Photo of Meg-John Barker

Meg-John Barker



Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Nottingham (1998)

MA, University of Sheffield

BSc, University of Nottingham

Primary Affiliation(s):

The Open University (Senior lecturer in Psychology in Social Science), 2008-2019

London Friend (Psychotherapist for LGBT counselling organisations), 2010-2018

Psychology & Sexuality journal (Co-founder/editor), 2010-2017

York Clinic, Guys Hospital (Trainee Psychotherapist), 2006-2010

London South Bank University (Senior lecturer in Psychology), 2004-2008

Universities of Gloucester, Worcester, Middlesex (Lecturer), 1998-2004

Psychology’s Feminist Voices Oral History Interview:

Other Media:

Personal Website: https://www.rewriting-the-rule...

Career Focus:

Gender (e.g., non-binary and genderqueer identity and experience); sex and relationships (e.g., non-monogamy/polyamory, BDSM/kink); knowledge mobilisation through creative popular outreach (e.g., comic/graphic books, zines); mental health and self-care (incl. plural selves); dismantling binaries.


Born on June 23, 1974, United Kingdom-based Meg-John Barker came out as non-binary trans and began using singular “they” pronouns in their late thirties. Focusing on themes related to gender, sex, relationships, and self-care, they have (co-)published in various formats, including articles and books (academic and popular, textual and graphic), encyclopedia entries, zines, and manifestos. After earning a PhD in Psychology from the University of Nottingham in 1998, they worked for more than 20 years as an academic psychologist (primarily at the The Open University) and as a psychotherapist specialising in working with LGBTQ clients. Barker now identifies as a queer therapeutic writer, as well as an independent scholar, speaker, creative consultant, and trainer/mentor.

Barker became “more and more identified as a feminist” when they got increasingly involved in the bisexual, polyamorous/non-monogamous, kink/BDSM activist communities in their late 20s-early 30s. As they describe:

It was when I hit those scenes I was actually off and going in and doing workshops around feminism and bisexuality, or feminism and kink. So, at that point that was a really strong identity, and it was very much about bringing those worlds together, like how can we do polyamory in a feminist way? Or what are the intersections between feminism and bisexuality?

Despite their identifying as “absolutely a feminist,” Barker’s relationship to feminism and academia (especially psychology) is not uncomplicated. Moving through and beyond divisive polarities (including being viewed on the “sex positive” side of a post “sex wars” polarity dubbing others “sex negative”), much of Barker’s work asks: “What can we learn from the margins?” Along these lines, Barker resists popular framings of marginal discourses (e.g., those surrounding polyamory-related and LGBT issues) as primarily pertaining to marginalised audiences (e.g., those comprised of polyamorous and LGBT folks, respectively). By contrast, Barker argues that those living and seeking out alternatives to society’s “really messed up” defaults be regarded as exemplars of the kinds of questions and practices from which more normative groups can (and should) be learning about different approaches to sexuality, gender, and relationships.

On initially following a more traditional “academic psychology” path, Barker reflects on what they learned about normativity from this—and other—experiences:

I feel like it is helpful for me in a lot of ways with my work that I had that very normative period, so I really have a sense of how painful normativity can be … [For] some people who have always been radical, or feminist, or queer, or all those things, it may be hard to know what it is actually like to live in those quite normative worlds and relationships and ways of being ... A lot of my work is driven to say, you know “normativity is bad for everyone.” And I think that comes from that kind of lived experience.

Amongst the many binaries that Barker has worked to problematize is the distinction between “academic” and “activist” (or “non-academic”). Remaining committed to traversing the “spectrum of possibilities,” they encourage marginalised academics to expand their reach beyond academia. This approach both allows them a “bit more [of] a safety net” should difficult situations arise, such as getting negative press or social media exposure, and enables the important work of translating theoretical knowledge into popular formats, from comic books to street-based activism.

Barker believes that “academics should be very aware of the impact of what they are doing,” especially “in terms of studying the ‘other’ of whatever kind.” That said, Barker does not think that all “people should have to be all things” nor should “every academic should have to be public facing.” Further, leaving academia “really opened [Barker’s] eyes” to its shadow sides:

“A lot about academia [is] pretty toxic and it has been easier to see it since leaving, and I have also noticed how some of those systems really operated through me and how long it took to detox from them in a way ... Assumptions behind research and what kind of knowledge are valued, and what kind of practices are done, and what we think of as ethics, like with ethics committees and stuff that are often really about legally covering people’s backs, but they are not really about what I think of as ethics or feminist ethics of care, you know?

Barker also notes that many of their critiques are not specific to academia, but rather apply to “just about any organisation” operating within capitalism.

Barker highlights two of their books as particular career accomplishments: Rewriting the Rules (their first “self-help style book”—which they dubbed “an anti-self-help book” because it takes a social constructionist approach to addressing “why the cultural norms around relationships are so bad for us”), and their more recent Trauma: A Graphic Guide to Mental Health—a comic book on madness and mental health illustrated by Jules Scheele. Rewriting the Rules took Barker a decade to write and involved “studying relationships from every different angle,” as well as living through “a lot of pain, as well as some pleasure mixed in” through a very difficult personal journey. Barker describes their Trauma: A Graphic Guide to Mental Health as a “weaving together” of everything they know about mental health, not only from reading trauma and embodiment literatures while immersed in the field, but also through their own lived experience of what actually worked for them, a practical understanding grounded in surviving “an awful lot of really tough stuff”—including what might be labelled PTSD. Writing both books felt to Barker like a “courageous journey” stemming from their “being up for looking at this quite really painful and complicated stuff”. In both cases, the author’s hope is that their readers’ journeys—both inner and interpersonal—be made easier for their having engaged with Barker’s work.

Barker’s advice to feminists or activists entering psychology clearly draws from their own lived experiences:

“There is a real danger in going down those roads. You have got one life, you know, and you want to do what really lights you up. And that is going to be what connects with other people the most you know, as much as you can, recognising of course the material realities, it can be very difficult not to try and fit those boxes, but yeah finding your way with it, and again finding sort of microcultures of support who can help you navigate that.”

Arguably, this caution (and its inspiration to do whatever it takes to live “outside the boxes”) applies equally to those navigating psychology as any number of other domains, both within and outside academia!

by C. Goldberg (2022)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

Barker, M-J. & Scheele, J. (forthcoming 2023). Trauma: A Graphic Guide to Mental Health. London: Icon Books.

Barker, M-J. & Scheele, J. (2021). Sexuality: A Graphic Guide. London: Icon Books.

Barker, M-J. & Scheele, J. (2019). Gender: A Graphic Guide. London: Icon Books.

Barker, M-J & Iantaffi, A. (2019). Life Isn't Binary. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Barker, M-J. (2018). Rewriting the Rules: An Anti-Self-Help Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships. London: Routledge.

Barker, M-J. (2018). The Consent Checklist.

Barker, M-J. (2018). Plural Selves.

Barker, M-J. (2018). The Psychology of Sex. London: Routledge and Psychology Press.

Barker, M-J. (2017). Hell yeah self care.

Barker, M-J. & Hancock, J. (2017). Enjoy sex (How, when and if you want to): A Practical and Inclusive Guide. London: Icon Books.

Barker, M-J. & Scheele, J. (2016). Queer: A Graphic History. London: Icon Books.

Barker, M. (2013). Mindful Counselling & Psychotherapy: Practising Mindfully Across Approaches and Issues. London: Sage.

Barker, M. (2013). Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships. London: Routledge.

Barker, M. (2003). Introductory Psychology: History, Themes and Perspectives. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.