This week I have Oli writing a guest post ! Oli is digitizing a number of projects for the co laboratory, which involves listening to sometimes uplifting, and some times traumatic anecdotes from LGBTQ history.
My name is Oli Bédard and I’m a work-study oral history archivist for the LGBTQ Oral History Collaboratory. What I do, for the most part, is digitize tapes—hours and hours of tapes of oral histories. Each one goes into the tape deck, starts playing, and so begins the digital transfer process, while all along I listen and take notes that comprise metadata. I spend my hours in the solemn quietude of the CLGA audio-visual room, listening intently to voices rising up from the past as the tape whirs in the machine and lines waver across a computer screen. Bathhouse raids, coalition formations, intense political discussions, and personal divulgence are all resurrected and transmuted with the aim of eventual public access. On one tape, Michael Lynch interviews a found-in who was arrested during Operation Soap, a low voiced man with a smoker’s cough who describes in detail how one plainclothes cop told him: “It’s too bad these pipes aren’t linked up to gas instead of water because that way we could annihilate you all.” On another, a young man who was interviewed in 1983 speaks with suave composure about living with HIV, and how he yearns for London, his partner, and a return to the theatre. He offers frank observations of his own mortality: “You can intellectualize it but emotionally it—you can’t—it doesn’t feel real. I have no intention of dying. Not to assume it’s a death sentence. That’s a write off.” On a given day I might be transported through the years to a 1980 interview with a woman named Cathy who uprooted herself from P.E.I. and became active in the emerging queer scene in Calgary, or else to an afternoon in 1976 when the friend of a murdered gay man in Toronto spoke to a reporter for the The Body Politic at length about the personality of this man and his relationship to him. In the piles of grey boxes under indifferent fluorescent light bulbs, history sits and waits to be vivified. Tape after tape, disparate pieces come together and contribute to the changing organism that we call the past. I guess I’m sort of like Victor Frankenstein, but I don’t think that’s how it’s characterized in the official job description.