Trans Oral History Post-Doc! (6 months)

oral history / trans history

Post-doctoral Fellowship in Trans Oral History

The LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory (University of Toronto, ON), in collaboration with The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria (Victoria, BC) will award one six-month Postdoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship is to be taken up, and concluded, between 1 June 2019 and 30 March 2020 (exact starting and ending dates to be negotiated within this time frame). The Fellow will be expected to coordinate and conduct oral histories with trans people who have been trans activists in the U.S. and Canada. Co-supervisors will be Dr. Aaron Devor (University of Victoria) and Dr. Elspeth Brown (UniversiScreen Shot 2019-01-25 at 8.30.01 PMty of Toronto). Our preference is that the Fellow will be based in Victoria but we may consider other possibilities. Priority consideration shall be given to candidates with a Ph.D. received between July 1, 2016 and June 1, 2019.

The successful candidate will have a proven track record in the area of trans studies, historical studies, and qualitative interviewing. Lived experience in trans or non-binary communities, or as a trans or non-binary activist, would be an asset.

The six-month fellowship includes a salary of $30,000 CAD and enrollment in the University of Toronto employee benefits program.

All qualified candidates are invited to apply online by sending the application materials to by 31 March 2019. Applicants must submit a cover letter, a current curriculum vitae, a 1-2 page research statement outlining current and future research interests, a sample of scholarly writing not to exceed 30 single-spaced pages, and contact information for three referees. Please send with the following in the subject line of the email: Trans Oral History Postdoc.

We recommend combining attached documents into one or two files in PDF or MS Word format. If you have any questions about this position, please contact Dr. Elspeth Brown ( and/or Dr. Aaron Devor (

All application materials will be accepted until the closing date of 31 March 2019, or until the position is filled.

The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from racialized persons /persons of colour, women, Indigenous / Aboriginal People of North America, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ persons, and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas.

The University of Victoria is committed to upholding the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our living, learning and work environments. In pursuit of our values, we seek members who will work respectfully and constructively with differences and across levels of power. We actively encourage applications from members of groups experiencing barriers to equity. Read our full equity statement here:

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.

The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ Oral History Project

oral history

Fabulous oral history projects continue to unfold. One of the endeavors and I have explored recently is the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, which is both an oral history project and an archiving initiative. It was founded in 2015 by Dr. Gregory Rosenthal, Assistant Professor of Public History at Roanoke College, either on their own or with others (it’s hard to tell from the website). This is an ambitious project that includes an oral history project that has so far collected interviews from 33 narrators, many of whom are queer and trans women, as well as many queer and trans people of color. They are also collecting archival objects, which make their final home in the Virginia room of the Roanoke Public Library. (Kudos to them  for collaborating with the library to create an archival home for these materials!) It’s also possible for folks to upload their own documents to the archive through this link. In addition to the oral histories and archiving work,  the project is also engaged in several public humanities initiatives. These include monthly walking tours concerning the queer history of Roanoke and two digital exhibitions drawn from the oral histories and archiving work. One of the exhibitions concerns gay and lesbian community organizing in the early 1980s, and the other focuses on gay liberation in Roanoke from 1966 through 1980. Like many of these projects, including my own, I wonder about questions of access and sustainability. Who is using these materials? Will people be accessing the entire two hour interviews (unlikely)?  Is Prof. Rosenthal keep track of who accesses and for how long?  Who will be working on this project over the long-term, etc. These are questions that all of us face.  I hope to learn more about the project on January 5,  after I have a chance to meet Gregory at the American Historical Association meetings in Chicago.

Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project

Finding the Body in Foolscap

Foolscap / gay history / oral history

The Foolscap Project consists of a series of oral history interviewees, mostly conducted between 1981 and 1989 by John Grube and Lionel Collier conducted a series of oral history interviews with gay men born in the first half of the 20th century.

The project produced over 100 autobiographical interviews. These interviews were invariably informed by conditions contemporaneous to the project: the Stonewall riots, Operation Soap, the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic within the community and the proliferation of a wide array of new queer spaces and social, community, and health-related groups

The directors of Foolscap were particularly interested in certain topics: psychiatry, policing, criminalization, sex work, intergenerational relationships, gay social structures, and health and aging.

In the last couple years, records from the Foolscap project have gradually been flowing into the CLGA. I have been given the opportunity to process and digitize these materials. In the last fifteen months, we have digitized over 300 audio recordings from 125 interviews with 100 sets of subjects.

The Foolscap project does not truly document a history of HIV/AIDS in Toronto. The way in which the oral histories were conducted was not really aimed at garnering information so much as gathering profiles of the gay community. However, in collecting these profiles, what the Foolscap project does document is the way in which people told their life/body-stories in that moment of time.

