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University Libraries

Informed, Aware, Alive

By Henry Handley

What do the University Libraries have to do with Transgender Awareness Week (Nov. 13-19) and Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20)? Libraries and archives are in the awareness business as repositories of information and collective memory. The number of banned and challenged books in the United States that feature LGBTQ+ characters and experiences indicates just how powerful library access to information and community history can be. 

Information is a matter of survival for many trans people, myself among them. LGBTQ+ materials in archives give us a connection to a shared past, a sustaining link to our own experiences and activism. We often don’t have those connections in our families of origin or in geographic communities; instead of connection, there is isolation and, all too often, the pervasive threat of violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, sometimes abbreviated as TDOR, was created in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, a trans woman who was murdered in November 1998. Alongside the annual in-person vigils, a community web archive of the lives and deaths of other victims sprung up online as well. A majority of victims of anti-trans violence are Black, Indigenous and people of color, and many are trans women. And while there is growing awareness of racism as a public health crisis in the United States, you might not have heard that the American Medical Association declared anti-trans violence an epidemic in 2019. 

Consider reading the stories behind the names recited this year, particularly if you don’t experience the effects of racism or transphobia. In May, Tony McDade was killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida, one of too many victims of police violence whose death meant the need to affirm, yet again, that Black lives matter. Riah Milton, a trans woman who was killed in Cincinnati two weeks later, was misnamed and misgendered in official reports and news stories about her death, like far too many other trans people. At the very least, say their names — in activism, in reflection, in prayers or intentions, in whatever ways you find most honor their memory in your life.

Transgender Awareness Week overlaps with Community Means Everyone Week at UD (Nov. 15-21 this year), a time for raising LGBTQ+ awareness and affirming LGBTQ+ existence on campus. As trans people, our struggle is to be seen and remembered by cisgender people every day, not just during Transgender Awareness Week. Don’t stop here! You can make learning from and supporting trans people a regular practice. And if you’re trans yourself, learning more about trans histories and cultures can go a long way toward combating isolation. But don’t just take this trans librarian’s word for it! Get started with the resources below.

From Roesch Library

  • Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton — Eschewing the erasure of Black figures from trans history, this book traces the intersections between Blackness and transness from the mid-19th century to the present day.
  • Transgender History by Susan Stryker — Covering American transgender history from the mid-20th century to the present, this book takes a chronological approach to the subject of transgender history, with each chapter covering major movements, writings and events. 
  • Archives of Sexuality & Gender: LGBTQ History and Culture since 1940 — This collection of primary sources for the historical study of sex, sexuality and gender contains materials that date to the 16th century, providing information about sexual norms; health and hygiene; the development of sex education; the rise of sexology; changing gender roles; social movements and activism; and erotica.

For allies

  • Being Transgender: What You Should Know by Thomas E. Bevan — Written for general audiences, this book answers many questions about being transgender with current experiential and scientific information, including the evidence for a biological transgender predisposition.

Other resources

— Henry Handley is an assistant professor and collections librarian in the Marian Library.

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