Deputy News Editor
A summer debating competition in Trinity will feature efforts to better include trans* debaters. The gender introductions policy introduced this week by Trinity Open organisers will involve all speakers affirming their preferred pronoun at the beginning of debates. The policy has already been implemented at debating rounds in Glasgow and Cardiff.
Competitive debates take place between people who may be strangers, and often involve highly gendered language, with the formula “Sir/Madam” often used to ask points of information, and gender pronouns being used throughout debates to refer to points raised by speakers. For trans* debaters, this results in frequently being referred to by the incorrect pronouns, or being “misgendered”, a distressing experience which organisers say they are hoping to prevent.
Trinity Open is due to take place on August 8th in the Museum Building, and is a collaboration between the University Philosophical Society and the College Historical Society, with students from Ireland and Britain attending.
Ludivine Rebet, Debates Convener of the Phil, and Co-Convener of Trinity Open, said that she was “thrilled” that the Open would be adopting pronoun introductions, and was excited to see how it will play out. She affirmed that she would like to see the policy adopted at other Trinity competitions, and described the decision by the Conveners and Chief Adjudicators as “quick and easy to make, all having read Crash Wigley’s considered and wise document.”
The document in question is a summary of a presentation given at the Oxford Women’s Open Debating Competition last month by Oxford debater Crash Wigley. The document provides examples of misgendering at debating competitions, the effect that this has on trans* debaters, and provides an explanation of the introductions policy and its implementation. Wigley stressed that the policy should not be “this arbitrary thing we do for the sake of being PC”. She called for a broad discussion on trans* issues at debating competitions, and confronted a number of potential issues, such as the number of trans* debaters and the time that the policy would take.
The document was shared on the Facebook event page for the competition by Trinity Open Co-Convener, Peter Gowan, the Hist’s Debates Convener, who said that he and Rebet “hope that everyone will support this decision and take it seriously as a small step which can improve the experience of the competition substantially for those who might otherwise be misgendered.”
Speaking to this reporter, International Mace winner and Trinity graduate, Sally Rooney, said that policies such as this one “help to make trans people feel more comfortable and safer in debating environments, and to attract new trans participants to the circuit. On top of that, trans inclusion policies can help to remind us that how we debate influences what we debate – we can’t talk sensitively, sincerely or productively about trans issues in a space where trans people and their experiences aren’t welcome.” Rooney is the Chief Adjudicator of the Bristol Open, and has announced that gender introductions will be adopted for that competition as well.
On the benefits of the policy, Rooney said: “Trans issues are not a thought experiment for cisgender people to debate about in the abstract – and I think setting up a space that welcomes trans experiences and perspectives is the only way to open genuine discussions about how best to promote and prioritise trans rights.”
Rebet also emphasised that the policy is necessarily part of a broader movement. “I would like to see awareness spread to other competitions around the world, but also to aspects of life in Trinity. There is so much that needs doing to improve the lives of trans students in third level education and many steps need not be all that difficult.”