Queer Peel, Queer Space – Reflections from a Student

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People are social beings. We seek out others who share our common interests, encourage us to think, and allow us to become the best versions of ourselves. We seek out communities that secure and maintain our values. It is easier to establish these communities when there are spaces that encourage its growth.

Enter the queer community. Within Peel, do queer people have an established space? Where do queer people go to spend their time and to be queer? The obvious lack of a ‘Gay Village’ would be enough to convince many that queer space doesn’t exist within the Region. This raises the question – do queer people need spaces explictly designed for them? How have queer people in Peel managed to occupy space?

Faced with a dearth of intentionally-constructed queer space, queer people have always forged their own ‘spaces,’ spaces that are largely more effective than anything someone outside of the community could construct (which is not to say that these spaces are not guilty of ignoring valuable voices). Yet it is still worth exploring the lack of explicitly queer spaces within Peel, and the apparent disinterest in creating them. Throughout the Queer Peel Project, a number of narrators stated that they didn’t have an explicitly queer space, and some even voiced a lack of interest in them. For example, for some, a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) was a place where queer people could solidify their identities within schools, and for others it simply “wasn’t their thing.” A specific interview intrigued me, however. When asked if there was an explicitly queer space or place in Peel that they frequented, Elio Colavito responded, “Actually we hung out at Tim Hortons. We were Tim Hortons rats for sure, which is like the trashiest thing I’ve probably ever been a part of in my life. Tim’s is a great place for all the misfits.” 

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Elio’s experiences were likely not unique from that of other teenagers growing up in Peel. The non-existence of explicitly queer spaces does not stop queer people from living their lives. It does, however, place a greater emphasis on the people that they share those spaces with. Sometimes these spaces may be occupied by other ‘misfits,’ including straight people. Irrespective of the occupants, it appeared that for many, physical space was secondary when people were attempting to construct community. 

We tend to be fixated on the physical things we can see, touch, experience. It is the immaterial qualities that are sometimes more relevant. Through its development, the Region of Peel focused on the physical – highway here, townhouses for the nuclear family there, schools for kids close by – but largely neglected the variety of people that would take up those places. 

This conversation surrounding queer spaces highlights that queer people are first and foremost people. They possess the ability to organize themselves however they’d like. Just as one’s life in not defined by one’s straightness, a queer person should not be defined by their queerness. A lack of queer space does stop one being queer. Elio’s experience included late nights at a Tim’s – and although it wasn’t a queer Tim’s, that’s irrelevant. The spaces that queer people occupy speaks to the resilience, creativity and innovation that exists within the community and only adds to their continued shared history.

Introducing the Queer View Mirror Oral History Project

archiving oral history / community-based oral history / gay history

The LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory is happy to announce the Queer View Mirror Oral History Project! A community-based oral history project led by long-time activist Ed Jackson, Queer View Mirror will focus on collecting oral histories from Toronto lesbian and gay activists involved in 1970s and 1980s activism. The Collaboratory is happy to provide Ed and his project with assistance and student support. Read on to learn more about this exciting project and what Ed hopes to capture in his Queer View Mirror.


Let’s start with your name, pronouns, and a fun fact about you.

My name is Ed Jackson (pronouns: he, him). Although I now have completely white hair and beard, I actually began to get silver dollar-sized patches in my beard as long ago as age 21.  White hair has since become a feature, not a bug, for me.

What is the Queer View Oral History Project?

The QVOHP is a focused project to interview a wide variety of lesbian/gay/trans/queer folks who were active in community organizing in Toronto and elsewhere, particularly in the 1970s and 80s.

Why is it important to you to seek out interviews with other gay and lesbian activists?

I am seeking interviews with other lesbian and gay activists and community members from this time period because (a) It was a period of great lesbian and gay activism across Canada, particularly in Toronto, but my sense is that in the current historical record only certain events from that period tend to get highlighted and the same individuals tend to get privileged and given a voice; and (b) many of these folks are getting on in years and may soon be unavailable for direct documentation of their lives and views.These decades were the core gay liberation and AIDS activist eras, which  have had important residual impacts on how queer politics and communities in Canada have evolved. I think some of the current interpretations of those times are sometimes too “presentist” in approach. These interviews will provide an important source of first-hand documentation of experiences that will be available to researchers and historians in the future.

What do you plan to do with the interviews once they’re collected?With Elspeth Brown’s guidance in terms of up-to-date archival recording keeping and collection, I will deposit the records in The ArQuives and, if a partnership between the two develops, also with the U of T Digital Archives.  I am indebted to Elspeth for her generosity in making her process knowledge and student support available (I’m talking Tomasz Glod here!).

What are you most looking forward to about the process of Queer View Mirror?

It will be fascinating to document the perspectives of older queers who lived through dramatic times but who now perhaps feel like time has passed them and their contributions by.  It will be fun to make contact with people I have not interacted with, in some cases, for decades.

Now I’ve got to get the first interviews under my belt!

Transitional Texts: Imposter Syndrome and the Jearld Moldenhauer Book Collection

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I’m at a strange point in my life. A transitional point between nameless Grad Student and Colleague, a point where seemingly inherent imposter syndrome collides with a newfound sense of confidence. With an awareness that my superiors might see me as professionally responsible, worthy of trust, capable of getting things done. I am learning to trust this feeling, even as I struggle with it. And I can think of no better anecdote to exemplify this interim state than my recent work with Jearld Moldenhauer.

