What is Word of Mouth?
While some of us are lucky enough to take the existence of today’s Trans+ communities for granted, this is a relatively recent experience. It was not so long ago that sharing any kind of Trans+ related information was difficult, dangerous, and almost universally illegal. Nevertheless, Trans+ people have always found ways to share information vital to their survival, using media ranging from hand-written letters to the World Wide Web.
Word of Mouth tells some of the story about how these communities and networks developed in North America in the latter half of the twentieth century. It is a project of the Chair in Transgender Studies.
An incomplete story
It must also be noted that there are silences in the archives: present collections largely document privileged individuals and organizations. This reality also carries through into this exhibition. There will always be more to uncover, more stories to be told, within the Transgender Archives and in the Trans Activism Oral Histories upon which this exhibition draws.
The Trans Activism Oral History Project
The Trans Activism Oral History Project is a project of the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory, founded in 2014 by historian Elspeth Brown and funded by the Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada. In order to establish and preserve Trans-specific and Trans-positive primary source historical narratives for future generations, the Trans Activism Oral History Project recorded elders’ oral histories of activism on behalf of Trans+ people and communities. The collection consists of video and audio interviews, collected 2019-2020, with elders who were leading Trans+ activists and allies from across North America.
In 2020, the oral histories were donated to the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria Libraries and The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives. Aaron Devor, the Chair in Transgender Studies at the University of Victoria, is the project lead for Word of Mouth.