Project So Far

Writers’ Room

In September 2019, we entered the next phase of the Transformations project with our three-day writers’ room in Bristol. Our goal was to work with a group of young trans and gender diverse people to develop ideas for our performance, which will be written by artist Jason Barker and tour the UK in 2020. The writers’ room was led by Jason with support from writer Faryal Velmi, youth worker Bon O’Hara from Gendered Intelligence, and University of Exeter researcher Dr Jana Funke.

On the first day, we spent time getting to know each other and going through the Gendered Intelligence group agreement, which was introduced by Bon. Jason then used a series of creative exercises to allow everyone to get more comfortable sharing ideas in front of the group. Faryal joined us after lunch to talk about her experiences as a professional tv writer. She explained how she first entered the business and how she made her career. She also gave helpful practical advice about what it means to be part of a writers’ room, how you articulate ideas in front of other people, and how you deal with inevitable experiences of rejection.

Faryal also talked us through ways in which she would develop a story, outlining the important questions we had to ask ourselves and each other about characters, plot, tone, genre and audience. This was incredibly helpful in giving us a sense of what lay ahead and structuring the discussions we would have over the next two days.

After Faryal’s brilliant session, Jason gave the group some creative prompts as ‘homework’ to think about before the next day. Building on the History Workshops we had run in March, Jana briefly introduced German-Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, whose Institute of Sexology in Berlin was raided and destroyed by the Nazis in 1933.

70 years later, a suitcase with some materials from his Institute and his death mask was found in a dumpster in Canada. This inspired thinking about the often violent losses that are part of trans and queer history, which is a theme we would pick up on over the next two days when discussing the content and purpose of the historically inspired performance.

Days two and three were dedicated to discussing the overall framing of the performance and beginning to develop the characters and plot. Building on the story of Hirschfeld’s suitcase, we discussed how trans history needed to be represented on stage.

What are some of the potential challenges we have to confront? Who is the audience and what does the performance need to communicate to whom? What tone seems appropriate? To what extent is it possible to manage the audience’s reactions? What would be the ideal venues for the performance?


We then spent time developing initial ideas for the characters in the performance. We do not want to give away too much at this point, but we once again drew on some of the historical sources and figures we had first encountered during the Historical Workshops in March.

Jason also handed out extracts from the Oral History Workshops that had taken place in the summer to flesh out further ideas for the characters. On the final day of our writer’s room, we began discussing the plot and the individual and collective journeys these characters would go on.

What did each character need to learn and what were the dynamics between the different characters? How would the performance begin and end? And, most importantly, how do we want the audience to feel when the curtain falls at the very end of the performance?

The three days were intense, and Jason did a brilliant job working with the young people, Bon and Jana to generate a lot of amazing ideas and insights. At the end, we were all curious to find out what would happen next and enthusiastic to embark on the future stages of our project. Keep following our website and social media accounts to be part of our journey and don’t miss the final performance in Summer 2020!

Oral History Project

Following the successful historical workshops in March, the next strand of the Transformations projects was the creation of an archive of oral history interviews documenting the experiences of trans and gender diverse people over the past fifty years.

The first step was to train four of our young volunteers in the methodology of oral history interviews, so that they could become interviewers themselves. On July 2, we ran a day’s workshop at the Watershed in Bristol. Dr Ruth Pearce, Prof Kate Fisher, Bon O’Hara from Gendered Intelligence and our participants explored the nature and value of oral history as an historical source. We discussed the purposes of oral history interviews and explored the different kinds of interviews that could be conducted. We discussed the variety of challenges and difficulties that one might face in an interview and developed strategies for managing these. We were particularly interested in the politics and ethics of insider/outsider relationships between interviewee and interviewer.

How far was sharing elements of experiences an advantage or a disadvantage; what were the benefits/costs of revealing shared experiences, and what value was equally to be gained in highlighting and exploiting areas where experiences? We all had a chance to experiment with using recording equipment and conduct practice interviews, and learnt more by observing Ruth give a technical and methodological masterclass. Finally, a ‘what do I do if…’ and ‘how do I do x’ exercise enabled the participants to bring up their own areas of concern.

Later on in the month, we were privileged to have 12 adult volunteers willing to tell their stories, and we all convened over one long weekend at a beautiful Victorian sea-side house in Weston-Super-Mare, which materialised into something we like to describe as an oral history festival. Four comfortable interview rooms were set up while in the spacious kitchen and living-room interviewers and interviewees chatted and exchanged stories around a buffet table groaning with food.

Young interviewers found the experiences of older trans and gender diverse people both fascinating and eye-opening. We heard remarkable experiences of coming out, social and medical transitions and hostility, as well as empowering and life-affirming accounts of support from family and friends, personal strength and changing cultures and attitudes.

The oral history weekend created a new and supportive community of younger and older trans and gender diverse people and we look forward to reconvening in later stages of the project, with others, to integrate extracts from the oral history interviews into our performance and showcase.

If you are trans or gender diverse and aged 16-25 there are a number of ways you can get involved with the Transformations project. Find out here:


History Workshop 2: Language, Labels and Categories, 16th March 2019

We live in a world with many labels for gender and sexual identities. But where did they come from? Some of them originate in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when people, a lot of them scientists or medical doctors, invented a wide range of new labels and categories. The second workshop of the ‘Transformations’ series explored the history of labels for gender and sexuality – looking at who created them, who has used them, and why.  Continue reading

Workshops on the history of gender and science: Bristol, March 2019

In March 2019 we held a series of four workshops, each on a different theme relating to the history of gender and medicine.  From autobiographical accounts of people transitioning at the start of the 20th century, to photos from inside the first Institute for Sexual Science in 1920s and 1930s Berlin, we examined, interrogated and creatively played with materials from the past. This helped us to think in new and interesting ways about gender and sex today and to ask questions such as what do medical frameworks give us, and what do they leave out, ignore, and obscure in both historical and contemporary contexts?

The workshops were a collaboration between Jason Barker, Gendered Intelligence and the University of Exeter. Continue reading