Queer Peel – Reflections from a Student

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In Elspeth Brown’s previous post “Queer Peel Oral History Project,” she explained how her recent 3rd year history course at the University of Toronto Mississauga was focused on creating primary sources about queer and trans life in Canada’s “burbs.” As a student that found themselves in that course, I’d like to take the time to reflect on and explore some of the feelings, themes, and ideas that arose from my involvement in this project.

When selecting my course load for the academic year, I was immediately drawn to Professor Brown’s history course: “LGBTQ2+ Oral History: Queer Peel.” The title, when first read, sounded like an oxymoron. 

“What Queer history is there in Peel? What history is there in Peel?” 

Having posed this question to myself, I fell victim to Small City Syndrome. As a neighbour to the largest city in Canada, arguably one of (if not the) major LGBTQ2+ hotspots in the country, people tend to overlook the history that has occurred (or not occurred) within the Peel Region. Of course, this is not limited to LGBTQ2+ life – past and present – but considering queer Peel versus queer Toronto reveals a stark contrast. For example, if you live in Peel Region, reflect on how many times you’ve been to a Pride event in Toronto versus how many times you’ve attended a Pride event in Peel. 

“There are Pride events in Peel?” 

So, in the face of a dearth of resources for studying this topic, as Professor Brown put it, “my students and I decided to create some.” While the work that we were able to produce is important, it fell short in certain aspects, and I believe these shortcomings are the areas where we can try to strengthen future iterations of this project. One specific aspect that I’d like to focus on is the narrators that were interviewed. As part of the group assigned the broadest subtopic, “Being Queer in Peel,” my group was given an encouragingly open space to work with, but it was also slightly intimidating. Trying to locate willing narrators, we did what most Gen Z-ers would do and turned to social media. A fellow group member and friend created a graphic and we began circulating it on our respective social media accounts. 

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This post allowed us to reach out to people within our existing Queer networks, and we were eventually able to secure some interviews. But the strength of this method was also its vice; although we were able to reach out to our Queer friends, we were inadvertently ignoring people outside of certain demographics. Most namely, that of age. From the beginning, a personal goal of mine was to secure an interview with someone older than us. Luckily we were able to accomplish this, thanks to an interview with S Trimble. A quick glance over our exhibition, however, reveals its heavy domination by younger narrators. It will be important in our continuing efforts to try and address other demographic concerns, including those of gender and race, but with a specific emphasis on class. The process of completing this project revealed the apparently tacit though false belief that if one is living in the suburbs, they must be a part of the middle class. 

If you would be interested in learning more about the project, please contact: Elspeth.brown@utoronto.ca.

Collaboratory 2.0

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2.0We are happy to announce that the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory has been approved for a second round of funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada! The launch of ‘Collaboratory 2.0’ marks a transition to a community-embedded public history initiative, focused on building capacity by providing specialized training to LGBTQ2S+ community members in research, archiving, dissemination, and public engagement.
This exciting new Collaboratory phase has three primary goals, with three primary team members. To help us complete the archiving and creative animation of the soon-to-be-completed Trans Oral History Project is award-winning trans filmmaker Dr. Chase Joynt at the University of Victoria. We are thrilled to have Dr. Joynt on board to help turn these vital oral histories into an original short film. We will also be teaming up with Raegan Swanson, Executive Director of the ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ Archive, to develop a community-based oral history program at The ArQuives, centred on the completion of 3 new oral history projects. Dr. Aaron Devor of the University of Victoria will again be joining us as we seek to create an accessible and searchable digital platform for LGBTQ2S+ oral histories at the ArQuives, and facilitate the creation of the same at the Unviersity of Victoria’s Transgender Archives.
There are exciting things ahead for the Colaboratory as we move into this second phase. As we gather rich primary resources and make existing ones more publicly accessible than ever before, we will continue our work to preserve LGBTQ2S+ history for future generations while creating a “usable past” for those in the present.

 

Queer Peel Oral History Project!

oral history / public humanities / trans history

trans musician Rachel Mesic shared her story with Lucas Blower, interviewer (Feb 2020)

trans musician Rachel Mesic shared her story with Lucas Blower, interviewer (Feb 2020)

What’s it like to be LGBTQ2+ in Canadian suburbs and edge cities? We’ve next to no primary sources about queer and trans life in Canada’s ‘burbs and edge cities, so my students and I decided to create some.

