Q5 (#7): Jen Manion


Jen Manion is Associate Professor of History at Amherst College. Jen’s research and teaching focuses on gender and sexual nonconformity, race, and the carceral state in the early United States. Manion received the 2016 Mary Kelly Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic for Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). Jen is currently at work on a new project, “Born in the Wrong Time: Transgender Archives & the History of Possibility, 1770-1870.”

Q1. How do you go about exploring archives for materials relating to gender nonconformity when the materials are likely not classified or advertised in ways that would immediately imply relevance to these topics? How do you begin to construct a picture when the language and discourses surrounding these ideas were so different during your period of study from those of today?

When you read 18th and 19th century newspapers, you find a surprising number of references to people who are crossing gender in some way. Often they are small blurbs or ‘anecdotes’ copied and reprinted widely – as was generally common in newspapers in the early period. By later in the nineteenth century, these references are more likely to be listed in the police blotter. Most historians and archivists of the period have seen them but we generally don’t know what to make of them. Broadly speaking, I’m interested in any discourses about sexual difference, which are quite abundant of course because people were always working through, defining, debating, and sometimes changing what they viewed as key distinctions between men and women.

Q2. Could you talk about some of the types of sources and repositories, particularly in New England, that you’ve consulted for your research?

I spent a considerable chunk of time doing research at The American Antiquarian Society on an NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] fellowship in 2013. The biggest surprise for me was the abundance of relevant sources in the children’s literature collection. One of my favorites was published in 1859 by the McGloughlin Brothers entitled “The Tom-Boy who was changed into a real boy.” They also have a one-of-a-kind rare newspaper collection for the period that gave me access to a very wide range of references. Some of this is digitized and so research that previously would have taken over a decade could be done in a matter of months. Once I identified keywords that were commonly used in the kinds of sources I was interested in, I could do sweeping searches. Some of those phrases include “male attire” or “female husband” or “female soldier” just to give you some idea. I also worked at the Massachusetts Historical Society with a rather different set of materials. I studied records of the 19th century women’s rights movement, which were filled with exchanges about the sameness or differences between men and women. I also focused on their materials on women’s education, which had some really interesting references to physical education for women. By learning about the proscribed borders for physicality, I could create the context for my analysis of gender crossing during the period.

Q3. You’ve written about the reasons why you seek “to understand the function of ‘transgender’ as an analytical category; to explore the meanings given to representation of transgender experiences – or gender crossings – in history.” What are some of the benefits and challenges of using this approach, and how does it influence your upcoming work, “Born in the Wrong Time: Transgender Archives and the History of Possibility, 1770-1870?”

One type of primary source that is full of amazing content are the many different narratives of so-called “passing women.” I don’t necessarily think that is the most useful or even accurate way to refer to these people from the past. Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to ask them their preferred pronouns or gender identity – a concept that was not formally defined until very late in the nineteenth century. Did they understand themselves in a way that is familiarly transgender to us? Perhaps. In most of these cases, the records are extremely limited and we will never know. But what seems like a barrier — this inability to understand individual subjectivity – is also an opportunity for us to focus more intently on structures and norms that commonly facilitated or obstructed gender crossings.  I think commonly used concepts such as “cross-dressing” or “passing women” impose limitations on our ability to imagine a more nuanced experience of gender. Terms such as “transgender” and “queer” challenge us to open up our conceptual framework and blur conventional barriers and binaries.

Q4. You “see knowledge of the past as a very powerful tool that can help us achieve social justice in the present,” and you have noted the connection between scholarly work and activism. What does this look like to you in practice? How can your work on gender in the early United States inform queer and trans activism today?

I think knowledge of our own past is very important for contemporary social justice movements. LGBTQ history has been one of the most exciting and fresh historical fields in the past few decades. We still have considerable work to do in getting it integrated into US History textbooks and convincing teachers and professors that it is vital information for everyone to learn about – it humanizes us. Transgender history today is where gay history was thirty years ago. Path-breaking scholarship by Susan Stryker, Leslie Feinberg, and Joanne Meyerowitz has charted the course while more recent work by Bambi L. Lobdell, Clare Sears, Finn Enke, Peter Boag, and Trystan Cotton is advancing the conversation. But we still know very little about life in the past between or beyond the gender binary and I am very committed to contributing to this important body of scholarship. I think when a community has a history, it helps us to understand ourselves differently. We know we are not alone or even unique. We can learn from the organizing successes and failures of those who came before us.

Q5. What are some exciting developments and possibilities within queer and trans early-American history that are emerging right now? How can archivists facilitate this scholarship?

Students love learning about the possibly transgender, possibly intersex person Thomas/ine Hall who lived as a servant in 17th century Virginia. Kathleen Brown wrote definitively about Hall in the Journal of the History of Sexuality in 1995. A 2014 special issue of Early American Studies on “Beyond the Binaries” edited by Rachel Hope Cleves highlights the most recent work in the field, including a revisit to the Hall case by Kathryn Wichelns as well as interesting work on “the Publick Universal Friend” by Scott Larson and “The Man Who Thought Himself a Woman” by Lizzie Reis. One of the new trends, marked by several essays in the issue as well as my own work, is the turn from sexuality to gender as a productive site of knowing. Sociologist Clare Sears also made an important contribution to this field with their 2014 book Arresting Dress which examines the increased regulation of cross-dressers in San Francisco in the late nineteenth century.

