Trans history matters and we need to record it
Recently, I was having a conversation with another trans woman and she referred to me as a “trans elder.” At first, it kind of freaked me out.
I’m only 52 so to me an “elder” is someone who’s at minimum collecting Social Security, more likely into their 70’s or 80’s. When I thought about it, though, I realized that it’s probably accurate.
The trans community, at least in the form it exists today, really only fully came into being with the advent of the Internet. From chat rooms and email lists to Internet radio shows and blogs, and now LGBT and mainstream media, the trans community has evolved from being a relatively small and scattered collection of people who chose to come out at a time when doing so could cost you dearly, to a visible, vibrant, diverse, and rapidly growing segment of the LGBT community.
The first wave of modern trans community activist leaders were people who were active in the early-to-mid 1990’s such as Riki Wilchins, Nancy Nangeroni, Jamison Green, Leslie Feinberg, and Gwen Smith. Many of these pioneers became not only some of the trans community’s first activists, but also our first media creators, authoring groundbreaking books on trans people, issues, and cultural identity as well as creating broadcast radio shows, commentary, and the first online social spaces for the nascent trans community.
I, and others, who came out during the latter half of the decade were the second wave and we built upon the work of the first. We began organizing online in earnest, publishing columns and op-eds in places where fellow trans people could find them. We created chat rooms and email lists where we could interact with each other. We lobbied Washington, state, and local governments. We spoke out against those who claimed to represent our interests but who had been discovered to actually be working against those interests. And we did almost all of it online.
For me, and for so many newly-out trans people, the Internet changed everything. The easy access to fellow trans people to interact with and relevant media to learn from literally changed my life and the lives of so many others. I became like a sponge, reading and listening to anything and everything trans–relevant I could find.
Interest became obsession, which eventually leveled out into commitment. I’d found a direction, a cause I believed in, and I let my passion guide me. In 2002 I co-created and began co-hosting Trans-Sister Radio with Marti Abernathey. Podcasting as we know it today didn’t really exist yet and we did our shows live, with no archive for on-demand listening. If you missed it, you missed it, just like broadcast radio.
It was an amazing, thrilling, scary, joyful time to be part of the trans community. It was during these years we built the foundations of the trans community we have today. Yet, there’s little written about that time, and often what little there is, gets it wrong or leaves out huge chunks of the story.
So much of our community’s history from this time is lost, or at least, not yet documented as well as it should be. I believe that this is a real problem for the trans community. In order to know where we’re going, we need to understand where we come from. Like every other minority group or social justice movement, those of us who lived it must teach our history to younger generations.
Trans people need to start owning our history, and we need to do it soon. One of the benefits of being a young community and movement is that most of our Founding Mothers and Fathers are still with us today to tell those stories, but we must start taking advantage of that while we still can.
On my Internet radio show, The Rebecca Juro Show, my co-host, Ethan St Pierre and I, both of us apparently qualified as trans elders, are going to start doing something about it. We’re going to be booking guests with an eye toward telling some of those stories and filling in some of those blanks in our documented history.
Trans history matters. It informs. It teaches. It’s our lives and our legacy to those who come after us.
Trans history must be preserved and protected, and it’s our responsibility as a community to see it done.