The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future by Aaron Devor (2016, 2nd ed.; 2014)
This publication is written by Dr. Aaron Devor, Chair in Transgender Studies at the University of Victoria and founder and director of the Transgender Archives. As the largest collection of transgender archival materials in the world, the Transgender Archives include rare books, ephemera, and memorabilia with records of research related to and activism by and for trans, gender non-binary, and two-spirit people. This publication describes the origins of the collection and explains the context and significance of its unique, invaluable holdings and was a Lambda Literary Awards finalist in the category of LGBT nonfiction in 2015.
At over 320 linear feet / 98 linear metres, the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria is the largest trans archives in the world. Since 2007, the University of Victoria Special Collections and University Archives has been acquiring documents, rare publications, and memorabilia that document the lives and actions of activists, community leaders, researchers, and organizations associated with advocacy by and for trans*, gender non-binary, and two-spirit people.Through the collaborative efforts of Dr. Aaron Devor, Founder and Director of the Transgender Archives (watch his Faces of UVic Research video here), and Lara Wilson, Director of Special Collections and University Archivist, the archives have grown into a rich resource devoted to preserving trans histories and promoting understanding about trans people and their rights. Since the foundational acquisition of the Rikki Swin Institute collection (which includes material from Dr. Ari Kane, Betty Ann Lind, Merissa Sherrill Lynn, Virginia Prince, and the International Foundation for Gender Education [IFGE]), the archives have become an unparalleled collection of materials that includes the papers of Stephanie Castle (including the records of the Zenith Foundation, an advocacy organization that Castle co-founded with Christine Burnham and Patricia Diewold in Vancouver, BC), Reed Erickson; and Niela Miller.
Read The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future here.
The Transgender Archives
At over 320 linear feet / 98 linear metres, the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria is the largest trans archives in the world. Since 2007, the University of Victoria Special Collections and University Archives has been acquiring documents, rare publications, and memorabilia that document the lives and actions of activists, community leaders, researchers, and organizations associated with advocacy by and for trans*, gender non-binary, and two-spirit people.Through the collaborative efforts of Dr. Aaron Devor, Founder and Director of the Transgender Archives (watch his Faces of UVic Research video here), and Lara Wilson, Director of Special Collections and University Archivist, the archives have grown into a rich resource devoted to preserving trans histories and promoting understanding about trans people and their rights. Since the foundational acquisition of the Rikki Swin Institute collection (which includes material from Dr. Ari Kane, Betty Ann Lind, Merissa Sherrill Lynn, Virginia Prince, and the International Foundation for Gender Education [IFGE]), the archives have become an unparalleled collection of materials that includes the papers of Stephanie Castle (including the records of the Zenith Foundation, an advocacy organization that Castle co-founded with Christine Burnham and Patricia Diewold in Vancouver, BC), Reed Erickson; and Niela Miller. (Watch the Founders' Panel at the 2014 Transgender Archives Symposium with Castle, Devor, Kane, Swinn, and Wilson here.) Below is an important passage from the beginning of the publication, in which Devor discusses the meaning of the term transgender, followed by additional excerpts from the volume on historical context, the origins of the archives, and highlights of the collections.
"Trans people includes those people who have a gender identity which is different to the gender assigned at birth and/or those people who feel they have to, prefer to or choose to - whether by clothing, accessories, cosmetics or body modification - present themselves differently to the expectations of the gender role assigned to them at birth. This includes, among many others, transsexual and transgender people, transvestites, travesti, cross dressers, no gender and genderqueer people. The term trans should be seen as a placeholder for many identities, most of which are specific to local cultures and times in history, describing people who broaden and expand a binary understanding of gender."