A self-described “Photographer, Bookseller, [and] Naturalist,” Jearld Moldenhauer was part of the beginnings of many organizations of note in the history of Canadian gay activism in Toronto. A founder of the University of Toronto Homophile Association, Moldenhauer is perhaps best known for his establishment of beloved LGBTQ+ bookshop, Glad Day, operating locations in Toronto and, for a time, in Boston, MA. Preceding his recent move to Morocco, Moldenhauer donated a sizable collection of books to The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ Archive. The processing of these 2000+ tomes was a matter of some frustration and debate on both sides of the experience, and I entered the project at the start of the summer with the goal of remedying some of this frustration. Over the course of twelve or so hours, over a few weeks, Jearld and I met online to review the 700+ titles from his collection which had been rejected on the basis of their being duplicates of titles in The ArQuives’ holdings.

The James Fraser Library. Image C/O toronto.com

When my boss, Dr. Elspeth Brown, first suggested that I might take on this project, I leapt at the chance. As a former bookseller, as a Library Sciences student, as a budding queer archivist, and as a bibliophile, the opportunity to dig through a collection of queer books with the owner of my favourite bookshop in the city—not to mention a person of such historical significance in the history of Canadian gay activism—was too good to pass up. And yet, as I began to get involved in the realities of the project, I became increasingly trepidatious. Not only was I stepping into some thorny emotional territory, but I was made starkly aware of how inadequate I felt taking on a large role in a project with such people involved. The stakes felt high. I worried about my abilities, about not being liked or taken seriously. About making an already fragile situation worse.

It’s somewhat demoralizing to reflect on the prevalence of imposter syndrome narratives, especially for graduate students. Friends in other U of T programs have recounted the in-depth, explicit, and proactive messaging on the syndrome that accompanied their graduate orientation week. It’s sad to think that so many of us carry so much doubt about our own abilities, even when they have been proven time and again. Compounding this is how much more prevalent these imposter feelings are for racialized folks, women, and LGBTQ2S+ folks. So much of moving through the world as a non-binary person feels like having to prove to people that I exist. That I’m not lying or making something up.

Although I carried significant doubt within me as I began to work with Jearld, I am pleased to say that I also made great strides in dispelling this doubt. I quickly became caught up in the process and minutiae of book assessment and comparison. I learned so much from Jearld through the short time we worked together; about the texts themselves, about queer publishing history, about the individuals who wrote or were written about in the books we discussed. I emerged from this work still at a strange point in my life and career, but I emerged better able to face it, too. With greater knowledge and greater confidence. The ground on which I stand may still be shaky, but my gratitude for those who gave me this opportunity is anything but.

Queer Peel – Reflections from a Student (2)

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In this post, I want to explore the logistical aspects of the Queer Peel Oral History project. My intention behind this is two-fold: to highlight the work that went into the project, and to provide insight to those inclined to explore the possibility of running their own oral history projects. I believe it would be worthwhile to insert a quick disclaimer, however: I do not intend (and would not claim) to be creating a guide on how to ‘properly’ conduct oral history projects. Rather, I want to reflect on the work and effort placed into this project and showcase how it worked effectively. 

With that, let’s begin. 

One of the first things that I needed to come to terms with when beginning this project is that I knew nothing. I knew what all the letters in the LGBTQ acronym meant, and I could tell you what Operation Soap was, but I quickly realized that Queer life is so much more than one’s personal experiences. The history that exists surrounding Queer people is one that isn’t taught in elementary or high schools, and therefore tends to be ignored. Without this knowledge of Queer history, people – especially young people – can sometimes feel like Queer life is something new and uncharted. In other words, I learned that being Queer in Peel isn’t something that I had already discovered; I was just beginning to unearth it and the rich history supporting it. When conducting any work, it’s important to recognize that the knowledge you think you have often barely begins to scrape the surface. It was important that we were further educated. We were provided with regular readings on Queer life and the importance of oral history, which allowed us to approach the topic with a solid foundation for the work we were eager to create. 

I also learned that it was incredibly important to respect the narrator. Ensuring that the narrator was always comfortable and safe during the interview was a major priority. A narrator is opening up and providing you with their stories, and it was imperative that we respected that before, during, and after the interviews. Which leads me on to my next point: it is important to establish a plan early on. Clearly assigning tasks to our group members was helpful in streamlining the interview process and the work that followed. Communicating with narrators via email was also a challenge, and so the ability to have a couple of buffer days (to wait for a response) between these emails was always useful. 

The Mississauga News, Wed. July 16, 2008. Piece by Chris Clay.

Furthermore, I learned that certain resources may not be as useful as you want – or expect – them to be. A requirement of the project was to ground our findings in tangible historical evidence. I ventured over to Mississauga’s Central Library in the hopes of finding something useful in their newspaper archives. Personally, I had no luck locating any reference to Queer life until the topic entered purposefully the public sphere (i.e. scandals, same-sex marriage). As discouraging as it was, it revealed that one must understand the audience that they are attempting to study. Would people in 1980’s Mississauga want to read about Queer life? If not, where would one be more inclined to find references to it during that time period? I had failed to follow Queer people and instead relied on the institutional organizations that I was taught to perceive as reliable. 

Finally, I learned that a project is never really over – and thank goodness for that! I was so encouraged by the work that was being done, I sought more of it! I reached out to the individual leading the project, Professor Brown, and made it known that I was interested in assisting with some of the additional back-end work that may need to be done. There were some elements of the project that we simply were not able to complete (i.e. proper transcriptions). However, not completing certain aspects of the project also highlighted my limitations. Although I may not have completed everything that I wanted to, in the way that I wanted to, it was important to recognize my limits and work within them. It was important that I didn’t let that discourage or inhibit my ability to do my work, and instead used it as encouragement to do the work that I could in the best possible way.  

For more information on the Queer Peel Oral History Project, view the Omeka digital exhibition here: https://omeka.utm.utoronto.ca/s/queerpeel/page/intro

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!

Jude Patton Screenshot (1)

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.