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Bearing witness

TransStories: Selections from the Transgender Archives on display


By Kristine Power

A selection of the world’s largest transgender archive is currently on exhibit at the Queen Elizabeth II Library.

The materials are on loan from the University of Victoria’s Transgender Archives (TGA) and were brought to Memorial University by Dr. Ailsa Craig, associate professor, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Jeannie Bail, acting special collections librarian, QEII Library.

‘Opportunity to collaborate’

“I saw a small display of materials from the TGA a few years ago when I was in Victoria for a library conference,” explained Ms. Bail. “At Memorial, we don’t hold a lot of LGBT materials in our archives, so the opportunity to collaborate with the University of Victoria on bringing items here on loan seemed like an ideal way to address this gap in our own collections, while, at the same time, raising awareness of this incredible archive with its groundbreaking materials.”

1/ Loretta from Texas, Mabel from Minnesota

Images from a photo album, part of the Virginia Prince materials, Rikki Swin Collection. Virginia Prince was a pioneering trans activist who coined the term transgender. (University of Victoria Transgender Archives)

Photo: Chris Hammond

2/ Transvestia

The University of Victoria Transgender Archives holds a full run of Transvestia, from 1960-86. (University of Victoria Transgender Archives)

Photo: Chris Hammond

3/ Cross-Talk

Cross-Talk: The Gender Community’s News & Information Monthly was a public service magazine that began in September 1988 and ended in November 1996. The publication was affiliated with the American Educational Gender Information Service and was published and edited by Kymberleigh Richards. Each issue contains approximately 40 pages of gender community news coverage, personal narratives, fictional stories, event calendars, original cartoons and humor features, resources on traditional feminine gender passing and more. (University of Victoria Transgender Archives)

Photo: Chris Hammond

4/ Periodicals and international publications

The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria holds periodicals from around the world, including Japan, South Africa, the Netherlands and England. (University of Victoria Transgender Archives)

Photo: Chris Hammond

5/ Interactive component

"This is fantastic. I never knew such a collection even existed," wrote one viewer and left on a sticky note, of the TransStories exhibit, hosted by Memorial University Libraries.

Photo: Chris Hammond

The University of Victoria’s TGA was founded in 2011 by Dr. Aaron Devor, a professor of sociology at the University of Victoria. The TGA’s holdings are vast; they include materials related to trans and gender-nonconforming people going back more than a 100 years, representing 18 countries across five continents. There is no other archive like it in the world.

‘A more just place for all’

“Our collections bear witness to the courage, vision and perseverance of our elders and forebears,” explained Dr. Devor in the collection catalogue, The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future. “They had the wisdom to see that there was much important work to be done to make the world a more just place for all. Each, in their own ways, took on a piece to the job of making the world safer and more hospitable for people who do not easily fit within prevailing simplistic binary and hierarchical systems and structures of gender.”

“Libraries are about being inclusive and including representations of everyone in society.” — Jeannie Bail

The exhibition deliberately coincided with the St. John’s Storytelling Festival, which featured trans writer and activist Ivan Coyote. Ms. Bail says the aim of the exhibit is to inspire the community.

“Libraries are about being inclusive and including representations of everyone in society,” said Ms. Bail. “Hopefully, in addition to the community as a whole, performers, writers and artists will be inspired by materials in this archive and incorporate it into their work.”

Preserving and connecting

Dr. Craig and Ms. Bail will present TransStories, social justice work through libraries and archives, at an upcoming Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association conference. The talk will focus on some of the major donations to the collection, the types of materials found in the archives and the importance of finding and preserving trans history and connecting it with contemporary local communities.

“While the Internet offers unparalleled digital access, it does not replace a physical exhibit, which offers community members an up-close experience with the items,” explained Lara Wilson, director of special collections and university archivist, University of Victoria. “The TGA seeks to to preserve and make accessible transgender histories for all who wish to know about them, and to promote understanding about transgender people, the challenges they face in society and their successes. We hope by sharing this material with Memorial University Libraries we have furthered this understanding.”

TransStories: Selections from the Transgender Archives, University of Victoria, will be on display at the QEII Library until Nov. 9.

The exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Jeannie Bail.

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