Researcher Matt Kennedy, speaking from a podium in a public setting

Spotlight on Research: PRIDE Month: Transnormativity and the Everyday Lifeworlds of Young Trans Individuals in Ireland

Posted: 16 June, 2023

Matt Kennedy (he/him) is an interdisciplinary empiricist, Irish Research Council Scholar and doctoral candidate in the area of trans studies in the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at University College Dublin. He is also a writer and a boxer. He has dedicated his life to the pursuit of liberation and justice for trans people through research, policy and advocacy. We asked him about his current research and broader work.

Tell us about the research you’re currently working on

I am currently employed by Belong To, Ireland’s National LGBTQ+ youth organisation as the Policy and Research Officer, as well as completing my PhD on transnormativity with the support of the Irish Research Council Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme. Transnormativity can be understood as a hegemonic ideology that structures transgender narratives, experiences and identifications into a hierarchy of legitimacy and legibility. This qualitative, interdisciplinary, community-based project marks a specific contribution to national and international scholarship in relation to transnormativity, trans theory and scholarship, healthcare, social class, legal identity and narrative production.

In your opinion, why is the research important? What could the public better understand about the topic?

One centrally important aspect of this project is its trans-centred methodological approach and its grounding in Trans Studies. This project moves to ensure that trans voices and trans lived experiences are acknowledged as being instrumental not only in how we conceptualise trans liberation but also in how we theorise trans life, embodiment, culture, power and knowledge production. Through qualitative research methods that included in-depth interviews, focus groups and innovative arts-based body mapping workshops, all grounded in deeply ethical practices, this project contributes to knowledge in a disciplinary, methodological and theoretical context. In addition, this research makes a series of key recommendations informed by the lives of the participants, these recommendations speak to policy, law and healthcare specifically.

The launch of the 2022 School Climate Survey from Belong To at the Museum of Literature Ireland in Dublin.

What are some of the challenges facing researchers in your field?

Trans academic and advocacy work in our current political and cultural moment faces immense scrutiny, prejudice and dismissal. I have over the course of my PhD encountered personal and professional discrimination towards my work precisely because I am a trans man working in trans advocacy and scholarship. This, though challenging, affirms the importance of this work. In order to transform Irish society to be more cognisant of the needs of trans people, trans voices need to be amplified and listened to.

Tell us about some of the policy work at Belong To

One of the most significant ways I have been involved in amplifying the voices of trans people has been through my work as Policy and Research Officer for my employment partner, Belong To. Belong To provides support and services to LGBTQ+ young people across Ireland through youth work, education, training, advocacy, policy and research. Research has been instrumental to our work in supporting young people specifically Belong To’s School Climate Reports (2022, 2019) which capture the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people in post-primary schools in Ireland and the Life in Lockdown Reports (2021, 2020). These research projects work through their findings and subsequent recommendations to ensure the policy and practices that impact LGBTQ+ youth include their voices. Belong To has been able to grow our capacity for conducting research through my role which would not be possible without the support of the Irish Research Council.

How has the Irish Research Council supported your work?

The Irish Research Council Employment-based Scholarship recognises the need for interagency collaboration for early career researchers in developing their skill set, training, and professional development. As I near the completion of my PhD I have witnessed the additional benefits of conducting doctoral research via the employment-based model. I feel the interagency elements of the programme accurately reflect the interdisciplinarity and the ambitions of my project while also acknowledging the project’s central tenet—collaboration. I feel this scholarship, its framework and the Irish Research Council has supported me in many meaningful ways as a scholar, enabling me to progress my academic scholarship, policy, research and advocacy work, in the hopes of making life more liveable for trans people in Ireland.

Matt Kennedy’s research is funded through the Irish Research Council’s Employment-based Postgraduate Programme where his enterprise partner is BeLonG To Youth Services. For more information about the Employment-based scheme, consult the website.

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