Q&A with Dr. Nael Bhanji and Dr. Chase Joynt, Coordinators of Tri-campus Trans Studies Course TRANSGRESSIONS

The Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies is excited to announce a partnership with Trent University’s Department of Gender and Social Justice and the University of Victoria’s Department of Gender Studies in support of “TRANSGRESSIONS: Trans Politics, Activisms, and Creations in the 21st Century”, a tri-campus collaborative course coordinated by Bonham Centre Fellow Dr. Nael Bhanji and Dr. Chase Joynt. TRANSGRESSIONS draws upon theoretical and artistic interventions to the field of trans studies. Through a transnational and multidisciplinary framework, this course emphasizes the importance of understanding the ways in which the lives and experiences of trans and/or gender nonconforming bodies intersect with questions of nationalism, colonialism, citizenship, surveillance, race, labour, and capital. Understanding trans studies as necessarily moving beyond traditional formats and disciplines, this class employs trans-pedagogy as a movement within the academy to collapse academic, artistic, and activist pursuits.

Mobilizing the resources at the University of Victoria, such as the Chair in Transgender Studies and the Transgender Archives, as well as Trent University’s existing course in “Troubling Trans,” along with the University of Toronto’s Queer and Trans Research Lab at the Bonham Centre – a newly launched collaboration which focuses on interdisciplinary queer and trans methods – Dr. Bhanji and Dr. Joynt imagine this precedent-setting course to be the first of many potential iterations of “trans-disciplinary” trans studies.

To offer further insight into the course structure and goals, we present this course trailer and a Q&A with Dr. Joynt and Dr. Bhanji.

1. In the syllabus for this course, you describe the importance of a trans-pedagogical approach — one that moves past the traditional formats and disciplines usually offered by universities. As a result, the course will be coordinated between three institutions — how will that collaboration look in practice? And could you each share a little bit about what that trans-disciplinary and trans-pedagogical approach looks like to you?

We met in graduate school at a time when trans studies was an emerging field and certainly not the focal point of any syllabi. As a result, we had to carve out pathways, theoretical and interpersonal, to find, and explore the work. These foundations of friendships and self-study are what anchor our collaborative approach to this joint course. We share a common syllabus, asynchronous lecture modules, assignments and objects of study, but we meet in sync sessions for discussion on each campus independently. This allows us to cluster resources and amplify as many voices as possible in our pursuit of trans studies and themes.

2. Students in this course will have the opportunity to produce a creative final project, and the course will explore case studies in various art forms. Could you expand on why and how you will be exploring the trans experience through the specific lens of the arts?

Trans studies is an inherently responsive form and discipline, one that thinks both with and against socio-political climates. Artists and activists have long been at the forefront of helping to break open new ways of seeing and experiencing the world, and while we are never afraid to engage the form of the traditional essay, we are eager to offer students the opportunity to think beyond the page and into alternative creative space.

3. You plan to include asynchronous conversation-style lectures and feature prominent trans artists and activists in those conversations. What led to the decision to create these asynchronous recordings? Have the past two years navigating remote and alternative learning strategies informed this method?

We are building upon many lessons learned teaching through the pandemic. We desire to enhance what worked well for us: these components include self-paced modules, accessible learning technologies, and multimedia approaches to learning. We also want to be explicit about what didn’t work as well, and will be in conversation with our students throughout the course to keep refining our approach – classes are not stagnant spaces and we invite modification and revision in accordance to class interests and needs. We are grateful for the encouragement and support of the University of Victoria, Trent University, and the University of Toronto’s Mark Bonham Center as we embark on this exciting pedagogical journey.

4. What do you hope students will take away from the experience of this course?

That is such a big question! Dr. Syrus Marcus Ware, one of our many phenomenal invited guests, talks about trans studies classes as opportunities to imagine better worlds within institutional spaces; for us this looks like prioritizing racialized, queer and trans students who have for so long felt alienated and othered by common forms of learning and evaluation. We believe that prioritizing the most vulnerable members of our communities means that all will benefit from the choices made. This, for us, is a deeply pedagogical and political pursuit. 

5. How do you envision this course will transform the academy, and the space of trans studies? Alternately, how do you hope this course will relate to the broader trans community, outside of the academy?

As trans people in the academy, we had to find each other in order to survive institutional spaces, and we recognize all the ways that remains true for many of our students today. Together, we are thrilled by the potential of a class that works within the institution while critiquing it simultaneously. We feel energized by the support we have received across all three collaborating campuses and believe this synergy will open up new opportunities for collaborative, trans-centered learning in the semesters and years to come. These strategies are not our own, we are building upon a legacy of trans scholars, artists and activists who continue to show us a way forward, we hope our class is but one of many contributions to the ongoing actions and conversations.

If you are interested in learning more about the course, keep your eye on the Bonham Centre’s Youtube Channel and our news page, where three recorded lectures from the course will be made publicly available in the next few weeks.

This course is offered for credit at Trent University and the University of Victoria only.

*Photo credit for Chase Joynt’s photo: Wynne Neilly

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