I think archivists have a tremendous role to play in facilitating this scholarship because sources are so difficult to find or identify in the first place. It’s important to have an open mind about what constitutes a “good” source for queer or transgender history. You often have to read between the lines. Sources that seem anecdotal or comical or even mocking of people challenging gender or sex roles are really important for us in piecing together widely held assumptions. So much of the archive of the history of sexuality and gender nonconformity is hostile to its subject but that is just as important for us to know about as records of agency, community, and progress.

Q5 (#6): Susie R. Bock


Susie R. Bock

Susie R. Bock

Susie R. Bock is Head of Special Collections and Director of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine. She has almost 30-years experience managing primary materials and developed collections preserving the history of Maine’s LGBT communities. She was the recipient of the 2011 Friend of USM Women & Gender Studies Award.

Queer!NEA recently featured an interview with Ryan Conrad, a Concordia University PhD candidate who conducted a research and digitization project at the Sampson Center. I thank Susie for giving us an opportunity to learn more about the LGBT Collection at USM by sharing her own thoughts and perspectives.

Q1. Could you give one or two examples of the ways the collections have been utilized by researchers? How has your work and the work of scholars contributed to a better understanding of Maine’s LGBTQ history?

S.R.B. It has been used in 3 annual events in  2005, 2006, 2008 for the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine (the parent institution of the LGBT Collection). These events include an opening reception, lectures, exhibition and printed exhibition catalog. For digital resources from these events, go to

Our work has made it clear that LGBT people and culture exists throughout the community, whether that community is Caribou, Maine, or Portland, Maine or San Francisco. The LGBT community has changed as does the overall society, and reflects human history just as well. You can not understand any period of history without knowing all the stories, not just the dominant culture.

Q2. What would you say, if anything, is unique about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Collection at the University of Southern Maine? Does its focus on a smaller state such as Maine present any distinctive challenges or rewards?

Because the LGBT Collection is part of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, one sees clearly how any under-represented group, any minority, can suffer, and thus the principle of civil rights being absolute in the United States, not subject to the whims of the majority, is a bedrock that allows America to thrive.

Maine is a large state, with a small, disperse population. The internet had good and bad effects on the material culture we collect. Before the internet, people were forced to create local organizations and communicate by print. These all created tangible material to collect. The internet has replaced much of this activity, yet not created sustainable resources. However, the internet makes it easier to communicate and promote the LGBT Collection and has aided collection development.

Q3. The LGBT Collection, along with the African American Collection of Maine and the Judaica Collection, constitute the majority of the holdings of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. How does the mission of the LGBT Collection correlate with the work of the Center as a whole, and how can the LGBT holdings inform perspectives on civil rights as a whole in Maine?

The LGBT Collections makes Maine stand out in the study of civil rights. In what many would judge to be an American “back-water” in terms of culture and economics, is in fact the first state to pass anti-discrimination legislation by a general election. This would seem to infer, that everyone can understand and champion the importance of civil rights for all. That “life as it should be” means everyone is valued.

Q4. The Sampson Center has given out the Catalyst for Change and Lifetime Achievement Awards. What role do you and the Center seek to play in activism and social justice initiatives?

We preserve and make available the stories that can educate and empower activists. If you remember history, you are not doomed to repeat it.

Q5. Can you name a collection in the Sampson Center’s holdings that you find to be particularly interesting or noteworthy? If so, why do you think it is significant?

Yes, it is the series of LGBT collections that chronicle the local and then state fight for anti-discrimination legislation because it is a triumph of the best qualities of human nature. And this story gives me hope for the future.

Everyday, I love my job, because what I do matters.

Q5 (#5): Doug Johnstone and the Provincetown History Preservation Project


Doug JohnstoneDoug Johnstone

Doug Johnstone is the Town Clerk of Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the coordinator of the Provincetown History Preservation Project. The Project maintains a digital archive of items relating to Provincetown history on its website.

Q1. The Provincetown History Preservation Project’s “About Us” page states that, prior to the start of this project, “the material had since been stored in an inappropriate and inaccessible attic storage location and was quickly fading from public memory.” What inadequacies did you see at the time, and what made you decide that these materials were worth preserving and sharing?

The sentence references the initial focus of the Provincetown History Project: the material and artifacts that were once a part of the Provincetown Heritage Museum, in operation from 1976 until the doors were closed to the public in 1999. The Museum, and its contents, remained in the closed building from 1999 to 2002, when the Provincetown Public Library was scheduled to move into the old Heritage Museum building and the contents of the Museum were then moved to “temporary” storage on the third floor attic space in one of the Town’s municipal buildings, a wooden structure originally built in the early 1800’s. The attic space was only accessible by a narrow wooden staircase, with little to no ventilation and subject to heat and humidity. The Town’s plan in 2002 was to have the material conveyed to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, but negotiations between the Town and the Monument had broken down completely by 2004 over additional money that the Monument required the Town pay in order to properly house the collection. While the initial dollar amount of $800,000 the Monument was requesting was ultimately reduced to $500,000, the Town could not afford to pay, and by 2005 the short term storage location had become more or less permanent.

The space was cramped, dusty, humid, not secure, and completely inadequate. Due to limited space, boxes were piled on top of each other and amongst physical artifacts. Any manner of material, including glass plate negatives, photographs, paper documents, and books were mixed in with actual artifacts, that included just about everything from whale bones, assorted furniture, oars, signage, cannon balls, and netting – all on top of each other, with no clear pathways or room to get to a particular box even if it could be easily located.

