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Imagine Otherwise: Heath Fogg Davis on Transgender Discrimination & Professors as Consultants
What if we got rid of gender or sex classification in public restrooms, sports, college admissions, and government IDs? How does transgender discrimination affect both trans* and cisgender people? How can gender studies scholars bring their expertise to bear in nonprofits, companies, and community organizations?
In Episode 44 the Imagine Otherwise, podcast, host Cathy Hannabach and guest Heath Fogg Davis discuss why almost all sex classification is unnecessary, in everything from bathrooms and IDs to sports and education; how the city of Philadelphia is tackling racism and queer and trans justice, how scholars can put their expertise to use in consulting projects beyond the university, and why large-scale structural change is necessary for imagining and creating more just worlds.
We invite you to check out the episode, as well as our highlights and show notes below.
Guest: Heath Fogg Davis
- Heath is a scholar-activist whose work in classrooms, boardrooms, community centers, and media seeks to alleviate discrimination and inequality. Heath is an associate professor of political science at Temple University, where he teaches courses on anti-discrimination law, democratic political theory, and the politics of race, gender, and sexuality. He is the author of the new book Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?, published just a few months ago by NYU Press. Beyond Trans offers pragmatic guidance to individuals and organizations on how to develop trans-inclusive administrative policies that are institutionally smart. Across his varied teaching, scholarship, and activism, Heath seeks institutional changes that can empower communities, alleviate structural violence, and build a more sustainable and just future.
We chatted about:
- The broad range of people that trans discrimination affects, including those who don’t identify as transgender (02:28)
- Heath’s argument that almost all sex classification is unnecessary (06:40)
- How Heath’s consulting work allows him to toggle between academic and more corporate spheres (10:25)
- Advice for scholars looking to branch out beyond academia (11:50)
- Heath’s work with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs (16:30)
- Imagining Otherwise (20:15)
- On Heath’s new book, Beyond Trans: “What’s really at stake in trans discrimination is more about people who don’t fit stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. When I say “Beyond Trans,” I mean that the book is about trans experience and trans discrimination, but it’s also making the point that this kind of discrimination affects a much wider range of people. Everyone from masculine-appearing girls and women to feminine-appearing boys and men and androgynous people who may present to the world as androgynous for many reasons…experience this kind of discrimination.”
- On why sex classification is unnecessary: “Whenever you institute a gender policy at whatever level, you automatically have deputized somebody to make a decision about your, my, and everybody else’s sex identity—to be the judge of whether we measure up to that person’s standards of what it means to be a real man or a real woman.”
- On the benefits of Heath’s consulting work in the classroom: “This has been so meaningful to me in terms of my career and feeling useful. Now that I’ve done more consulting work outside of the classroom and outside of academia, I’m able to talk to my students about that work, and I think it makes for more interesting classes.”
- On advice for scholars looking to branch out beyond academia: “Ask yourself some questions: what is it that you love to do? What is about academia that you love, and what don’t you love? What frustrates you? What are you good at? Those are really important questions that we often don’t get asked in academia.”
- On Heath’s work with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs: “We’re focusing on community outreach…where we invite everybody from the different parts of the LGBTQ community to come and give us their stories; we listen to what the concerns are….We want to be a body that’s responsive to the dynamic needs of the various parts of the community.”
- On Imagining Otherwise: “When we ask the question “does gender matter?”—which is a question that I want us to think about more—and when we say yes to that question, I want us to always follow it up with evidence. The follow-up question should always be “when, why, and how?” That’s a world in which we’re not naive about the social importance of gender, but one in which we think it through instead of this automatic way that we’ve all been trained.
More from Heath:
- Heath’s website
- Heath’s new book, Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?
- Heath’s consulting work
- Heath on Twitter
Projects and people discussed:
- Leeway Foundation
- Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs
- TMAN (Trans Masculine Advocacy Network)
About Imagine Otherwise:
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/episodes. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
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