Mundanity, fascination and threat: interrogating responses to research in toilet, trans and disability studies amid a ‘culture war’

This is a recording of a keynote presentation I gave to the Psychology of Women and Equalities conference in Summer 2021 (thank you to the conference organisers for the invitation!). You can also read the transcript (including reference list) here.


Toilets are political spaces: inadequate toilet access means limited access to wider space and community. Since 2015 I have worked with others on a series of interdisciplinary research projects collectively known as Around the Toilet (, which have centred the experiences of trans, queer and disabled people to explore what makes a safe and accessible toilet space. The research sought to consolidate commitments to feminist, queer, trans and disability politics. There was an intuitive and necessary connection between these movements for many of us, who – in some cases – had personal experience of multiple marginalisation across these axes. In this paper, I will interrogate the repercussions of doing work at these political intersections by focusing not so much on the research findings themselves, but on the ways in which the project has been responded to within a context which is anti-expert, anti-‘woke’ and one of perceived scarcity. I will reflect on my experiences as a trans person, leading a public-facing research project which centres trans lives, within a context of increasing trans hostility. I will show how Around the Toilet has at once been understood as too mundane (a waste of taxpayers money; a funny thing to be researching); a fascination (a good journalistic ‘hook’; focus on particular aspects of our work, whilst ignoring others); and a threat to social order (particularly in relation to trans lives). I will argue that – during a time where academics are expected to be ‘public-facing’ – universities need to recognise harms that can come from this, and resource the labour that it takes to mitigate these harms (if the risk is deemed worth taking). I also maintain, however, that in lieu of institutional support (which is often not forthcoming), we need to build solidarities through which we can support one-another as feminist and marginalised researchers working in the neoliberal academy. 

Trans Time and Solidarities in UK Academia

There’s loads of cool writing around time. Writers like Lee Edelman and Jack Halberstam have theorised queer time as defying the heteronormative expectations of family and reproduction. We might also start to think about trans time in relation to the ever-increasing amounts of time that trans people spend on waiting lists in order to access health care. People within Disability Studies, such as Alison Kafer, Eliza Chandler, Rod Michalko and Emma Sheppard (to name just a few), have also written around time – those exploring crip time think about the different ways that time and space function for disabled people. Sheppard, for example, asks whether crip time ‘can include liminal spaces of becoming chronically pained, including medicalised spaces/times of testing and diagnosis’. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the amount of extra time things are taking at work due to the anti-trans climate that we’re currently in the midst of. 

  • Hours rolling into days (and nights) spent trying to work out whether events are safe to speak at, and discussing with event organisers how to make them as safe as possible.

  • Time spent emailing journals, asking how they ensure that their review processes are trans inclusive and how they would deal with subsequent complaints. Time spent reading, thinking about, and responding to the answers – wondering whether this is a safe and supportive place to publish. 

  • Time spent advising institutions on how they could have done better when things have gone wrong (time spent wondering whether they’ll respond).

  • Time spent messaging my mates and colleagues, posting in trans community groups and spaces, about how the impacts of things fucking up, asking advice and looking for solidarity. 

  • Time frames imposed on me to respond when others complain about my work, then much longer time periods spent waiting and worrying to hear a response about how the complaint will be handled. 

  • Months wondering whether I should be kicking up a fuss when I notice yet another transphobe has some form of institutional power, knowing from experience how much time challenging this will take.

  • Days spent emailing my university informing them of attacks on social media; sleepless nights worrying about if something is going to trigger it again.

  • Hours spent trying to get my university to understand, acknowledge and resource the context that I’m working in.

  • ….I could go on…

It is not only trans people whose time is being wasted and energy sapped in HE right now though. Disabled academics’ time is often spent finding out about and negotiating access to conferences, event spaces (including those online), their offices and classrooms.  Like trans people, academics of colour are targeted by the government through, for example, the Academic Freedom Bill – which is rooted in racism as well as transphobia – and face attacks to their work and existance through complaints and publication. Again, the list could go on…

What’s a good use of time?

I’m quite lucky really – being trans in UK academia right now undoubtedly takes it toll – but I’m in a secure job, so I get paid for a lot (although by no means all) of the time that I spend sorting out and thinking about the above. As Ruth Pearce notes, the precarity of neoliberal higher education makes dealing with experiences of marginalisation within the academy much more difficult. I’ve also developed networks of support and solidarity, which have helped me to develop processes to deal with some of the above. Yet, there is often a need due to safety for spaces and networks of trans solidarity to be secret and hidden, finding your way in as a Early Career Researcher can be difficult.