I had the archive index on my computer. By default I became the person people came to in order to research or access material they believed to be a part of the Heritage Museum. There was no way that researchers, or the public in general, could directly access the material, so it was up to me to retrieve items for review. There were several problems with this, as you can imagine: the attic storage was not in the building I worked in; inevitably, whatever box I was looking for was always on the bottom of a large pile and way in the back under the lowest part of the roof; material, once retrieved, needed to be returned to the proper box; the attic itself was secured with a simple lock and chicken wire, with little or no security as numerous people had access to the key and there was no daily oversight of the attic storage area.

There was never a doubt in my mind that the material was important and needed to be available, as it was carefully and thoughtfully curated for the past thirty years by one of the Town’s foremost archivists and founder of the Heritage Museum, Josephine Del Deo. Once I knew for certain that the material would not be transferred to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, and that the Town had no plan for the material other than to leave it in the attic, I began to discuss the problem with others in the community and that was the start, in 2005, of the Provincetown History Project.

Q2. It seems like digitization and accessibility have been at the heart of this project from the beginning. How did you decide on this approach for sharing Provincetown’s history? What are some challenges and rewards you have encountered along the way?

There were several goals, some of them immediate concerns that became priorities and others more long term. We needed to get the material out of the inadequate attic storage area and to find a suitable location that would allow us to inventory and assess the material. Another one of our goals was to get the material out in public view, for if it simply remained in boxes it would likely fade from public memory or vanish altogether. Digitization appeared the best way to accomplish this goal while also protecting the originals as much as possible.

There were many challenges in dealing with the material at hand: finding sufficient space to inventory and assess the material; finding people with the time, and in some cases expertise, to help with the evaluation process; equipment to scan selected material, not to mention archival supplies to protect the material; money to pay for equipment and materials as no budget was allocated for this purpose; and ultimately development of a website. As if that wasn’t enough, a further long range goal was to display the physical artifacts in some way throughout the Town’s municipal buildings. This group effort relied on much hard work, good will from the community, monetary support from incredibly generous donors, community grants, luck, and what I can only attribute to divine intervention.

The experience has truly been a rewarding one. Working with others in the community on a common vision is a great experience. Meeting goals that at times appeared insurmountable continues to astonish me. A few years into the History Project we also began to digitize the material in the Town’s own municipal archives, and also began receiving significant material from the public and other Town institutions that otherwise may not have been available to the public at large. Having all of this material available to the public through our searchable website is incredibly satisfying. My own ongoing education about the Town’s history and the importance of preserving and remembering our past has been an unexpected and much appreciated benefit as well.

Q3. You were the Town Clerk when Provincetown began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. How do the materials in the Same-Sex Marriage Collection help create a portrait of the town at that time?

The material found in the Same Sex Marriage Collection on the History Project website is from my own files that I managed to keep at the time and was planning to archive in 2010. I remember thinking in 2010 that it was way too soon to place it on the History Project website, but felt it important to remember the event that had such a positive impact on the community. Provincetown became a focus of intense national and international attention during that period, and I had wanted to show the immense outpouring of excitement and support from the community not only on the issue of fairness and equal rights for all, but also to the Town Clerk’s Office specifically. Town government officials took a truly activist stance in response to then Governor Mitt Romney’s attempt to prevent issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples, and their leadership actions are an important reminder of what our community values. The plan is to add to the collection as material presents itself. While certainly not the definitive record of events from that time, it provides some insight to any future researcher interested in the issue.

Q4. Collections such as the aforementioned Same Sex Marriage Collection and the Safe Harbor/AIDS Archive provide glimpses into the ways one community has responded to developments that have impacted queer people nationwide and beyond. Building on the last question, but thinking more broadly, what can an understanding of Provincetown’s history teach us about queer history in the United States?

The two collections referenced in your question represent, to me, the importance of documenting and remembering our past. As specific members in the community change, and as the community itself changes, it is far too easy to forget the joy, celebration and fight over same sex marriage that the community experienced, for example, or the true heroism, dedication and loss experienced in Provincetown in response to HIV/AIDS. Each collection is a snapshot of the community at that particular place in time and clearly show the community values of the period. Provincetown, like other communities, is always changing. Provincetown’s response to the AIDS crisis within the community, and even more recently the Town’s reaction to same sex marriage, both relatively recent events, are already relegated to a memory that not everyone who lives here shares. As a community, if we don’t know where we came from and what we valued, we risk losing our identity.

Q5. Is there a particular item or aspect of Provincetown history that is particularly intriguing to you? Why is it so interesting or significant?

Personally, I am always on the lookout for material related to the late 1960’s and 1970’s. This time period is little represented in Provincetown History Project material that is currently in the collection. I suspect people might have thought it not of historic value, or historic enough, to save or consider donating or lending to the Town. Parts of the Town’s collective memory of that period may also have been lost far too prematurely due to the ravages of AIDS in the community in the decades that followed. As a teenager experiencing Provincetown for the first time in the mid 1970’s, the sense of belonging and excitement in being gay was palpable at a time when this was certainly not the case throughout the country. Gathering material from this period may provide further evidence in the historical chain to help determine just what it was about Provincetown that brought about that spirit of openness and acceptance. This is a question I find people asking to this day, and will likely continue to ask well in to the future.

Q5 (#4): Ryan Conrad


Ryan ConradRyan Conrad

Ryan Conrad is an Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD candidate at Concordia University’s Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Society and Culture, and he teaches in the university’s Interdisciplinary Sexuality Studies program. Conrad has written for a variety of publications, and has edited several anthologies for Against Equality, “a digital archive and publishing collective” that he co-founded.

