Archaeologists for Trans Liberation

We, the Black Trowel Collective, stand with our trans members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and community members. We do this out of care and in solidarity, but also backed by a scientific understanding of the past as a space where trans people and all manner of gender and sexual fluidity and variation exist comfortably. Our trans colleagues, students, friends, and family are under continuous scrutiny and attack and we express our solidarity with them against this injustice.

The Black Trowel Collective strives for the shared liberation of all human beings. We stand against those who weaponize their  platforms and privilege to attack trans people. It is the position of the Black Trowel Collective that an archaeological understanding of the past is incompatible with transphobia and so-called ‘gender critical’ or trans-exclusionary radical feminism. There is overwhelming evidence from past societies that our current ways of understanding sex and gender are fleeting and contingent. Neither sex nor gender are fixed in aspect or immutable over time and between cultures. As anarchists, we are impelled to mobilize this knowledge into action and we urge the actions that follow. 

Call to Action

Archaeologists must center the fluidity of gender in their archaeological practice

Archaeological research supports a multitude of human expressions and ways of being throughout time. Being an archaeologist is incompatible with trans-exclusionary views. Our support for our trans students, colleagues, family and friends is not conditional upon archaeological evidence. It is grounded in our opposition to bigotry, discrimination, and patriarchy. We must make space in our teaching for expansive understandings of gender, refuse to allow harmful and inaccurate binaries into our research agendas, and maintain space for our trans and gender diverse colleagues in professional and personal interactions. We must resist structures (from a tick box on a form, to a site interpretation panel, to pedagogical methodologies) that reinforce transphobic practices.

Archaeologists must make fieldwork, research, education, and workplace contexts safe for trans people

Archaeological fieldwork has often been a space of patriarchal control, assault, and violence. Institutional settings, field schools, research and commercial archaeological contexts need to ensure that trans people are supported and safe. Cameron Wildridge has proposed some basic steps beyond simple “culture” or “attitude” changes to making fieldwork more trans inclusive, including being conscious of legal restrictions on trans people at fieldwork sites, providing sharps boxes and spaces to inject hormonal treatments, and providing gender neutral site facilities such as bathrooms and sleeping quarters. Though these suggestions can be generalized, it is important to listen to trans and gender diverse participants in order to make safe and inclusive environments, as anticipating needs without the input of trans people can lead to further harm. At the same time, listening in itself is not enough. Archaeologists in leadership and supervisory positions need to be proactive without outing trans students and colleagues, or expecting them to out themselves to cis (i.e. non-trans) people, if it does not feel right to do so.

Archaeologists must use their expertise about the past to fight against harm to current people

Appeals to the authority of a mythical, unchanging past form a core component of anti-liberationist arguments. Archaeologists, as experts in written and unwritten histories, must fight those who misrepresent the past to damage present people. It is our duty to interrupt, contradict and correct anyone who dares to rationalise their own bigotry in this way. We do this by ensuring that our scientific accounts  do not reproduce transphobic and binary interpretive assumptions. Our past is diverse, multivocal, and queer and we must tell these stories. 

For more information about this stance, and the scientific backing of our position, we will add a follow-up statement soon.