Oral History Project

Trans Spectrum Conference Oral History Project

Trans stories, particularly from outside large cities, like New York or Los Angeles, are often missing from archived records. This year’s conference is working to change that by offering attendees the opportunity to record an oral history and save it for future generations. There are limited recording spaces available, so please contact us as soon as possible if you are interested in participating. Please email artsci-transgenderspectrum@email.wustl.edu by October 28 for more information.

Why are we doing this?

We are inspired by projects such as such as Tretter Transgender Oral History Project, https://www.lib.umn.edu/tretter/transgender-oral-history-project and the NYC Trans Oral
History Project, https://www.nyctransoralhistory.org/ to “confront the erasure of trans histories and document the experiences of trans people as intersecting with race and racism, poverty, disability, aging, housing, migration, HIV/AIDS, and sexism. … we believe oral history is a powerful tool for community organizing and anti-oppression work.”

Our goals are:
  • Preserving trans stories and experience from the middle of America (areas commonly labeled Midwest, Plains, mid-South).
  • Prioritizing the experiences of trans communities that remain marginalized even in the wake of growing mainstream trans visibility.
Who can participate?

We are interested in stories of anyone who identifies with the term “trans,” has a connection to the middle-America region, and wants to have their story archived. (People who are legally minors are welcome to participate, but will need to have their release form signed by a guardian or parent). If you don’t identify as trans, or have a lived-experience mostly outside the Midwest, there are still a lot of ways to get involved! We need help transcribing, coding, and summarizing interviews – let us know if you are interested in volunteering. Contributing your volunteer labor in this way can be a valuable role for an ally.

What to expect:

Recording sessions will take place on Saturday, running concurrently with the conference sessions. Each interview will last about 45 minutes.

The interview will be audio recorded, and we will ask for a photograph of you at the end of the interview. After the conference, we will send you a copy of both the audio recording and the photograph.

You will be asked to sign a Release Form, granting permission to have the interview added to the Washington University Archives and made available to those doing historic research. There are options if you wish to keep this availability restricted during your lifetime. A copy of the form will be sent in advance to folks interested in participating.
Your interviewer will ask open ended questions to help guide the session, but the focus is capturing your story as you’d like it to be told. You can choose not to answer any questions, and can stop the session at any time.

Narrators should give some thought to what they’re comfortable sharing before starting an interview. Aside from the narrator’s own privacy, the main things to be aware of usually pertain to revealing information about other people (keep their privacy in mind too), discussion of illegal activities (especially if the statute of limitations has not passed), and in some cases, discussion of immigration status.

Ok, I want to participate! What do I do?

Contact us as soon as possible to let us know you are interested in participating. If you have a scheduling preference (such as not at 10 because you are presenting, or your flight leaves at 2 pm, etc.) please let us know. There are limited spaces, but we will do our best to accommodate requests.

What is oral history?

From the Oral History Association: “Oral history refers both to a method of recording and preserving oral testimony and to the product of that process. It begins with an audio or video recording of a first person account made by an interviewer with an interviewee (also referred to as narrator), both of whom have the conscious intention of creating a permanent record to contribute to an understanding of the past.” (http://www.oralhistory.org/about/principles-and-practices/)

Why does oral history matter?

“Oral history can be used to highlight the perspectives of communities that are often erased from the written historical record. It allows participants to tell their own stories and serve as the authorities of their own lived experiences. This is especially crucial for trans history, since trans people have usually appeared in historical accounts as objects of study, but not as subjects in our own right. A lot of published writing on trans history has had to rely on “topdown” sources, like medical, legal, and popular culture materials. In these, professionals—usually cisgender—often appear as the final “experts” on trans issues and experience. In addition, these types of written sources often prioritize the histories of trans people who had the most access to mainstream institutions, like medical or legal transition. In contrast, oral history allows a wide range of trans communities to re-assert ourselves within the social narrative, take up space, and create a unique historical outlook based in community knowledge. For trans and other marginalized populations, this can be especially powerful.” (From the NY Trans Oral History Project)