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A Conversation With: Gen Eickers

(he/they) @genexistence

A short introduction:

Gen Eickers is an academic philosopher, currently employed at the University of Education Ludwigsburg (Germany) where they work on a project on digital discrimination of LGBTQIA+ people. Gen's main research areas are emotion, social interaction, and gender.

© Sarah Berger, @milch_honig

Apart from academic philosophy, Gen is engaged in public outreach — a Podcast called trans sein, popular media publications, or organizing art events. Gen is also a member of the board of the Schwules Museum Berlin.

In a recent article, you talk about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on trans healthcare. In which ways has the situation changed for trans people? What are the different factors?

I wrote the paper at the beginning of the pandemic, when we all faced a ton of insecurities as to how exactly to handle such a situation. Trans people have been affected by the cancellation of „non-essential“ surgeries, the growing impossibility to access psychological healthcare, and the closure of spaces where trans people are explicitly welcome. Whenever infection numbers go up and lockdown measures are tightened, marginalized communities, such as trans communities, are affected disproportionately. I hold hopes that we are now in a position (pandemic-wise) to regain some more stability regarding trans healthcare.

How do you think the social interactions of queer people will be once the pandemic is over?

I’m not sure anything is going to be different, actually. In the end, someone’s queerness is only one of the contributing factors to how they engage in social interactions. I’m hoping for more intra- and inter-community care throughout our private interactions and more actual conversations instead of performative fights on social media.

According to you, what has been the effect of lockdown on queer communities?

Descriptively speaking, I think it’s been devastating (albeit necessary) as so many spaces for and by us were forced to close for good and so many opportunities that are necessary for our communities to flourish and develop could not even be thought of. However, a lot of us are (or have to be) equipped, by way of being queer, with the ability to move through bad times elegantly and creatively and I think that’s saved a big part of us– and I’m not just talking about illegal parties here (although for many they’re an important component) but about all ways in which we continued to engage with each other.

What’s the biggest change cis people can make in their daily communication to positively affect trans people?

I could name the standard stuff here and say „Don’t assume people’s gender", „try to speak gender-neutral before you know someone’s pronouns/ gender" etc.; but many people know that already. The biggest change for me that positively affects me as a trans person (and hopefully other trans people along the way) is when cis people take the time to have conversations about trans issues with other cis folks. They don’t even have to be particularly elaborate to be fruitful, I think, because the conversation as such might contribute to „normalization".

With your exhibition “Fuck Me Tender” in mind, how has fucking changed with no real immediate access to casual sex, compared to pre-pandemic times?

Ha, I think anyone who is active on hook-up apps or cruising sites knows that not much has changed. For some people, there’s more communication around risk assessment now, I think. Does that contribute to being tender though? I’m not sure. But there’s obviously also the political component of asking: why is it that couples who have a more or less legally recognized status of being together (as in living together and such) were allowed to have sex in lockdown while other forms of engaging in sex were strictly regulated?

I (Hanne) am studying a master’s program in Gender and Diversity and am often surprised by the lack of trans representation in my classes, both as a topic in courses as well as the featured researchers. Do you experience cisnormativity and cissexism in the academic world and how?

Although some academics behave as if it weren’t, academia is a part of the real world. In the real world, cisnormativity is a common, everyday practice. And so it is in academia. There’s not many trans philosophers out there and those of us who are out are often expected to have something to say about trans issues or even to do trans philosophy. Cisnormativity in academia also means that cis people tend to forget how exhausting it is for us trans scholars to both be expected to have academically outstanding expertise to contribute and to be personally affected by debates around gender in general and trans issues in particular. I do think academia is about to establish more inclusive and diverse syllabi, citation lists, colloquium programs, and staff but, as usual, progress takes time.

What are your opinions surrounding the sex/gender distinction in society, medicine, and in traditional gender and sexuality studies?

I think it’s incredibly complicated – much more so than a lot of social media posts, for example, can convey. Often, people try to distinguish gender from sex by saying that gender is social and sex is not. But, first, the thing we call nature is incredibly flexible and dynamic - we are able to create a certain body or bodily feature simply by doing or performing certain acts. Second, both sex and gender are categories humans have come up with to describe certain patterns or regularities we see as occurring in human and animal societies. In many discussions surrounding sex/gender we tend to forget that those categories are (1) imposed by humans, and (2) feature an incredible amount of variation both internal and external to the categories (for example, they both depend on culture).

How do you feel regarding gender abolition?

Broadly speaking, I don’t believe in gender abolition for a variety of reasons. One of them being that a lot of the times when people say „abolish gender“ they mean different things and/or perhaps are not aware of some of the things such a proclamation might mean. Another reason being that, I think, for a lot of people gender is important and even essential to their being, and this includes trans and genderqueer people. Do we want to deny people their right to having a gender or living their gender? If we purport the abolition of gender, I think we also purport the abolition of gender for folks who have found new lives and homes via their gender. There’s a great (academic philosophy) paper on that very topic called „Against Abolition“ by Matthew J Cull.

Is there any role model you have that has helped shape your mind?

I don’t think there is one specific person who has influenced or shaped my mind as it’s an ongoing process. I’m in constant conversation with a few dear colleagues who help me develop some of my thoughts and express my thoughts more clearly. As I’m still a junior academic, I owe a great deal to my PhD supervisors and ongoing mentors. I’m also incredibly grateful for all trans philosophers simply for being out there.

Do you have any suggested reading for trans and queer people that you found enjoyable?

I tend to read terribly academic books that a lot of people don’t find enjoyable. One of my favorites is „Assuming a Body“ by Gayle Salamon –– but beware, I’ve recommended that book two times and the people have NOT been pleased (sorry!). Books I can recommend that are fairly non-academic are, for example: Amateur by Thomas Page McBee, then pretty much everything by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, and for those who like an in-your-face approach I’d recommend Brontez Purnell.

Do you have any suggested reading about the colonial influence and invention of the gender / sex distinction?

There is pretty much everything by Judith Butler and Anne Fausto-Sterling on the sex/gender distinction in general; some of it draws on colonial influences too. More specifically on colonialism re. sex/gender, there’s The Sexual Demon of Colonial Power by Greg Thomas, and Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India by Jessica Hinchy. There’s also work by Aníbal Quijano, Maria Lugones, Vrushali Patil, Angela Woolacott.

What changes would you like to see in early education?

I think I’m not up to date regarding how exactly early education takes place nowadays. I think, even within Germany, there are so many different models and approaches out there that it’d be really difficult to make a generalized statement on the changes I’d like to see. Let me say, I’m happy to hear about any early education project that specifically includes and addresses trans and gender-diverse kids – they need our protection, especially in times where, globally, lawmakers are turning against them.

What changes would you like to see in museums and public cultural sites?

I think what museums and public cultural sites, in general, need is some more punk. Punk as in: relax, get connected to communities, use your money and support artists that don’t have 10k clout on social media, support peer-to-peer art and cultural projects (e.g., a trans photographer photographing trans people rather than a cis photographer depicting us), have conversations with communities about their needs instead of pretending to do something for the communities without ever talking to them.

Thank you to Gen for the wonderful conversation! We look forward to talking more and expanding our minds with you.

See more from Gen on their website!

#aconversationwith #geneickers #gender #genderstudies #philosophy #trans

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