UK's first doctoral thesis has been undertaken exploring the experiences of transgender teachers
Kate Bancroft, a lecturer in Carnegie School of Education, has undertaken an educational doctorate exploring the lived experience of a transgender (trans) teacher. Throughout the last twenty years, the scholarship exploring trans lives has developed into an exciting interdisciplinary field. However, the ever-expanding research studies and publications exploring trans-specific issues have yet to be undertaken notably within the education remit, particularly pertaining to the empirical scholarship of the everyday lives and pedagogies (practices) of trans teachers.
“Recent LGBTQ+ issues have brought data and statistics to the news like never before,” said Kate, ‘but the data have been subject to a fierce battle between different frames and narratives. Studying the lived experiences of one trans individual provided an opportunity to speak above the misinformation and disinformation and provide a detailed insight into one person’s everyday experiences and how his trans identity competed against religion, culture and politics. I used a life-history methodological approach which meant the data covered specific events throughout his life, and this meant I could make connections between these events and the social context he found himself in at the time’.
Kate says of the analysis stage: ‘This life history approach to data collection meant the narrative account could be investigated and re-interpreted using an established theoretical framework – I used Butler’s queer theory and Foucault’s theory of power and surveillance to do this. It meant I was able to identify patterns in how he felt at different stages of his life and look for themes in how other people treated him. This helped develop a new insight, which can help with the inclusion of trans teachers in schools, alongside offering a more personal insight into one person’s life journey’.
The thesis offers a series of conclusive points, including the following:
- A gendered hierarchical observation system exists Those who do not fit into a neat gender category, ‘performing perfectly’ as ‘male’ or ‘female,’ are heavily scrutinised throughout their lives - which can cause trauma throughout their early years, later childhood, adolescence and can continue into adulthood.
- Self-surveillance behaviours Because many trans people have a fear of being watched, even when they are not being watched, they change and carefully control their own behaviour because of this possibility. This can cause profound levels of stress and anxiety when done for extended periods of lives.
- Schools can be disciplinary spaces, and not just for students The use of the physical school space can be used as a disciplinary tool and trans individuals can be positioned within the school in an unobstructed and constantly visible manner to ensure they conform to gendered behavioural norms. This, wrongly, can mean they are forced to present in a compliant and passive manner. This can be in breach of legislation such as the Equality Act (2010).
- Abstract punishments exist for those who do not conform to gendered expectations. These may take the shape of more mental, non-concrete methods such as rejection and disappointment from others which induce feelings of shame.
- Trans bodies are heavily regulated by others throughout their lives and this, immorally, can position some as more readily legible, visible and legitimate than others. This can make some ‘trans’ individuals feel the need to perform as ‘more trans’ to simply meet the needs and expectations of others – for example, when needing to perform to a panel of so-called gender experts when acquiring a new gender recognition certificate.
- Trans individuals have very high resilience levels which should be acknowledged and celebrated. Members of the trans community can overcome many incidents of societal discrimination throughout their lives and regularly positively adapt to adversity, even though they should not have to.
- Trans teachers have dynamic interactions between their thoughts, relationships, actions and challenges which help them cope and these can help them develop extremely high levels of mental strength and navigate hostile situations successfully.
Reflecting on the experience of studying for five years, Kate said: ‘Undertaking a doctoral thesis, spanning half a decade, can be quite an isolating experience, and in this final year a pandemic has been thrown into the mix. There has had to be a total reimagining of the doctoral study experience. The important ad-hoc, by-chance supportive conversations at the photocopier with other PhD/EdD researchers no longer happened. On top of this, many doctoral researchers have had childcaring responsibilities, challenging working-from-home environments and been far from supportive families and friends who help us cope with the pressure. However, I feel an extra level of pride for myself, and other researcher colleagues who have also recently finished, from what we have overcome this year to get to this point. It has been extremely hard to focus but, through setting realistic and achievable milestones and having fantastic supervisory teams in Carnegie School of Education, we have got there. This is such an important story to tell, and lessons must be learnt from my participant's life story to make a more fair and equitable society. This kept me motivated to keep going despite the enormity of the pandemic stress. Now, fingers-crossed it passes!’
Kate is a Senior Fellow/Lecturer (HEA) in the Carnegie School of Education. She is the Course Team Leader for the BA (Hons) Early Years course and MA Childhood and Early Years course. As Course Team Leader she teaches on, and oversees the provision of, both degree programmes.