At the beginning of almost every SRS interview, Nick asked the question “Where were you in 1998 when SRS was delisted?” My answer is fairly boring. I was still in diapers and barely two years old. But the answers that I’ve been lucky enough to hear from interviewees including Martine Stonehouse, Greta Bower, Susan Gapka, Nick Mule, Cheri Dinovo, Anna Travers and Rupert Raj have been far from that.
The SRS delisting interview project was headed by Nicholas Matte as part of his postdoctoral work with the LGBTQ Digital History Collaboratory. Having experience in Trans Studies courses, working with community organizations, and being involved in a large amount of trans activism, Nick decided to focus on the oral histories of the delisting of SRS in Ontario because of the way that these stories connect with many other significant narratives regarding queer and trans health and activism. This project allowed Nick to document testimony from major trans and trans ally activists that is bound to be valuable in the future. In wake of this year’s Toronto pride, mainly the great expansion of Trans Pride and the work of Black Lives Matter TO, it is evident now more than ever that there is still a great amount of work to be done to address trans issues, lives, and activism in all of their complexities.
Over three months we had the chance to interview Martine Stonehouse, Greta Bower, Susan Gapka, Nick Mule, Cheri Dinovo, Anna Travers and Rupert Raj. The majority of these interviews saw the quiet reading room of the CLGA turned into a bright studio, fully equipped with lights, our trusty Canon camera, and a team consisting of Nick, two crew members, and the interviewee. The Memorial Stained Glass Window provided the perfect backdrop as interviewees took hours to share their stories with us. Along the way we figured out the perfect method that worked for us, from learning to track down a piece of the lapel mic that always seemed to go missing, situating the camera in a way that caught the interviewee’s eyeline, placing the interviewer in a way that caught the focus of the interviewees in the lens the camera, to always ensuring there were extra lightbulbs (almost every member of the team broke a lightbulb over the course of our interviews, it was an expensive rite of passage almost). As the weeks passed from early May to late July, our process moved from a hurried scramble to a quick and efficient dance, and the culmination of all of our efforts resulted in dozens of hours of oral history footage. This project was definitely a time intensive one, with each interview averaging four hours of work for each of the four people present, plus countless hours of interview preparation and post-interview video processing, but it was a project that left each of us with something special.
One of Nick’s major goals for this project was to learn to and practice conducting video oral histories, as well as instill those skills in us. As readers of our blog are most likely aware, our entire team went through extensive training so that we could operate as a film crew. Before working on this project alongside Nick and the rest of the team, I had only ever read transcriptions of oral histories while writing research papers, and my work behind a camera had been purely photographic. However, this project ensured that as work studies Oli and I were left with the skills and knowledge to conduct oral history interviews and videography skills that will be extremely helpful in any community work or research we do in the future. But videography skills weren’t the only thing that I was left with.
Even more special to me was the chance I had to share space with these great community leaders and activists while they took the time to share their often extremely personal narratives with us. A number of times I found myself wiping tears out of my eyes as I listened. Sometimes those were tears of rage for the horrific systems and burnout that our subjects had to face, other times from containing my laughter from a joke that a interview made in order to not ruin the audio.
For Nick, it was extremely meaningful that he had the chance to record these narratives that have been so often ignored. A key goal of his was to develop videography skills in order to create accessible oral histories with community members in a way that would be beneficial and accessible to the community. These skills went to great use in this project, as many of the narratives we had the chance to record may not have been recorded otherwise, and could have been lost. A major theme that came up time and time again throughout the interviews was activist burnout, and a name that came up just as often was Kyle Scanlon and the great work he did for the community. Nick was extremely glad that along with the (integral) work each of our interviewees have done for trans health and trans rights, the work of Kyle Scanlon was able to live on through these interviews through the people who each worked with him and can now speak about his work.
Now that the SRS Interviews are complete, digital copies will be donated to the CLGA, as well as the Digital Transgender Archive and the UVic Trans Archives, where they’ll be accessible to researchers and community members. Though the end of July marked the end of this stage of the SRS Interview Project, Nick looks forward to expanding this work, as there is much more to be done and many other narratives to be heard.