Finding hope and trans support, solidarity and liberation in the archives

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, including She Who Must Not Be Named and a certain NTEU branch president and convenor of the NTEU queer unionists caucus have been quite vocal and I’ve found myself retreating to the Australian archival material most easily accessible online and thought I’d travel back in time and share some hope I’ve found and help me and others construct a kind of archive armour that Archie Barry describes:

“It seems I’ve now naturally fallen into a role that many queer and gender-­diverse people fall into: that of informal researcher. We silently horde content – URLs, zines, ads, pamphlets, stickers, mp3s, books, posters – to build a personalised buffer, a kind of archive armour, between the self and the ­cis-hetero world.”

Trans erasure, trans visibility: History, archives, and art by Archie Barry Nov 6, 2018, Archer Magazine

Transsexual Liberation in Lesbianon

Foreman, Ben & Lewis, Susan, ‘Transsexual Liberation‘, Lesbianon, no. 5, Lesbian Anon [This scan courtesy of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, Melbourne], Perth, 1975, p. 3.

From Transsexual Liberation by Susan Lewis and Ben Foreman

“In response to our oppression, and the need to organise against it, a number of us,
all transsexuals, have come together under the name of The Transsexual Action
Organisation… We extend our full support to the gay and women’s movements because we are all fighting the same oppressor – a society which decrees that a person born male should behave one way and that a person born female in another. We also see ourselves in solidarity with the struggles of mental patients, blacks, prisoners and all other oppressed groups – for the liberation of one can only be achieved by the liberation of all.”

There was a piece in Camp Ink on transvestite and transsexual liberation in the US in 1971, p.6.

This photograph of  Roberta Perkins speaking at the Australian Transsexual Association (ATA) and Gay Solidarity protest in 1982. Find out Robert Perkins via the Roberta Perkins Law Project which I attended the launch of in lockdown.

Boys Will Be Boys Newsletter from Digital Transgender Archive

This has been one of my favourite collections, particularly the letters from subscribers.

Alex,  and Jasper.  “Boys Will Be Boys, No.1 (February, 1992).”  Newsletter.  1992.  Digital Transgender Archive.

“… Eight F2M boys have come to my attention within the last two months. Though seemingly a small number, compared to knowing only a handful previously and having met no-one before my gender change, this is quite incredible and only goes to show that there are more of us out there than we may well have imagined.
Naturally, this is only the tip of a very isolated iceberg. Many of us are still feeling
alienated or unsure of our decisions. Most of us lack sufficient information,
especially medical, to better aid our decisions. All of us need support. For those of
you on this mailing list please consider writing something of yourself and your
experiences for others to read. Only first names will be used and naturally no
addresses or phone numbers unless specifically given ·for publication will be printed.
It’s important that we share our thoughts, insecurities, excitement fears and
knowledge. This group can only work if each individual is prepared to participate,
even just a little. Don’t leave this newsletter up to a dedicated few. This support
group can have a far reaching impact on the quality of our lives and the education of
the community at large. You don’t have to already have changed yourself physically
yet, or ever intend to, to be involved. Your awareness of your male gender is all that
is relevant…”

Jasper.  “Boys Will Be Boys, No.6 (August, 1992).”  Newsletter.  1992.  Digital Transgender Archive.

“Dear Jasper,
Thanks very much for the newsletter-It’s great to know there are others going through similar experiences that I am and I find it all very encouraging….”

“Well, I’ve noticed in recent overseas newsletters and in some local literature also, that we transsexuals are now referring to ourselves as”transgenderists”. The change in terminology certainly makes sense, as logically, we are not changing our sexuality but our physical gender. I don’ know who coined the new label but it certainly feels better than the previous one, although it takes a little getting used to. I’d be interested to see if the new term will be used within medical circles.

Jasper.  “Boys Will Be Boys, No. 5 (July, 1992).”  Newsletter.  1992.  Digital Transgender Archive.

“With a little trepidation, much thought and a lot of self analysing, I took a deep breath, then a giant step forwards. Forwards into the world of tranny boys and adopted the new persona of being a man. Now, here I am, a new kid in town. But is this what I really want for my now, my future? Emphatically, from the rooftops of my mind, body, heart and soul I yell. YES! This is what I want. YES! This is where I want to go. YES! YES! A thousand times YES! … Hear I would like to say a very big THANKS JASPER, for making your arduous trek as public as you have. Your doing so has paved the way ahead and made It easier for myself and the others that follow.”

“As a lover of a transsexual (F/M) I feel that there may be others in my position out there who may benefit from my contribution. To start with, Jamie and I have been together for nearly two years. We have celebrated a spiritual union in the presence of our friends and are therefore “married” by our community… To all the transsexuals out there, as a lover of a transsexual, I think I can say there is someone out there for you. I know I am happy with Jamie most of the time and to Jamie the transition to masculinity is the step which will give him peace in this world. To see my lover attain this peace will make me happy for him.”

Jasper.  “Boys Will Be Boys, No. 10 (December, 1992).”  Newsletter.  1992.  Digital Transgender Archive.

