How Did Lockdown Help Me Come Out As Non-Binary? by Ripley Cook for Trans Day of Visibility

In this post by one of our YSJ literature students, Ripley Cook, they explain how lockdown helped them understand their neurodiversity and their gender identity. 

nonbinary flag
The non-binary flag via Stonewall

For most of my life I can honestly say that I was never comfortable in my own body. I put it down to a lot of different reasons: how men perceived me and the sexism that came with that, basic insecurities, and the bullying I experienced because of my appearance in high school. It never occurred to me that it was more than that, at least not until lockdown.

For those who know me, especially my lecturers, my mental health is never 100%. University has challenged me in ways that I would never have imagined. But it also challenged my perception of myself and forced me, through the new independence, to face certain hard truths.

The first one was that I was autistic, which is honestly one of the most important factors in my gender journey. And that my brain just worked differently: the way I viewed the world around me was separate from how the people around me saw the world. When I was faced with this reality, I had to almost retrace my steps to my childhood, to figure out who I was without the “masking”. Masking within neurodivergency is mimicking behaviour that neurotypical people do – it is very exhausting.  So many Autistic people go through this to appear “normal”.

And the first thing I unmasked was my gender.

If you want the exact definition of my gender it would be “agender”. I simply do not feel gender. I do not understand it. The gender rules that exist within society just did not make sense to me, and I did not want to be hindered or defined by them. To me and my autistic brain the rules of society around gender just do not fit into the way I live my life, I do not feel them, and I do not need them. This is because the way I see the world and society is different.

Someone may look at my chest and see boobs = woman but I do not. I can’t control how people perceive of me, but I can control the factual identity of who I am. And in my identity boobs do not equal women.

Being non-binary has made my world harder, thanks to the prejudice out there, but it has also been so liberating. I shaved my hair, I changed my name, I expressed myself online confidently for the first time. Because being non-binary to me is freedom.

York St John University is in the Top 100 Stonewall Employers. Find out more information on their website about transgender identities here and being a non-binary ally here.

Mask 4 Mask: Should we really be comparing COVID and AIDS? by Adam Kirkbride for LGBT History Month

As human beings, we have a tendency to look back at our history and compare it to what is happening in the present. This, by and large, is a fairly good thing. We get to learn from our past mistakes and exorcise the ghosts that haunt our cultural memory. However, the recent tendency to compare the COVID19 pandemic to the AIDS crisis is, I believe, a tendency that is rooted in ignorance.

The first time that I saw this comparison made was in mid-summer last year, which compared mask use to prevent the spread of COVID to condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. In theory, this is a fair enough comparison; both items are to be worn to prevent the wearer from transmitting a virus, and both are incredibly effective at reducing spread. In practice, however, it is not quite as simple as this. Masks are readily available to all who need them, whereas condoms were rarely supplied freely and accessibly to young gay men during the AIDS crisis. What’s more, is that the two viruses are spread differently, COVID through droplets and AIDS through sexual intercourse, which means that the methods by which the virus can be prevented are vastly different. Especially in lesser-developed countries, COVID was far easier to control than AIDS because far fewer resources are needed to prevent transmission. Whereas HIV/AIDS requires condoms, sex education, PrEP, and anti-viral drugs to control transmission, COVID can be in large part controlled through masks, self-isolation, and social distancing. Can you see how this just is not equitable?

COVID AIDSAnother reason the two diseases are often compared is due to demographic concerns. Both COVID and AIDS were constructed in the media as diseases which affected specific population groups. COVID was presented as disproportionately affecting older generations, and HIV/AIDS as centred on gay men. These attitudes lead to people who do not fit into those categories falsely believing the virus is not a risk to them (which leads to them catching it). Nevertheless, these are different demographics, and deserve to be treated as such. A key example is the fact that the elderly are not currently stigmatised in the way that gay men and IV drug users were during the AIDS crisis. A recent Instagram post by @grundyoxford rewrites AIDS headlines as though they were about COVID. Reading something like “I’d shoot my mum if she had Covid” is shocking, and nobody would argue that this is not totally unreasonable ( But, of course, this was not a headline about COVID. As this post illustrates, we don’t view COVID sufferers in the way that we viewed (and continue to view) HIV/AIDS sufferers. COVID sufferers are victims of selfish individuals, but HIV/AIDS sufferers were (are) viewed as getting what is coming to them for leading a deviant lifestyle. The two are not equitable.