Q1. This summer, you are digitizing a variety of LGBTQ newspapers at the University of Southern Maine in the Special Collections’ Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. Could you talk a bit about your inspiration and goals for this project, as well as anything interesting you’ve come across while working on it?

I am digitizing a collection of LGBTQ newspapers from the 1990s because I am interested in researching the parallel histories of the AIDS crisis and the battles over non-discrimination laws in Maine. The AIDS crisis arrived a bit later to Maine thanks to its geographic isolation from the rest of the US and it’s largely dispersed rural population. The battle over non-discrimination laws begins in earnest in the early 1990s and doesn’t conclude until the passage of a state-wide law by referendum in 2005. So there is this interesting and devastating overlap between the loss of life during the AIDS crisis and the massively public homophobia resulting in resounding legislative defeats over the most basic rights to housing and employment. Maine is unique in that it is relatively easy to overturn laws passed by the legislature by gathering signatures and putting a law to referendum. This is known as the people’s veto in Maine, and has largely been used by social conservatives to overturn laws they disagree with. This happened with many non-discrimination laws in Maine, but also more recently with gay marriage in 2009. My goal with this project is to do a discourse analysis of the ways in which LGBT community-based journalists talked about the political mood of the decade. I’m really interested in the work of Raymond Williams (structure of feelings), Jonathan Flatley (affective mapping; counter-moods), and Deborah Gould (emotional habitus) in thinking about the ways emotions and collective mood shape the realm of what is politically imaginable/possible. I’m trying to wrap my head around the conservative turn in gay and lesbian politics in the 1990s and thinking about affect and emotion is a useful place to look for clues beyond the obvious impacts of economics and financialization which queer and feminist theorists like Lisa Duggan, Yasmin Nair, Silvia Federici, Samuel Delany and others have already done quite successfully.

Q2: In “Against Equality, In Maine and Everywhere,” you talk about the gap between the needs identified by working-class queer and trans Mainers and the goals of larger political groups leading up to the 2009 marriage referendum in Maine. Similarly, you recently wrote on your website, regarding your current project in Maine, that you are “excited to be thinking about affect & trauma as it relates to the pre-protease inhibitor AIDS crisis days outside of major urban north american gay centers and how Maine’s multi-year failed non-discrimination ordinances intersect with this history.” How can greater access to materials such as newspapers aid the push against dominant political narratives and movements that are disconnected from the material needs of marginalized queer and trans people?

The newspapers I’m digitizing vary in form and content, and surprisingly there were a lot in circulation in Maine. 10%, Apex [now available on the USM website], Community Pride Reporter, Fast Times, Our Paper, and The Gay & Lesbian Times are amongst the serials I’ve been looking at and what’s wonderful about them is that there is constant criticism amongst the different papers as to how issues should be framed and which issues should be prioritized. The “Letters to the Editor” sections of these papers are treasure troves of internal community dialogs. Whether it’s the exchange between lesbian feminists and the police chief over how to support a LGBT non-discrimination campaign, or whether or not seeking inclusion for LGBTs within the boy scouts should be a movement goal or not because the boy scouts are inherently militaristic and misogynist. I don’t see a lot of these kinds of conversations happening today, as most internal dialogs are lost on insular Facebook comment threads that contain more sniping than thoughtful criticism—not to mention how difficult it is to track and archive online content in this form. Plus, large multi-million dollar non-profit LGBT rights organizations largely dismiss and disregard dissent, if not downright muzzle it.

I think what these papers offer is a recent historical example of how we used to have more valuable public conversations about movement priorities than we do now because we leave that to the so-called experts that run these high profile well-funded non-profits that are more accountable to funders than any semblance of community. In digging through these papers, I’ve also uncovered a more radical political LGBT history than the one we are told by the media and pop-historians who rehash superficial queer histories every June. Queers in Maine have been fighting against our murder, rape, violence, misogyny, rural poverty, isolation, access to reproductive health, universal health care, safer sex education for young people, and the list goes on. This local history is there, but somehow the story we are told as queer Mainers is both urbancentric and false. We go from Stonewall (our liberation), to AIDS (our downfall), to gay marriage (our redemption) in a linear progress narrative that is being told by the mainstream gay media and liberal LGBTs alike. I hope to be able to provide a more localized and more accurate depiction of our collective recent past that tells a more complex and inspiring account of how we arrived where we are today.

“Dykes Against the Klan,” Annette Dragon Papers, Courtesy of the LGBT Collection, Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries.

Q3: The Sampson Center at USM holds a collection of materials that were donated by you. Some of these materials seem to predate Against Equality. How did you initially become interested in queer activism and archives?

In 2005 I assembled a ‘zine called Out of the Closets and Into the Libraries that I made for a workshop at the Gulf of Maine Social Forum, which took place in my hometown of Lewiston. The ‘zine and workshop began because I had just graduated from undergrad and lamented that I barely learned anything about queer people or politics. I never learned my history and felt a bit lost. I grew up in a small, socially conservative town in Rhode Island and didn’t know a single out gay person until I was in college in Maine. So for me this early LGBT history project began as a way for me to figure out how to reconcile my hard-line anarchist anti-capitalist politics (thanks to reading Emma Goldman as a punk rock teenager) with my sexuality, which to me at that time only seemed to exist as a commercial niche market that I was decidedly not interested in. I was looking for proof that others like me had come before and with a bit of persistence, I found them, lots of them! So my interest in queer history began as a need for affirmation and proof that you can be both queer and radical. Today I deeply value queer history, because without it, pride is just a shitty commercialized parade.

