This is the final iteration of the work I have done in ARX 340, the Archives Capstone course at Smith College. That said, this project is only just scratches the surface of what is possible.
What I did:
I approached archival research with the intention of centering how interpersonal networks of care and support have been imperative to trans resistance, knowing that the work trans and gender nonconforming folks have done to take care of each other has been largely unpaid, extra-legal, not state-sanctioned, and yet entirely necessary for trans survival.
I worked primarily with materials from the grassroots Sexual Minorities Archive in Holyoke, MA, and materials in the Digital Transgender Archive.
I tracked a couple different tactics of community care work:
- Trans people making space to be together—both in survival-based ways and for joy/ pleasure—such as:
- Housing collectives
- Public hang-out spots
- Conferences and big events
- Newsletters as a medium for community-building and spreading information across place.
- Formal organizations such as support groups and non-profits.
While I primarily looked at 20th and 21st century histories, of course, gender nonconforming people and gender-based violence have existed for as long as gender has. And it is necessary to acknowledge that gender oppression is entirely caught up in the settler colonial project, anti-black racism, ableism, heterosexism, and patriarchy in what we call the United States.
This exhibit reflects just one semester of research; someone could easily spend an entire lifetime digging into these histories (and making new ones), and still have more to do. I’ve selected just a few stories to highlight big-picture themes about the radical nature of emotional labor and community-building.
Why is this work necessary?
Trans/gender-nonconforming narratives have largely been obliterated by historiography, constructed silences, and systematic restriction from access to power.
For as long as gender has existed, both gender nonconforming people and gender-based violence have existed. Though the tactics used both for domination and resistance have evolved over time.
Over the last century, the medical model of transness and the prison industrial complex (PIC) have maintained anti-transgender violence by a.) incentivizing/coercing assimilation into the gender binary through the medical institution, and b.) displacing trans folks—especially those who are of color and/or read as mentally ill—by criminalizing and warehousing them.
In the face of these destructive forces–and others– trans folks have used various methods to find networks of support and to support each other.
Trans people have formed community in various places and spaces, even when being publicly out has been unsafe. Through highlighting the following stories, I hope to showcase how emotional labor and community-building are radical and life-saving acts.