I started The Transgender Oral History Project as a means to uncover the rich, though often invisible history of transgender political activism. Stories including trans people often become a tiny portion of a subgroup that is largely dominated by normative elements who marginalize them in order to create an image that is more palatable to the mainstream. Furthermore, the narratives Americans are exposed to are so limiting—they are the stories of an individual who struggles with their own body or else the story of victimization by illogical violence. I want to tell different stories… ones that highlight how trans people have been pushed out of self-proclaimed safe spaces and have been abused by the psychiatric and medical establishments under the guise of treating them. I want to talk about the violence that happens when our entire society operates on logics that systematically force trans people to exist on the margins of society—refused healthcare, left out of government programming, and refused gainful employment. But I it would be missing the point to tell a history of oppression without the correlating history of resistance. I want to tell the stories of riots against police brutality, volunteering services in trans-specific health centers, reclaiming public spaces for people who have nowhere else to go, and civil rights marches for legal protections—a legacy of empowerment through community organizing.
Overview: The Basic Idea
I would like to create a multimedia historical exhibit that leads the audience in exploring the
issues that have fostered the evolution of the trans community over the past fifty years. I hope to engage viewers in the passage of time by creating a spatial representation of a timeline that they move through as they move through space. The timeline will portray the events and conditions trans people were operating within, but also the collective responses that enabled trans people to deal with these circumstances. I hope to make viewer think about how this community necessitated by a hostile environment that is not of its making but more importantly, to see the means by which this community has constituted itself.
I plan to accomplish this through using a combination of text, photography, ephemera, audio, and film. The central three AV elements will be video clips of vignettes from the Transgender Oral History Project situated within the context of the time period as created through the timeline. I am concerned with showing how the historical moment frames what is possible for people’s lives by showcasing stories that exemplify how this intersection is experienced.
Audience: Marlboro and Beyond
I see two distinct audiences for my piece—one of normative people with liberal political sympathies and one made up of people who understand themselves as gender-variant.
Of primary concern to me are people who understand themselves as gender-variant. I believe collective action and movement building begins with seeing ourselves as having common experiences and drawing from a shared sense of history as well as having shared ambitions for the future. This project is, at least in part, my own search for community, but I want it to extend further than that. I hope that I can engage other people who identify as transgender as seeing themselves as part of something larger. I want to reach people for whom exploring how the trans community has been shaped and where it is going, is a profoundly personal matter.
My goal is that I can communicate the continuing need for community while encouraging collective action.
My secondary audience is the Marlboro community. I anticipate this exhibit being different in two major ways. First of all, I intend to have more contextualizing information, more explanation and analysis. The purpose of the Marlboro version will be to introduce this community to the transgender community’s struggle and to make connections between the trans community and other communities we study or may even be a part of. In the process of exploring how transgender activism has intersected with, been co-opted by, and collided with the womyn’s and Gay and Lesbian rights movements, I want the community to think about inclusion within their own social circles and subcultures. Secondly, I will be hoping to address to concern stated above about how limited the portrayals of trans people are in mass media by presenting competing narratives. I want viewers to see a more multidimensional version of how trans people understand themselves within the context of broader society.
Logistics: Venues and Timing
Because it will be more of an overview, I feel like I already have access to the material I need in order to create this exhibit on campus. For this reason I would like to explore creating the exhibit next semester. I also understand the drawbacks since it would be more competitive to get gallery space and it would mean my outside examiner could not experience it. I am not even sure that the gallery is the best space for the project because of acoustics (I am concerned about how loud it will be if there are multiple, differing AV components), monitoring (I will be using electronic equipment that is expensive and am unsure of how to ensure it does not get stolen), and space (movement is central to my idea and I am unsure of how to create the kind of movement I want to in that open of a space).
Because my target audience is necessarily a scattered population, I do not know what kind of venues would be most appropriate for this exhibit. There is a yearly conference put on at UVM that I have attended for three years now: the Translating Identities Conference. It seeks to build community and provide a forum for the exchange information among trans communities throughout the northeast. I see my project as being very in line with this goal, so I think it would be a good fit.