Gender, Sex & Sexuality Conference

Bringing together activists, artists and academics

Chloe Cannell talks to current PhD students Shawna Marks, Paul Chambers and Simone Marangon about the upcoming Gender, Sex and Sexualities (GSS) postgraduate conference hosted in Adelaide (September 19 and 20), and their involvement as members of the organising committee.

The GSS conference, hosted annually in Adelaide for the past five years, looks at gender, sex and sexualities and the inequalities faced in everyday life. The conference features keynote speeches, snapshots of research and opportunities for creative expression and experience. Previous conferences have featured papers from students of Sociology, Gender and Women’s Studies, Indigenous Studies, Politics, Anthropology, History, Visual Art, Cultural Studies, Creative Writing, Health Science, Law, Philosophy, Linguistics and many more. The ultimate goal of the conference is to bring together activists, artists and academics to raise awareness of issues surrounding gender, sex, and sexualities in a safe and supportive environment.

Why did you get involved with the GSS conference committee?

Paul: “I found the 2017 conference really compelling. I really enjoyed it from the word ‘go’. It was really good because it was a space where anyone could get up and say what they had to say—and a lot of people I think were speaking for the first time.

“It was very supportive and I heard perspectives that I had never heard before. I thought next year, if I’m not going to speak at it, I’ll at least help.”

Simone: “I formed some friendships with the people from the committee and it made me realise in the first year of my PhD that what I’m doing is really important. So when they suggested I should join the committee, I thought ‘why not?’.”

The GSS conference is targeted at postgraduates so many students present for the first time. How did you find presenting papers at the GSS conference?

Shawna: “No matter how many times I present, I’m always nervous. On this occasion, it was really helpful because it helped prepare me for an international conference where I was presenting the same topic and had to cut the presentation down from twenty minutes to ten.”

Simone: “It was the second conference presentation I’ve ever done—and the first time I’ve ever presented anything from my honours thesis. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but one of the big reasons why I wanted to get involved with the committee was just how beautiful and supportive the conference atmosphere was.

“It felt as though I was walking into a sort of beautiful utopia where other people were as interested as me in thinking and talking about gender, sex and sexualities. It was a beautiful little haven for all of us to hang out together.”

What was last year’s theme?

Shawna: “Last year was ‘Art(i)culations of Violence’ looking at the intersections of gender and oppression. A previous committee member and I talked about where our research overlapped. We also wanted to bring more attention to race.

“It’s also important the theme is open to wide interpretation because researchers looking at these issues are fractured across a range of university departments like medicine, law, sociology, health science and so on.”

Simone: “The theme last year was ‘Art(i)culations of Violence’, and I realised while catching public transport for my honours thesis that there were forms of violence that you wouldn’t necessarily on the surface consider to be violence, like leering, and men sitting next to me when I wanted to be left alone. I thought violence isn’t always as overt as what we think it is. It’s not always physical things that happens to us, but it’s the smaller stuff. Everyday violence can be oppressive too.”

This year, the conference turns its attention to the contested ideas of spaces and places. The official theme title ‘Space and Place: Conceptions of movement, belonging and boundaries’ is engineered for participants to think about the intersections of gender, race and sexuality, and how and why we feel like we belong where we do. How was this year’s theme decided?

Shawna: This year’s theme was decided by the committee as we looked for an overlap in the research from our varying fields. Last year a lot of people talked about spaces, and at the time the Human Rights Commission was looking into sexual harassment in universities. Space can be considered in other places, too, like work, street, or more spiritually—like a connection to country.”

Simone: “We wanted the theme to be open. When we’re early career researchers, we take things very literally, so we all agreed that the notion of space and place can be interpreted in so many different ways. It was a way to make sure that it was super inclusive, and that a lot of different people might reach out to us with their abstracts.”

Why the focus on postgraduate students and Early Career Researchers (ECRs)?

Simone: “It’s meant to be for people who are in the early stages of their academic career like PhD students, and perhaps people who have just come out of their PhD and haven’t presented a lot. I think a lot of the time when you’re first starting out as a researcher, it’s really scary to have to submit an abstract to a conference where you might be going and speaking in the same session as someone who already has a PhD, and has maybe five, ten, 20, or however many years under their belt. It’s quite intimidating. An environment focused on early career researchers is meant to be supportive and may provide an opportunity to receive constructive feedback on presentations.”

Shawna: “This conference is for postgrad, honours, masters and ECRs because there isn’t much support for these young academics or a space for them to connect with each other. At other academic events, people will grandstand, and ask questions to promote their own work; or they can be unfriendly and intimidating. The GSS conference aims to be a supportive and non-threatening environment to help those at honours level feel more comfortable presenting, or for postgraduate students to meet people and build connections to avoid isolation.”

Paul: “The regular conferences cost quite a lot of money and they can be quite daunting. It is hard if you’re a poor postgrad student to travel without funding and grants. It’s great to have something ongoing in this city that’s across disciplines, across universities and is quite a grassroots project. There should be a lot more of it.”

For someone who’s never been to the conference, what should they expect?

Paul: “Expect a range of views on many subjects that possibly could change your own views on how the world is—so it could be challenging. Expect to be challenged, to be educated, and prepare to have your mind opened.”

Simone: “A really, really supportive and welcoming environment. I found that from the moment I walked in, people were so open and lovely and happy to be there, and be a part of a community of people who are working in areas that are really important, and sometimes undervalued in society, so you should come.”

The 2018 SA Postgrad and ECR Gender, Sex and Sexualities conference will be at the University of Adelaide, Napier 102 lecture theatre September 19-20. All are welcome to attend, whether postgrad, undergrad or just passionate about the theme and intersectionality of the conference.

 

For more information, to get to know the team, or keep your eye open for registrations, visit

https://sagenderandsexualitiesconf.wordpress.com/ or our Facebook page.

 

Illustration by Sascha Tan

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*