Q4: You have edited several anthologies for Against Equality, which are now available in one volume as Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion. You’ve also written and spoken about access to digital resources and the desire to complement digital archives with print publications.1 How have these initiatives with Against Equality been successful so far? Considering that the number of digitization projects, such as the one that you are currently completing, is increasing, how could archivists and those interested in expanding access to information benefit from keeping these ideas in mind?

The Against Equality archives are unique because we are solely a digital archive, meaning we only exist online. Creating print publications for that project is sort of doing the reverse of what most archives are doing today. In fact, we are pretty much running in the opposite direction, archiving digital work and then creating print publications from this previously published web-based material. Most archives today, and projects like the one I am doing at the Jean Byers Sampson Center, are trying to figure out best practices for digitizing print material that is not available publicly online yet. It has been interesting working with Against Equality because we are really doing something that feels quite unique and our publications have been incredibly successful, distributing over ten thousand books over the last five years including nearly 1000 to incarcerated LGBTQ folks that have no access to the digital world. But the problem of digitizing work is something I think about a lot as I imagine a lot of others do. When I was doing research in 2009 at the New York Public Library it was rather difficult to get my hands on the physical objects from Gran Fury that I was researching because I was told that the material was all scanned and available online. The archivists were sympathetic to my requests as I argued that seeing, touching, smelling, and engaging with physical objects, especially large ones like broadsheets and posters, was important to my understanding of said object. But I think this is something many of us that work for and with archives are thinking about these days: how to best share information and cultural objects digitally in order to make them more accessible, without decontextualizing these things from their thing-ness.

“Front page, Apex Vol 2 No 9,” Courtesy of the LGBT Collection, Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries.

Q5: Gay marriage is legal all throughout the United States now. As this has been the primary focus of mainstream LGBTQ activism for so long, there is now talk about what the “next” struggle should be. Why is it imperative that we continue to have an understanding of a variety of queer histories if we are to challenge these current developments and narratives?

I understand why people would talk about the “next” struggle, but in that way of framing the issue we actually lose sight of the fact that gay marriage has failed to provide much-needed comprehensive family law reform for many different combinations of families (gay and straight) that are left behind by the couple form. Feminists have been making this argument for a century, but this history has been ignored and usurped by today’s gay and lesbian marriage activists. A lot of people can easily see why gay marriage was not necessarily the most urgent priority, but I think it is important to push it further and actually make it clear that gay marriage itself was a bad goal and fails many of us by retrenching a model of privatization where all material needs should be met through a closed family unit headed by a conjugal couple. Sure there are lots of other battles today on which we need to be fighting in addition to family law reform, but I think the rhetoric of the gay marriage campaigns has been so successful in marginalizing other forms of family and kinship networks that it will actually be more difficult now to make those demands of our governments and social institutions. In passing gay marriage we did nothing to dislodge the ideology of family, and today we need to continue the fight to make family law support our families as they exist, and not the other way around by forcing our kinships to match the confines of the law. The battle for gay marriage has been ahistorical, anti-feminist, and extremely conservative. We must not let the present moment of gay marriage jubilation, or the coming moment of trans jubilation over the imminent admittance of trans people to the US Military, rewrite our much messier and hard fought histories of struggle against heterosexism, imperialism, oppression, and hierarchy.


1 Ryan Conrad, Karma Chávez, Yasmin Nair, and Deena Loeffler, “Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion,” in Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion, ed. Ryan Conrad (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2014), 9-11.

Q5 (#3): Graham Stinnett


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Graham Stinnett

Graham Stinnett is Curator of the Human Rights and Alternative Press Collections in the Archives & Special Collections at the University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. He has worked on a variety of projects relating to human rights topics. He is also a former member of the Steering Committee of the LGBTQ Issues Roundtable.

Q1. Your biography suggests that you began working on human rights topics before coming to the University of Connecticut. How did you become interested in this work, and how have you continued working with these topics at the Dodd Center?

G. S. My primary interest in this field came through punk rock bands talking about US Cold War policy in Latin America which led to my own research into the resulting records opened through FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests by the National Security Archives. I got my start doing human rights archives at the University of Colorado at Boulder working with Head Archivist Bruce Montgomery, a pioneer in human rights collection development.  My principles and historical understanding shaped my thinking towards praxis through archives with the help of mentors like Bruce and my advisors at the University of Manitoba in Canada, Tom Nesmith and Terry Cook, as well as scholars like Verne Harris and Trudy Huskamp Peterson.  Human Rights NGOs in Central America during the 1980s dictatorship period were the primary records creators of disappearances and testimonies which challenged the state-military apparatus.  Collecting archives from the individuals in society outside of the traditional power structures of the state or its collecting mandate vastly broadens the range of human rights preservation, predominantly through these groups working towards record keeping as a justice crucible.  My work in the archives at the University of Connecticut has continued because of the amazing collections already established here from the Nuremberg papers of Thomas J. Dodd to the Mattachine Society work of Foster Gunnison Jr. and the Alternative Press Collection (AltPress) as a whole.  I believe in the principles of archives as tools for engagement with a broader societal understanding of itself and how it can be leveraged for change in society, so building on these collecting areas is very beneficial. We are always being documented, it is our job to engage the creation of memory from that documentation.

Q2. From an archivist’s perspective, what is the importance of collecting and preserving materials such as the ones contained in the Human Rights and Alternative Press Collections? What is the value of sharing these stories?