The Foolscap project spans across multiple bodies: personal, geographical, temporal, spatial, and material. The onset of HIV/AIDS for Toronto’s queer and trans community, which began contemporaneously to the Foolscap project, situated all of these bodies in new contexts. As a result, the project took on a particular salience in its reference to HIV/AIDS. It offered community members an opportunity to re-write their queer body-histories, which took on new character alongside HIV/AIDS. The narration, and thus production, of these new queer body-histories and futurities, which were informed by HIV/AIDS, fed back into the subjective forces involved in the project. In this way, the Foolscap project itself formed a technology of interference, and its histories are constituted from layers of interruption. 

It is tempting to see ‘interruption’ as instantaneous; a particular moment or event whose durativity exists is only in its legacy, rather than its process. But, in reality, interruption itself is durational. Take, for instance, a cassette tape. Over time, it degrades. This degradation interferes with its content, noise interrupting the audio it was intended to contain. While I listen to it, I perceive one moment of this interference; I hear a particular instant of the process, and might find it to be “inaudible” or, hopefully, “audible”. But, in reality, its degradation occurs over an infinite series of moments, accumulating and effecting itself. The tape’s degradation is collaborative as well, determined by numerous dimensions including the tape itself, the type of recording, its age, the places it has been housed, and the conditions it has been exposed to. This interpretation of interruption as durational is the one I use to characterize the ways in which HIV/AIDS was constituted within Foolscap. Foolscap characterizes HIV/AIDS as an ongoing interruption of queer bodies and spaces. 

Some Foolscap interviewees characterize HIV/AIDS as an interruption of the body; in the Foolscap interview with Ed Fanantu, Fanantu describes in detail how HIV interrupts what he characterizes to be regular bodily function, particularly fixating on a friend with HIV who experiences blindness. Interruptions with bodily function were recognized as signs pointed towards HIV/AIDS; in the first Foolscap interview with Alan McMurray, McMurray is sick with a flu, and suggests that this indicates he may have HIV. 

HIV/AIDS is understood by others as constituting an interruption in gay space-making and geographies. Contrasted against memories of the care-free cruising and sexual rendezvous in  decades past, new meanings and realities came to define cruising hubs like Queen’s Park, Hanlan’s Point and Balfour Park as HIV/AIDS entered the lived experiences of the queer public. Businesses were to be graded based on their response to the epidemic: in gay entrepreneur Peter Bochove’s interview, Bochove chastises the Roman Bathhouse for not giving condoms out, while applauding Club Toronto for offering protection. Perceptions of the safety of parks was also interrupted. For example, Vernon Duval and Lionel Collier discuss at length in their interview how HIV/AIDS changed the cruising scene at Allan Gardens. In another interview a man titled ‘CCB’ for anonymity describes how HIV/AIDS has made him lose interest in bathhouses and parks.

For Foolscap interviewees, HIV/AIDS interrupted most relations between land, bodies, minds and objects. In the Foolscap interview with Gordon Whitrock, Whitrock takes on an optimistic characterization of HIV/AIDS, describing HIV/AIDS as a galvanizing moment for the gay liberation movement. Ed Fanantu describes how HIV/AIDS has defined new body-readings and body-aesthetics within the gay community. In the interviews, everyday objects like KY Jelly lube were re-read as contagion, becoming politicized as they were blamed for the deaths of friends and partners. For many, the act of sex became increasingly divorced from sexuality; many interviewees describe choosing celibacy over risk of seropositivity. 

One of the Foolscap project interviewers, Lionel Collier, describes HIV/AIDS in the community as ‘war’. I take ‘war’ to mean a loud and brash interruption, blurring the lines between public and private spheres for the queer community.

These interruptions asked community members to reinterpret their lives with a sense of urgency. As HIV/AIDS demanded new temporalities and futurities from Foolscap interviewees, personal histories had to be marked against new rubrics. The Foolscap interviews were one site where these personal histories could be revised and spoken into the record. As subjects were asked to trace their own histories, their autobiographies could be told in new ways centred around their experiences with HIV. For instance, previously, Foolscap interviewee Burt Sutcliffe may simply have described his relationship with his partner Ralph as always monogamous. But now, with Foolscap, Burt Sutcliffe could characterize his relationship as one which had always been monogamous, and even if it hadn’t been previously, would be now. People interviewed by the Foolscap interviewers could revise their life stories to identify, for those who were seronegative, how their decisions and experiences directed them away from HIV/AIDS, and, for those who were seropositive, how their decisions and experiences shaped their serostatus.

This notion of re-interpretation is true to all oral history; while oral histories are recounted, they always form a site for re-constitutions of the body-mind.  In this way, the act of retelling an oral history, too, acts as an interruptive force, as this re-constitution may not be aligned with the intent of the subject. 