"Throughout the globalized world, the word transgender has been increasingly linguistically shortened, and conceptually expanded, into the term trans. While we at the University of Victoria Transgender Archives recognize that diverse cultures have their own ways and words for understanding gender, we needed a way to describe what we do that would be widely intelligible. The word transgender means a lot of things to a lot of people. To some people, it is a core identity that gives meaning to who they are - a kind of life line that gives them a feeling of reality, that allows them to to feel that they can be seen. For some people, transgender is a vague and meaningless category that, in trying to include so many people under its umbrella, really says nothing at all. For some, transgender implies erasure because it homogenizes identities. For others, it is a colonialist imposition. For still others, it is already an archaic concept that painfully confines and restricts. These different approaches reflect important ongoing debates within a vibrant and healthy community, and they are unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
Wishing to be inclusive, we have used a broad definition of transgender when deciding what historical records belong in our archives. We started with materials from North America and Europe, and aspire to expand outwards to other parts of the world only to the degree that people feel comfortable entrusting their historical records to our safekeeping. Our archival collections include records of people and organizations who have worked for the betterment of those people whose gender expression, or gender identity, falls outside of stereotypically binary gender expectations. Thus, we include in our purview records pertaining to people with transsexual identities or histories, transgender-identified people, people with gender non-conforming identities who may not express them, gender non-conforming people with other identities, drag performers, crossdressers, gender-fluid people, genderqueer people, and all others whose gender identities or expressions fall outside of normative gender binaries. We remain agnostic about sexual orientations, recognizing that genders and sexualities are two separate aspects of people that may, or may not, influence one another. At the same time, we recognize that the interests and activities of transgender people and sexual minorities frequently come together; and that, in the minds of many people, gender variance remains synonymous with sexual variance. In practice, this means that, although we are a transgender archives, and not a LGBTQ+ archives, we will inevitably hold some content which reflects this kind of multiplicity in people's lives and political work."
From "Pioneers and Outlaws: Providing Historical Context for our Collections"
"Near the start of the 20th century, pioneering sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing in Psychopathia Sexualis (1893) and Havelock Ellis in Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1913), began to differentiate between those people who we would today see as sexual minorities, and those whom we would see as gender variant. The Transgender Archives holds original editions of both Psychopathia Sexualis (1893) and Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1913).
An infamous novel of the period, The Well of Loneliness (1928) by Radclyffe Hall, was graced with an 'appreciation' by Havelock Ellis. The book was considered obscene and banned by British courts - which, of course, made it wildly popular. For decades, the book's protagonist, Stephen Gordon, was thought of as the archetypal lesbian, giving rise to the widely held misconception that lesbians are women who want to be men. More recently, lesbians have rejected this definition
of lesbianism, and transmen have claimed Stephen Gordon as one of their own. The Transgender Archives holds an original 1928 edition of The Well of Loneliness (1928).
One of the earliest published examples of more explicitly trans* work was Magnus Hirschfeld's massive 1910 tome, Die Transvestiten, in which he was the first to define and provide a detailed view of heterosexual crossdressers as distinct from homosexuals. In 1919, Hirschfeld went on to establish the groundbreaking Institute for Sexology in Berlin, where the first genital sex realignments were attempted during the 1920s. The first complete transformation was on a transwoman, Dorchen Richter, who underwent a series of operations at the Institute between 1922 and 1932. Probably the most famous case was that of Danish artist Einar Wegener, who became Lili Elbe and whose story was publicized in Man Into Woman: An Authentic Record of a Change of Sex by Niels Hoyer (1933). The Transgender Archives holds an original edition of this book.
During the inter-war period, German middle-class crossdressers of both sexes came together in social clubs, developed their own print media, and built relationships with the police and public to assert their legitimacy and respectability. The rise of Nazism brought an end to this first blossoming of European transgender activism and research. In 1933, the Nazis closed the Institute for Sexology and, fearing the power and importance of its holdings to educate, inform, and enlighten others, held a massive public book burning of its library. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, during the early decades of the 20th century, there were vibrant social drag cultures in several major North American cities, although they were well hidden from the general public and were not overtly activist. . . .
The overwhelming reality for trans people during most of the 20th century was profound isolation, secrecy, silence, and shame. Almost universally, trans individuals felt that they were the only ones in the whole world who felt the way that they did; that they were unimaginable freaks and monstrosities. Few people were aware of the small slice of literature that did exist. Few people knew anyone like them. When gender variant people were unable, or unwilling, to hide their differences, the consequences were often dire: rejection by family and friends; loss of employment; loss of housing; rejection by religious communities, social
services, and medical providers; incarceration in jails and mental hospitals; forced medication; electroshock; rapes; beatings; murder. There were no social support networks to speak of. There were no legal protections. For most trans people, being out usually meant the loss of respectability and socioeconomic stability. Substance abuse was often a problem. Self-harm and suicides were not infrequent. It was in this context that transgender activism and research were rekindled."
From "The Origins of the Transgender Archives"
"In some ways, I have been laying the groundwork for the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria for thirty years. In other ways, the Transgender Archives came about due to pure serendipity. In 1982, when I started my research career, the word transgender was only known and used by a few people. It certainly wasn't part of the general vocabulary, nor even part of the lexicon of sexual or gender minority communities. Back then, we talked about people as transvestites and transsexuals, drag queens, bull dykes and stone butches. The word queer had not yet been reclaimed, let alone expanded into genderqueer.