Reflecting on the above, I’ve been trying to re-orientate my time. I couldn’t begin to add up the amount of time I’ve spent over the last few years reacting to instances of transphobia. I don’t regret this as such – it has felt necessary. But it doesn’t feel sustainable. So, rather than constantly responding to the shit that gets thrown at us, I’ve been thinking about the spaces in which I have some power to try and make some change (and hopefully create networks so responding to shit can be a collective endeavour). I’ve written a bit in my previous blog post about the Queer Disability Studies network which I hope will be result in building much-needed trans inclusive spaces within Disability Studies (NB: there is currently a call for submission to the networks launch event – follow the link for more info!).

The other place that I’ve been trying to put my time is into my union, and my local union branch in particular. As well as becoming a rep, I’ve recently taken a trans solidarity motion to my local union branch. Taking this motion felt like a risk – it meant coming out to colleagues who I’d not spoken to about being trans before, and it left open the possibility of finding out about my colleagues that I’d rather stayed unearthed (feelings echoed by Kit Heyam). Those feelings haven’t completely disappeared but, to my relief, the motion passed with only a handful of abstentions.

The motion is, in part, an attempt to claw back some time from the university – for them to acknowledge and resource both time spent dealing with transphobia, and time that they ask of trans staff in helping them develop trans-inclusive policies and practice (which doesn’t always feel like a good use of time!). It also asks for the time of those already offering solidarity and support to be resourced through a mentoring scheme, and for some of the pressure put on trans staff to educate the university to be removed, by paying an external trans-led organisation to do that work. Although it’s passed, I’m not sure what tangible change that union motion will result in within my university, but it’s been nice to connect with other trans staff through union stuff – such as this UCU webinar on LGBT+ liberation that I’ve been invited to speak at next week (12th May) (I think they’ll be a recording, which I’ll add a link to after the event).

I’ve been wondering though, whether the motion was quite right. Whilst there is a specific context of transphobia, the demands are ones that could (and should) support those marginalised by more than just transphobia. I’d like to spend some time over the next year working on broader equalities stuff within my union branch, and would be really up for talking this through with other marginalised UCU members.

Saving Time

I’ve also been thinking about the ways in which we might be able to save time through sharing resources. I Tweeted yesterday that, because I’m a part-time member of staff and there’s a bank holiday, this is a two day working week for me. In that two days, I’ll have had three conversations with event organisers asking about, and advising on their protocols for keeping trans speakers and participants safe during online events.

In my Tweet, I asked that event organisers put this kind of information in any invitations that they send inviting trans speakers and/or people to speak on trans related topics (in the same way that event organisers should make access information for disabled people prominent).

I was thinking about how many trans people – academics, activists etc. – must be having these kinds of conversations, and whether there was a resource of best practice already out there. I’ve started a google doc outlining some of the things that I’d like them to think about in terms of safety for trans speakers and participants, which I’m going to use to send to event organisers if I’m invited to speak. Feedback and thoughts are welcome on this before I move it over to this blog – feel free to use it if it’s helpful to you. 

What other resources would be useful that could collectively save us time in the long run? Please point me to places where things like this exist!

Some updates: Toilets in Covid, Queer Disability Studies and Rainbowification

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, so here’s some news…

More Toilets Research!

Since September 2020 I’ve been working with colleagues, Charlotte Jones, Lauren White and Jill Pluquailec, on some more toilets research – this time exploring the work involved in cleaning, monitoring, and re-stocking customer toilets in hospitality venues, particularly during the pandemic. This research builds on our work in the Around the Toilet project, where we explored the toilet as a place of exclusion and belonging, centring the experiences of trans, queer and disabled people. Our research findings highlighted the labour carried out by both workers and occupants in the upkeep of toilets, something we recognised as an important area for future research (see our report here), and Beers, Burgers and Bleach is giving us the opportunity to explore further. At the time of writing (March 2021), we’re in the process of analysing the data and will hopefully be sharing some of our findings from this soon. The best place to keep up to date with this work is the Around the Toilet blog and/or Twitter account.

Queer Disability Studies Network

The past few years has seen an intensification of transphobia in the UK (and beyond). This has come from many different angles, including within Disability Studies (something I’ve written about previously, including in this journal article with Kirsty Liddiard). Chatting to colleagues, we realised that we felt a need for an explicitly queer and trans-inclusive space within Disability Studies. So, today, after over a year of meetings, we launched the Queer Disability Studies network. Our hope is that the network can create spaces to share exciting queer disability studies work, but also, where we can build solidarities and work out ways to collectively respond, when necessary, to institutional transphobia, and other forms of oppression. At the moment, the network is being administered by myself, Charlotte Jones, Ned Coleman-Fountain and Rhi Humphrey, but we really hope that it can grow and expand to include many perspectives other than out own. There’s more information on the Network blog about the aims of the network, and ways that others can get involved, including through pitching an idea for an event ‘Questions in Queer Disability Studies‘ to be held in October 2021.