A particularly interesting example of this is the Foolscap interview with Earl Whitfield Slipp, which was partially conducted in a hospital. In this interview, a host of interruptions take up most of the duration of the recording: noise, interference from medical equipment, and prompts from doctors come to tell Slipp’s health history for him. 

The interviewer also forms an interruption in oral history, prompting and refusing the speaker, shaping the interviewee’s identity in the process of it being written. Just as Foolscap interviewees framed HIV/AIDS as interruptive, so did the Foolscap interviewers through their questions. Emphasis in the Foolscap interviews was typically placed on early sexual experiences and present sexual experiences, emphasizing a contrast between “sex before” and “sex now”. Interviewer interference was often quite blatant: as the project went on, Foolscap interviewers increasingly closed interviews by prompting interviewees to consider using condoms.

Archiving necessarily expects the archivist to perceive artefacts and their histories as existing in finite temporalities; the process of preservation imagines archival ephemera as belonging in a certain time or space, with particular character and content reflective of that time and space. 

In reality, the archival objects of the Foolscap interview do not characterize the time and place of HIV/AIDS, but rather the change within that time and space. Foolscap interviews, as with all other oral histories of HIV/AIDS, document the re-constitution of bodies in times of drastic change and interruption. 

Foolscap does not offer a survey of all experiences shaped HIV/AIDS, but rather tracks how people’s perceptions of themselves and their bodies changed as a response to these experiences. Today, as the cassettes these oral histories are housed in continue to respond to change, degrading over time, we watch these bodies continue to respond to interruptive forces. It is these layers of interruptions which come to constitute our histories.

Remembering the Delisting Years, Twenty Years Later

oral history / trans history

Twenty years after the delisting of gender confirmation surgeries in Ontario, the recent return of the Conservatives to power forces us to remember the ten year struggle for relisting that resulted from this decision.

On October 1st, 1998, the newly-installed Conservative provincial government removed coverage for gender confirmation surgeries under the Ontario health care plan (OHIP). The delisting of these procedures, formerly referred to as sex reassignment surgery (SRS), was part of a broader plan of cuts to public services and the provincial welfare system as influenced by neoliberal austerity, widely popular amongst Western governments by the end of the 1990s.

The delisting took the transgender community in Toronto by surprise. Those who were undergoing their transition at the time and were in the process of obtaining approval for their surgery were left with no other options as public coverage for their procedures ended in such a sudden manner. As a result, many transgender Ontarians saw themselves embracing the role of activists as they now had to fight for their rights and those of their community. For some like Martine Stonehouse this led her to take her case to the Canadian Human Rights Review Panel in 1999, eventually launching into a human rights case against the Province of Ontario.

Several trans activists formed collectives and coalitions in order to come together and press for the needs of their community. One of them, the Trans Lobby Group, formed in 2001 as activists and community members organized to lobby politicians about the social determinants of health for transgender people, emphasizing the effects of societal and institutional transphobia on the life and wellbeing of this collective.

NM and Susan Gapka

NM and Susan Gapka, one of the project interviewees

Inspired by the need to raise awareness of the dire state of transgender health in Ontario in the 2000s, Sherbourne Health Centre oversaw the creation of the Trans PULSE Project as a community-based research endeavour. The Trans PULSE Project resulted in many studies on the status of transgender health in Ontario based on a series of surveys conducted in 2009 and 2010 with over 400 members of this community. Although all of them offer insightful details about the social determinants of transgender health, one particular report sheds light on the challenges and difficulties that arise when transgender people have inadequate access to health care. Worryingly, the report claims that by 2009 a number of transgender Ontarians had engaged in non-prescribed hormone use, while a smaller number of participants had performed surgical procedures on themselves. As the data collection for the Trans PULSE Project took place shortly after coverage for gender confirmation surgeries was reinstated, it can be assumed that these individuals were led to oversee their own transitions due to the faults and shortcomings of the provincial health care system during the delisting years.

In a province with a tradition of universal health care, excluding transgender people from accessing coverage for vital procedures for ten years is a demonstration of how easily transphobia can get institutionalized under a hostile administration. While coverage for gender confirmation surgeries was eventually resumed after the return of the Liberal party to power, the ten years that transgender Ontarians had to live without access to vital surgeries permanently scarred this community and initiated a generation of relentless trans health care activism.

Twenty years later, and at the dawn of a new Conservative government after fifteen years of Liberal grip over the province, the landscape for LGBTQ+ rights and activism is perhaps as dire as it was in 1998. While Doug Ford has not necessarily made any direct attacks or threats against the transgender population, the cancellation of the OHIP+ program and the decision to revert back to the 1998 sexual education curriculum lead us to believe that this administration has no qualms about cutting back socially progressive policies.

