Southwark Council, Lambeth City Council, Metropolitan Police, City YMCA (London) and Equal Opportunities Flanders. Positive evaluations throughout indicate that the training changes what people actually do.

Graham Reed, of Brook London:

As a result of the training that GI delivered, Brook staff feel more confident in delivering services to young Trans people.

Ali Godfrey, of Generation Arts:

When setting up my own new organisation, I have been mindful of what I have learnt from GI. This has impacted ... in very simple everyday ways of working like making the gender question on our application form more inclusive.

Hannah Redler, the Science Museum:

The unique perspectives members of the group brought to the issues around technology and biomedical science ... continue to influence me and ideas I have about programme[s] moving forward.

On a larger scale GI has helped create policy for the Government Equalities Office, who said GI’s ‘research and practical insight…gave us a unique insight into the needs of trans youth… Their work helped to inform and shape the trans action plan; and reinforced our commitment to ensure that the needs of trans youth [were] reflected in the plan.’

C. Training teachers and changing attitudes

Since 2009, GI has worked with 2090 students in 32 schools, colleges and youth groups, challenging ideas that produce discrimination. Over 70% found these workshops useful.

Kirsty Yeoman, director of studies, Hereford Sixth Form College:

GI is different from other organisations as it provided detailed insights into the experiences of the needs of young transgendered people.

GI has developed training for new teachers to equip them to discourage bullying of queer and trans students.

Katherine Nissen, of the University of St Mark & St John, Plymouth, has taken over 400 trainee teachers to GI’s training conferences:

The conference day is the most rewarding day of my working life each year... I know how much of an impact the GI sessions will have on these students and the hundreds of children they will teach during their careers.

These workshops were observed by the Department for Education’s Anti-Bullying Team. While policy prohibits civil servants from endorsing the work of companies such as GI, the value that the Team put on GI’s work led to its being praised