Lately I have started to view the importance of what I do as part of an intergenerational conversation.  The historical reference is the purpose, however the use is the value.  The majority of the AltPress is print based and very ephemeral, but also highly reflective of the author’s hand.  When teaching with these materials, students often have derisive responses to the form itself because of these ephemeral qualities as opposed to word processing formats as well as the radical views expressed.  When considering the basis of text communication in social media platforms today which could be the closest comparison to the channels of alternative press, these outlets have more in common than they do in division.  My goal is to promote the dialectic between then and now.  Beyond the narrative that all movements toward rights are valuable and worth documenting, my interest has been to promote the intersections where students have made impacts through documentation in the past which now can inform the present context of identity, recreation, sociability and agency.  Having said all that, I don’t think we as archivists have yet understood how to deal with today’s alternative press, which is why these conversations are so important.

Q3. A wide variety of groups, developments, and ideas are covered within materials you curate. How do you work to ensure a diversity of stories and perspectives within the collections?

Diversity often springs from the alternative.  Decentralized collecting, in this case looking outside of the university community into such fringe/minority areas for Alternative Press and Human Rights, which typifies the nature of these collections, begins the process of incorporating outside voices into the archive.  That also leads to a danger however of fetishizing those things we do collect, especially when they are as far afield as apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Darfur.  For me, the primary concern of diversity is through its promotion as a lens into front end archival collections and back end functions.  This includes utilizing the master’s tools to read against what is present in the picture.  Keeping current however requires the archivist to be activist in finding people in their struggles and working in solidarity to promote voices.  Specifically, for me, it ranges from student organizations and their archives to artists creating work around policing and organizations pooling their resources to make everyday resistance to war and oppression.

Q4. What are your goals in terms of engaging people with the collections and the issues connected to these materials? How do efforts such as your blog contribute to these goals?

A large part of the outreach and engagement I focus on attempts to make linkages between our collections and the work being done currently around events, movements and expression.  For example, a program we hosted in 2014 titled “War, Struggle and Visual Politics: Art on the Front Lines” where we brought in a photographer documenting Afghanistan over the last 20 years, an illustrator who published widely in the 1980s AltPress materials recently acquired as part of our Joe Snow Punk Rock Collection, as well as members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War organization.  Complimenting this were several exhibitions of our collections, workshops on writing and design as well as the art these activists performed and brought with them. The programming  and presentation of archives around current events and scholarship in all its forms is difficult to measure beyond analytics.  My goals for engagement generally are to make society aware of the archives as ‘just around the block’.  The vast public which is not thinking archivally have the most to lose regardless if our profession engages them or not.  For those already using archives, I want to help uncover hidden histories.  And for those in the profession, I want to trouble the idea of archives entirely.  A large part of my everyday engagement more concretely is through social media platforms; following the lead of the young people in society to broadcast and shape mediums for agitation is always inspiring to document.

Q5. Could you name one or two items/collections that are particularly interesting to you?

One of my favorite items is a pair of Abbie Hoffman’s American flag socks from his collection.  I like to joke that the digital humanities still has to contend with the scratch and sniff qualities of ephemera when digital surrogates are du jour.

Also, I am fond of the Joe Snow Punk Rock Collection that has been incorporated into the AltPress.  The varying sites of production for underground culture and art in the hardcore punk scenes of Connecticut in the early 1980s generated a trove of creative expression. It always serves as a reminder to me that people work very hard to create impermanent communities, and these efforts need to be preserved.

action: maura healey wants your same-sex marriage story [#ma4equality]


via The Rainbow Times:

What you can do to help

Some questions that could assist people willing to submit their story are:

  • How has marriage equality changed your life?
  • What would it mean for your family to have marriage equality across the country?
  • How have you felt when you’ve visited or moved to states which don’t recognize same-sex marriage?
  • Did you choose not to enroll at a school or take a job because the state doesn’t have marriage equality?

When sharing your stories and ideas use the hashtag ‪#‎MA4Equality. According to Healey, if “we need to reach you directly about your story we will follow up individually.”

commentary: survivors of 1980s AIDS crisis speak


via Gay Star News:

As the UK celebrates LGBT History Month, users of Reddit revealed what it was like to be living in what felt like a constant state of tragedy.

Real LGBTI people remember the confusion, the lack of information, the lack of support from the government because of the suffering from the virus known only at the time as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency).

‘I’m a 62-year-old gay man. I thankfully made it through the epidemic that started in the early 80s and went right through the mid-90’s. You ask what it was like? I don’t know if I can even begin to tell you how many ways AIDS has affected my life, even though I never caught the virus,’ one user said.

Q5 (#2): Greta LaFleur

Greta LaFleur's picture
Greta LaFleur

Greta LaFleur is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Yale University. Her interests include North American literary and cultural studies, the history and historiography of sexuality, the history of science, and queer studies. Her current book project is tentatively titled Conditional Desires: Histories of Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century, British Colonial North America.

Q1. In your dissertation, “American Insides: Popular Narrative and the Historiography of Sexuality 1674-1815,” you “theorize and argue for the use of a presentist, affective historicism as an alternative methodology for producing histories of sex.” How does your work challenge the existing historiography of sexuality?

