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Could Have, Would Have: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Lost Selves and Possibilities for Queer and Trans People

Young LGBTQ person with blue hair and a rainbow shirt

Sarah Williams, Phd and Jessica Fields, Phd - Could Have, Would Have: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Lost Selves and Possibilities for Queer and Trans People

What happens if you cannot become your next self? This question is fundamental to understanding queer and trans experiences of the Covid pandemic as not only a global health crisis but also a condition that shaped and constrained people’s selves. The presenters draw on qualitative interviews collected in Spring and Summer 2021 with members of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community living in Toronto during lockdowns that compelled people to live with hostile families of origin, to continue making a room with partners whom they wanted to leave, and to relinquish their sexual lives in the name of safety. Coming out often represents a hope for something else. In these hopes lie suggestions of the person one might become, claim, and assert a next self that queer and trans people pursue and celebrate and that, as the interviews suggest, queer and trans people now mourn. The presenters explore this loss as one of Covid’s many destructive outcomes.

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Mon, 05/16/2022 - 12:00 to 13:00

Jessica Fields is Vice-Dean Faculty Affairs, Equity & Success in the Office of the Vice-Principal Academic & Dean and Professor of Health Studies at University of Toronto Scarborough. Fields’ research focus on racialized and gendered discourses of vulnerability and risk. In studies of high school communities, middle school classrooms, and jail-based HIV education, she explores the ways discourse curtails and produces sexual health education’s gendered and racialized lessons about the array of relationships, identities, desires, and behaviors that people imagine and pursue for themselves and others. With Laura Mamo, Nancy Lesko, and Jen Gilbert, Fields leads The Beyond Bullying Project (funded by the Ford Foundation), a community-based storytelling project that interrogates policymaking that challenge perceptions of LGBTQ sexualities and youth as problems and consider what is required for sexual health education to open up to the uncertainty, discomfort, and pleasure of learning from and about LGBTQ sexuality and lives. Fields is also the author of Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality (Rutgers University Press), an ethnography of community responses to state legislation requiring school-based health education to promote abstinence until marriage. Risky Lessons received the 2009 Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award from the American Sociological Association Section on Race, Gender, and Class. Fields is currently completing her second book, Problems We Pose: Feeling Differently about Qualitative Research (University of Minnesota Press), in which she welcomes emotion and feeling as a source of insight—not an obstacle to understanding—into the racialized, gendered, and sexual inequities that compromise health and well-being.

Sarah A. Williams holds a Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology from the University of Toronto and is currently the Louise Lamphere Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies. Her dissertation, Re/producing Legitimacy: Midwifery and Indigeneity in the Yucatán Peninsula, was based on eighteen consecutive of ethnographic fieldwork and over ten years of engagement and research in Quintana Roo and Yucatán, Mexico. She is the author of several peer-reviewed publications, including an essay in Social Science & Medicine entitled Divergent narratives of blame: Maternal mortality rates, reproductive governance, and midwifery in Mexico. Dr. Williams is currently the Co-Investigator and Qualitative Research Lead on the QueerCOVID-Toronto project, which is examining the impact of the pandemic and public health policy on queer people’s mental and physical health. She is also working with her collaborator and Co-Investigator, Dr. Kathleen Rice (McGill University), on a project investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on experiences and outcomes in maternal health in Canada and their early analyses have been published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and Women & Health.