Institutional rainbowification before, during (and after?) COVID: a case study of HE

Back when we were allowed to eat and drink together (remember that?), my colleague El Formby and I, would catch up over lunch and often end up discussing the increasing number of rainbow-branded products that we spotted around universities – rainbow lanyards, coffee cups and flags – supposedly singling queer inclusion. For us, these symbols of inclusions didn’t always correlate with increased support or recognition for queer staff and students – particularly, trans staff and students, or those multiply marginalised. I was feeling this particularly strongly at the time, as I was struggling to manage the amount of transphobia that was being thrown our way in relation to the Around the Toilet project. At the same time, I was thinking about symbols of inclusion more, as I was writing a paper thinking about the work that toilet signs do in promising particular forms of access, which don’t always materialise (a paper which will hopefully be published in the not too distant future – watch this space). As I was writing, I came across the work of Myrl Beam, who describes the (over)use of rainbow symbolism by institutions and corporations as ‘rainbowification‘.  El and I discussed making a research project of this – and in Spring 2020, submitted a funding application to look at the rainbowification of HE.

…. that wasn’t the end of the story though…

The funding bid was unsuccessful, but, whilst we were writing it, something else was happening to rainbows – they were being used as a symbol to celebrate the NHS for its work during COVID. Not everyone was happy about this – many queer people arguing that it was appropriation of a symbol which had specific meaning already, and often (although – as our experiences in HE taught us – not always) – was used to signal a ‘safe space’. With this additional context in mind, we re-wrote our bid, and from August 2021 will be using HE as a case study to consider institutional rainbowification before, during and after COVID. I’m really excited about this project – and have updated my blog cover photo with some rainbow bagels to celebrate*! I’ll try to write more about this here as it happens, though will more likely be better at keeping up to date on my Twitter.

*Thank you to my friend Erin for buying us the rainbow bagel making kit to brighten up a long locked-down Winter!

Why I’m hesitant about the International Journal of Disability and Social Justice

*Update to this post: I received this public response from the International Journal of Disability and Society on Saturday 4th June. This Tweet thread explains why this response is inadequate.*

Many of my colleagues have been sharing their excitement at the creation of a new UK-based Disability Studies journal, the International Journal of Disability and Social Justice. Although I too was (and am) keen to see a new journal in Disability Studies, I haven’t shared in this excitement. After thinking about this for over a week – including contacting the journal co-chairs of the executive editorial board, Anna Lawson and Angharad Beckett, directly – I want to publicly outline some of my hesitations and disappointments, both with what I can understand of the journal from its webpage, and with the response I received to my email. I do this not to ‘call out’ but because journals are powerful, and I believe that the discussion should be public and accountable. I also want to make clear that I don’t think the journal is ‘bad’, but I think it could be better in its allyship to trans people, and that those of us within social justice fields, including disability studies, should hold each other to high standards. I’m therefore writing this to ask those that consider themselves allies to trans people within disability studies, to reflect on how this journal could do better.

I also do not want precariously employed and Early Career Researchers (ECRs) that are involved with the journal to feel attacked by my critique. As I understand it, this journal has promised mentorship to those ECRs that have been invited to be part of the editorial board (this is a good thing). The precarity of academia, alongside the ableism and other forms of oppression that many within Disability Studies face, makes joining an editorial board an opportunity that potentially means more security in employment. It also makes speaking out difficult and sometimes dangerous. I feel able to make this critique public because I am not precariously employed. Although I completely, explicitly and always welcome the thoughts of ECRs (who, in my experience, are often more willing to be critical in public spaces, despite the dangers), I am particularly asking  senior academics and those with secure employment that have joined the editorial board to respond to this.

Finally, I am not writing this to suggest that I should have a place on the editorial board – there are plenty of trans people doing good disability studies work globally. I am also very aware of my place as a non-disabled person working within the field of disability studies – and feel no entitlement towards my place within the discipline. Nevertheless, as I outline below, I do think trans people, and particularly trans disabled people, should have significant influence within this journal (and indeed, should have been involved in discussions from a much earlier stage than this).

In outlining my thoughts below, some of the text is what I directly put in correspondence with the co-chairs, but for transparency I have included the full email correspondence below*.

I first heard about this new journal on Tuesday 26th May 2020, as people Tweeted celebrating the launch of its online presence. I wasn’t particularly surprised by its creation – since a number of people resigned from the Disability and Society editorial board** in early Summer 2019, there have been calls (on Twitter and elsewhere) for another Disability Studies journal. Indeed, although less public, I have witnessed conversations about a desire for another UK-based Disability Studies journal since starting my PhD 10 years ago.

However, I was surprised, given the context, that when I went on the journals website as there was no mention of being trans-inclusive. Looking at the list of editors, I didn’t, and still don’t, feel that the journal is explicitly transphobic. Neither do I think that it would have the same problems as Disability and Society if, for example, someone was to submit an article in the field of trans disability studies.

However, I was disappointed that nothing explicitly seemed to recognise that the ongoing problems of transphobia within Disability and Society have impacted most heavily on trans people working within Disability Studies (not least trans disabled people). As a trans person who has put considerable time, energy and effort into making others aware of the transphobia inherent to Disability and Society – with what has felt like risk to my own career and wellbeing – I would have really appreciated seeing a journal which: a) was explicit in its trans inclusive status; and b) acknowledged that the situation with Disability and Society had impacted most heavily on trans researchers, and worked towards mitigating these effects by, for example, giving trans people influential positions within the journal, such as on the executive editorial board. In their response to this point, the journal said:

‘This journal will be opposed to all forms of oppression, including that experienced by transgender people. It will be conscious of the pain caused by academic work that in any way perpetuates oppression. It will be sensitive to this in relation to the transgender population and all oppressed groups.

The journal’s ethics statement will be posted online once the journal opens for submissions and authors will be requested to read and conform to it.’

I was disappointed by this response partly because I would have hoped that a commitment to opposing multiple oppressions and marginalisations within Disability Studies would have featured prominently in the ‘Aspirations’ of the journal and should not be something that we should have to email to find out. Given the specific context of transphobia within the discipline, stated opposition to the oppression of trans people feels like the very rock bottom that we should expect from a social justice journal, and that meaningful action should also be taken to demonstrate solidarity. I didn’t feel like my points regarding giving trans people meaningful positions on the editorial board were engaged with. I understand that the journal hasn’t yet had its first editorial board meeting, so in writing this I’m asking explicitly for trans people’s influence and positions within the journal to be addressed in the editorial board meeting. 

I was also particularly worried about this line which appears on the journals webpage:

‘IJDSJ will sit alongside existing publications in the field of Disability Studies in a productive manner’.

My initial reaction to this was that I did not want to work with a journal that positions itself in this way in relation to Disability and Society. I pointed out in my email that trans people may not feel reassured by, or safe to work with a journal that make such a statement. Lots of trans research involves vetting individuals and publications (Ruth Pearce has written more about that here, and recently stated on Twitter that the context has got worse, not better since the time of writing). Personally, I have disengaged from most media work because of the inevitable abuse that follows. As a discipline that has taught me so much, I would have once assumed that Disability Studies would be a place that this vetting wasn’t needed – however, the situation in Disability and Society has proven that this isn’t the case, so opposition to transphobia needs to be explicit. However, the response sent on behalf of the journal was that:

‘‘productive’ can be understood in many ways, including engaging in dialogue and critique.’

I was also ‘gently reminded’ that other journals exist with Disability Studies.

This was particularly unsatisfying (and if I’m honest, felt patronising). I do not and will not “sit productively” alongside transphobes, in the same way that I do not and will not sit alongside disablist, racist, sexist and other queerphobic people and publications. I am sure that I – like everyone – mess up in my attempts at allyship. However, sitting productively alongside those oppressing colleagues and those that you claim to represent through your work can never to be act of allyship – particularly when it is pointed out that this is a problem. Despite the journal’s justification, this sentence still feels like an explicit effort to distance itself from campaigns to boycott Disability and Society, which for many of us are ongoing and still requiring considerable time and energy because problem of transphobia within Disability and Society – and therefore Disability Studies more widely – still remains.

To give an example of the continued transphobia: there is a recent article in Disability and Society which focuses on ‘detransition’ and autism. This article is a life story, and isn’t explicitly transphobic, indeed, the authors have Tweeted saying that they were worried that it would be read as such. However, the article is deeply flawed. It neutrally cites the book that Disability and Society editor, Michele Moore, has published with Brunskill-Evans (which has been widely critiqued as transphobic, and contributed to the resignations) as offering ‘more perspectives and stories concerning detransition’. Having spoken to the authors they were unaware of the context of and campaigns around Disability and Society, and were told to include the reference through the peer review process. I feel able to say with a fair amount of certainty, that the article in question would not have got through a peer-review process in a journal that was trans-inclusive and aware of the scholarship of trans people and trans studies. As it is, it is published in what continues to be a highly influential journal in the field of Disability Studies – which, for many not completely embedded in the discipline, will still be a go-to journal. The point of this story in relation to the International Journal of Disability Studies and Social Justice is that:

  1. unless you’re already an ‘insider’ there’s very little to tell you about this significance difference between Disability and Society and the International Journal of Disability Studies and Social Justice (in fact, you’d assume from the text that they are ‘sitting productively’ alongside one-another), so how would you know to pick the trans-inclusive one?

