by Bidushy Sadika
Interview originally published in the Section on Women & Psychology, 48(3), 25-28 - the newsletter of the Canadian Psychological Association's Section on Women & Psychology [SWAP] (a.k.a. the feminist section). Republished with permission.
Happy Spring! I hope you all are enjoying the warm and beautiful weather. Welcome to the Spring 2022 edition of the Section of Women and Psychology (SWAP) newsletter. This edition includes the second part of my conversation with Dr. Jem Tosh. I had the honour and privilege to interact with them in winter. Dr. Tosh's work exceptionally exemplifies the intersection of psychological and feminist knowledge to challenge the prevalence of violence and trauma amongst queer, trans, and nonbinary persons. To engage in this work, Dr. Tosh founded Psygentra, an organization that specializes in psychology, gender, and trauma. She has authored the following books, The Body and Consent in Psychology, Psychiatry and Medicine: A Therapeutic Rape Culture, Perverse Psychology, and Psychology and Gender Dysphoria: Feminist and Transgender Perspectives. Without further delay, let’s hear more from Dr. Tosh about their journey as a psychologist with a focus on decentering dominant narratives (i.e., heteronormativity, cisgenderism, and white privilege), promoting inclusivity, and advocating education on important issues such as violence, trauma, and gender nonconformity.
- Bidushy Sadika, SWAP Assistant Newsletter Editor
Do you have any comments on your experience as an editor for the Psychology of Women and Equalities Review (POWER)? Specifically, how does your editorial position allow you to make significant contributions in the field of feminist psychology?
I started when I was a PhD student and I would say there are a couple of helpful things with that. Firstly, it really demystified the process of publishing. For a lot of students, publishing sounds very frightening – it feels a bit impossible. There's imposter syndrome of feeling like your work will never be good enough. Being able to see how the system works really helps with that and I've always encouraged any students I work with to publish early, to really feel the fear and do it anyway - and to not take the feedback personally.
It allowed me to be able to open up spaces for discussions around the experience of transgender and queer people. It also allowed me to bring in a bit more activism into academic spaces and publishing spaces. We had commentaries about protests. We had commentaries about conversion therapies. So, it definitely allowed me to reach out to people and say, “Hey, you're doing important work. Do you want to write about it?” And the initial reaction would be like, “Oh, I'm not an academic” or, “I'm not good enough to write something” but I would respond like, “No, no, we'll work with you. We’ll find a way for you to be able to get this work recognized and for other people to hear about it”.
There's an intersection of gender and race and gender nonconformity. It's a very marginalized group, they are not well represented within feminist psychology.
I organized a protest around psychiatric treatments and the pathologisation of transgender youth during my PhD, and the one thing we really wanted from that was not to let it be forgotten, not to have it be just this one thing that happens on a day and people forget about it. So, we wrote about it a lot and we took the conversations that we had at that protest into academic spaces, into clinical spaces, into professional spaces and made people listen to those issues. Being an editor meant that I was able to get those kind of pieces into places that wouldn't typically be accepted or sought out. I continue to do that with Psygentra.
I will point out that I left that publication when I moved to Canada in 2014. So, it's not a current position. [I'm currently editor for psygentra's Journal of Psychology, Gender, & Trauma]
What perspectives do you think are still missing from feminist psychology?
I would say it's getting there, but we have more work to do around including more genders and not being so tied to the colonial gender binary. There is a lot of feminist work that focuses on violence on women and girls, which is fine to focus on that, but not if you assume they're the only gendered groups that experience violence in that way. I also see a lot of work on violence against women that excludes trans women and it doesn't really acknowledge that trans women, especially black trans women, experience disproportionately high rates of violence, both sexual violence and murder. That's clearly a very important area we need to be talking about as feminists. There's an intersection of gender and race and gender nonconformity. It's a very marginalized group and they are not well represented within feminist psychology. They don't have a voice, but they're exactly the kind of people that we should be centering and foregrounding in our work and research to subvert current power hierarchies regarding gender and race.