This spring, students in my 3rd year history course at the University of Toronto, Mississauga conducted 25 oral histories with LGBTQ2+ activists, students, alums, and residents of the Peel region in the Greater Toronto Area. Our goal was to begin the process of documenting this history so that we can learn more about queer and trans history and place through an intersectional lens.

Student groups streamlined their research to cover five sub-groups: OUT @ UTM, Positive Space Committee, being queer on the web, being queer in Peel, and LGBTQ2+ alumni at UTM. As a part of their course work, each student interviewed a narrator, archived the interview they conducted, and curated an Omeka digital exhibition showcasing the interviews, relevant news articles, and other visuals to contextualize LGBTQ2+ lives in Peel Region. The Omeka exhibition is now live, and it is available here: https://omeka.utm.utoronto.ca/s/queerpeel/page/intro.

I had a lot of help making this class a success. Thank you especially to all the fabulous narrators, research assistants Mia Colavito and Luke Drummond; Dr. Joan Simalchik; librarians Yayo Umetsubo, Chris Young, and Simone Laughton; SRA Elizabeth Parke; and AV wizard Robert Martins. Blake Eligh wrote a wonderful article about the class as, “Queer in the Suburbs: Hidden Histories of Peel Region,” UTM News, March 9, 2020, which was republished in the Mississauga News and the Brampton Guardian (thank you!).

A special thanks is due to Anu Radha Verma, a community activist and artist, who helped guide students through the complexities and nuance of varied queer and QTBIPOC experiences in Peel Region.

All interviews and other materials from the project will be donated to The ArQuives (https://arquives.ca/), Canada’s largest LGBTQ2+ archives, as well as the UTM Archives.

Updates from the Trans Oral History Project: Dallas Denny

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Our Trans Oral History Project is underway, led by Post-Doctoral fellow Dr. Evan Taylor and partnered with the University of Victoria’s Transgender Archives. As they collect oral history interviews with trans elders about their history of activism on behalf of trans people and communities, Dr. Taylor will be passing on some updates to keep you in the loop about this exciting project!

DallasDenny_Screenshot_17.05Our Trans Oral History project just recorded an oral history interview with legendary trans activist Dallas Denny, talking about her many achievements and contributions to trans history. We talked about old times and hotlines, the changing landscapes of language, and future transition pathways for trans people. Thanks, Dallas!​

Updates from the Trans Oral History Project: Jude Patton

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Our Trans Oral History Project is underway, led by Post-Doctoral fellow Dr. Evan Taylor and partnered with the University of Victoria’s Transgender Archives. As they collect oral history interviews with trans elders about their history of activism on behalf of trans people and communities, Dr. Taylor will be passing on some updates to keep you in the loop about this exciting project!

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We recently recorded a trans oral history interview with Jude Patton – a true trans hero! Jude caught us up on everything from his work in the 80’s with J2CP Information Services, to his work with WPATH, and also some fascinating insights from his personal life and experiences in trans communities. Thanks, Jude!

 

Meet Our Collaborating Scholars: Dr. Aaron Devor

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As the Collaboratory works to connect LGBTQ digital histories projects across Canada and the U.S., our Collaborators share resources and expertise, and develop new methods in conversation. We invite you to meet our collaborating scholars – read on to learn more about some of the incredible work they have underway. 

2018-OCT-Credit-Dan-McKeon_profileDr. Aaron Devor, (PhD, FSSS, FSTLHE), is the Founder and Academic Director of The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria, the Founder and Inaugural  Chair in Transgender Studies, the Founder and Host of the Moving Trans History Forward conferences, and a Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Victoria. 

