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Rowan, Bell

About me:
I’m a Philosophy postdoc in the PFFFD program, and in fall 2023 I will take up a position as Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Sexualities, Genders, and Social Change at the University of Guelph. My research sits at the intersection of trans philosophy, social ontology, and metaethics, while also drawing on queer theory, sociology, and decolonial feminisms. In short, I use a variety of methods to study the normative properties of gender norms. When I’m not doing philosophy, I like to run, ride my bike, climb rocks, read or watch speculative fiction, or play with my cat.

My research as an underrepresented person:
My research is directly grounded in my experiences of being underrepresented in dominant societies. I’ve always understood on some level that the world is made for some people and not for others. I’ve never fit comfortably within the gender categories and expectations that construct most people’s social reality, and so I’ve always had a kind of outsider’s perspective to those categories and expectations. But being an outsider isn’t comfortable or safe. When I was growing up, trans and gender-nonconforming people were either invisible, or we were targeted–turned into jokes, or beaten, or killed. My academic work grows from a need to make sense of the gender norms that make that possible. This is partly just so I can understand myself, but mostly it’s so that I can understand the violence inherent in colonialist gender binaries, in order to have the tools to resist it. Knowledge is power. Specifically, it’s the power to push back against the oppressive, unjust power that works to keep some people in the shadows, where we can be ignored or brutalized.
In my research, I study the ways in which people at the margins of white-centric, cisnormative, colonialist gender binaries experience and navigate oppressive gender norms. I want to know how the same gender systems that harm us can also get inside of us and shape ourselves and our actions. I want to know how we can resist them while also surviving within them. To understand this, I draw inspiration from the trans and queer communities that have built resources and networks to understand their own relationships to gender norms. This is trans philosophy in action.
The impact of my work has been humbling and sometimes overwhelming. I find that a lot of people resonate with my arguments and theoretical perspective–people with all kinds of relationships to gender and its norms. Gender harms all of us in different ways, and an outsider’s perspective can shed light on it from an angle that many people find illuminating. I hope that my work can help people understand their own experiences with gender norms, and realize that we don’t have to accept them as they’re given to us. We can fight back. We can do this with joy. We can play with the system that tries to crush us. Trans and gender-nonconforming people have been doing this for centuries. You can do it too.