“How many years have we fought alongside the gay community for their rights and dignity? Where’s the thanks? Trannies are victims of violence too and certainly have even fewer rights than gays. It was quite ironic that the entertainment for the day included three ‘drag’ shows and was hosted by two men in frocks! I am pleased to say that local drag superstar, Cindy Pastel, took to the stage with a placard declaring “Trannies and Bisexuals are Queer too!”. Good on her. Jasper.”

Jasper.  “Boys Will Be Boys, No. 15 (August-September, 1993).”  Newsletter.  1993.  Digital Transgender Archive.

“Dear Jasper,
The contact and the newsletters have given me the hope to keep going after hitting another very low spot after being told that I would not be supported in my belief that I am a Transsexual after 2 years in therapy struggling with depression trying to stay sane and looking desperately for a million “other” reasons why I feel the way I am; a male in a female body which came to light in previous few years of therapy by feeling safe and allowing myself to ‘feel”, stop denying and to think about “me” for the first time in my life…”

I found some hope in Lesbians on the loose from the 1990s, including the following in a letter from 1990, but also quite a lot of hate, so I’ve stopped reading for now:

“It’s a time to look at our differences and similarities not a time for them to put a halt to the possibility of our space. So often I see internal politics destroy a movement, an idea, a vision far more effectively than the perceived enemy ever can.”

There was a brief piece on Julie Peters running as a Federal election candidate in 1996:

“Julie Elizabeth Peters [pictured] is believed to be the first endorsed lesbian transsexual candidate for a major political party…. A director of photography at ABC TV, Peters, 44, concedes her chances of beating Labor candidate, ACTU president Martin Ferguson, are slim. But she says her candidature for the Australian Democrats is an important step for tranys.”

Listen to Julie Peters on the Archive Fever and Transgender Warriors podcasts.

Julie Peters political endeavours reminded me of Georgina Beyer and I found her landslide New Zealand local council campaign victory reported in the Canberra Times, which made me want to revisit this episode of the One From the Vaults podcast on her and the art of the possible. While thinking about New Zealand trans history, I revisited this Trans Past, Trans Present: The Making Trans Histories Project from Te Papa Museum in which:

“Trans people from their teens to their 70s were asked to identify objects of personal importance and to share the objects’ stories. What emerged was a quirky collection that is a testament to the diversity of trans experiences, and which disrupts established (and cis-written) narratives about trans lives.”

This project was inspired by the Museum of Transology in the UK whose founder, E-J Scott, grew up in Australia, which you can find out more about in the following pieces:

Trans masculinity on the record

The Museum of Everyday Objects That Makes Transgender Lives Visible

A Collection Devoted to Intimate Trans Stories

Museum of Transology Online exhibition via Google Arts & Culture

One of my favourite articles and quotes on trans history by E-J Scott:

Where can trans people call home in history?

“The Museum of Transology shows that the social agency of museums can be used to foster social cohesion. This show needs to go on the road because its everyday objects help people accept the everydayness of being trans. If it were to tour, community collecting and archiving workshops could run as an engagement programme alongside the exhibition. This would skill trans communities everywhere to build their own museums of transology collections, leaving an imprint on collections throughout the UK and halting the erasure of transcestry. The process would also encourage trans people to enter the museum sector. This is vital, because without them becoming heritage workers, trans narratives will continue to remain unrecognised and unspoken.”

I am so happy I managed to visit and find home in 2019:

Finding home at the Museum of Transology

In the beforetimes earlier this year, I had a chat with E-J Scott and some museum and academic comrades about bringing the Museum of Transology on tour around Australia. It’s pretty hard to imagine doing anything like that in the near future, but perhaps we’ll be able to do something online like the Te Papa Museum project while we wait.

I also found a bit of hope that things could be different in Pat’s story in Daylesford Stories from 2016 which is quite aligned to my increasingly frequent thoughts of running away to the country and starting or joining an art library.

Student newspapers might also be a good source of trans solidarity and liberation and quite a few seem to be getting digitised and made available online lately, so I think they’ll be my next archival step. Find out more about Australian academic library student newspaper holdings in this paper.

Another thing I did in the beforetimes earlier this year, was visit the University of Newcastle and learn about their GLAMx Lab and work with the Hunter Rainbow History Group and other community history groups. Their work gave me so much hope which has been so necessary in these times, and has led to me embarking on a small project with special collections at MPOW this week (and dreams about special collections cataloguing all weekend!).

My retreat to the archives in the middle of a pandemic echoes my post on my response to a certain 2017 postal survey and it’s probably not surprising that I am feeling similarly in lockdown (I have included archives in my killjoy survival toolkit which has certainly been needed in this times):

“I have been doing even more thinking about this topic than usual in the last month in with much related reflection on inclusion, self care and emotional labour in a risk adverse industry. For a variety of reasons, mostly related to a certain voluntary, non-binding postal survey on Australian marriage law in some way, I have been feeling less safe and a lot more exhausted than usual… so I am going to play it a bit safe this month and share some archival adventures that have helped me find safety and solidarity at a time when I have needed it more than ever.”

You may like to listen to some more library and archival adventures in this podcast interview I did with Anne Rowlands at the beginning of lockdown 1 and check out our pretty extensive reading and other media recommendations list too. See also: Anne’s Transgender-related materials Trove lists.

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