Amidst a hostile environment in North American politics where right-wing politics are ever more enmeshed with anti-trans sentiment, the next four years of Conservative leadership hold a fair amount of uncertainty and anxiety over the state of transgender health in Ontario. As LGBTQ+ Ontarians, we can only hope that two decades of lobbying, organizing, and activism have solidified the severity of our claims, and therefore that we will not see a return to the ten years without coverage that left many in Ontario without a hope to live their true lives.

Queering Family Photography: A Short Film

oral history / photography / public humanities

In May 2016, The Family Camera Network launched a public archive project to collect and preserve family photographs and their stories, providing a resource for teachers, historians, and scholars to write new histories of photography, family, and Canada…The project has conducted over 30 interviews in total, including 16 oral history interviews with 13 queer and/or trans narrators about their family photographs. The photographs and video interviews are being preserved at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (a portion of which is represented in this video) and at the Royal Ontario Museum. This video draws from interview footage in this archive.

Queering Family Photography

oral history / photography / public humanities

On April 21st, 2018, the Queering Family Photography exhibition opened at Stephen Bulger Gallery, in conjunction with artist Sunil Gupta’s exhibition, Friends and Lovers – Coming out in Montreal in the 70s.

Queering Family Photography explored the critical work that queer, trans, and two-spirited family photos do in documenting and creating queer modes of belonging, and how our emotional attachments to queer family photographs have also sustained LGBTQ2+ lives. The show traced how queer, trans, and two-spirited people draw on photography to redefine family to include queer kinships outside the heteronormative, nuclear family model. It considered the social, political, and technolo



gical factors that structure queer kinship, and the ways that LGBTQ2+ communities creatively reimagine family, linking public and private spheres together. The images on display captured fleeting moments of love and desire, as well as generational bonds, which are often fractured by a normalizing state and culture.


Queering Family Photography was curated by Elspeth Brown (lead) and Thy Phu, with the assistance of Sajdeep Soomal, Richard Fung, Mark Kasumovic, Tori Abel, Lucie Handley-Girard, and Sarah Parsons. It featured over 100 photographs, as well as oral histories, collected through The Family Camera Network, and loans from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), a partner in this project, and from the Two-Spirited Collection at the University of Winnipeg Archive. It was organized by The Family Camera Network and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, with the support of Western University, Stephen Bulger Gallery, and York University. The exhibition was on display from April 21st to May 26th and it was a featured exhibition in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

Thematic Sections

Queering Family Photography was presented in three thematic sections: “Instant Intimacies,” “Domesticities,” and “Publics.” The exhibition also included a selection of albums in vitrines, as well as a video projection that showcased FamCam participants and their stories.



Instant Intimacies

The first section of the exhibition explored photographic technologies that enabled a sense of “instant intimacy,” through a small selection of Polaroid photographs and prints of digital images. Candid Polaroid prints from the 1970s-1990s brought desires into view while limiting the threat of public exposure at a time when non-normative sexualities and genders were strictly surveilled and policed. This technology of instant intimacy has also captured and created camp, queer humour, and two-spirited kinship during moments of levity and connection. Although the demise of Polaroid coincided with the digital turn, its influence persists in the era of social media, which embraces the immediacy and spontaneity that older instant cameras introduced. In “Instant Intimacies,” viewers experienced Polaroids of friends hanging out, in drag, and at parties. The digital images in this section included: selfies, a screenshot from a LiveJournal chat room for trans women, and a screenshot of a son and his parents as they connect from their respective homes in Toronto (Canada) and Mumbai (India).


Through a display of over thirty photographs hung in a salon style, “Domesticities” examined how family photos also shape domesticity as an ideology that forms gender roles and polices sexuality in a way that intersects with the public sphere. LGBTQ2+ people make and remake family by creating domestic images that redefine normative meanings of “daddies,” mothers, siblings, and kids. LGBTQ2+ people have reimagined these domestic descriptors in queer family photographs taken not only inside homes but also in public spaces: at the beach, in a stairwell, on the street, and elsewhere. “Domesticities” highlighted the generational bonds between parents and children, between romantic partners, and between strangers who, despite their brief connection, come together in defiance of norms and laws that criminalize queer desire and gender expression. Here, visitors saw the diverse types of images that compose family photo collections, including: baby pictures, school pictures, wedding photos, holiday snapshots, commercial images, and press photos.




LGBTQ2+ people draw on photography to expand and queer the notion of family through spectacular and quotidian means, including the highly visible spaces of the street and park, and less visible spaces such as bathhouses, coffeehouses, and clubs. Both types of spaces are pivotal for expressing queer desire yet are targets for state suppression. Events such as powwows provide opportunities to reflect further on two-spirited kinship in relationship to Indigenous cultures and queer modes of belonging. In a neoliberal era, however, many queer family spaces have become gentrified and commodified in a process that benefits some LGBTQ2+ community members while marginalizing others on the basis of class and race. The “Publics” section included photos taken during demonstrations and pride events, including images capturing: the “No More Shit” demonstration against the Toronto bathhouse raids (1981), a Zami gathering (1983), a Gay Men of African Descent march (1995), a Campaign for Equal Families demonstration (1995) and the 22nd Annual International Two-Spirit Gathering (2010).


