William Hébert

Study program:
Ph.D. Social-Cultural Anthropology
Current affiliation:
Université de Toronto

William Hébert (social-cultural anthropology, University of Toronto) is investigating the emergence of trans-affirming policies and projects for trans prisoners in Canada, and asking what they reveal about the conditions of, and limits to, inclusion.

Doctoral research

Care in Punishment: Trans Prisoners and the Politics of Canadian “Multisexualism”

In Canada and elsewhere, the social stigma experienced by trans people is understood to contribute to a heightened likelihood of arrest and prosecution. Once incarcerated, this population is known to face physical and sexual violence and denials of gender-affirmative care. While Canada is often considered an international leader in LGBT and prisoners’ rights, until recently, trans people remained a neglected population within Canada’s correctional facilities. Since 2015, there has, however, been a proliferation of policies and civil society projects to respond to trans prisoners’ plight. William’s dissertation research is an ethnographic investigation of trans criminalization and incarceration that situates such changes within Canada’s growing politics of formal recognition, affirmation, and inclusion of sexual and gender diversity, what he calls “multisexualism”. It asks what the case of trans prisoners reveals about national values and practices related to crime, incarceration, and the provision of human rights protections and other forms of care. William also seeks to identify who remains excluded from supposedly trans-affirming projects, in hopes of bettering trans people’s life conditions within and beyond prison walls.

William Hébert is a PhD Candidate in Socio-Cultural Anthropology and a Junior Fellow of the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto. In the fall of 2015, he was a visiting scholar at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada graduate scholarship, William’s ethnographic dissertation aims to address the over-representation and vulnerability of trans people in Canadian correctional facilities, and to study the emergence of policies and other projects that attempt to respond to trans prisoners’ plight. He is the recipient of the 2017 Kenneth W. Payne Student Prize, awarded by the Association for Queer Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association.

As an engaged researcher and activist, William has focused on sexual and gender minorities’ demands for social change, and on their relationship to institutions that shape and govern their lives. He has worked and volunteered on numerous community-based projects in Quebec, notably as the research coordinator of a research investigating trans youth’s wellbeing, and as the project manager of a research-intervention initiative on elderly trans people’s access to healthcare and social services. William also collaborated on research addressing the legal needs of trans Ontarians, the implementation of addiction services in primary care clinics, the impact of sex work legislation, and transnational women’s movements in development contexts. He has volunteered as a community representative in policy consultancy and with community groups like Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTT(e)Q), Stella, and AIDS Community Care Montréal.

William aims to disseminate his work through academic publications and conferences, as well as in professional and community-based media and settings. Dedicated to bridging the distance that often exists between academia and social justice movements, and to transcending linguistic barriers, he hopes to foster networks between researchers and activists located in Canada, Brazil, the United States, and beyond.