The thesis is such an integral part of the Bryn Mawr experience that it has its own Step Sing song (“I’ve Been Working On My Thesis”), and it’s the beginning of another (“Colossal Pain”). Everyone knows about theses: we’re told horror stories about them for three years.
Perhaps needless to say, I was nervous about the thesis process (“terrified” might be a more accurate word — if some of the seniors I’d talked to were to be believed, my thesis was going to eat my soul). The start of junior year rolled around, and I still had no idea what the topic of my thesis would be. Oh, I had mumbled a little to the philosophy major advisor the spring before about queer theory (not that I had read any Foucault or ever studied queer theory at Bryn Mawr), but after not managing to get through either of the Judith Butler books I had checked out over the summer, that was looking less and less promising. To make matters worse, my thesis advisor was on some kind of emergency medical leave for the first half of the semester. Better and better, right?
Luckily, our first gathering for senior conference calmed my fears. The professor we met with told me that I could write my thesis using works that weren’t written by philosophers, which was wonderful and an absolute gift from Athena. Coming out of that meeting, I had a plan! I was going to write about gender theory, and I was going to use the books I had read that summer — GenderQueer, Trans Liberation, Transgender Rights — to do so (it was super convenient how that worked out and not at all anything I’d planned). Fall semester was fun: we stayed in touch with our thesis advisor via email, and the other four philosophy majors and I met up each week for the first quarter to “discuss our theses” (by which I mean “got sushi, ate cupcakes at one person’s apartment, ate yummy baked goods from Bakery House, and generally had a good time bonding while occasionally discussing our current thesis thoughts”). After our thesis advisor arrived, we got down to work a bit more, but things were fairly relaxed.
Spring semester: down to the actual writing process. Well, it was stressful trying to figure out what I was actually writing about; I had topics (nonbinary gender, trans issues, exploring gender as a concept) but no actual argument around which to structure my thesis. As things got down to the line, that part came together a bit more (the gender binary system is bad and hurts people). It got more and more difficult to work on my thesis — it’s really depressing and anxiety-inducing to read and write about about the ways in which trans folk are discriminated against, harassed, disenfranchised, attacked, and otherwise harmed by the binary systems of gender and sex that are so deeply entrenched in U.S. society.
Then I was about a month away from my thesis actually being due, and I just sort of hit a stopping point. The next section of the thesis was to be the ways in which we could deal with the harms done by the gender binary system and what it would be like without it. Unfortunately, I had run out of optimism and couldn’t really think of any way that it could get better. It didn’t help that I was dealing with: A) being in the group teaching about transgender oppression in Social Dynamics of Oppression, and B) the transgender section in my education class — Sex, Gender, and Education — in which we read three pages of comments from an online forum regarding a transgender elementary schooler at a local school (and by “comments” I mean some of the most awful, transphobic hate speech I’ve ever read). It wasn’t exactly an atmosphere conducive to imagining solutions and envisioning positive goals.
I was beginning to panic; I was feeling overwhelmed and, frankly, like there simply couldn’t be a way that society could get past this damaging system that is so destructive to us all. And then, with just 18 days to spare, I went to see Dean Spade speak at Swarthmore.
Dean’s lecture reinvigorated me. It filled me with purpose and a sense that yes, we can make a difference, and there is a big, bright, beautiful world ahead if only we can get there. He believes that it is possible to dismantle the structures that oppress us, and his belief fueled my own.
I know that I’ve gone on and on about Dean Spade and how wonderful he is, and how much I love everything he’s written, and I imagine it gets to be a bit much. But really, in all sincerity, Dean Spade saved my thesis. After his lecture, I was filled with new ideas for my thesis — what we could do, and what the world could be like. I truly believe that I would not have finished my thesis without him. Oh, sure, I would have handed something in, but the element of optimism about the future and ideas for getting there — the crucial third part of my thesis’ arc from background, to problem, to solution — would have been missing. It would have been incomplete.
More than that, he gave me back my hope for the future and my belief that things can, and will, get better. And that is why I take every opportunity to praise Dean Spade.
Thanks to Dean Spade, thanks to my wonderful thesis advisor, thanks to my friend to whom I turn with all of my barely-half-formed thoughts about gender, thanks to my fellow philosophy majors, thanks to my family and friends, I finished my thesis, I defended my thesis, and I managed to complete my philosophy major.
Anassa kata, kalo kale
Ia ia ia Nike
Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr
I survived my thesis (with my soul intact)!