  2. in order to deal with the complexity of issues such as ‘detransition’ an editorial board needs to be well-versed and understand the context of the debates.  I don’t know everybody on the editorial board – perhaps some of them are trans and perhaps some of them can do this work. However, there is nothing about the website which clearly indicates to me that effort has been put in to consider and work against the situation that trans people have faced within Disability Studies. Nor was I told how this had been considered in the response from the journal’s co-chairs. Furthermore, given that the situation is so complex and transphobia so integrated into UK academia broadly, having significant trans presence within the editorial board would help to gain the trust of trans people in the discipline generally, and the journal particularly.

Finally, the co-chairs were keen to point out to me that this journal is not a response to the situation in Disability and Society, and the website states that it has been in the making for two years. Although I have no reason to not believe this, it doesn’t take away from my points: my original contact with Disability and Society – alongside Kirsty Liddiard – regarding transphobia was in June 2016. This was four years ago. It then took two years to get published an article which played a part in exposing the transphobia in Disability and Society – this was published in July 2018, according to their website, around the time that conversations of the new journal were going on. At this point there was considerable talk about the journal and the article online and, as I understand (although I was not in attendance), offline at the Lancaster Disability Studies Conference. There has since been an open letter started by Professor Melanie Yergeau, University of Michigan, and signed by over 900 scholars in the field and a statement from the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University calling out transphobia within Disability and Society. Therefore, whether or not this journal was intended as a response to Disability and Society is irrelevant: this is the context in which it sits, has been formed, and is being taken up in. Transphobia within Disability Studies, and specifically Disability and Society, has created a very obvious space for a new journal. Therefore, this context – and how it affects trans people lives, including trans disabled people, trans academics and those falling into a multitude of these groups – needs to be considered.

I welcome a public response.

Jen Slater

2nd June 2020

*Full email correspondence with International Journal of Disability and Social Justice

**for more context on the boycott of Disability and Society see: 1) this Tweet thread I posted in July 2018; 2) this open letter started by Professor Melanie Yergeau, University of Michigan; 3) this statement on and information on the boycott from The School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University in September 2019.

Exciting new outputs from Around the Toilet

Although the latest funding period on Around the Toilet has now ended, there have been some exciting outputs from the project over the last couple of months.

First, in February we released our zine, Lift the Lid. Lift the Lid shares people’s experiences, musings and stories around toilets and accessibility. The zine is also a tribute to my friend and colleague, Lisa Procter, who sadly died in last year and had been involved in the toilet project from the outset. We all miss you lots, Lisa. You can read the zine online, or order a hard copy (while stocks last) using this online form. Alternatively, here’s a list of places that you can already drop in for a read!

Second, in March we had the online launch our short film, The Toilet. The Toilet. documents experiences of trans, disabled and Muslim people trying to access toilet facilities. Although the toilet is our focal point, the film speaks volumes of a society where some bodies and ways of being are valued, and others are not. We’d love to hear about organisations and community groups that are screening the film, either by email or via our online form (scroll to the bottom of the linked page).

The Toilet. (Subtitles) [2017] from Around the Toilet on Vimeo.

And there is more still to come… we will be shortly launching an online resource to aid those designing toilet spaces. The toilet design website is particularly aimed at trainee architects and those teaching them in order to get students thinking specifically about toilet access, but also accessibility more broadly.

Finally, it won’t be long until a report of Around the Toilet findings over the last three years goes live – so watch this space (and this space too!)

PhD Funding Opportunity: Exploring the lives of trans disabled young people

The below PhD opportunity is currently being offered with myself, El Formby and Rebecca Mallett at Sheffield Hallam University. Get in touch if you think you might be interested!

More details here:

Exploring the lives of trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming disabled young people

Project Lead: Dr Jen Slater (

A recent report from the UK Anti-Bullying Alliance (2017) indicated that disabled young people are often not believed when they say that they are trans. Noting this, and a general lack of qualitative research documenting the experience of trans and non-binary disabled children and young people, you will develop qualitative methods to explore the lives of trans and non-binary disabled young people. You are free to develop a proposal within this broad remit, which may wish to concentrate on a particular context (e.g. schools, families, youth services, media representation, age-group). Applications which critique medicalised approaches are particularly welcome.