G. L. My dissertation (which I finished in 2011) has now become a book manuscript, tentatively titled Conditional Desires: Histories of Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century, British Colonial North America. It’s a pretty different project, at this point, than what it was in dissertation form, but the way that it engages the historiography of sexuality remains fairly consistent with its earlier iteration. The biggest and most important way that it challenges conventional historiographic approaches to sexuality is that it does not assume sexuality to bear a privileged relationship to interiority; the book, in fact, argues that in eighteenth-century studies, we need to move to a framework for thinking about sexual behavior that does not privilege the subjective, or the human. More simply put, I argue that during the eighteenth century, people understood sexual impulses– behaviors, inclinations, etc– to derive from a wide variety of sources, but primarily understood sexual behavior as the result of the dynamic interaction between bodies and environments. In other words, people understood sexual behavior as situational during the eighteenth century, an idea that historians of nineteenth-century sexuality such as Regina Kunzel, and scholars of late-nineteenth-century (and early twentieth century) sexuality such as Benjamin Kahan have also explored. Sexual behavior, during the eighteenth-century, was less about individual expression than environmental circumstance; one’s social, physical, climatic, or natural environment was understood to have the potential to shape one’s sexual behaviors and even desires. This argument re-orients the way that we think about sexuality away from the human (or the ‘subject’) and centers it more in the environment, which is a significant historiographic shift.

Q2. How did you get into early American sexuality studies (as opposed to 19th, 20th, etc. centuries)? 

I arrived at early American sexuality studies via the emergence of institutionalized psychology in the 19th century. As I began my dissertation project, which I initially imagined would be a study of early psychology (Benjamin Rush, etc), I found myself asking a lot of questions about how residents of colonial and early national North America understood the experience of desire, in all of its many forms (sexual and otherwise). I wanted to know how these people made sense of wanting and of pleasure. Did they understand these experiences as feelings? Emotions? Lack? Were these feelings important to them, or incidental? Did they experience these feelings as unique expressions of their own particular social, spiritual or community positionalities? These questions are all bound up in a larger set of inquiries pertaining to the history of the subject (or the history of consciousness, or of certain forms of consciousness), and at the time, were animated by my interest in the long history of identity politics, and in how or whether identity could be conceived of before the modern period (roughly the turn of the twentieth century, in this case). As I continued work on what I thought would become the dissertation project, I ended up tarrying in earlier and earlier parts of the eighteenth century, and ended up thinking about historically-specific, large-scale categories of experience (“venery,” for example, which in many C18 colonial communities could have included forms of sexual immoderation such as fornication, but also the act of taking too much pleasure in eating– gluttony– or immoderation in drinking). So, I really arrived at sexuality via the category of venery, but what has always been most interesting to me is the historiographic challenges of characterizing forms of behavior that look, to us, like “sexuality,” but that existed in an era before there was any framework for understanding them this way.

How do the developments you study contribute to a broader understanding of sexuality and its construction over time?

One of the central arguments of the book is that emergent knowledge frameworks that people used to make sense of sexual behavior were borrowed from, and also contributed to, extant frameworks that were initially developed to explain and theorize racial difference. As scholars of the history of race have long known, before the early- to mid-nineteenth century (when racial definition became very firmly attached to skin color and bodily morphology), environmental diversity was understood as a major, if not a primary, source of racial differences. Roxann Wheeler (among others!) has done some very important writing on this. A great example of how this worked can be seen in environmental determinism, a series of ideas that are at least as old as the medieval period, and which argued that one’s skin color was determined by the region in which one lived, usually due to differential exposure to the sun. So, if you lived in what was called the “Aethiops” climate, for example, you would be likely to have darker skin, but natural philosophers also imagined that if a dark-skinned person moved to a cooler and less sunny climate, in several generations, his or her progeny would become light-skinned. What we would now call “race,” then, was understood to be at least partially determined by environment during the eighteenth century. The interesting thing about theories of environmental determinism is that they were never just about skin color– they were also about temperament. Being hardworking, quick to anger, lazy, amative or lascivious, somber or melancholy, and many more traits that we would now call “emotional” or “sexual,” were also linked to particular climates or regions. Warmer climates, for example, typically produced more “lusty” individuals, an idea that we can still see circulating today, and also an ideology that was conveniently engineered to support missionary colonialism (among other things). I’m interested in the way that sexuality and racial differentiation emerged as modern human “sciences” at around the same time (“science,” of course, being nothing more than the Latin word for ‘knowledge,’ scientia) and in the way that both “sciences” drew from a common intellectual framework around humans’ inherent vulnerability to environment. I want people who read or listen to my work to understand that when we talk about sexual behavior, even in our own time, we are almost always also talking about race. Raising historical consciousness about the ineluctable embeddedness of racial and sexual politics is incredibly important to me, and it is one of the central political stakes of my work.

Q3. It seems like you draw from a variety of disciplines in your work. Could you talk a little about the types of sources you have consulted for your book project, or any interesting items/collections you found along the way?

My work is incredibly interdisciplinary. In terms of primary sources, I look at widely-circulating texts, mostly print– but I also look at manuscripts in my first chapter on Barbary captivity narratives. I’m primarily interested in popular narrative, so I mostly look at forms of print culture, usually cheap print culture, that were being read by the widest swath of readers in any one moment. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of library catalogues and subscription lists from the late eighteenth century, to understand what people had access to, what they were reading, what was popular, and what kinds of ideas had the largest reach. Because I’m interested in the popular, a lot of the texts at the heart of my book project are cheap print culture (the equivalent in our time might be a grocery-store tabloid) telling “true histories” of individuals, many of which are fictionalized or entirely fictional. Most of the texts at the heart of my book project invoke or aspire to a kind of “truthiness,” and many are first-person accounts (but again, many of them are fictionalized or downright fictional, such as a series of short narratives I examine in the last chapter of my book, entitled The Female Marine, printed and reprinted between 1815 and 1818). In terms of secondary, critical, or theoretical materials, I read a lot of excellent work on the history of sexuality, the history of race (Roxann Wheeler, Jennifer Morgan, Felicity Nussbaum), queer theory, critical ethnic studies, and increasingly, work on the history of the environment. Recently, I have been reading Mark Rivkin’s When Did Indians Become Straight?: Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty and have been very inspired by that.