At the time of writing, there have been 2.36 million deaths from COVID19 worldwide, but in just 2004, 2.1 million people died from AIDS related illnesses worldwide. Thanks to the vaccine, COVID deaths will eventually diminish to a negligible amount, but HIV/AIDS continues to ravage populations, killing hundreds of thousands each year since the first cases in 1981. Without wanting to sound like a conspiracy theorist who fundamentally misunderstands science, there is a reason more than immunological differences that we still haven’t found a cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS in forty years, but have several viable candidates for COVID after just one year. Ultimately, comparing parts of our history with parts of our present is a good thing, but it only a good thing when done correctly and sensitively. For example, it is telling that in both the COVID19 pandemic and the AIDS epidemic, black, Asian, and Latinx communities were hit substantially harder than white communities with very little media representation. Alternatively, gay blood activist Ben Weil suggests that disabled people have suffered institutional neglect comparable to the institutional neglect of gay AIDS victims. ( These are just two examples of sensitive and nuanced comparisons of these two catastrophic events. As socially-conscious adults, we need to be nuanced in our representations, otherwise we run the risk of erasing histories that were barely ever visible.


LGBT History Month Events!

There’s still time to catch some brilliant LGBT+ History Month activities in the area before the end of February!church covered in flagsEmily Balmer, our YSJSU LGBTQ+ Liberation Officer, has been sharing stories, advice and resources all month. Find all of her LGBT+ History Month posts on Facebook.

Jane Speck is in conversation with members of the YSJ LGBTQ+ community. In her latest video, Jane chats to Director of International and LGBT+ staff network chair, Phill Gray. Listen to his take on spirituality and religion in relation to LGBTQ+ issues as he reflects on his own journey. Catch Jane’s other conversations with Helen Sauntson and Saffron Vickers Walkling here.

And check out this brilliant graphic which tracks Google searches for popular LGBT+ figures. It was made by Pierre-Philippe – one of our Senior Lecturers in Mathematical Sciences and LGBT+ Staff Network steering group member.  

Outside Event:


Matthew Todd: LGBTQ+ Mental Health

YUSU LGBTQ+ and Matthew Todd

Friday 26 February, 6:00pm

Multi-award winning author Matthew Todd will join YUSU LGBTQ+ to give a talk on mental health within the LGBTQ+ community, followed by a Q&A session. Full details on the YUSU website.



Looking After Ourselves in Lockdown: Students Share Their Thoughts

Student Top Tips for Lockdown Study and Wellbeing

Continuing in our series of posts by students, two of our Level Five students share their ideas for how to maintain a healthy study/life balance. We hope you find them uplifting and inspiring.

Annie Denton, Level 5, English Literature: The importance of space

When we first transitioned our university studies online, it was temporary. No one could have imagined that this strange system would become our new normal. Or perhaps, we just didn’t want to imagine it so that we could continue our hope of seeing our friends and tutors in September. As the autumn closed in, the glare of sunny screens and book pages fluttering in the summer breeze disappeared, and a darker season took over. There was the curfew, then the rule of six, the tiers and then another lockdown. But how do you keep up with the workload and deadlines with all the extraneous stress and confusion? For me, it was important to separate the spaces in which I work, ensuring that I do not work, eat, and sleep in the same spaces. When possible, I would work in the library or at my desk to ensure that I could mentally differentiate the places and associate them with different tasks. I advise this to anyone who is feeling as though they are unproductive, or not sleeping properly due to their university work, even if you just move to another space in your bedroom. Also, throughout the pandemic, I found my connection with nature has strengthened. There have been so many occasions in York, and at home, that a walk outside has saved my sanity. When the weather is miserable, it is so easy to associate your mood to the weather – I’m convinced all Literature students think about the pathetic fallacy between our thoughts and the weather! I have found that on the darker, more dreary days it is good to curl up with a good book, a hot-chocolate, and a candle to change your day from being ‘unproductive’ to a cosy treat for yourself. This semester should be something to look forward to. Tutors and students alike have had a chance to get used to online methods. We’re leaving behind our January blues, and despite still being in Lockdown, we can look forward to a time when we can safely return to York.