 Let’s start with your name, pronouns, and honorific.
 Dr. Aaron Devor. He/Him

We’ve heard that aspects of the Transgender Archives are soon to be digitized! What prompted that decision? Which materials will you focus on first, and why?
Access to our collections is a high priority for the Transgender Archives. Putting our collection up online makes them available to people who are unable to visit. We are attempting to prioritize the digitization of our most requested items. A number of important periodicals held by the Transgender Archives have already been digitized and are being posted online as they become available: e.g., Transvestia, FTMI Newsletter, EEF Newsletter. We have also digitized many documents from Fantasia Fair, the longest running gathering of Trans People in the Western world (since 1975) and many, many other documents. We currently have about 800 items posted on the Digital Transgender Archives and we have recently launched a new discovery tool at https://www.uvic.ca/transgenderarchives/discovery-tool/index.php that has links to both our hard copy and digital collections.

 What challenges have you faced in digitizing the TGA’s contents? How have you responded to them?
Our biggest challenges have been prioritizing what should go up online first and finding enough staff time to get the scanning done. As I mentioned above, we’re trying to respond to user requests and prioritize the most requested items. Staffing time will continue to be a challenge.

 What position does community and community engagement play in the work of the Transgender Archive?
Many brave souls created our trans communities. Everything we have in the Transgender Archives was created by our communities. There would be nothing to archive without the work of community. We would not have a Transgender Archives without the generous contributions of members of the trans community. All but less than one metre of our 160 metres of materials have been donated to us by community members who have the foresight and wherewithal to collect and retain records of our history before donating them to us.

The whole point of having Archives is so that people will use them to access our history. We welcome the public into our archives. We are a public institution and the archives belong to them. There is no charge to use our archives and no membership of any kind is required. The Chair in Transgender Studies serves as the Academic Director of the Transgender Archives, and the Chair in Transgender Studies offers fellowships to help with the expense for both university- and community-based scholars to visit the Transgender Archives.

 

 

Meet Our Collaborating Scholars: Professor Elise Chenier

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As the Collaboratory works to connect LGBTQ digital histories projects across Canada and the U.S., our Collaborators share resources and expertise, and develop new methods in conversation. We invite you to meet our collaborating scholars – read on to learn more about some of the incredible work they have underway. 

Elise ChenierProfessor Elise Chenier is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, where she teaches courses in the history of sexuality, oral history, and Canadian social history. Her research projects focus on aspects of sexuality and gender in twentieth century Canada and the United States, as explored in her 2008 book Strangers In Our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario. She is the founder and director of the Archives of Lesbian Oral History (A LOT), an online archive of digital oral history. You can keep up with ALOT on Facebook, Twitter, and on their Blog

 

Let’s start with your name, pronouns, and honorific.
Professor Elise Chenier, her/she

 What challenges resulted in the creation of the “Bridging the Gap” project?
Our objective was to make the archives truly community-based by inviting people to produce their own oral history interviews and upload them to the site. If you know StoryCorps in the United States, that will give you an idea of what I had in mind. We developed a social media strategy to let people know about what we were doing, and created some instructional videos including a live ‘how-to’ workshop that is stored on our FaceBook page. While we generated a good amount of interest, we had very few submissions. I have come to think that doing an interview is one of those things that sounds like a great idea, but something people don’t always get around to doing. I have also come to the conclusion that most people need a lot more support than one can provide online.

How have you approached incorporating the testimonies of “Two Spirit, queer,  [and] bisexual…women, transmen, and others” into ALOT?
As an archive, we do not go out and produce interviews. We are a repository for other peoples’ interviews. However, we did produce a podcast. Our first episode (after the introduction to the podcast) was with Ma-Nee Chacaby who had just published her autobiography, A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder. 

This was intentional. First, it was intended to recognize that these lands were first occupied by indigenous people, and that is where we should begin, and it is from that point of departure that our work should proceed. Secondly, I wanted to signal very clearly to our listeners that non-white people are not an add-on to the white norm. I wanted to centre her voice, her experience. Secondly, we live at a time when many young people associate “lesbian” with trans-exclusionary radical feminism. This is really frustrating for those of us who are over the age of 40 whose politics could not be further from TERFism. Anyhow, for this reason we constantly signal that we are trans-inclusive.

Our overall strategy is this: if people think their stories belong in the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony, we welcome them. This includes people who are female and no longer identify as lesbian, women who identify as bisexual, people who transitioned and are now male, or who transitioned and are now lesbian. Our objective is to provide a repository of testimony about lesbian experience. If you have some, we welcome your story.

