Although the imagined ‘typical’ eating disorder patient is a white, cis, middle-class, young woman, surveys point to high levels of disordered eating in trans populations.
When it comes to the details, researchers often assume that there’s a single way for trans people to negotiate their identities, bodies, and lives. Studies tend to repeat a universal, cissexist narrative around tropes of dysphoria and medical transition. It’s a story that usually pathologizes trans people, reducing their entire experience to their gender (but note how that’s rarely done among cis people).
To engage with disordered eating, we need to start by paying attention to the diversity among people with trans identities and histories. That includes engaging with non-binary people, who have been absent from previous studies. It also means taking context seriously, since none of us is only defined by our gender.
Disordered eating is more than an isolated mental health issue. This project starts from the understanding that relationships to our bodies, food, eating, and exercise fall in a spectrum of bodily experiences.
Bodily practices are powerful: they engage our senses and emotions, change how we relate to ourselves, and shape intimate relationships. Our bodies also have histories that reflect forces beyond our control, and the journeys that brought us to where we are.
As part of my doctorate research, this study uses creative methods to ask how you relate to your body, food, eating, and exercise. That brings up questions about what matters and moves you in your everyday life. Social lives, intersecting identities, intimate relationships, emotional worlds, bodily sensations, and the places you call home deserve to be included.
Lives are full of ambivalence, joy, tension, pleasure, and endurance. By moving past fixed, clinical definitions, this project aims to open space for the messy ways you relate to your body.
A note on my position
Feminist and queer politics run through this project. The study aims to challenge problematic and cissexist narratives in much past research about binary and non-binary trans lives, and to expand popular and clinical understandings of disordered eating.
As a queer academic, I continually reflect on my role in the research – and its limits. That includes my position as a cis woman. I note the serious harm caused by some cis researchers working with trans communities, and I take this responsibility seriously. I view my place as calling for cis academics and practitioners to do better by amplifying the voices of trans people, not speaking as an authority on trans lives.
My perspective is also shaped by my background as a white, educated, middle-class, non-disabled, British researcher. With that in mind, I don’t bring a set hypothesis that I think is important. The research is designed around building long-term, collaborative relationships, so that topics emerge from what matters to participants. Towards the end of the research process I will be carrying out a number of one-off interviews with new participants.
If you’re interested in participating in this research, I’d love to hear from you – please take a look at the taking part information.