Ontario SRS De/Relisting Project Interviews: Rupert Raj & Anna Travers


As you may have read in our previous posts, this summer we have been conducting a number of oral history interviews focusing on the 1998 delisting and 2008 re-listing of sex reassignment surgeries in Ontario. This July our team had the pleasure to finish up the series of interviews with Rupert Raj and Anna Travers, two integral activists in the fight to have SRS relisted in Ontario, and major figures in trans healthcare in Ontario since.

two men stand in front of a stained glass window

Rupert Raj and Nick Matte

Rupert Raj has worked as a trans activist since the 1970s, as well as a trans medical professional since the 1990s. Along with sharing his experiences regarding the formation of the Trans Health Lobby Group, his work alongside Susan Gapka as a principal investigator in the Ontario Public Health Association’s Trans Health Project, and his involvement with groups such as EGALE and Rainbow Health, Rupert also gave us personal insight into his experiences navigating the health system while transitioning over the span of four decades. Rupert spoke passionately about the need for barrier free trans health care even after the 2008 relisting, citing gatekeeping, lack of resources, and the lack of OHIP approved SRS clinics as just some of the currently existing barriers.

Anna Travers has served as a fierce ally for trans health rights, and was spoken highly about throughout our series of interviews by many different interviewees. Anna spoke at length about her experiences working with George Smitherman to develop a proposal for Rainbow Health Ontario, as well as working with CAMH and in the community to address gaps and needs in trans health care. Travers’ work has been integral to the formation of trans health care infrastructure in Ontario, and her experiences gave great insight into the ways that the work done between 1998 and 2008 has continued into the present day.

a man and a woman stand in front of a stained glass window

Nick Matte & Anna Travers

We were lucky to have the chance to interview Rupert and Anna in succession, as their histories and experiences complimented the other’s very well. Both shared their activist knowledge and lived experiences with us, as well as the perspective of working on the inside as a health provider for trans individuals. Both Rupert and Anna played a key role in promoting and growing trans health care infrastructure, and both worked at the Sherbourne Health Centre pre and post relisting, Anna from 2001 to 2016, and Rupert from 2002 until early 2017*. The Sherbourne Health Centre has served a key role in providing the infrastructure for trans and queer health in Toronto, largely in relation to the sheer amount of trans folk who inquired at the clinic after not being able to access hormones or surgery elsewhere. Rupert spoke about the major backlog that the SHC experience post relisting, exemplifying that the effects of the 1998 delisting didn’t end in 2008.

Next week our blog will focus on reflecting on the SRS Delisting and Relisting Interview project as a whole, and will feature reflections from project leader Nicholas Matte, as well as the rest of the team.

*Rupert Raj is on Long Term Disability and is not currently working at the Sherbourne Health Centre. He will formally retire February 2017.

Omeka Training at the Collaboratory


Exciting things are happening here at the collaboratory! Today we were lucky enough to be trained by Al Stanton-Hagan on how to use Omeka, an open source web-publishing platform for the display of museum and archival collections and exhibitions.

Al Stanton-Hagan uses a CLGA Omeka exhibit as a training example.

Al led us through an extremely thorough yet easy to understand training session, and we at the collaboratory are so excited for the possibilities that Omeka gives us in publishing our materials. Going forward, Omeka will give us the capability to create easily accessible online exhibitions of our projects, from Lesbians Making History to Foolscap. Omeka exhibits can include image, audio, pdf and video files, making it easy for audiences to view all pieces that we have collected in our projects.

Nick and Elspeth watch Al’s presentation.


In the next two weeks our blog will focus on the SRS re & de-listing oral history project as the interview stage wraps up. Look forward to reflections on the interviews as well as the project as a whole.

Outside the Collaboratory: Cait McKinney’s “Tape Condition: degraded”

photo of one side of the installation, featuring a leather arm chair seated in front of an old tube tv connected to a vhs player.

All photos taken by Toni Hafkenscheid

This summer we’ve been lucky enough to have Cait McKinney back on the Toronto team of the Collaboratory. Alongside her work with the team, Cait has been busy with Tape Condition: degraded, her joint installation with Hazel Meyer. Tape Condition: degraded is housed in the gallery of the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives, and opened June 16th.

another piece of the installation, a black and white print of a hand raised beside an old computer with a graphic featuring the word "start" on it.

