Polemic, not academic.

Picture of the book 'Queer youth, suicide, and self-harm' by McDermott and Roen.Sometimes, when I am writing about my topic, I want to be polemic.


I spend most of my days reading about LGBT+ youth suicide. Some days it’s about the prevalence of it, some days it about risk and protective factors, some days it’s about the theories that try to explain it. I am really lucky because I love my project and I really believe that it has the potential to contribute new understanding to a topic super close to my own heart, and so I am really, really committed to it. But, sometimes, I just want to write in capital letters across the page:

This research is important because it is not good enough that LGBT+ young people face disproportionately high rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviours when compared to cishet youths – I am concerned, I want this to improve, and you should too!

But I don’t because that would be unprofessional, and as someone told me the other day ‘you always write for your external examiner’, and I don’t think Prof External Examiner would be very impressed. That is why I have this blog!

Photo of Hazel at Trans Pride Scotland 2018

Trans Pride Scotland 2018 ❤ Photo credit: Sophie Tolley.

I walk a very thin wire between being an activist/community member and being a researcher, and trying to balance those influences is a constant underlying part of my work (I’m sure tons of people have written about this, and it is my goal next week to search for that literature, but if you have recommendations don’t be shy!). Being a community member (and I say this rather than activist, because I am not really sure I know what an activist is, and I definitely don’t know if I am one) is why I do my work, and I picked an academic route because it offers really good resources (i.e. the university funds my time to do the work and provides rigorous supervision to make sure that the work I produce is of high quality). But despite my position as a community member driving my commitment, some of that passion, anger at injustice, and sadness that I need to feel to be motivated must be tucked away quietly when I write about it.

The ’emotional labour’ involved in dispassionate writing is, I’m sure, written about widely, but this is a blog post so I can just talk about my experience of it (joy!), but it is something I had not thought about until I was sitting having tea and cake with a pal in the national museum and she said,

‘god that’s so sad. Don’t you just get really sad reading about this all the time?’

…or something to that effect. That’s when I realised that I just hadn’t been thinking about it. I had been quietly managing to tuck away those feelings, somewhat subconsciously, to ensure that when I write justifications for why my research is important that there wasn’t a hint of what I was feeling, which was anger at the injustice of what those statistics were telling me and sadness for everyone living with suicidal thoughts and behaviours. So I guess I just wanted to write it down somewhere, so that I had.

It’s not good enough!

queer mutiny.JPG


If you wanna read more about emotional labour ‘the Managed Heart’ by Alice Hochschild is a good shout!

5 thoughts on “Polemic, not academic.

  1. onlyfragments says:

    This is a really morbid comparison, but your post reminds me about Iris Chang, a woman who spent years researching the Japanese massacre of the citizens of Nanjing during WWII. She produced a truly phenomenal, heart-wrenching book about what was then a relatively unknown and poorly understood moment in history. And then she killed herself, at least in part because the knowledge of what had happened to so many people was just too much to bear. I think with writers, researchers, etc, there is a big risk of internalizing the darker truths of a topic – especially when you’re part of the community being studied but have to retain that emotionless non-bias. I hope you’re able to really process and come to terms with the reality of your work; you seem to be generating very valuable research for the queer community, and I for one am grateful for your dedication.

    • Hazel Louise says:

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read it and for commenting :). It is a super interesting project to be involved in, but definitely at times a bit tricky. I am hoping that writing about it will give me some space to explore the trickier feelings. Hazel

  2. jilly says:

    Perhaps coincidentally, my ‘academic distance’ has ended up being a key theme of my SFHEA application! I think now it’s something that I internalised very quickly in my initial exposure to academia as a way of proving that I was worth being there, even though there were definitely parts of ‘me’ that didn’t fit academia. I have always found my animal work easier to compartmentalise than my human work – which often raises eyebrows in the field of animal welfare where it’s almost fashionable to be the other way, to care more about the animals than the people. I have, with experience and security, become more comfortable with embodying my writing with feeling. As we have probably ranted about before, academia needs to become more comfortable with its human side, and realise that it cannot ever be truly objective.

    With that being said, I think one of the most powerful sentences I ever came up with during my PhD was that “to be fearful means to be ‘full of fear'” – and that’s the talk that people still mention years later. I was critiqued by very senior scientists in that talk, but I’m still here.

    Great post 🙂 My advice would be: try not to tuck everything away for an outdated ideal of objectivity, but examine those feelings and recognise how they also influence your approaches. That is true objectivity imo. xxxx

    • Hazel Louise says:

      Academic distance as a strength or a challenge, or both? Also good luck with SFHEA!!

      I think emotions are such an interesting part of academic work – I am having lots of thoughts about emotional labour at the moment and in particular in academia. One of the articles I read recently was about how much was too much reflexivity in feminist research, and thus more self-indulgent and not helping the reader. I think reflexivity is really important for enable people be able to understand you position and thus you work, but I do think working out how much is too much is an art form and working out how to write it academically and not rantily is also a labour of love. H

      • jilly says:

        I absolutely agree – and the readership SHOULD be challenged. Especially in human studies we must see our participants as, well, participants rather than ‘subjects;.

        I think you’re doing a great job, Hazel. You should be really proud of yourself, and careful to protect yourself too xx

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