Over the past decade non-binary genders have become increasingly visible in the public sphere. In 2018 the UK government’s national LGBT survey revealed that non-binary people make up just over half of the trans population of the UK and that younger trans respondents were more likely to identify as non-binary than older trans respondents. Additionally, the legitimacy and legal status of gender identities beyond male and female is the subject of increasing debate (for example in the 2018 Gender Recognition Act consultation).
However, while knowledge and resources on non-binary identities circulate via community groups and on social media, there has been little academic research undertaken thus far in the field. The UK-based literature has tended to focus on identity formation and access to health services. Similarly, to date there has been very little attention paid specifically to non-binary gender experiences in higher education separate from the experiences of (binary) trans folk more generally.
In the context of an increased focus on the participation and success of marginalised social groups in HE, the question of how non-binary students and staff move through and thrive in HE becomes more pressing. Increasingly universities have been developing trans inclusion policies. However, these policies often focus on binary transition and do not consider non-binary genders. Universities are also struggling with questions of inclusive curricula around issues of binary gender, sexualities, race, class and (dis)ability. Despite this, the question of how to include non-binary genders or what the impact of their exclusion from curricula is has not yet been addressed.
Consequently we currently know very little about the experiences and needs of non-binary people in HE. It is in this context of lack of research and literature that we are conducting our research. The Non-Binary Genders in Higher Education: Lived Experiences, Imagined Futures project will use a number of different methods to gather information on the experiences of non-binary staff and students in HE institutions and to create spaces for non-binary people involved in HE to come together and dream a different future.
The overall aims of the study are:
- To understand non-binary student and teaching staff experiences of HE, including navigating institutions, engaging with specialist resources, reflecting on the curriculum.
- To use our data to provide universities with policy recommendations and examples of best practice.
- To gather resources and share experiences with other members of the non-binary academic community to create a different HE experience for students and each other.
- To add to the literature on inclusive curriculum and explore the disruptive potential of non- binary genders for transforming the academy.
In the first phase of the project we conducted an online survey, the data from which we are currently analysing. We also held a Skills Share event for non-binary academics and a Roundtable discussion (which you can listen to here). In the next year we will be conducting focus groups and interviews with HE students and staff across the country. See the events page for updates as the project unfolds…