Can you discuss your podcasts? How has the project gone? What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?
The podcast project was the most unexpected and wonderful outcome of this project. I had an application from Callie Hitchcock for the social media manager position, and I hired someone else, but was so impressed with her CV that I wondered what role she might play. That’s how the idea of the podcast came about. I had a very clear vision of how it would work: we would interview oral historians about their favourite clip from an interview with a lesbian, and ask them why it was a favourite, and also to share tips with listeners. The hope was that we would inspire and empower listeners to conduct their own interviews. Callie, who had no previous experience as an oral historian and who I found out later was only just coming out herself, ran with it, and what an amazing job she did! She really loved this project, and it shows.

What I love most about it is that it is very, very smart, but always completely accessible. The tone is very conversational, intimate, and authentic. I only wish that we could get more people listening!

A lot of collaborative models are emerging to connect oral histories and archives. Are there specific approaches/groups/communities/projects that you find especially compelling when it comes to collaboration?

Ironically, in the last year of the grant I have shifted my energy toward working in the local community. I now host a monthly event called Lesbian Lives Live where I interview an older lesbian in a public setting and invite people in attendance to pose their own questions. We make a point of seating people of different ages at tables together (the room set up puts me and the interviewee in the middle, with small tables around us forming a circle). Our hope is not just to share lesbian history, but to also create a space for community-building and intergenerational connection. I have one year left of funding in my grant which allows me to videotape these events. If we carry on beyond the grant, and I hope we do, I’ll simply make audio recordings on my own. I love having the visual to go with the audio, but economically it’s not sustainable in the long term.

It must be said that we are so lucky in Canada to have the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council provide funding for this kind of work. Although my career as an oral historian of the queer past has not always been appreciated by the scholarly community, I have always had grant funding to support what I do. Given what’s happening south of the border, I cannot say enough about how essential it has been to enabling queer scholarly research, which in turn supports our teaching.

Meet Our Collaborating Scholars: Dr. KJ Rawson

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As the Collaboratory works to connect LGBTQ digital histories projects across Canada and the U.S., our Collaborators share resources and expertise, and develop new methods in conversation. We invite you to meet our collaborating scholars – read on to learn more about some of the incredible work they have underway. 

KJDr. KJ Rawson (he/him/his) is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the College of the Holy Cross, and Director of the Digital Transgender Archive – a collaborative online hub of transgender history, including digitized historical materials, born-digital materials, and information on archival holdings throughout the world. His scholarship is at the intersections of rhetoric, LGBT studies, digital media, and feminist and queer theory. Keep up with the Digital Transgender Archive on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and learn more about KJ at kjrawson.net.

 

Let’s start with your name, pronouns, and honorific.
Dr. K.J. Rawson (he/him/his)

I’d love to know a bit about your thoughts on transgender archiving, as “both separate from and in conjunction with queer archiving.” What has your work taught you about the benefits of both approaches? 

LGBTQ+ archival collections are rich treasure troves of materials and they are an excellent place to find transgender historical materials. The same is true for non-LGBTQ+ specific collections––university-based special collections, for example––where transgender history can be found in surprising amounts. I have also been quite interested by trans-specific archival initiatives that devote time and resources to trans materials in particular. Each context provides a rich environment for doing historical research in this area.

What are the challenges you’ve faced or observed working in conjunction with queer archiving and archives?

It can often be challenging to work with historical figures whose identities we don’t or can’t know given the differences in historical context and shifting understandings about gender and sexuality. My experience has been that archivists and researchers are quite well intentioned, but there are times when it’s genuinely unclear how to best describe or understand historical figures and practices of gender.

A lot of collaborative models are emerging to connect oral histories and archives. Are there specific approaches/groups/communities/projects that you find especially compelling when it comes to collaboration?

To me, the most exciting thing about all of the trans oral history initiatives is the sheer quantity of them. We have a difficult time keeping up with all of the interviews that become available through all of our partners and we are always rushing to link out to them to make them more widely accessible.

What position does community and community engagement play in the work of the DTA?

