Friday, 6 April 2018

Opening Session: Language and International Trans Communities
5.00-6.30 p.m. (Taylor 203)

Vassar Student Panel 

Eilif Rønning ’20
The Case for ‘Hen’: Norway and Gender-neutral pronouns

Samantha Henderson ’20 and Samuel O’Keefe ’20
Écriture Inclusive: The Quest for Equality in France

Len Cattan-Prugl ’18
LOL Gender: Humor and Changing Language

Alexandru Mehmoud ’18
What Do We Talk About When We Talk about Gender?

Sofia Gutierrez ’18
No Habra Gender


Saturday, 7 April 2018

Session I —  Histories
9.30-11.00 a.m. (College Center Multipurpose Room)

Moderator: Anne Brancky (FFS, Vassar College)

Flora Bolter, LGBT center, Paris

Since the days of FHAR (Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire) between 1968 and 1974, the French gay and lesbian movement has been in a dialectic movement with feminist groups and debates. While the feminist movement has been attempting to reframe traditional linguistic practices with more or less success over the years, the emerging LGBT+ movement has added another layer of complexity by questioning the gender binary and trying to make way for additional gender options.

L’Académie française and other traditional institutions have been very outspoken against écriture inclusive, the sum of all feminist reforms to make the French language less male-dominated (particularly by challenging the 17th Century notion that masculine nouns always prevail), and some LGBT+ organizations have therefore still not adapted to it, while others have been at the forefront of this reform. In recent years, even as feminist usage has become more standardised, non-binary and intersex persons have been attempting to pave the way for linguistic practices that would allow more visibility for a third gender options, a process that is still very much in flux among LGBT+ organisations in France.

Drawing on existing texts from LGBT+ organizations in France since the 1990s, and on interviews with persons within the LGBT+ movement who do not identify as male or female, I will give an overview of existing endeavors and how different groups react to the various proposals, highlighting that the need for more inclusion of non-binary persons encompasses more challenges than the accepted canon of écriture inclusive.  Because they attempt to question and reframe the traditional (political) understanding of universalism, both endeavours need to be compounded, not opposed: the linguistic is political.

“Le Masculin l’emporte”: the Evolution of Linguistic Policies in French LGBT+ Organisations

Luca Greco, Université Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle

We could say that all political uprisings could not be detached from speaking, from taking the floor in a public space, and, in a more general idea, from language, a multisemiotic repertoire composed by verbal, kinetic and material resources. In fact, in the history of feminism movements and of LGBTQIA+ political activism, language has always been mobilized by social actors in order to accomplish resubjectivisation against the injury and the shame.

Through some examples drowned from experimental verbal performances proposed by feminist scholars and artists (Gloria Anzaldua, Anne F. Garreta, Monique Wittig…), and from an ethnography I conducted with a francophone drag king community in Brussels (Belgium), I will show how a grammar of emancipation is possible against the fixity and the binarity of linguistic forms. These new linguistic forms allow us to rethink the inclusive writing in French in a not exclusive way, questioning the M/F binary system, more open to fluidity and plurality and inspired from avant-garde movements such as Dadaist movements.

Linguistic Uprisings

11.00-11.30 a.m. Coffee Break

Session II — Pedagogies
11.30-1.00 (College Center Multipurpose Room)

Moderator: Vinay Swamy (FFS, Vassar College)

Florence Ashley, McGill University, Montreal

In this presentation, the author explores the question of whether there exists a legal obligation to respect gender neutral pronouns and agreement in schools in Quebec. They begin with an overview of the lived context of non-binary francophone people as well as their needs with regards to respect for gender neutral pronouns and agreement. Then, they analyse the current state of the law on harassment and discrimination against trans people in schools and evaluate the plausibility that an obligation to respect gender neutral pronouns and agreement would be recognised by Quebec courts. Finally, in light of the limits of the law, they propose a strategic approach to respecting gender neutral pronouns and agreement that puts the focus on the developing of institutional policies informed by the law.

