A look ahead to the conference, “Gender Diversity at Universities” on 25 November 2020 at the mdw

Things are moving and shaking in the expressive world of gender realities. Even if the term “non-binary” may be relatively new in the public discourse around how gender diversity is dealt with, that which it denotes is no longer all that new, in fact being very much part of longstanding queer-feminist battles and postcolonial critiques. What this is about is breaking up binary logics of thought and deconstructing the normative two-gender order. The latter holds that there exist only two genders (male and female) to which certain roles and expectations are permanently attributed—and that between these two genders, only heterosexual desire is recognised as naturally given and hence normal. “Without mandatory heterosexuality, heteronormativity, and forced gender-binarity, things like the gender-specific division of labour would make no sense,” Katharina Walgenbach1 explains, thereby also referring to the two-gender order’s stabilising function in terms of power relations.

Non-binary, trans* and inter* individuals view themselves as being outside of this dichotomous gender constellation. And in this context, “non-binary” denotes a great degree of variety and can indeed—much like “genderqueer”—function as an umbrella term, a political statement, and/or a way of describing an individual identity:

“Non-binary people can be trans or cis, inter or dyadic. They can be female, male, both, neither-nor, many, several, femme, agender, neutrois, or something entirely different. They can be feminine, masculine, queer, and political. They can be different, new or old, several, changing, or non-pronoun-using. They can have the most diverse bodies and transition needs or experiences, or none of all that.2

Since 2019, the gender designation “divers” (roughly equivalent to the “X” or “unspecified” sometimes used in English-speaking contexts) has been available in Austria’s civil registry as a third option alongside “male” and “female”. This came about because the Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH), in its verdict of 15 June 2018, determined that gender identity belongs to one’s legally protected private and family life. In doing so, the VfGH referred to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for the self-determined exercise of the right to individual gender identity. The point here, then, is self-determination.

The Court’s call to legislative action must be followed by all those universities that have so far oriented themselves toward conventional binary thinking with regard to gender, entailing that many things that are currently conceived according to this binary gender-logic will need to change—things like (teaching) content, processes (e.g. in terms of adding a third gender option to mdwOnline), spaces (in terms of all-gender bathrooms), documents (including how data is recorded and evaluated), language, and much more. The project of dealing more deeply and comprehensively with gender diversity is therefore a necessary one, one that will have effects on many different areas of work and thematic fields.

How can the exclusion and disadvantaging of trans*, inter*, and non-binary individuals be actively countered? What opportunities, consequences, and perspectives for universities are associated therewith? And how can universities—i.e., teaching staff, students, and administrators—become allies of queer political efforts?

These questions will be taken on by the conference “Geschlechtervielfalt an Universitäten – Repräsentationen, Strategien und Handlungsmöglichkeiten” [Gender Diversity at Universities – Representations, Strategies, and Possibilities for Action], which will be held on 25 November 2020 at the mdw in cooperation with Universities Austria (Uniko). The keynote address introducing this theme will be delivered by the mdw music sociology professor Rosa Reitsamer. Thereafter, all participants will have the opportunity to join expert-moderated working groups on the themes of Law (Eva Matt), Teaching & Research (Ela Posch), Resources & Infrastructure (Andrea Braidt, Ingrid Schacherl), Communication (Boka En), and Forming Alliances (Philipp Rouschal) in order to discuss strategies and measures, share experiences, and engage in exchange. The objective of this conference is to point out the possible courses of action available to universities and members of university communities, to discover institutional “spaces-in-between”, and to encourage networking.

“Geschlechtervielfalt an Universitäten – Repräsentationen, Strategien und Handlungsmöglichkeiten”
A conference of Universities Austria (uniko) and the
Administrative Department for Equality, Gender Studies & Diversity (GGD)
Joseph Haydn-Hall, Anton-von-Webern-Platz 1, 1030 Vienna
Wednesday, 25 November 2020, 10:30 a.m.– 4:30 p.m.
Programme and registration

  1. Walgenbach, Katharina (2012). Gender als interdependente Kategorie. Neue Perspektiven auf Intersektionalität, Diversität und Heterogenität. Verlag Barbara Budrich, Opladen, Berlin, Toronto. p. 17
  2. Gagarim, Yori (2017). “Hä? Was heißt denn nicht-binär?”, Missy Magazine, online at https://missy-magazine.de/blog/2017/10/04/hae-was-heisst-denn-nicht-binaer [5 Mar. 2020]
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