Leah Figiel, Level 5, English Literature and Creative Writing: Have a ‘Favourite Things’ Day

Admittedly, this isn’t my own idea, but a self-care tip that I have “stolen” through watching posts on YouTube by visual artist and filmmaker Shayna Klee on her channel The Purple Palace. The concept is that once a week (or whenever you feel like), schedule in an entire day where you do your favourite things queue Julie Andrews singing. This could include activities such as cooking and/or eating your favourite meal, painting a picture, watching a comfort film or reading your favourite book! Nourishing your hobbies and interests is key when everyday can feel like it’s groundhog day. By planning this time in advance, it allows you to look forward to something, which sounds very simple, but is such an important feeling that we all need, especially in this wintry lockdown.

Remember that if you are feeling that you need to talk to somebody about your situation or mood there is support available here.










All About Respect

Please see below a message from the All About Respect team about activities taking place this week.

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week 1st – 5th February

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week aims to highlight sexual violence and abuse in society. In 2021 we’re taking our campaign completely online, and having our conversations about sexual violence online to raise awareness that in terms of sexual violence #itsnotok. Continue reading “All About Respect”

An Unexpected Surprise in Julius Caesar! by Annie Denton

cast signaturesAs a literature student, I am used to buying books second hand. The quality of the copy doesn’t necessarily matter because when we’re finished with it, it will undoubtedly have illegible scribbles in the margins and post-it notes spilling out of its edges. For this year’s Shakespeare: Perspectives module, I found an online supplier of second-hand books for the exact editions that were suggested for the reading list. I found a copy of Julius Caesar with the description “excellent condition, slight yellowing of the pages and a lovely dedication”.

 When it arrived, flicking through the pages to see the condition, I discovered a series of signatures on the inside cover. I immediately researched some of the more legible names, as they were unknown to me at the time. I discovered the names belong to the Royal Shakespeare Company cast of 2004, starring Christopher Saul as Caesar and Zubin Varla as Brutus. Continue reading “An Unexpected Surprise in Julius Caesar! by Annie Denton”

LGBT+ History Month Events

York St John University proudly supports LGBT+ History Month in February; details of two forthcoming online events can be found below.
Jamie Windust sat cross legged with their hand on their head weating a bright red turtle neck jumper and patterned jacket. They wearing large red glasses with matching red lipstick. Jamie sits on a yellow chair with a plant in the background.

Jamie Windust in Conversation

6.00pm | Monday 15 February | Free 

Join author and model Jamie Windust and Dr Esther McIntosh, Associate Head of Religion, Politics and International Relations at York St John University, for a fun and frank evening of conversation about the key issues for the LGBT+ community in 2021.

Jamie will discuss their debut book, ‘In Their Shoes: Navigating Non-Binary Life’, and share their thoughts on topics ranging from the need for kindness in the LGBT+ community to the impact of Pride cancellations in 2020.

To book a ticket,  click here.

Beyond the Binary: Scientific Thinking about Sex 1900-1950

5.00pm | Tuesday 16 February | Free

On the left there is a pink female outline on the right there is a blue male outline. Between the two are a gradient of transformations between the two genders ranging from pink to blue. The image is sat against a navy background.

In the last decade, a growing number of young people identify as non-binary. Some governments are now considering recognition of a neutral gender in official documents. However trans and non binary people are still being stigmatised by the media. In these instances science is invoked to help us defend or challenge our understandings of gender and sex to enable systemic change. In this talk Dr Chiara Beccalossi (University of Lincoln) discusses how science increasingly sees gender and sex as a spectrum. 

To book a ticket, click here.

