Friday, January 31, 2014

The Missing T: Trans* Inclusivity, Erasure, and the MHC Archives

Since yesterday's announcement of the new Archives exhibition, Persistence and Existence: LGB Organizations at Mount Holyoke College Through History, we who work in the Archives, both students and staff, have received multiple emails and tumblr messages inquiring about the "missing T". As curator of the exhibition, I'm writing this post to share the thinking behind the title.

Typically, most people use the phrase LGBT to speak about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. Many organizations do this to be inclusive of a whole range of people who experience marginalization and oppression because of their sexual orientation, romantic orientation, and gender identity. However, the last of these four letters, the missing T, rarely gets the same amount of attention in activism, visibility, and support. It is inclusivity in name only. People and organizations use the acronym to convey a sense of inclusion, while continuing to exclude many transgender people in their actual work. This contributes to trans* erasure.

We specifically chose not to include the T in the exhibit title. It's a glaring exclusion, one which brings to light the glaring exclusion of trans* people in the Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections. The documents present are about organizations focused around lesbian, gay and bisexual people. There is a deep silence surrounding transgender people at MHC in the Archives, one which we hope to fill with voices. We chose to not include the T to show that the Archives has not historically included trans* folks in its recesses. Instead of simply adding it into the title in a gesture of inclusivity (and not walking the walk, so to speak) we use this exhibit as a platform for demonstrating how transgender voices in the Valley have been silenced.

There are very few documents in the Archives that speak about trans* organizations on campus. This is for many reasons, namely invisibility and institutionalized transphobia. This does not mean that transgender people did not exist at Mount Holyoke from the early 1970s to 2000s. They did. It means their stories were not recorded in the way lesbian and bisexual student's stories were. It means that there is a lot of work the Archives still needs to do. We need to not only look to the past, but to our future. In the past, trans* people have not been included in archived history at MHC, as evidenced by the preponderance of documents pertaining to LGB groups and the very, very few we have related to transgender organizations.

In the future, however, the Archives is committed to preserving the stories that all Mount Holyoke students want to tell -- very specifically the missing T. We are dedicated to documenting the histories of what is happening right now on campus, including the trans* panel that occurred in the spring of 2013, the formation of the Coalition for Gender Awareness, and the fight for the admittance of trans women going on at Smith College and MHC.

We welcome and strongly encourage submissions of material. We collect images, written stories, poetry, documents, organization mission statements, zines, manifestos, posters, journals, and much more. We are in conversation with many of the queer organizations on campus currently and are actively soliciting all sorts of materials. We encourage you -- Mount Holyoke students, staff, faculty, alums, community members and friends to submit YOUR stories and those of the organizations you are a part of. We can't uncover all the histories that have been lost, but we can commit to making the Archives and the MHC community more inclusive of all identities, not just the LGB part of the acronym.