Q4. What are some of the challenges posed by studying cultural understandings of sexuality when looking at a period so culturally different from our own?

Well, there are many. First, there’s the archive problem: sexual behaviors were not frequently the object of archival interest unless they were considered aberrant in their own time (so, criminalized forms of sexual behavior appear in archives because court records were saved, but socially-supported or secret sexual behaviors are not typically prioritized in archival collections); for this reason, some people think it’s easier to write histories of, say, man-to-man sexual interactions than it is to write a history of heterosexuality (I am not one of those people, but this idea exists). Also, institutional archives have historically been, and frequently continue to be, tied to or supportive of the state, so we need to always understand them as working in the service of a particular narrative of state organization and dominance, so sexual practices or ways of thinking about sexuality that were dominant in communities that were not prioritized by the state (or that were targets of eradication, such as many indigenous American communities) were not initially saved in many archives. Anjali Arondekar does a great job of thinking through this problem in her book (For the Record). Beyond the archive problem, there’s also the “modernity” problem, or the inherent impossibility of talking or even thinking about sexuality in the same terms that were used by the eighteenth-century subjects of our inquiry. Because the epistemological framework that we have to even think about the history of sexuality is radically, perhaps fundamentally different than the frameworks that were available to the cultures we study, it’s as if we are speaking two different languages– our twenty-first century language for sexual behavior, steeped as it is in the identity paradigm, and the eighteenth-century, suspiciously and simultaneously pre-modern and modern language for sexual behavior. Scott Larson, another early American studies scholar, has defined the work of the historian as the work of translation, and that definitely resonates with me. And there is actually no possibility for translation. Some scholars think that we need to approach the past on its own terms; I actually believe that this is impossible. But I see a lot of potential in that impossibility; it means we have to develop new methods for thinking about the history of sexuality, and it also means that we can be more imaginative and speculative about what sexuality might have been. Pete Coviello talks a bit about this in the introduction to his recent great book, Tomorrow’s Parties. So, for me, the challenges of working on the history of sexuality during a period both distant from and also, in my opinion, uncomfortably close to our own is actually the best part of the work I am doing.

Q5. What does your research mean for LGBTQ populations today? How does your work not only inform scholarly discussions of sexuality, but also general discussions of sexuality outside of academia?

I think of my work as relevant to not only queer people today, but also to anyone invested in the importance of feminist and otherwise anti-oppressive sexual politics. I think of my work as contributing to the project of building historical consciousness about the history of sexuality, and particularly about the way that the state has demonstrated an investment in both controlling the meaning of sexual behavior as well as controlling specific practices of sexual behavior more generally, and about the way that the state learned or borrowed its strategies for controlling specific sexual populations from its older strategies for controlling poor populations and populations of people of color. I want to be clear, here, that I am not creating an analogy between racist oppression and sexual oppression; these two forms of state and social intervention work differently and have distinct, if at times related, histories. I think of my work as in part trying to write the history of how each of these forms of social specificity (racial difference and sexual aberrance) became targets of state intervention, in the form of criminalization, control, and other forms of management, and how the logic of sexual oppression was frequently invoked to develop strategies for the subjugation of non-white people, and alternately, how the logic of racial oppression contributed to the formation of an idea of a homogenous state that could then justify criminalizing sexual minorities (sex workers, people who participated in same-sex liaisons, etc). To me, this feels like a critical form of consciousness for LGBTQ and queer people everywhere. A wider acknowledgment of the centrality of the overlap between these histories of state intervention would support the project of developing better solidarity politics among people especially vulnerable to state oppression.

I also think of my work as contributing to a longer history of “queerness,” as distinct from a more identity-based LGBTQ positionality. I love the way that people in the eighteenth century seem to have understood sexual behavior as, at least in part, contingent on one’s situation; as someone living in the twenty-first century, reading warnings that merely walking the streets in certain parts of town might have the capacity to morally corrupt a person feels like a wonderfully proleptic account of the way that we now broadly understand queerness: as an unstable, unpredictable, dynamic form of being and desiring, that often (to me) seems simply more fun than the idea of waking up every day with a solid, unchanging sense of who we are and what we want, because those things also inevitably determine what we can do. Personally, I believe that dynamism supports individual growth, and understanding ourselves less as moored to or mired in a particular identity pattern, and instead as eminently vulnerable to the impressions of the world around us, feels exciting and like it harbors a ton of possibilities.

event: roundtable meet-up 1/10 in montague (mass.)


Saturday, January 10th, 2015, 12:00-2:00pm
Montague Bookmill (Montague, Mass.)
Please RSVP by Friday (1/9).

2009-01-15 09.33.11This Saturday (1/10), the LGBTQ Issues Roundtable leadership will be meeting at the Montague Bookmill (Montague, Mass.). We will be discussing business matters from 11am-12pm and then plan to hang out book browsing and tea drinking from 12-2pm. Members are welcome to join us for the afternoon if you are in the area and would like to connect face to face!

The Montague Bookmill (“books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”) is, as the name suggests, an old mill building converted into a used bookstore. There is a cafe attached, a used music store and an arts cooperative nearby.
This meet-up will be pay-your-own-way for books, beverages, and food.

Email queernea@gmail.com to RSVP or with any questions.

2009-01-15 09.31.24