The work of the project is constantly in conversation with community—from the students who work in our lab, to our advisory board, to content creators for the site, and all of our contributing archives. We are in contact with an even broader community through our social media channels, through presentations, and at various events that we attend throughout the world. One of the best parts of this work is getting feedback from people who are using and appreciating the site.

What are you interested in learning next?

Personally, I have been spending a lot of time working on the Homosaurus. The Homosaurus is an International LGBT Linked Data Vocabulary and I co-chair the editorial board for the project. It’s been a great way to develop and improve a resource to make LGBTQ+ materials more discoverable in archives and libraries.

 

Welcome to the Team: Elizabeth Holliday

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Hi there folx! My name is Elizabeth Holliday (they/them/Mx.), and I’m a new Research Assistant with Dr. Brown in the Collaboratory. My duties include a whole variety of things, including posting on this website, which is why you’re getting an introduction to me straight from me. Read on to learn a little about me, and I’ll catch you on our social medias!

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Photo by Avery Holliday

Born and raised on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh territory in British Columbia, I moved to Tkaranto just a few months ago to start my Masters of Information in Library and Information Sciences at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. I moved to New York at 17 to pursue a Certificate in Integrated Performance (Musical Theatre) at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, did a year of courses at the New School for Public Engagement, and then moved back to BC to complete a BA in Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia.

Since beginning my undergrad, I have worked in theatre, radio, magazines (print and online), publishing, and book sales, often non-profits, always looking to facilitate community and marginalized access to media and media making. Having fallen in love with libraries at a young age, I decided to take that passion and pursue my MI for work in public libraries. I am deeply passionate about the library’s potential as a resource in low-income and queer communities (which often intersect). One such resource is the development of special collections of local histories, one designed by and for the community of patrons. This is what draws me to the Collaboratory. I am thrilled to learn more about the world of community archives and the barriers and successes of documenting Queer history, in the hopes that I can lend my skills to improving the systems we want to keep, and dismantling those that no longer serve us.

In addition to being an aspiring librarian, I am also a drag and theatre performer (alias Dank Sinatra) – there is some exciting Drag-related work coming down the pipe from the Collaboratory, so keep watching this space!

 

The Queer Peel Oral History Project: Queer Histories from Edge Cities

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Meet our new undergraduate research assistant, Luke Drummond (he/him or they/them), as he introduces you to The Peel Oral History Project! Luke is a fourth year English undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, and is currently working as Dr. Elspeth Brown’s research assistant, helping develop her course on queer oral histories of Peel. Fun fact: Luke is fluent in American Sign Language!

The Queer Peel Oral History Project, conducted by Dr. Elspeth Brown for her 3rd year history Special Topics course at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, will document the histories of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Peel region (comprised of Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon). Documenting the histories of queer, trans, non-binary and other LGBTQ2S+ people in the Peel area is important because Peel is both an edge city and a suburb. Queer oral histories from both suburbia and edge cities are noticeably absent in both queer archives and in academic histories and documentation. This absence is particularly true of queer folks in a Canadian context, where documentation of queer histories and experiences are usually centered around the larger cities of Vancouver and Toronto. While the city of Toronto, about an hour from the Peel region, has a well-documented queer history and culture, the queer histories and present-day experiences of queer people in the surrounding edge cities have yet to be documented and archived. The Queer Peel Oral History Project will seek to address this gap.

Gathering these narrators’ histories allows us to explore and document the ways in which the experiences of queer folks in edge cities differ from those in larger cities, particularly those with established queer communities. Specifically, the Peel Oral History Project asks, how do queer folk find each other, spread information, and collectivize when queer culture is not established or centralized in the same way it is in large cities?

Through interviews conducted by Dr. Brown’s students as part of their coursework, this project will ask Peel queers (and other LGBT2S+ people) to recount their histories of finding queer people, places, and things in their area. Interviews with our narrators will take place between January and late March, 2020, and will be archived afterwards at The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ Archives, the largest and oldest community-based queer archive in the world. If you are someone who has lived in Peel for at least 1 year, are over age 18, identify as LGBTQ2s+, and are interested in contributing your story, please contact elspeth.brown@utoronto.ca.