A hole in the wall acts as the entrance to Tape Condition: degraded, representing the attempts that were made to protect the CLGA’s pornographic material from police raids in the 1980s. Tape Condition: degraded engages with the CLGA’s collection of over 3000 VHS tapes, one third of which are pornographic. These tapes are vital to the CLGA’s collection and history, as well as to the act of preserving queer desires and sexual subcultures. This installation also engages with the medium of tape itself, questioning how we can bring aging and degrading tapes into the present. Alongside the work of Cait McKinney and Hazel Meyer, Tape Condition: degraded features the art and writing of 11 other academics and artists, including our very own Nick Matte.

photo of the digitization station, featuring an imac, digitization equipment, dvds, and an old type writer.






photo of framed pieces by hazel meyer displayed across one wall In the centre of the installation sits a digitization station, the glittering chrome of an iMac fitting in surprisingly well with the yellowed typewriter beside it. This digitization station is a working one, and is available for community members to digitize their own tapes on select days throughout the summer.

Tonight, July 8th, Cait McKinney and Hazel Meyer will be giving a performance lecture, followed be a VJ dance party, at Buddies in Bad Times theatre. For details about this event, please see the Facebook event page. Community digitization days will occur on July 13, 5pm – 10pm and July 27,  5pm – 10pm, and the exhibition runs until September 18th. See here for more information about Tape Condition: degraded.

photo of a wall decal of drawings of vhs tapes with various suggestive titles including "queer as the sea" and "macho sluts"


Catching Up with Partner Projects: The Digital Transgender Archive


Digital Transgender Archive logo, showing different objects circling around a computer beside the name of the archive and the subtitle "trans history, linked"

This week’s post marks the first in a series of posts catching up with our collaboratory partner projects. We have four different partner projects including The Digital Transgender Archive, which is based in Worcester, Massachusetts at the College of the Holy Cross and directed by Dr. K.J Rawson.

The Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) is an online repository that provides an accessible online hub for digitized historical materials as well as born-digital materials, along with information on international archival holdings. The DTA is an international collaboration among more than twenty universities and organizations, and was founded in order to make trans history accessible for scholars and independent researchers as well as spark discussions and dialogue around trans history.

graphic from DTA website, depicting diverse sillohuettes of people in orange and blue, the archive's colours



The DTA recently passed the 1000 item mark in their collection, and, this past June, Keith Plummer of the DTA had the chance to travel to London and represent the archive in the Archives, Libraries, Museums, and Special Collections Conference (ALMS). The ALMS Conference is focused on the work of collecting, capturing, and preserving LGBTQ+ artifacts and archives. This was a great opportunity for the Archive, as it gave them the chance to connect with organizations across the globe, and share the work that they do as well. Another exciting update is that the Archive has added audio files to their resources. The DTA now has 10+ files accessible on their website, including a recording of the First International Symposium on Gender Identity in London.

The Digital Transgender Archive maintains a regularly updated Facebook page and news section on their website. Their online materials are easily accessible, and can be found by using the search bar at the top of the front page of their website.


*graphics c/o: Digital Transgender Archive 

Summer Work Study: My First Few Weeks at the Collaboratory/Taryn Parker



[Photo of work study student Taryn]

Hi there!  name is Taryn Parker and I was recently taken on as a Social Media Specialist for the Oral History Collaboratory.  I’m going into my third year at University of Toronto St. George Campus studying Women and Gender Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies. Although I was hired to operate social media, I’ve had the pleasure to work with multiple ongoing projects at the collaboratory. I will be working on making this site more accessible and easier to navigate with Cait McKinney, who we are lucky enough to have back. I also had the pleasure to brush up on my videography skills in our training last week, and had the chance to sit in on Nick Matte’s interview with Cheri DiNovo yesterday for the SRS de-listing and re-listing project. The rest of my time is split between audio editing and, you guessed it, working on social media efforts.
I still can’t wrap my head around all of the things that I’ve been lucky enough to learn throughout the past few weeks. As well as the great people I get to work with and the amazing stories I get to overhear in the A/V room.

More video training @ CLGA!


[two people stand behind a video camera, one teaching the other how to use it. Another person sits beside a lighting umbrella]Now that our interviews are well underway for our oral history project on the de- & re-listing of Sex Reassignment Surgery (funding) in Ontario, our team is becoming more experienced and continuing to develop our videography and interviewing skills. This past week we conducted training at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, giving us all a chance to become more proficient in the use of our video and lighting equipment, and preparing new team members to act as the film crew during interviews.

