“We are finding our voice is so unheard that it’s being erased by these bigger voices”: Investigating relationships between trans and intersex activists in Australia, Malta and the UK

Humphrey, Rhi Harvey (2021) “We are finding our voice is so unheard that it’s being erased by these bigger voices”: Investigating relationships between trans and intersex activists in Australia, Malta and the UK. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.


Much of the literature on intersex lives has focused on medical experiences, with the language of Disorders of Sex Development illustrating the pathologising narratives emerging from this work. There has been sociological work focusing on the lived experiences of intersex people outside of a medicalised focus. However, this predominantly focuses on the experiences of intersex individuals across the United States of America. There is even less sociological literature outside of American contexts considering the lives of intersex activists. Trans lived experiences, including the lives of trans activists, have been more considered within sociological literature in recent years with considerations outside of American contexts. However, considerations of trans activisms alongside intersex activisms remains an underexplored area of research. The relationships between trans and intersex activists is similarly underexplored particularly outside of American contexts. This thesis addresses these gaps in the literature with an investigation into relationships between trans and intersex activists across fieldwork sites in Australia, Malta and the United Kingdom. Activism provides the setting of the research through which to explore the negotiation of identities and language use by trans and intersex individuals. The central themes of relationships, identities, and representation are explored through this consideration of trans and intersex activist relationships. Language and discourse underpin these explorations and provide a means through which these themes can be understood.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with trans activists, intersex activists, parent activists, and LGBTI activists working in fieldwork sites in Australia, Malta and the UK. The presentation of the qualitative data from these interviews takes the form of an ethnodrama that also functions as a form of analysis demonstrating the ways these relationships were experienced by participants. This ethnodrama reveals the tensions within these relationships and explores the contestations of language and negotiation of identities across different trans and intersex groups and different contexts. A further analysis is presented side by side with the scenes of the ethnodrama to tease out the nuances within the participants’ text focusing on analysing their linguistic choices. This analysis also relates these findings back to the sociological literature on trans and intersex lives.

Through a focus on the ways in which trans and intersex activists interact, and through a focus on the language they use, this thesis finds personal relationships within and across trans, intersex, and LGBTI activist groups shape trans and intersex activism. These personal relationships were fraught, and frustrations emerged relating to a lack of shared meanings ascribed to important terms. This was most acute with the contested language of identities. The contestations of identity terms, and related boundary work of who counts as trans and intersex, led to experiences of exclusion for some activists with feelings of inauthenticity in relation to identities for those experiencing exclusion. Furthermore, these fraught relationships have consequences in other spheres including access to funding; stakeholder relationships; and the development of activist work across support, visibility, legal and healthcare contexts. These discrepancies across understanding of contested terms seep into political discussion and the language of the law in relation to legal recognition of trans and intersex identities further complicating relationships. This thesis demonstrates these unequal representational relationships foster further complexities across the contestation of language, relationships and identities within and across trans and intersex activism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to confidentiality issues this thesis is not available for viewing.
Keywords: trans studies, intersex studies, ethnodrama, trans activism, intersex activism, activist relationships, queer theory, poststructuralism, temporality
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council
Supervisor's Name: Pickering, Dr. Lucy
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Rhi Harvey Humphrey
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82133
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Apr 2021 12:32
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2022 15:56
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82133
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82133

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