The CLGA collection contains several family albums, which document travels and migrations, capture everyday moments and significant events, represent chosen families, memorialize friends and family members, and even acknowledge public figures in the medical profession who have been advocates for LGBTQ2+ people. The exhibition included a selection of these family photo albums and album pages in two vitrines. Some of these items included: a page with a “Spirituality in the 1990s” flyer by two-spirit activist Albert McLeod, Rupert Raj’s personal photo album featuring his cross-dressing friends, a family album with snapshots of author and photographer Terry David Silvercloud (formerly David Blair) growing up in Halifax, and an album with snapshots of Robert ‘Robbie’ Gaston Fortin, a Toronto and Vancouver-based Drag Star (a.k.a. Mrs. Wiggins), that was created by his mother for the Drag Hall of Fame after he passed away.

Video Projection: Queering Family Photography (2018)

A projection on the north wall of the exhibition space presented an original video directed by Thy Phu, and edited and animated by Maryam Golafshani and Mark Kasumovic, showing clips from oral history interviews collected by The Family Camera Network. In May 2016, The Family Camera Network launched a public archive project to collect and preserve family photographs and their stories, providing a resource for teachers, historians, and scholars to write new histories of photography, family, and Canada. At the time of the exhibition, the project had conducted over 30 interviews, including 16 oral history interviews with 13 queer and trans narrators about their family photographs. FamCam photographs and video interviews are preserved at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and at the Royal Ontario Museum. This video draws from interview footage in the FamCam archive at the CLGA.



Exhibition Outreach & Programming

Queering Family Photography reached broad audiences as one of the featured exhibitions of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. Around 300 people visited the gallery during the opening event and the show saw between 25 to 50 visitors a day during its run. Several attendees wrote comments in the guestbook that expressed appreciation and gratitude for presenting a show that highlighted LGBTQ2+ experiences and families.

Remarking on the show and the audience it garnered at the gallery, Stephen Bulger commented:

“It was a distinct honour to offer some of our gallery space for the Queering Family Photography exhibition. CLGA’s initiative enabled Sunil Gupta to explore an old body of work for the first time which, when presented in conjunction with the archival treasures from the CLGA served to broaden the issues depicted. I also enjoyed seeing how the two exhibitions would often each attract its own audience, and how delighted they would be to discover a second, complimentary exhibition. Coupled with the audience attracted to the CONTACT festival, it would be hard to imagine a more perfect time to have hosted the two exhibitions.”

— Stephen Bulger

The Family Camera Network also hosted a Queering Family Photography roundtable on April 26th, 2018. Acclaimed filmmaker Richard Fung moderated a panel featuring prominent two-spirited activist Albert McLeod, artist Sunil Gupta, and curators Elspeth Brown and Thy Phu. It was held at Hart House (University of Toronto) and explored the themes and content of Queering Family Photography and Friends and Lovers – Coming Out in Montreal in the 70s. This free public panel drew an audience of over 60 people.

In the Media

Queering Family Photography was well-received in the media. It was hailed as a “must-see” exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Canadian Art and theToronto Star. Associate Editor of Canadian Art, Yaniya Lee, wrote:

“Growing up, I rarely saw representations of my own, two-momed type of family unit. For a long time I had the odd sense that these kinships were strange, illegitimate or shameful. […] IMHO, portrayals of alternative family structures like these, so seldom given a space to be visible, can shift our perception of what a ‘normal’ family should look like.”

— Yaniya Lee, Canadian Art, 26 April 2018

Art critic Murray Whyte drew a connection between The Family Camera (Royal Ontario Museum, 2017) and Queering Family Photography, and noted that the images on display were, “warm in their simple truth – of the intimacy and comfort of nearest and dearest, a universal necessity that knows no gender or orientation.” Interviews with lead curator Elspeth Brown were also featured on Metro Morning, Toronto Life, Yohomo: Toronto Queer Culture Now, and CBC Arts.



Foolscap Sheds Light on a History of Anti-LGBTQ Police Violence

Foolscap / gay history

The Foolscap Oral History project is a rich collection of over 100 interviews recorded with gay men throughout the 1980s that tells the story of LGBTQ life in Toronto in the pre-Stonewall era.

The interviewees of this project cover a wide array of topics in their narratives such as activism, relationships, and social life; together, these stories serve to set the scene for gay Toronto in a time when queer identities were much more marginalized than in the present. In particular, these interviews illustrate a social context heavily marked by police surveillance, harassment, and brutality that heavily impacted and informed the ways in which LGBTQ individuals in the city got together throughout the 20th century.