It can be difficult for nonbinary survivors or psychologists to feel like feminist psychology is a space where they can do work.
The same with nonbinary survivors. If everything's in a very binary framework, it can be difficult for nonbinary survivors or psychologists to feel like feminist psychology is a space where they can do work - whether that's academic work, research work, activist work, or community work. If everything's very binary, where do I fit? How do I engage in these conversations that exclude me from the beginning?
What I try and do at Psygentra and what I like isn't about adding people in, it's about decentering.
There are two ways that people can exclude others and that's either very explicitly in a very hateful homophobic, transphobic, sexist, racist kind of way, or those ways that just never really considered you in the first place, the kind of erasure exclusion. Both are problematic and they are in feminist psychology and feminist psychology spaces to varying degrees. So, we need to work at not only being more inclusive. I'll say that because what I try and do at Psygentra and what I like isn't about adding people in, it's about decentering. We should decenter whiteness, we need to decenter heterosexuality and cisgenderism so that there isn't one group in the middle and everyone else is on the outside.
What does the future of feminist psychology look like to you?
I hope feminist psychology’s future is one that is really vibrant and includes many voices from different genders. At the minute it feels like we're spending so much time in these polarized debates of trans exclusion or trans inclusion, and it takes up so much time and energy from the other more important work that we could be doing. For example, a lot of trans health research focuses on access to gender affirmation treatments, but there's a significant number of trans people that have little chance of getting that because they're experiencing financial and housing insecurity. So much so, that accessing healthcare can seem impossible. There are many other areas where more research and representation is needed, yet we’re having these back and forth debates that we've had before. We had them during the second wave and it's not new. I feel it does hold the whole discipline back from what we could be achieving. We could be dismantling the colonial gender binary together and opening up for more possibilities for people to thrive. I think that would be a much more important task to do.
How can we incorporate more diverse perspectives into our own work as a researcher or clinician or teacher?
It would be having a look at whose voices you're promoting, such as in your citations, like if you're talking about trans and nonbinary people make sure that you're including trans and nonbinary authors and not just cis people who are writing about them. Just like when talking about racialized communities, you would want to make sure that you're centering Black folks, Indigenous folks, and people of color in those conversations (including black trans authors, Two Spirit perspectives and so on). Similarly, with disabled people, who are you citing? Is it predominantly pathologising or medical discourses, or are you listening to and giving space to disabled academics? Who are you giving voice to in your work? As well as collaborations and bringing in guest speakers when you're teaching. This is important because one of the things I noticed when people teach about trans topics, is a lot of students have never seen or met a trans psychologist or an nonbinary psychologist, or even just reading about a trans person thriving in a psychology text. They're always framed as having significant ‘mental health problems’. Inviting a trans psychologist into the classroom (or hiring them to teach the course) can be really powerful for those students to see. We don't just write about these people, we work with them, they're part of psychology and the profession. So, that's important.
We could be dismantling the colonial gender binary together...
The other thing that I've noticed a shift in, since I've been working in this area, is that originally no one was writing about it and then cis people started to try and give voice to trans issues, which is really important. But what I see now is a lot of cis people leading projects about trans people, getting the funding for it, getting the publications and the promotions and trans academics can't get a foot in the door. So, they're on the project, but they're not the principal investigator. They're getting paid by the hour to do data collection or something. So, there's something again about hierarchies and the difference between speaking with someone and speaking for them. For me, that’s the difference between including someone tokenistically and dismantling the systems that excluded them in the first place. Again, that fits into feminist psychology about looking at power in different situations.
Connect with SWAP:
Check out the SWAP Newsletter for the Emerging Canadian Feminist Scholars Profile Series, recent member publications, awards, job postings, book reviews, and more.
To contribute to the SWAP Newsletter, contact the editors:
Jenna Cripps, Newsletter Editor
Bidushy Sadika, Assistant Newsletter Editor