Sunday 17 June 2012

Queer Imaginings of the Archive – Recognizing Complexities

As I prepare for my upcoming presentation at the International Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections Conference on the Future of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Histories to take place in Amsterdam in early August, I become more and more committed to recognizing and paying attention to the ghostly matter that haunts and lingers in the stories we tell we about ourselves and our communities.  This ghostly matter, then, has implications for our archives in what we collect and how we see, organize, and present our collections.

In the U.S., LGBTQ individuals and communities carry (often times unknowingly) a long history of the state shaping and then enforcing hegemonic notions of what it is to be “normal.” Primary documents from the Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, 1622-1632 highlight how the court deliberated on whether or not Thomas Hall/Thomasine Hall were a man or a woman and how to then regulate his/her appearance, actions, and sexual behaviors to properly fit their prescribed gender (194).  The state continued their regulatory biopolitcal strategy through their nation-building colonizing practices, military development, civil service and welfare programs (Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Federal Transient Program (FTP)), and immigration controls.  All worked to develop the ideal of the “good citizen” – one that fits the norms whether these norms are explicitly or implicitly communicated and understood.

As I continue research about the complex histories of the LGBTQ movements in the U.S., I have encountered the ways that our own LGBTQ communities and organizations have also utilized these same biopolitical exclusionary practices in order to be accepted in larger society.  For example, the Mattachine Society, the San Francisco-based homophile organization issued a statement in 1956:  “Since variants desire to be accepted by society, it behooves them to assume community responsibility…  For only as they make positive contributions to the general welfare can they expect acceptance and full assimilation into the communities in which they live.”  The Daughters of Bilitis also directed their members to dress in gender appropriate dress when attending meetings.  Deborah Gould, in her 2009 book Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS, tackles the ongoing ambivalence in LGBTQ individuals and communities as well as the politics of respectability that has fueled various rights-centered movements.  She writes: “Respectability, on a straight society’s terms, was the price for admission” (89).  Our level of fear coupled with our desire to be accepted has certainly impacted our own unique histories.  My research interests consider what our archives are telling us about our own histories while recognizing the in-between spaces, pauses, and active forgetting that also takes place as we re-member.

Over the past four years while meeting and interviewing LGBTQ people for the “Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project,” which I founded in 2008 as Arizona’s first LGBTQ archive, I have had to take a closer look at my line of questioning and how I, too, am implicated in what I have come to understand and experience as a shared storytelling process.  As archives and archivists become the stewards of our individual and collective memories, our conformity to archival norms and practices can be treacherous.  For those of us committed to critically intervening in and opening up the traditional archival constructs while developing queer/ed archival practices, we can see that these traditional practices run the risk of reproducing sexual normativities and social divisions that reflect instead of intervene in social hierarchies.  Thus, my research carries me to try to make sense of these complexities and challenges as I look to these hauntings and in-between spaces as moments that the archive can be mobile, moving, animated, while also open for contested and contradictory histories; fear and tension; creative and fertile exploration; and certainly a messy yet generative spirit.

Jamie A. Lee is currently a Doctoral Student in Information Resources and Library Science with a Gender & Women's Studies minor at the University of Arizona.  She is interested in researching how archives and digital archives may be spaces for social movements for underrepresented groups and hopes to work with communities to investigate how emerging media technologies and archival theories and practices may impact the ways that groups articulate identities to society.  She is an award-winning independent filmmaker whose work has screened on PBS, Free Speech TV, and at film festivals and conferences throughout North American and Europe.  She presented at the 2008 Women's World Congress in Madrid, Spain, the 2008 National Communications Association (NCA) Annual Convention, and was the keynote speaker at the 2009 New Directions in Critical Theory Conference about the power of storytelling and using media to make lasting change. She founded and is directing the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project: Community Histories, Arizona's first LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) Archive.  She is also collaborating on the Stories of Arizona’s Tribal Libraries Oral History Project with Sandy Littletree. She is the recipient of the 2009 Arizona Commission on the Arts Artist Project Grant and a 2010 Arizona Governors Arts Award nominee for her work connecting her artform to community activism.  She interned at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in their Media Initiatives Unit, where she indexed video oral history interviews and entered data into NMAI’s Indigenous Media Online Database; researched technological and access issues within the Indigenous Media Online Database as well as within the Smithsonian’s Digital Assets Management System in order to offer steps for future expansion and changes to allow for more operability for outside researchers, community researchers, and internal curator staff research; developed the NMAI Oral History Project Standard Operating Procedure for use internally as well as within communities to collect important and relevant histories to be used as permanent record within the Indigenous Online Database and the NMAI archives, in exhibits, and in publications.

Jamie A. Lee

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