Online Learning: Reflections/Top Tips From Current Students

laptop and notesAs we entered into our third national lockdown in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic at the beginning of this month, we have asked our students to share their reflections and their tips on online learning. For some students, online learning can seem alien and a challenge, whilst for others it opens up accessibility. Three York St John Literature students from different stages of their degree share their reflections and their tips on approaching online learning in these times. Continue reading “Online Learning: Reflections/Top Tips From Current Students”

Festive ‘Watch-along’ of The Muppet Christmas Carol! 11th December 2020

The English Literature and  Creative Writing programmes are hosting a Festive ‘Watch-along’ of The Muppet Christmas Carol!  Next Friday afternoon, the 11th of December, Dr Rob Edgar and staff will host a viewing of this celebrated musical fantasy comedy of Charles Dicken’s Christmas story through Teams! We invite you to attend to view it alongside other students on the two programmes and to post observations in the chat.  AND – at the end of the viewing, Rob and team members will announce the quiz questions, which will be aimed at those of you who have watched the film the most carefully There will be prizes!  
Additionally, the office is organising a gift voucher for £5.00 worth of popcorn/movie viewing from a local York cinema for all who sign up and attend. We wanted to give you popcorn in person, but this is the best way we can think to do this; if you get your own popcorn for the watch-along, you can get some local cinema popcorn the next time you are there.  Please sign up on this Event Brite link to let us know you can be there, and we’ll send you a Teams link. 
We wanted to find a way to celebrate getting to the end of what has been a challenging semester, and to say a giant ‘Well Done’ for getting through! We hope to see you there!

YSJU Chaplaincy Support for Wellbeing

Jane Speck, YSJU Chaplain
“Chaplaincy isn’t just here for religious people”: Jane Speck, YSJU Chaplain.

As part of our Wellbeing and Welfare Series, we have asked our YSJU Chaplain, Jane Speck, to introduce the Chaplaincy to us and outline the ways it can support us. The Chaplaincy is there for people of all faiths and none. Incidentally, Jane also has a degree in English Literature!

Wellbeing and the Chaplaincy by Jane Speck

I sometimes wonder what people think of when they hear the word, ‘Chaplaincy’.  These days if I ask people, I more often than not get a blank stare!  It’s not a word that’s used very often, and if people have heard it at all they tend to associate it strongly with religion (which is fair enough!), but then think that Chaplaincy is only for religious people. Continue reading “YSJU Chaplaincy Support for Wellbeing”

Student Wellbeing: New and Established Services Update

group of people supporting each other
Even if we are physically isolated, we can still be there for each other. #WeAreYSJ

We’ve had an update from the Wellbeing team about the support available for you

The Wellbeing team have created a new service which allows them to meet with students on Teams, over the phone and via chats. Students can contact the Wellbeing Service via the wellbeing email or by filling in a simple form on the web.   

We have also introduced the UniWellBeing App which provides students with self help and advice.  

A 24/7 service, CareFirst is also available to students which is a confidential service providing information, advice and support on both emotional and practical issues. Counsellors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If students are in isolation, students can get support and there is a Moodle site dedicated to supporting students in isolation:  

Please share this information widely among our YSJ student community.

See our previous post on wellbeing and welfare services here for further information about established services.

The Show Must Go ONLINE: An Interview with Rob Myles on Modern Day Theatre’s Perseverance Through a Global Pandemic, by Emma Brimelow

We went into the first lockdown the week that our Shakespeare: Perspectives students were due to go on their trip to see The Taming of the Shrew, and, as happened in Shakespeare’s times, the theatres closed, and many people found their livelihoods in jeopardy. Emma Brimelow reflects on the resilience of the theatre community during this pandemic, interviewing Robert Myles, who set the standard for Zoom Shakespeare with his The Show Must Go Online project. As her blog post reveals, innovation and creativity did not come to an end, and she got to review a unique production after all.