The Toronto Police Department has a long history of regulating the activities of individuals in public and private spaces throughout the city. Notably, the work of the police’s Morality Department was instrumental in policing and criminalizing the sexual lives of men and women. While this department had been in charge of overseeing morality in the city since the end of the 19th century, Norman Clarkson, one of the interviewees, notes that by the end of World War Two the police seemed to have a much greater interest in persecuting gay individuals. Mary Louise Adams, professor of Sociology at Queen’s University, explains that the rapidly changing socio-economic landscape of postwar Canada and the pressures and tensions of a growing city led to increased efforts by city officials to regulate public spaces and ensure that Torontonians behaved according to the social norms of the times.

Indeed, the participants of the Foolscap project recall a number of avenues employed by the police to harass gay men in public and private spaces. One interviewee mentioned being stopped by a police officer while driving in drag under the false pretence of speeding through Yonge Street. Since the information on their ID didn’t match their gender presentation at the time of the encounter, they were taken to the police station where the police verbally and physically assaulted them. In addition to this violence, the interviewee also mentions how officers would rip their fake eyelashes and remove their wigs in the effort to mock their femininity and gender presentation.

This kind of gendered aggression has been a common feature of queer and trans engagements with the police. Russell Alldread recalls how, in Toronto, officers would routinely drive gay men and transgender sex workers to Cherry Beach where they would often beat them and remove their clothes and belongings, leaving them to find a way back to the city on their own. Furthermore, another interviewee by the name of Tony Brady mentions how the police would tease sex workers and frantically try to come up with charges against them in the hopes of removing them from city streets.

Tony also mentions how police officers would constantly interrupt gay people in their attempts to socialize and get together. Not only did this take the form of raids at parties and events, but police officers would also stop same-sex couples and demand that they walked in opposite directions so as to avoid any further engagements between them. While Tony argues that the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 had a positive impact in avoiding issues such as the institutionalization of gay people, he exclaims that this didn’t change police attitudes in the city. Karsten Kossman describes these attitudes against gay people at the time as “off the wall”, noting that the police’s efforts to avoid gay socialization in the city went as far as exacerbating tensions and rifts between existing gay organizations in the city by vocally supporting one side over another, inevitably putting its members against each other.  

The stories shared by the participants of the Foolscap project serve to provide an image of early gay life in Toronto, as the advances of our modern times can make us forget that gay life in the city didn’t always happen so easily. Moreover, these narratives serve to contextualize the relationship between the city’s LGBTQ community and the police department, especially given the recent tensions arising from their participation in the Pride parade and their alleged inaction when handling a number of LGBTQ deaths. As these debates often get dehistoricized and depoliticized in popular discourse, being mindful of the history of LGBTQ resistance against police brutality allows us to stay true to our struggle and grow stronger as a community.

Doug is a Master of Arts candidate at the Department of Geography and Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto.


Adams, M. L. (1994). Almost Anything Can Happen: A Search for Sexual Discourse in the Urban Spaces of 1940s Toronto. The Canadian Journal of Sociology, 19(2). pp. 217-232.

Digitizing Archival Cassette Tapes: A Brief How-To

Image caption: Interview with John Nixon, one of the cassette tapes housed at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in the Foolscap fonds. Cassette label reads “Toronto Nov. 7/1982 side one of 1st taped interview with John N., convicted boy lover & homosexual”.

Between 1981 and 1986, The Foolscap Gay Oral History Project collected over 100 oral histories with Canadian gay men born in the first half of the 20th century. These interviews, conducted by John Grube and Lionel Collier, were informed by conditions contemporaneous to the project: Operation Soap (police harassment of gay men), HIV/ AIDS, and the proliferation of queer community spaces and groups in Toronto.

These interviews were originally recorded on cassette tapes, which have been recently collected by the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory and deposited at  the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). In the last year, the Collaboratory has digitized and archived 100+ interviews, housed on over 100 cassette tapes.

In the process of archiving these cassette tapes, the Collaboratory has also developed guides outlining best practices for digitizing audio off of cassette tapes. This blog post is intended to offer you basic step-by-step instructions for cassette tape digitization, and some helpful hints and tips.

Your digitization set-up should involve three main hardware components: a cassette deck, your audio interface, and your computer. The cassette deck reads the cassette tape and outputs audio, the audio interface channels this audio from the deck to your computer, and the computer is where you will store your audio as a digital file. At the CLGA, the Collaboratory uses a Behringer UCA202 USB/Audio Interface, but there are many other options for audio interfaces out there. So, your audio will flow out the cassette deck, into the audio interface, and then out the audio interface and into your computer.


The VHS and cassette decks at the Nancy Nicol Digitization and Viewing Station at the CLGA.

The VHS and cassette decks at the Nancy Nicol Digitization and Viewing Station at the CLGA.


