Sibéal conference 2016: Roundtable on social transformation


Below is a transcript of my short presentation at a panel on social transformation, a highlight event that took place at the 2016 annual conference of Sibéal, the Irish Feminist and Gender Studies Network, held at the National University of Ireland in Galway on 18-19 November 2016. Watch my presentation here.

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My name is chamindra weerawardhana. I am a trans woman of colour, living in Ulster, or as I prefer to say, the unceded territories of traditional Ulster. I come from a Franco-British academic and professional background with some ten years of regular university teaching experience, including stints with United Nations bodies. Currently i have a research title at Queen’s University Belfast, an extremely neoliberal institution, where headcount and form-filling matters more than real people. Since affirming and moving forwards with my own personal path to gender self-determination, I find myself being shunned by some “high-profile” research centres at Queen’s, people who visibly have a problem with my trans identity, or to be more precise, my trans femininity.

How come it is that in academia, except in small and close-knit queer studies/transgender studies circles, cisgender bodies are considered as an [unwritten] imperative for success? Why am i told that being my true self, and assuming my  trans womanhood reduces my chances of a successful academic career in politics and international relations?

In my country of citizenship, Sri Lanka, yet another island, some people often remind me that options i used to have in pursuing a career in diplomacy or in active electoral politics are now shattered by my trans womanhood. How do you explain the fact that non-cisnormativity, if not non-cis-heteronirmativity represent such a barrier for one’s progress in a chosen field, leaving, little space, to borrow from Mark Twain, to say Jack Robinson?

i am also a trans woman who is a parent of two lovely children, one aged five and the other aged one and half. From antenatal care to primary school, my experience in parenting has been marked by a resolve from many quarters of society to give me ‘the look’, the cisgender gaze – as if to imply, what the hell are u doing here?

in cisheteronormative eyes, my trans womanhood is often seen as an impediment for parenting, let alone good parenting. The attack, at its core, is on my reproductive rights.

This cis heteronormativity is inherently linked to a patriarcal, [cisandtrans]misogynist resolve in society to exercise control upon bodies. what a cis woman, a trans woman, a non-binary person or any other gender plural person decides to do with their bodies and lives becomes the affair of society. This is where i link, in my everyday life and struggles for gender, racial and social justice, the transmisogyny i endure  – – –  and  – – – the foremost challenge for gender justice in present-day ireland – the denial of reproductive justice to cis women, trans men and all other gender-plural peoples.

In my categoric refusal to accept any restrictions that a cisheteronromative society seeks desperately to impose upon me, i follow the wise advice of Audre Lorde, who i sincerely wonder, if she were ever tired and exhausted of being always right. Lorde once said, “i am not free while any woman is unfree even when her shackles are very different from my own”. I am often reminded of this statement when thinking of systemic and underlying political and structural causes of discrimination, especially in the Irish context. the equal marriage law in Ireland was a great feat, yes. the gender recognition act of 2015 was tremendous. however, where is the commitment of concerned parties when it comes to reproductive justice?

This question, to a large extent, sums up the core of the problems inherent in terms of gender justice in present-day ireland. Equal marriage, i believe, was pushed through in a society in which, increasingly, there are powerful cis gay men of influence and wealth. It suits them and their personal agendas.

Reproductive justice and to be precise, the existing restrictions on obtaining a safe and legal termination when a birth giver so requires, is linked to an essentially misogynist class bias. It is not an issue that adversely affects those of the wealthy and influential political class.   

Instead, it is the less economically empowered who suffer, systematically, at the hands of a system that does not want to see them.

For trans and queer people, as Ireland increasingly becomes a welcoming place in terms of legislative provision, and also, increasingly, attitudinal changes, it is very important to constantly remember that trans and queer liberation is never wholesomely realised, in any meaningful way, in the absence of tackling serious issues of misogyny and class bias, and stigma surrounding fulsome reproductive justice to all.

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