It is anticipated that the project would lead to public and professional engagement activities that could inform popular perceptions and understandings, and likely lead to impact on practice in education settings, and across voluntary and youth sector services. In turn this could contribute to potentially marginalised young people’s wellbeing. This impact will be supported via the supervisors’ existing activities and relationships with relevant public bodies and voluntary sector organisations. Our aim would always be to extend dissemination well beyond the academy. The supervisors in Sheffield Institute of Education (SIoE) have experience of accessing further funding to support such activities, for example having run various successful ESRC Festival of Social Science events previously.

Successful applicants will receive the additional benefits of involvement with the White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership Education, Childhood, and Youth Pathway.

Activists in Reykjavik launch the new Around the Toilet film

Around the Toilet has gone through several phases to date. One of its current aims is to take our conversations of toilets, disability, gender and access to grassroots disability and queer arts and activist spaces internationally. This is particularly exciting as it means touring our new animation, The Toilet, to different spaces, including film festivals and activist groups. Last week, the tour began as Gemma Nash (disabled artist, and Community Co-I on the project) and I travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for our animation’s WORLD PREMIERE. This blog post summarises the event.

We were hosted by three organisations: Tabú (a disabled women’s activist organisation), Trans Ísland (a trans people’s advocacy and activist organisation) and Samtökin ’78 (Iceland’s national queer organisation). The event itself took place in the building of Samtökin ’78 – and we were excited on arrival by the rainbow unicorn greeting us on the wall!


Gemma and Jen stand under the ‘rainbow unicorn’ before the event.

I spoke first about the origins of the project. I drew on Alison Kafer’s book, Feminist Queer Crip, to talk about the (not always easy!) relationships between queer, feminist and disability movements. Kafer uses the toilet as an example of space that it sometimes contested between (and indeed, within) these movements.

For example, some trans and other gender non-conforming people have and continue to fight for a greater provision of gender neutral toilets. Although we often don’t think of it as such, the most frequently available gender neutral toilet space is the ‘accessible’ or the ‘disabled’ toilet. In 1998 Sally Munt, discussing her experiences as a butch lesbian, named the ‘disabled toilet’ a ‘queer space’ – “‘a stress-free location […] in which I can momentarily procure an interval from the gendered public environment, and physically replenish”.

Some disabled people, however, have argued that disabled people should have access to binary gendered (men’s/women’s) toilets. They say that gender neutral accessible toilets contribute to the positioning of disabled people as a ‘third gender’. Furthermore, disabled woman scholar and activist, Kay Inckle critiques Munt for “co-opting limited accessible facilities”, or, in other words, using toilets which weren’t made for her. Inckle argues that although gender neutral toilets may be considered progressive by some people, “for many disabled women, to be considered female and/or as sexual at all would be a major stepping-stone on the rocky and inaccessible road to human status”.


Jen presenting on the origins of the Around the Toilet project

Despite critiques such as Inckle’s, it’s important to note that many disabled people (trans and cis) want to retain the gender neutral space of the accessible toilet. There are many reasons for this, including having a personal assistant of a different gender. Indeed, in the talk, I discussed how the workshops that we’ve held with trans, queer and disabled people have provoked a range of emotions and responses. Many non-disabled trans people have spoken to us about feeling guilty if they use the ‘accessible’/’disabled’ toilet, despite being scared to use the binary gender men’s and women’s bathrooms. Furthermore, some trans and disabled participants said we should use labels for toilets which tell us what is in them, rather than who should be allowed to use them.

In her talk which followed, Gemma highlighted how disagreements about toilet space don’t just occur between different movements and groups of people, but also within them. Gemma discussed her experiences as a disabled mother. She talked about how some disabled people actively campaign for the removal of baby changing tables from the ‘accessible’ (or ‘disabled’) toilet. Their argument is that as changing a baby can take a long time, it prevents disabled people using the toilet. Some people also say that it infantilises disabled people (positions them similarly to babies). However, Gemma told us the importance of having accessible baby changing facilities. When her daughter was a baby, having the baby changing in the accessible toilet was the only way that she could comfortably change her child, whilst also using the toilet herself. She said that most people don’t consider that disabled people may too be parents.

The themes above are a snapshot of some of the difficult, and often painful, barriers to access that are covered in our new film, The Toilet. The film illustrates how inaccessible or unsafe toilets affect people in a range of ways, stopping some from leaving the house, and leading others to lose their jobs, or avoid food and drink, and taking day trips and holidays. Through the stories of trans, Muslim and disabled people, we show how current toilet provisions prioritise some people’s needs at the expense of others.