You also need two pieces of software installed on your computer prior to digitization: your audio interface’s drivers and audio editing software. We recommend Audacity for audio editing: the program is totally free, very stable and user friendly, offers noise reduction.

Before digitizing any cassette tape, one should always inspect the tape. Make sure there is no visible dirt or debris on the tape. Manually turn the spindles a few times using a pencil and make sure they turn freely. If you have any concerns about the condition of the tape, set it aside. Playing a dirty tape in your cassette deck can permanently damage the tape and the deck.

Next, determine whether the tape you are digitizing has been recorded using Dolby Noise Reduction. To do this, put the tape in your cassette deck and listen to the tape while toggling Dolby NR on and off. If the audio signal sounds like it has lost high frequency response when the Dolby NR switch is ON, then make sure the switch is set to OFF when digitizing.

Now, you can open your audio editing software. Make sure your input is set to your audio interface. Begin recording on your audio editing software, and press play on your cassette deck. The software will begin recording the tape, and you can listen as it records real time via your audio output of choice. It is important that you listen to the recording through the computer, not the interface or deck, so you are hearing the quality of your digital version. Continue to monitor the sound until the end of the tape; avoid leaving the recording unattended unless necessary.

Once your tape is done playing, stop the recording. You are now ready to edit and save your digital audio recording! If you plan on putting the audio through post-production (ie. noise reduction, clipping, etc.), we recommend first saving an unedited, preservation-quality master file.

Depending on your equipment and software, the details of this process may change. However, the workflow should remain generally the same. We hope that this guide is relatively helpful, and wish you the best of luck with your archival audio digitization endeavours!

Trans Oral Histories: the Transgender History Project of the Upper Midwest

archiving oral history / trans history

I realize that even though the website has a fantastic collection of websites concerning LGBTQ oral history, put together by Cait McKinney, I have not actually had the time to go through them all, and reflect on what they offer. I’m in the process of putting together a new course on Queer and Trans Oral History, and this seems like a perfect moment to explore some of these sites and reflect on some of their capacities and limitations. Rather than proceed alphabetically, I’ve decided to move forward thematically. My first theme, therefore, will be “trans oral history,” something I’ve spent a fair amount of time on myself. The first link I’ve accessed on my own page is already problematic: Access Minnesota Transgender History Project is, apparently, a link not to the project but instead to the Access Minnesota (a weekly news program) website’s interview about the project. In this 2015 interview, the host discusses the project with Lisa Vecoli, curator of the Tretter Collection of GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota’s libraries, soon after the Tretter Collection received a grant to collect oral histories of trans people in the upper Midwest. Lisa describes the beginnings of the Tretter Collection, which began with activist Gene Tretter’s major collection of LGBT materials and their donation to the University in 2000 (3,000 linear feet of material, a major collection). They have personal records; organization records; performers; authors; activists; published materials as well, including 16,000 issues of periodicals. Lisa is a very clear interviewee, providing excellent detail, even though her interviewer is so peculiar, at least to my ears. She’s exceptionally well-prepared, using the interview as an opportunity to describe what the collections offer. Lisa describes how she’s trying to create a more intersectional approach to the archives, which at the point of the interview in 2015, was mostly white and gay male. In response to student interest, she’s trying to expand the archive to include more trans voices and stories, to use her terms. She submitted a grant to the Tawani Foundation, and it was successful: the goal is to collect 400 hours of oral histories about trans experience in the upper Midwest.Tretter Collection

When we first put the Collaboratory website together, this important project had only a Facebook page—important for spreading the word about the project, and recruiting narrators, but not so helpful in terms of accessing the interviews. Now, in late 2017/early 2018, the interviews have been archived at the University of Minnesota’s Media Archive. Currently, the site has 55 interviews available, some of them with well-known people such as Eli Clare, Kate Bornstein, and Dr. Walter Bockting. Most of the interviews are with upper Midwest folks who I’ve never heard of—not that it matters.

As some readers know, the main interviewer for this project is Andrea Jenkins, a black trans woman who is a poet and performance artist and, most recently in 2017, was elected to Minneapolis’ City Council (the first black, openly trans woman to be elected to public office in the US). I attended one of Andrea’s performances at the last Moving Trans History Forward conference in 2016, and was completely blown away. I tried to chat her up with a bit of fan girl action, but she was having none of it. I am sure she had more interesting people to spend time with there. Sigh.

Like the NYC Tran Oral History Project, a partnership with the NY Public Library, the interviews are presented on the site via tiles—a grid of trans people, photographed at the site of the interview (or perhaps they are video stills, taken from the interviews themselves.). I find this presentation of oral histories both compelling and creepy. Compelling, because the faces of all these trans people does solicit my viewing engagement, but creepy because the grid reproduces the logic of the taxonomic gaze, which is the last thing that a trans-positive project would want to reference. However, it’s fair to say that most viewers wouldn’t make this somewhat arcane critique, and having a visual representation of the narrators in an organized mode probably trumps all else. The interviews are listed by name of narrator, such as “Interview with Monica Cross”—the historian in me wants to know the date, right away, as part of the title. However, once one clicks on the interview, one is brought to the metadata page, where all this information is clearly available.