Who is They? The Obligation to Respect Neutral Pronouns and Agreements in the Francophone School

Blase A. Provitola, Columbia University

Transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming students are increasingly demanding inclusion in classrooms in general and, recently, in French language classes in particular. This has led to a variety of questions concerning best practices regarding gender pronouns, as well as the gendered nature of the French language itself. At a time when pronoun use is just beginning to be discussed in some university French departments, one question looms large: in beginner French classes, how can one reasonably accommodate students who use gender neutral language in English—especially when they barely have a grasp of even basic grammatical structures?

As a transgender French language instructor who uses gender neutral pronouns in English, this question has become central to my pedagogical practice. Given that I began my gender transition in Paris, I have grappled with these questions as a teacher and as a graduate student in academic settings in both the United States and France. Some language teachers have responded with a concise approach: as a colleague once put it, at the end of the day, “il faut choisir.” While this may be adequate for many students comfortable with “il” or “elle” (both transgender and cisgender), other students are immediately confronted with the fact that making that choice compromises their gender. This not only negatively impacts the mental health of an already oppressed group, but also sends a clear message that students are not allowed to be themselves in French—a factor that vastly influences their capacity and desire to fully participate.

Gender neutrality is thus not only a linguistic question, but a political question that determines who has access to the French language classroom. Since many of these questions are only now being raised, my presentation will begin with a few brief reflections about how to be inclusive from the very outset of the semester through pronoun use. I will then present a handout appropriate for beginner or intermediate students, which explains the gendered nature of the language and introduces the idea of gender neutrality in French, and addresses several possible ways that students may adapt the language to their needs. Ultimately, centering gender neutrality is not only “do-able,” but also adapts the classroom to the neglected needs of trans students while also allowing for a richer understanding of the French language for all students.

Faut-il choisir ? : Trans Access to the French Language Classroom

Lunch buffet in the Aula for all participants (RSVP)  

Session III — Academia, Art, Activism
2.30-4.30 p.m. (College Center Multipurpose Room)

Moderator: Susan Hiner (Vassar College)

Logan Natalie O’Laughlin, University of Washington

I enter this conversation from what seems to be a periphery, both geographically and linguistically. After all, I no longer live in France and thus do not speak French regularly. But my peripheral status raises an important question: Who has a rightful seat at the table for this conversation on gender-neutral pronouns in French?

The stakes of the debate are quite clear to me. As a nonbinary-identified person who uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themself, my public trans-ness as a scholar has recently made me the target of vitriol from a conservative website and their followers. I articulate my experiences as a transgender person and a Feminist Studies lecturer at the University of Washington with the hope they are useful to the conversation. In so doing, I enact what Cherríe Moraga might describe as a theory in the flesh (1981), taking seriously the idea that transgender people (both binary- and nonbinary-identified) have important embodied knowledges for a trans(national) conversation about language.

Embodied Trans Knowledges from the U.S.


Louisa Mackenzie, University of Washington

Opponents of “la théorie du genre” in France (preferring “théorie” to the more legitimizing “études”) sometimes characterize the field as an American import, or even an invasion. On the other hand, despite the decades-long work of materialist feminist scholars such as Christine Delphy, “French feminism” is still something of a stereotype in English-speaking contexts especially the USA, implying an attachment to essentialist gender roles. Such rhetorical gestures are meant to foreclose further debate, and they often do. We are left with a French-versus-American binary which recasts the unhelpful and discredited essentialist-constructivist opposition along national and linguistic lines. This Vassar symposium, “Legitimizing iel”, considers the ways in which the binary genders of the French language shape and limit non-binary self-expression in French. In this talk, I propose that there is another binary shaping the conversation, which we must resist internalizing: French versus English. The bilingual work of Canadian trans activist and artist Sophie Labelle can serve as a model for legitimizing non-binary-inclusive trans identities in both linguistic spaces.

Non-Binary Gender and the French-American Binary


Sophie Labelle, Trans activist and Comic Strip artist, Québec
The Case for iel : Art and Activism

A conversation with Vinay Swamy (FFS, Vassar College)

5.00-7.00 p.m. (Alumnae House Dining Room)

Cabaret with Students of the College
hosted by FFS Majors committee