[One person looks into viewfinder of camera on tripod, two other people adjust the tripod]The training, led by Nick Matte, covered essentials about our equipment such as differences between (and functions of) lavalier microphones versus the internal camera microphone, as well as the option of working with a shotgun microphone (which we’ve decided not to use for these interviews). Everyone got a “hands-on” chance to put together the lighting equipment, practice testing and balancing the incoming audio feeds, and other similar tasks. We also discussed and practiced determining good lighting and subject placement, and went over the logistics of how interviewing in someone’s home or office differs from interviewing in a location where we have time to set-up before meeting with our interviewee. We also learned how to wrap cables so that they don’t become twisted and degrade, and we confirmed that the fluorescent spiral bulbs are indeed very fragile, in case there was any doubt!

Next week our newest Collaboratory work-study student will be blogging about her introduction to working with the project and will share more about what she’s been working on, so stay tuned for that!

[collaboratory Toronto team together in front of fire place and lighting equipment. from left to right: Oli, Nick, Al, Elspeth, Taryn, and Cait]

Foolscap Project – Jim


[black and white photo of digitization equipment and headphones]

blog post by Oli Bédard

On a deserted Sunday at the CLGA the shadows run long from grey light in the half dismantled exhibit room, and outside on Isabella Street, Toronto is a swamp of late May. In a cool back room I listen to Jim, talking about his therapists in a low voice.

He had many.

Jim sat down with John Gruber to be interviewed for the “Foolscap” Gay Oral History Project on December 17th, 1984, and there seems to be reticence in the tone of his replies. Not long into the interview, Gruber pauses the tape recorder and I’m left with a wordless space where some exchange has certainly occurred; when the audio resumes, he is explaining the intention of the project as though in response to some questioning from Jim. “I’m interested in the social history,” he says, and later: “Everybody has a story.” Jim’s discomfort seems to arise from the practical necessity of sharing personal details in an oral history interview. I soon learn that one of the primary themes of this particular interview is gay experiences of psychiatry, and Jim’s unease does not come as a surprise. At the time of the interview Jim was 50 years old; he had been through the mill, from CBT, to Gestalt, to conversion therapy, and even some electro-shock aversion techniques. During the latter he was compelled to sit in a chair and watch a slide show for which he held the remote control. Various images were displayed to him, and when a sexualized image of a man appeared, he was to click the remote for the next image post haste. If this response lacked immediacy, he was subjected to a jolt of electricity. Some of his various therapists treated his attraction to other men as a disease to be cured, others simply advised him to remain celibate.

Listening to the details of Jim’s psychiatric travails, and to Gruber’s questions, I begin to consider the queerness of queer being. Truly all existence is strange, but the layered strangeness of being queer in the context of heteronormativity can only deepen one’s questioning of one’s own being. I think that this oral history making is, among other things, a response to deeply felt inquiries on the nature of the self in alterity. This interview reveals just as much about Gruber as it does about Jim, and just as much about the larger river of community experience from which their exchanges emerge. I think the desire to preserve community voices in this way, to have answers to the particular questions of queer life in all its multiplicity, is the same desire that motivates us to ask why, and how, we exist in this world.

The house on Isabella is dead quiet as the day wanes, and when I go out for coffee, coolness has cut through the heat. I pass a young couple in George Hislop park, and a calm descends over this back way of the city. The wind breathes relief from heat, but it has no language, no coherent answer.

Oral History Interviews: SRS de/relisting in Ontario


[photo of lighting equipment set up in the reading room with a person operating a camera in the background]

If you’ve been following our social media posts, you may have noticed that interviewing is now well underway for our oral history project focusing on the 1998 delisting and 2008 re-listing of sex reassignment surgeries in Ontario (as medical procedures funded by the province). So far our team has conducted three interviews, two with Susan Gapka and one with Dr. Greta Bauer. Both have shared rich reflections about their involvement, their work, and their engagement with community as well as with policy-makers, politicians, and government officials. Both spoke passionately about the need to push strategically to fight for trans people’s access to quality health care and spoke hopefully about recent changes. We’ve been thrilled to learn more about how and why Ontario’s delisting and relisting has been such a significant component of Canadian trans history and how it galvanized and provided impetus for many of the major positive changes that have occurred since the 1998 delisting and 2008 relisting. The interviews are also providing really interesting reflections on the combination of trans and lgbtq/queer politics, on formal political processes and contexts, and on trans community relationships and issues. We look forward to sharing more details and the interviews themselves soon and greatly appreciate the generosity, expertise and wisdom of our impressive and inspiring interviewees- thank you Susan Gapka and Dr. Greta Bauer!


