Music students get a lot of supervisions – for me it’s generally four or five a week. A few of them are one-to-one, but most of them are small groups, and all of them can be made incredibly uncomfortable by the supervisor saying something that, to them at least, probably seems fairly innocent.
Back in Michaelmas, before I had really come out to anyone, I had my first supervision with a new supervisor. There were five of us in the group and we were all going to give presentations. Whilst waiting to go in we agreed on an order. After we’d gone in, however, the supervisor turned to me and said:
I froze for a moment, unsure what to say. My supervisor, as well as my supervision partners, knew me as a girl. I wasn’t prepared to come out to them in the middle of a supervision just to object to going first! I felt horrible; I was being singled out because of my apparent gender, made to feel different from all the other people in the group. We had already agreed on an order, one where I was not going first. True, I had wanted to go first, but one of my supervision partners had staked his claim and I felt bad going before him now.
Worse still, I had to give a presentation. I couldn’t go somewhere on my own for a few minutes, or punch some poor inanimate object, or even just aggressively scribble in the corner of my notes. I had to give my presentation with everyone in the room focusing on me (or at least pretending to). That was not fun. For the rest of the supervision I couldn’t focus on what was being said and just wanted to get out of there.
This kind of thing happens a lot. Before I’d even reached Week One this term I’d had two supervisions, which had begun with me being referred to as a ‘lady’. The first was one-to-one and the supervisor referred to me as “this young lady” to the previous supervisee. The second was in a group, where the supervisor commented that it was “all ladies in this one”. In both cases I felt very uncomfortable and had a lot of difficulty paying attention.
I decided after that to come out to all of my supervisors. I seriously doubt that they would intentionally upset me like that and I wanted to be able to go to supervisions without dreading their use of gendered language. Moreover, there had been a few instances, including a supervision on how the human voice works, where I would have liked to have been able to raise some trans issues.
My College is, fortunately, very supportive of me, so after my details had been corrected on CamSIS, my DoS contacted my supervisors for me, passing on a letter of explanation I’d written. He also contacted my lecturers at the same time, which I am grateful for as there have been a few times I’ve felt quite uncomfortable in lectures.
Now things are getting better. None of my supervisors have mentioned it to me, but I haven’t been called a ‘lady’, which is a significant improvement! A few of them have used the wrong pronouns, but I understand that it’s easy to slip up when you’re not thinking about it. I still haven’t come out to everyone in my year (how do you even do that? Mass Facebook post? A link to a Get Real. article?), so they sometimes say things I’m not comfortable with, but the people I have told have generally been very supportive.
Frances O’Sullivan (GR. Columnist)