Toilet access is an important social and political issue and we need to fight for change.

Thank you SO much to Tabú, Trans Ísland and Samtökin ’78 for hosting this event and to those who attended for the fascinating discussion. Keep an eye on our blog for an updated list of where you can see screenings of, The Toilet. We’ll also be announcing them on Twitter (@cctoilettalk). The Toilet will also be available online to be used by groups and organisations in early 2018 (watch this space!).

Two papers on School Toilets now open access #cctoilettalk

The two papers that I have written with Charlotte Jones and Lisa Procter have now been made open access. Click on the titles below to reach the full articles. You can also get to these through the journal articles page on this blog.

In other exciting news, some of the Around the Toilet team met with Purple Patch Arts yesterday to plan our school toilets workshops with disabled children and young people. Keep up to date with our work on school toilets via the Around the Toilet blog.

School Toilets: Queer, Disabled Bodies and Gendered Lessons of Embodiment

In this paper we argue that school toilets function as one civilising site [Elias, 1978. The Civilising Process. Oxford: Blackwell] in which children learn that disabled and queer bodies are out of place. This paper is the first to offer queer and crip perspectives on school toilets. The small body of existing school toilet literature generally works from a normative position which implicitly perpetuates dominant and oppressive ideals. We draw on data from Around the Toilet, a collaborative research project with queer, trans and disabled people ( to critically interrogate this work. In doing this we consider ‘toilet training’ as a form of ‘civilisation’, that teaches lessons around identity, embodiment and ab/normal ways of being in the world. Furthermore, we show that ‘toilet training’ continues into adulthood, albeit in ways that are less easily identifiable than in the early years. We therefore call for a more critical, inclusive, and transformative approach to school toilet research.

Troubling school toilets: resisting discourses of ‘development’ through a critical disability studies and critical psychology lens

This paper interrogates how school toilets and ‘school readiness’ are used to assess children against developmental milestones. Such developmental norms both inform school toilet design and practice, and perpetuate normative discourses of childhood as middle-class, white, ‘able’, heteronormative, cissexist and inferior to adulthood. Critical psychology and critical disability studies frame our analysis of conversations from online practitioner forums. We show that school toilets and the norms and ideals of ‘toilet training’ act as one device for Othering those who do not fit into normative Western discourses of ‘childhood’. Furthermore, these idealised discourses of ‘childhood’ reify classed, racialised, gendered and dis/ablist binaries of good/bad parenting. We conclude by suggesting new methodological approaches to school toilet research which resist perpetuating developmental assumptions and prescriptions. In doing this, the paper is the first to explicitly bring school toilet research into the realms of critical psychology and critical disability studies.

CfP extended deadline: The Crip, the Fat and the Ugly in an Age of Austerity: Resistance, Reclamation, and Affirmation (extended deadline)

We have extended the deadline to submit to our special issue of the Review of Disability Studies, The Crip, the Fat and the Ugly in an Age of Austerity: Resistance, Reclamation, and Affirmation.

The new deadline is 17th July 2017.

The Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal (RDS) seeks proposals for a special forum on the Crip, the fat, the ugly. We are currently soliciting papers of up to 7500 words in length, including references and tables. The deadline for submission of papers is July 17, 2017. Papers should be submitted to the Special Guest Editors Dr. Jen Slater, Sheffield Hallam University, and Dr. Kirsty Liddiard, University of Sheffield . Upon submission, please indicate that your paper is for consideration of the special forum on the Crip, the fat, and the ugly in an age of austerity.

Papers considered for inclusion may take the form of academic and creative works, as well as reflections on international disability-specific policies, practices, pedagogies and developments.

Submissions to this special issue will undergo a process of multiple editors peer-review. Authors will be notified of whether their papers will be included in the forum by September 1, 2017. Accepted authors will then be asked to submit their papers online to RDS. Prospective authors are encouraged to consult the RDS website at for more information about the Journal and its formatting guidelines. Authors are encouraged to review previous issues of RDS in preparing their paper and to subscribe to the Journal. All submissions must follow the RDS publication guidelines posted on the website. Please note that acceptance of an article does not guarantee publication in RDS.