My first work in the field was to study people who were like me, as I was then. We had no words for us, and we remained largely unspoken. I called us 'gender blenders.' Today, such people would probably call themselves some kind of trans or genderqueer. In 1986, when I went on to study self-identified transmen, I began to meet the larger community of trans people, and the professionals who worked with trans people. Over the years since, I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting, working with, and befriending a huge swath of those two communities, while my writing has recommended me to still more people whom I've not yet had the opportunity to meet personally. That's a big part of the groundwork. I know a lot of people - and a lot of people know me, or know of me,
through my work. . . .
The serendipity came, first and foremost, in the person of Rikki Swin, the founder of the Rikki Swin Institute (RSI) of Chicago (March 2001 - December 2004). I had met Rikki several years before, through her work with the RSI, which was conceived of as a centre for transgender research and education in the United States. Opened in 2001, to coincide with the 15th Annual Conference of the International Foundation for Gender Education, the RSI had four objectives: the housing of a library and archives; conference co-sponsorship; digital video education; and research. The RSI library included archival collections purchased from Ari Kane, Betty Ann Lind, the IFGE, and Virginia Prince.
When Rikki came to the west coast in early 2003, considering a relocation to Victoria, she contacted me for a visit. When she moved to Victoria later that year, we began a friendship. During the summer of 2005, chatting amiably over lunch, I asked Rikki what was the status of the RSI. She told me she was contemplating relocating it to Victoria and was looking at possible real estate locations to purchase or rent. I asked her if she might consider donating it to the University of Victoria. To my great pleasure and astonishment, she agreed to consider the idea. I immediately contacted the University Librarian at that time, Marnie Swanson, to find out if UVic Libraries actually wanted the collection that I had already solicited. After learning more about the RSI and its archival collections, Marnie was completely in support, and discussions lasting months began in earnest. We were launched!"
From "Highlights of the Collections: Periodicals"
"Prior to the advancement of the Internet, the main way that trans people found each other and communicated with one another was through small-circulation, largely home-made, newsletters and newspapers. Virginia Prince's Transvestia (1960-1986), which served the male heterosexual crossdressing community, was one of the earliest, longest running, and most widely distributed periodicals of its kind, with mailings approaching 1000 at its peak. The Transgender Archives holds a complete run of all 111 issues of Transvestia.
Other significant periodicals were the EEF Newsletter (1969-1976, 1983), which served as a central source of information for the entire trans community and for those who studied and served that community; and the FTM Newsletter, which has served the transmasculine community since 1987. The Transgender Archives holds copies of all EEF Newsletters (some of which are digitized here) and a complete set of those FTM Newsletters issued in printed format (1987-2004).
Newsletters from trans communities around the world are well represented in the Transgender Archives. Among many others, some examples include: Metamorphosis (1982-1988) from Toronto, Canada; Zenith Digest (1994-2002) from Vancouver, Canada; Chrysalis Quarterly (1991-1995) from Decatur, GA, USA; Cross Talk (1988-1996) from Manchester, and Beaumont Bulletin (1970-1996) from London, UK; Feminform (1986-2000) from Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Transidentitas (1989-1994) from Offenbach, Germany; Fanfare (1987-1992) from Parow, South Africa; Seahorse (1984-1990) from St. Kilda, Vic., Nu-Scene International (1987-1996) from Altona, Vic., and Transceiver (1992-1998) from Victoria Park, WA. Australia; Street Scene (1999) from Wellington, New Zealand; and Queen (1983-1998) from Tokyo, Japan. Our catalogue of periodicals includes a total of over 400 entries, some of which are single issues, most of which span several volumes, and some of which constitute complete runs."
"The Transgender Archives stands as a testament to those brave souls who risked so much to forge a pathway for today's advances. By keeping their names alive and by preserving the records of the work they have done, we can repay some of our debt to our pioneers. Thus those who have had the foresight to do the work of collecting and preserving, also do the work of advancing social justice. All people need to know their history; even more so for people who have been so abject that, through much of our history, our very survival has depended on our ability to keep our gender variance hidden.
. . . Open to the public, free of charge, and accessible to all, the Transgender Archives safeguards a broad spectrum of trans* heritage so that the work that our pioneers have done will not be forgotten. We remember. We respect. We preserve. We persevere. And we invite you to join us."