February 24, 2015

Trans histories take the mic at Emerging Minds Project event

Trans historian André Pérez discussed his work as founder of the Trans Oral History Project (TOHP) at the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) on Monday.

Pérez discussed his roots, life, and work, and showed video interviews from the TOHP, before attendees broke into groups for a discussion. The event was part of OMSA’s Emerging Minds Project, which OMSA Assistant Director Emy Cardoza said is “very much based on having dialogue opportunities on social issues, and so that’s why we do try to prioritize bringing in people who speak about personal experience—personal narratives with these different identities.”

Pérez discussed his time as a first-generation student at a small liberal arts college in Vermont. He discussed the difficulties facing him upon returning home from school as a liberal arts student, and his desire to “be able to do something practical.” This caused him to study documentary filmmaking and led to his initial interest in trans history after covering the first New England Transgender Pride March in 2008.

“I just started looking for history,” he said. “I was like, well, where did we come from? Where did this community come from? Who’s been through the things that I’ve been through? What did this look like? Who’s been through totally different things that I can’t even imagine 30 or 40 years ago? And I realized that trans people had been written out of a lot of history.”

Pérez then spoke about the Trans Oral History Project, which he described as “a collaboration-based resource…not just sort of centered around any one individual [account].” The TOHP uses a multimedia approach and the teaching of media skills to tell people’s stories, allowing them to tell their own stories through videos, zines, and a website. It also hosts workshops, conferences, and unrecorded story-sharing events.

The TOHP also produced I Live for Trans Education, a multimedia toolkit aimed at teaching middle school and high school students in classroom settings or Gay-Straight Alliances about less frequently discussed trans issues. “It has documentaries [that are] around 10 minutes long, and we build lesson plans around that.... And the idea was really to go beyond Trans 101…[to have] a conversation that goes deeper, [to talk about] these intersections in a more meaningful way,” Pérez said. He also expressed his desire for the program to be adapted to suit different groups’ needs and to encourage more people to get involved.

After playing a number of interview clips, including one of a trans woman who witnessed the 1969 Stonewall riots, Pérez spoke about what he called “the next big thing”: a virtual tour called America In Transition. “It’s going to be a 24-part web series, an interactive multimedia map, and a mobile app that feature the stories of 24 unheard trans folks across the country,” he said.

Pérez wrapped up the talk by taking questions and encouraging the audience to tell their stories and invite their friends to tell their stories through America in Transition.

“The purpose of America in Transition is to feature a lot of people who are from small communities across the country,” he said. “So that way when people are coming out to their families, they’ll have something to show them and say, ‘Look, there are other people like us, whatever that us is’...and talk to people about their social context as well as their experiences.”