‘The magnificence of a body that shakes, spills out, takes up space, needs help, moseys, slinks, limps, drools, rocks, curls over on itself. The magnificence of a body that doesn’t get to choose when to go to the bathroom, let alone which bathroom to use.  A body that doesn’t get to choose what to wear in the morning, what hairstyle to sport, how they’re going to move or stand, or what time they’re going to bed.  The magnificence of bodies that have been coded, not just undesirable and ugly, but un-human.  The magnificence of bodies that are understanding gender in far more complex ways than I could explain in an hour. Moving beyond a politic of desirability to loving the ugly.  Respecting Ugly for how it has shaped us and been exiled. Seeing its power and magic, seeing the reasons it has been feared. Seeing it for what it is: some of our greatest strength’. (Mingus, 2011)

Global austerity has a far reach, often into, around, behind, beyond and alongside the body. Global austerity routinely categorises bodies in terms of productivity, value, cost, ability and aesthetics. The body is positioned vis-a-vis global austerity as a site for social order, economic possibility, progression, and big business. Whereas “[a]n able body is the body of a citizen; deformed deafened, amputated, obese, female, perverse, crippled, maimed and blinded bodies do not make up the body politic” (Davis, 1995, pp. 71-72).

Through global austerity, then, the crip, the fat and the ugly are typically Othered and denigrated bodies, identities, minds and selves, implicated and co-constituted by one-another (Bergman, 2009; Kafer, 2013). Within a context of coloniality, transnational capitalism, patriarchy, cissexism and white supremacy, the Crip, the fat and the ugly are

rendered unintelligible (Butler, 1999), made in/visible and vilified locally, nationally, and globally. As Garland-Thompson (2002, p. 57) reminds us, “as a culture we are at once obsessed with and intensely conflicted about the disabled body. We fear, deify, disavow, avoid, abstract, revere, conceal, and reconstruct disability – perhaps because it is one of the most universal, fundamental of human experiences”.

Notwithstanding the harsh political backdrop, Clare (2015, p. 107) reminds us that “[w]ithout pride, individual and collective resistance to oppression becomes nearly impossible”. In this special issue we therefore seek to explore affirmatory meanings and pleasurable engagements with the Crip, the fat and the ugly. By this we mean to critically resist and play with normative understandings of what bodies should do and be, to reimagine that – as Mingus (2011) emphasises – the Crip, the fat and the ugly are ‘our greatest strength’. How are Crip, fat and ugly embodiments both resisting and resistant? How might they offer new ways of interrogating global austerity and neoliberal ways of life? How might the Crip, the fat, and the ugly generate new, diverse and polymorphous pleasures? What are the relationships, entanglements and connections between the austere and the aesthetic? What communities do the Crip, the fat, and the ugly build and how are these critical for survival, love and life?

Submissions to this journal could include, but are not limited to, critical interrogations of the relationship between the crip, the fat and the ugly, with:

  • Aesthetic labour

  • Activism and resistance

  • Beauty industries and economies

  • Biopolitics and biopedagogies

  • Bodily esteem, confidence, self-worth and self-love

  • Colonisation and first nations communities

  • Emotion and affect

  • Extensions of Mia Mingus’ work on ugliness

  • Globalisation and globality

  • Health and Healthisation

  • Identity, imagery and representation: masculinities, femininities, queer trans and intersex identities

  • Impairment and embodiment

  • Industrial complexes, institutions and systems

  • Madness and Mad politics

  • Other forms of privilege and oppression (class, ‘race’, gender, sexuality, age etc.)

  • Popular culture and The Arts

  • Queer bodies, identities and selves

  • The politics of staring (Garland-Thomson, 2009)

  • The sexual body: Pleasure, sensuality and desire

RDS is a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary, international journal published by the Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.The Journal contains research articles, essays, creative works and multimedia relating to the culture of disability and people with disabilities.

New Paper: Troubling school toilets: resisting discourses of ‘development’ through a critical disability studies and critical psychology lens

It’s been great to work with Charlotte Jones and Lisa Procter on the second of our school toilet papers, which was published last week in the journal, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. The paper is called Troubling school toilets: resisting discourses of ‘development’ through a critical disability studies and critical psychology lens and I’ve copied the abstract below. I’m working on getting an open access version of this paper online, but for now the link above takes you to the published version, and contact me if you want a free author copy.


This paper interrogates how school toilets and ‘school readiness’ are used to assess children against developmental milestones. Such developmental norms both inform school toilet design and practice, and perpetuate normative discourses of childhood as middle-class, white, ‘able’, heteronormative, cissexist and inferior to adulthood. Critical psychology and critical disability studies frame our analysis of conversations from online practitioner forums. We show that school toilets and the norms and ideals of ‘toilet training’ act as one device for Othering those who do not fit into normative Western discourses of ‘childhood’. Furthermore, these idealised discourses of ‘childhood’ reify classed, racialised, gendered and dis/ablist binaries of good/bad parenting. We conclude by suggesting new methodological approaches to school toilet research which resist perpetuating developmental assumptions and prescriptions. In doing this, the paper is the first to explicitly bring school toilet research into the realms of critical psychology and critical disability studies.