Do you have a connection to this material or a story to share? If so, please get in touch by emailing Nicholas Matte, who is conducting the interviews (nicholas.matte@utoronto.ca) with the assistance of Al Stanton-Hagan and Oli Bedard. We’d love to hear from you! As we continue to interview people who have been involved in various aspects of the delisting and relisting, we’re also working with our video footage to pull out key segments we can make accessible and share more broadly. Once interviewing is complete, we plan to create an online exhibit that brings together the voices , memories and experiences of people who were either effected by the policy changes, or who worked to fight for access to quality health care and equality for trans people in Ontario and beyond.

In other news, stay tuned for updates on the Foolscap project later this week!

[two people hold a banner that reads: "Trans Rights are Human Rights!"]

Trans Partners and Creative Non-Fiction/Elspeth Brown


            I have been continuing my interviews with partners of trans men—folks who have been with their partners before and during some aspect of the transition. At this point I’ve interviewed 48 people in the US and Canada about a range of topics, including gender and sexual identity; visibility; coming out; affective labour; parenting; sex, and other topics. It’s been about 5 years since I put out an actual call. More frequently, people learn about the project and get in touch with me, wanting to talk to me about their story.

            During the weekend of April 15th, I presented some new writing on this project at a symposium organized by Lisa Cartwright and Elizabeth Wolfson at the University of California, San Diego. The event was organized around a collection of essays I had co-edited with my colleague Thy Phu (Western) entitled Feeling Photography (Duke University Press, 2014). Other speakers included scholars Shawn Michelle Smith, David Serlin, Lisa Bloom, Kamala Viswenswaran, and Kelli Moore, as well as artists Ken Gonzalez-Day, Connie Samaras, and Anna Joy Springer. I presented a 3000 word creative non-fiction piece on the theme of visibility, featuring the stories of “Kevin,” a disabled trans man and “Muriel,” an artist; both have children who have been, for various reasons, subject to custody disputes. It’s been an important goal of mine to take this material and use it to re-present stories to the queer and trans community in language that’s accessible and interesting to read, and doesn’t hide behind academic language that is difficult for non-academics to understand or care about. I have promised the people I’ve interviewed to return this material to those who have shared it to begin with, in order to reduce the sense of isolation and invisibility that many partners experience. Yet I can’t say that I’ve been trained to write in this way, and it has not been an easy shift to make. As a result, I was nervous about presenting the work, as it was the first time I’d ever presented non-academic writing for a scholarly audience. But it seemed to go well, and I received excellent feedback—particularly from Anna Joy Springer, a creative non-fiction writer who teaches in the MFA program at UCSD (see http://literature.ucsd.edu/people/faculty/aspringer.html). Thanks, Anna Joy–and thanks to Lisa and Liz for organizing. I will be continuing this move into creative non-fiction during the week of May 9-13th, when my colleague Eva-Lynn Jagoe and I have organized an intensive workshop for academics on learning how to write for a broader audience. But more on that in another post!

The Foolscap Project is back in progress!


[photo of a folder on top of multiple audio tapes, text on the folder reads "foolscap project 2016-"

blog post by Oli Bedard

The LGBTQ Oral History Collaboratory is currently working on archiving and digitizing a newly uncovered collection of oral history interviews that were acquired by Project Investigator Elspeth Brown and have been entrusted to work-study oral history archivist Oli Bédard for processing and digitization. This collection of interviews, conducted throughout the 1980s in Toronto, is entitled “the Foolscap Project,” also referred to in some of the interviews as “the Gay Oral History Project.”

The project comprises 52 tapes which contain 42 separate interviews with gay men discussing their experiences of pre and post Stonewall community life (specifically, the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s). The project was organized by the late John Grube, and also includes a number of tape transcriptions (22 in total) as well as several personal letters regarding potential interviewees.

The known dates for the interviews range from 1981 to 1987 and were for the most part conducted by Grube himself throughout this period. Specific topics of discussion include personal experiences of sexuality, growing up gay, gay community experiences in a variety of Canadian cities (depending on the interviewee), cruising scenes, religious affiliations, being gay in the workplace, navigating being in or out of the closet to varying degrees, the 1981 Bathhouse Raids in Toronto (Operation Soap), and the changing social structure of gay communities over time. Many of the interviews are quite lengthy, some taking up multiple tapes, and thus present a valuable trove of experiential knowledge from this period.

Digitization of the tapes has begun and will continue in the weeks to come.