Each interview links to a video of the interview; a transcript in PDF; and to the interview metadata. In the interview with Dee Dee Chamblee, Andrea Jenkins in interviewing in Anderson Georgia. The sound is odd—Dee Dee has a lav mic on, but Andrea’s sound is echoey, not via a lav mic. Even Dee Dee’s sound seems muffled for some reason. Visually, Dee Dee is centered in the frame, rather than off to the side, in the 1/3 and 2/3 approach to framing the shot. The camera shot is also wide, in that the shot takes in quite a fair amount of extraneous material, such as the large door to her left; if it were me, I’d focus a bit more on Dee Dee, so that she’d fill up more of the frame. (Readers are probably wondering why I am focusing on all the technical stuff, but it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for Family Camera Network, and so thinking about these things.) The sound is really quite bad…is it like this for other interviews, I wonder. (The interview with Jamison Green, done in 2016, has better sound). I’m reviewing an interview Andrea did with Jane Fee in St. Petersburg, FL. The framing is similar and the sound is also a bit problematic too. I wonder why, as the set up looks fine. Jane and Andrea are old friends; they’ve known each other for 25 years. Andrea starts the interview with an interesting question: what was Jane’s earliest memory? Quite a compelling way to begin the interview, which is how (apparently) she’s been starting many of them. This interview is 2 hrs and 39 minutes. I am 4 minutes into it, and already I am thinking about switching to another interview. Why in the world is this the case? What Jane is actually saying is quite interesting. Do I have 21st century ADHD, no longer able to sit through something so long unless it’s highly produced? If this is the case, then what are we doing with these oral history projects?

I’ve looked at 3 interviews, and they are in different locations—Georgia, Florida, and Victoria, BC; clearly Andrea does these interviews as she travels. So what is the relationship to Minnesota and the Upper Midwest? Has the mission broadened from the original grant? This often happens. It would be a good thing for transgender history if she is interviewing more broadly.

Where Once Stood a Bandstand for Cruising & Shelter


This past weekend, Toronto was alive throughout the night for Nuit Blanche, an annual night-time arts festival. The city was transformed by four large-scale exhibitions installed across the city that brought together contemporary art reflecting on revolution, activism, indigeneity and futurity. Carried out as a part of the “Taking to the Streets” exhibition for Nuit Blanche Toronto 2017, interdisciplinary artist (and CLGA volunteer!) Hazel Meyer dropped banners throughout the night from the stop of a scaffold on Queen’s Park Circle. Marked with different “lists and quotes, single words and wordplay, and stories,” Meyers explains that the banners represent “a conversation rather than a demand, the pulse of the horizontal text evokes the multiple, desiring political bodies working inside or on the periphery of Queen’s Park.” It is a work that places the complex histories of Queen’s Park–from the statues and bandstands to the protests and cruising–into conversation with urban renewal and gentrification, symbolized by the scaffolding.

Hazel's piece for Nuit Blanche Sept 30, 2017: photo by ELspeth Brown; this came out of the research on Foolscap and Desh that the Collaboratory did in May 2017. Especially Zohar Freeman.Photograph of Where Once Stood a Bandstand for Cruising & Shelter for Nuit Blanche, 30 September 2017. (Credit: Elspeth Brown)

Titled Where Once Stood a Bandstand for Cruising & Shelter, the installation draws on archival information that was uncovered from the Foolscap Oral History Project during our scholars-in-residence program. The community-driven oral history project, led by John Grube and Lionel Collier in the early 1980s, produced nearly 100 interviews with Canadian gay men in their social circles who were born in the first half of the 20th century. Digitizing the countless cassette tapes, Zohar Freeman–one of the students scholars–recounted how the interviewees talked about the bandstand previously located at Queen’s Park as one of the city’s key spaces for gay cruising and public sex. It was working with the Desh Pardesh archive and thinking through the overlapping histories of British imperialism in Canada and India that we reflected on the five-ton equestrian statue of King Edward VII (donated by the Indian government through its own decolonization program) that led to the dismantling of the bandstand in 1969. It now makes us wonder: what archival material might let us glean beyond the built environment of settlers and re-think “Queen’s Park”? As the CLGA transitions into an active collecting institution, there is a desire to think outside settler time, infrastructure and queerness. Meyer’s work leads us to the bandstand, compelling us to think about how our queer shelters from the storm of state violence have been taken down and providing us with the impetus to think queer politics and activism afresh.