Analysing Activism

Issue 69

Originally appeared in issue 69 of BCN

When the frenzy of BiCon died down, we caught up with author Surya Monro and asked about her forthcoming book.

I started work on this book back in the 1990s, when I was attempting to do a PhD on trans politics, and not long before I came out (for the second time) as bi.

My first interest was the way in which trans seems to blow apart mainstream, rigid ideas of ‘male’ and ‘female’ as watertight categories – and the only types of gender identity available to us. Wandering around BiCon last week made me think – again – about how far things have moved on – many of us in the bi communities now take it for granted that there are different forms of sex and gender, and that self determination about sex and gender, as well as sexuality, is key to our politics.

Anyway, I wanted to know what trans meant for gender politics, especially feminisms, as I came from the dubiously privileged moral high ground of lesbian feminism when I started the research. I was fairly shocked – back then – both by the levels of discrimination that trans people face, and by the lack of progressive gender theory concerning trans, with feminists such as Raymond having spearheaded bigotry against trans people amongst the ‘progressive’ gender/sexual communities. So, I started to develop alternative theories, based on publications by trans people, and interviews with trans activists – as well as my own experiences of doing trans activism, exploring a trans identity, and being friends with trans people. This led into more applied work around issues such as citizenship and social exclusion, which I also included in my PhD.

After some time and various wranglings with publishers the PhD morphed into a bigger project, one which wasn’t just about trans, but also about bisexuality, and to a lesser extent lesbian and gay identities and non sterotypical male and female identities. I wanted to ‘read from the margins’ – emphasise the voices of people who are usually marginalised, and look at what their views and experiences might mean for politics and theory. Of course, one of the crucial things about this area is just how different people’s experiences and voices are – and how much things are changing in an ongoing way. So, I describe the book as a snapshot of an ongoing process, designed to provoke discussion; it is certainly not a final analysis. Anyway, I used some of the material from the PhD, but also data from a large study of lesbian and gay equality in local government (ESRC funded, Keele Uni) that I worked on for two years – a study which really showed how bi people get ‘written out’ of policy making processes – and a small study I did of gender diversity in India.

I also did some more research in the UK, with bi people, trans people, and some lesbians and gay men, so that I could talk with slightly more authority about bi and was not out of date about trans. Doing some research with bi people was important, because I wanted to look at issues such as bisexual citizenship, and the bi movement as a new social movement – topics that seemed to be glaringly missing from the academic literature on citizenship and new social movements. And, I wanted to look at activism and why it is that LGBT people sometmes end up at each other’s throats rather than collaborating, and ways of building alliances.

‘Gender politics’ is an activist book in that it provides some tools for thinking about issues such as whether we attempt to challenge society from outside, building alternative communities, or from within, using established policy networks and structures. It is also meant to be used on university courses – sociology, gender studies and so forth – because at present there isn’t any book that deals well with gender and sexual diversity in relation to academic discussions at a fairly introductory level. The book ties discussions into a lot of the complex debates found in academia, but I have tried to make it accessable to people who might not be familiar with these debates, as well as useful for those who are. The chapters on activism and citizenship are perhaps particularly relevant to people in the bi communities.

Many thanks to those people who contributed to the book – you know who you are!

Surya

 

Gender Politics: Citizenship, Activism and Sexual Diversity” by Surya Monro. Forthcoming Pluto, February 2005