I included On Being Included in my spring reading list thinking that it was going to do something much different than it did. I didn’t anticipate the degree to which Ahmed’s empirical (if qualitative) research would be foregrounded. More significantly, although I knew she was focusing on the process of institutional change and institutional use of diversity language, I assumed at some point she would address the individual felt experience of “being included” or not. There is discussion of diversity practitioners as individuals, some of whom certainly would seem to be part of the “diverse” bodies the institution thinks of itself as including, but there never seems to be any discussion of how they themselves experience fitting into these diversity mandates that it is their job to create and apply. If there is to be any object of Ahmed’s study that she depicts being shifted in and out of the institution’s sphere of inclusion, it is the document.
This isn’t a criticism, per se. I want to read about how it feels to be missed by the interpellation of institutional diversity, but Ahmed gives us a still very useful of how texts succeed or fail to act as a force that intervenes with the momentum of institutional habit. It is not clear what it means for diversity workers to successfully subvert the academy, but I think this is to avoid getting mired down by the impossibility of consensus on any particular acts. Ahmed seems to recognize a vacillation between the organization as constituted by documents, and the organization as having a will and a history of its own that makes it capable of blocking, ignoring, or undercutting documents it generates.
Explaining that gender identity is not evidence of any particular sexual orientation is a big part of Trans 101 style popular education, but trans theorists (Kate Bornstein and Jacob Hale come to mind) have also done a lot of work to explore how common assumptions about their connection affects the way individuals experience their own gender and the gender of others. I’ve recently read Gayle Salamon’s Assuming A Body, and (among other things) she shows how the work of phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty can illuminate the connection between sexuality and gender identity. Her argument is interesting in that it takes us beyond heteronormativity and the impact of sexual relations on how one’s gender is read: