A digital transgender archive was launched Thursday at the College of The Holy Cross, a compendium of historic documents, oral-history transcripts, photographs, and newsletters from years past. Organizers believe it is the first time such a trove of transgender-related digital material has been available.
The archive materials have been gathered from 13 collaborating institutions, with eight more poised to donate in the coming months. Seven are universities and include Harvard, Cornell, the University of Victoria, and the University of Michigan.
Holy Cross spokeswoman Cristal Steuer called it the first digital undertaking of its kind. The archive, www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net, came about after a local academic struggled to find transgender-related research materials for his Ph.D.
“I had a lot of conversations about how extensive the problem was,” said K.J. Rawson, an assistant professor of English at Holy Cross and director of the archive. “Eight years after I first encountered these challenging research experiences, I finally started developing this resource.”
Historically speaking, transgender is a relatively new term, appearing at the end of the 20th century, Rawson said. In the midst of his research, he looked at issues of privacy, language, and ethics as well as the broader idea of challenging and transgressing gender norms throughout history.
Rawson worked at 15 of the 21 institutions and organizations represented -- or soon to be represented -- in the archive. Among the collections is a newsletter from South Africa called Fanfare. It was published from 1986-1988 by an organization of cross-dressers called The Phoenix Society. In addition, the archive includes local materials from the Fantasia Fair, a conference held every October, that began in Provincetown in 1974, as well as from a local society of crossdressers in a collection called the “Early Tiffany Club Documents.”
The website has already gotten about 3,000 hits prior to going live, Steuer said.
“A number of transgender individuals have already reached out with gratitude to find a history they weren’t able to find and read about before,” said Rawson.
“To know that they’re not alone in this, and it’s not the first time someone is experiencing what they’re experiencing. That this has been happening for a really long time.”