Emma Brimelow 

What a lot of people hoped would be ‘the best year of their lives’ has slowly turned into one for the books, and sadly not in the way we had hoped. Covid-19 arrived in late January for the UK, and no later than two months after this around a third of the world has been put into some form of lockdown, Great Britain being no exception. On the 23rd of March, Boris Johnson announced everyone who isn’t an essential worker must stay inside and isolate, and many businesses are currently suffering due to forced closure, the theatre being one of them. In the past I’ve enjoyed watching numerous productions, my last being Dick Whittington and His Cat at Romiley Forum, and so I found myself missing the theatre experience. Luckily, Robert Myles has a solution for those of us who are missing out!

Created in less than a week in response to covid-19, ‘The Show Must Go Online’ was thefirst platform to produce Shakespeare for an online audience using online actors. Created on zoom and streamed on YouTube, TSMGO has been named “the most prolific creator of online theatre” by various academics (Medium, 2020), and after watching their production of The Taming of The Shrew it’s clear to see why. The shows stay true to theZoom shakespeare nature of theatre, including adding intervals, pre- and post-show discussions and adding virtual applause to the Zoom productions on YouTube. The quick response to the pandemic amazed me, with the first show airing the first week of the official lockdown, however I was lucky enough to get in contact with Rob Myles, who shared an exclusive insight into the process of creating TSMGO so fast.

Rob stated that the idea came to him pre-lockdown and was simply an idea until his initial tweet about creating the platform blew up.  The first show The Two Gentlemen of Verona aired just six days after that tweet was made, and since then to this day eight more shows have been broadcasted. Rob stated, “We were able to move so quickly because myself and my producing partner Sarah Peachey both work in innovation when we’re not working in the arts, where fast deadlines and online conferencing are both commonplace,” meaning that he was surrounded by a strong support network to get TSMGO going as quick as possible. However, he also told me that “it would have been nothing without the response from actors and theatre makers” which he claims are still reaching out to him today about appearing in future productions. Rob has helped over 150 currently unemployed actors from all over the world, allowing countries to come together and rejoice in such difficult times.

Before I saw any of the live shows, I admit I was sceptical.  I’ve seen a couple of Shakespeare productions, including more recently Macbeth at The Royal Exchange Theatre, and wondered how a play would function without the scenery and the costumes, and even more important…the interaction between characters. After watching TSMGO’s rendition of The Taming of the Shrew, I was surprised to see just how well the production flowed. The core of the success of the plays are the actors, who week by week learn a new script off by heart in less than six days, yet still manage to perform with such fluency and enthusiasm!

In the productions, the actors try their hardest to DIY costumes and props, some even including their dogs in the readings! In the reading of The Taming of The Shrew, I particularly enjoyed the couple of stunt doubles (who were isolating together) performing the fight between Katherina and Petruchio. It was staged extremely well and brought an aspect of humour to the reading. To put it simply, Rob Myles and his cast are doing all they can to make the best out of a bad situation.

The first production, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, brought in nearly 35,000 views (Ludmon, 2020) and Rob tells me that “thankfully the interest remains just as strong.” They are currently working through every Shakespeare play in chronological order and anticipate that they should make it through every one of his works by late November. You can support Rob and his team of actors through their patreon, which I have linked below and become a theatre patron yourself:

Update: The Show Must Go Online are still going strong! Check out their latest production Cymbeline. All their productions are available online on YouTube.

Check out The Taming of The Shrew for yourself here:

And Estella Green’s review for us here.

Works cited:

Broadribb, Ben. Shakespearean Parody In Lockdown: The Show Must Go Online Presents William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Medium.  

Ludmon, Mark. The Show Must Go Online- Shakespeare’s Plays Read Live Online. British 30th March 2020.  

Myles, Rob. Personal Correspondence via Email. 9th May 2020. Used with permission.

Myles, Robert. “THE SHOW MUST GO ONLINE” 2020

Black History Month 2020 – An Evening With Jeffrey Boakye, 21 October 2020

There are a range of events taking place at York St John University this October for Black History Month 2020. And we’re really pleased that our very own Senior Lecturer in Literature, Dr Fraser Mann, will be talking to the writer and teacher Jeffrey Boakye about race and identity politics in the context of Black Lives Matter. Continue reading “Black History Month 2020 – An Evening With Jeffrey Boakye, 21 October 2020”