Who studies what and for what reason? Trans and gender variant people are the object of study across many disciplines including science and medicine. In the more formal sense of the word ‘research’ it is often thought of as carried out by ‘experts’ who position themselves outside of the field of study and who are distant and objective. Today, we are more likely to embrace the idea of the ‘personal’ within the realm of research. Trans people carry out extraordinary amounts of this in order to get as much information as possible about what it means to be trans. Being trans and studying trans material is not without its complications. Knowledge is powerful politically and emotionally. It’s difficult engaging in research that is personal – it can be uncomfortable for others and there may be an assumption that we can’t be critical.
The value of this kind of research lies in the idea that it can be very empowering to know and understand oneself and to take ownership over our sense of selves, rather than to accept other people’s versions of who we are uncritically. Claiming a personal interest in any kind of research is more honest, as any idea of being neutral and non-partisan is a fiction. When historians consider historical writings they must consider who wrote the history and why – what a writer chooses to highlight and what they choose to ignore is as important as the basic facts in interpreting an event or phenomena that is being written about. In addition a sociology of scientific knowledge explains that the reason why a particular interpretation of scientific findings emerges as important, whilst others go unheard, is often due to the socio-political and cultural circumstances at the time.