I Get Censored
©2011 by Dallas Denny
Source: Dallas Denny. (2011). I get censored: A never-before-told tale of intrigue, enforced secrecy, and missing transgender archival material. Chrysalis Quarterly, 3(1).
I Get Censored
A Never-Before-Told Tale of Intrigue, Enforced Secrecy, and Missing Transgender Archival Material
by Dallas Denny
Back Story: How Gender Education & Advocacy Found a New Home for Its Collection of Transgender Historical Material
In 2000 the 501(c)(3) nonprofit I founded in 1990 changed its name and method of operation, moving from a stamp-and-envelope model to electronic dissemination of information via a website.
That nonprofit was The American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc., which became Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.
One of AEGIS’ assets was The National Transgender Library & Archive, which was formed in 1994 when I donated my extensive collection to the organization. As AEGIS’ director, I continued to acquire material for the collection, and by 1999 the NTL&A filled two bedrooms of my home. Materials included some 100 community newsletters and magazines collected over a 20-year-span, more than a thousand books, several hundred mainstream magazines with transgender content, several hundred early transgender magazines from the 1960s and 1970s, flyers, pamphlets, program books from conferences and nightclubs, photographs, and extensive correspondence.
Highlights of the collection included two pairs of Virginia Prince’s shoes from the 1940s, a 1953 program book from Madame Arthur’s female impersonation club in Paris, a complete run of Transvestia, extensive runs of Female Mimics and Lee Brewster’s Drag, a special presentation copy of John Money and Richard Green’s 1969 edited text Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment donated by the widow of Dr. Leo Wollman, postcards and photographs dating from the turn of the XXth century, a score or more of autographed books, and personal histories of transgendered and transsexual people.
GEA’s decision to divest itself of the collection was not made lightly. We had no budget for storing the collection, much less displaying it, and yet we felt it needed to be accessible. And so as the new century dawned we sent a request for proposals to more than a score of archives, libraries, universities, and historical organizations and published the RFP on our GAIN news service; GAIN did then what AEGIS Online News had done before it and what the Yahoo group Transgender News would do in later years.
In the RFP we asked a number of questions. Why was the organization interested in the materials? Would it keep the entire collection? How would it be housed? Would it be catalogued, and if so, how long would cataloguing take? Would scholars and researchers have access to the collection?
After the RFP was released, we developed a formal list of in-house criteria designed to safeguard the physical and intellectual safety of the collection.
GEA's Request for Proposals
For Immediate Release: 13 January, 2000
P.O. Box 33724
Decatur, GA 30033-0724
Deadline for Proposals: 15 March, 2000
REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS
GEA IS SEEKING A PERMANENT HOME FOR ITS NATIONAL TRANSGENDER LIBRARY & ARCHIVE
Gender Education and Advocacy (GEA) is in search of a permanent home for its National Transgender Library & Archive (NTL&A), a large collection of books, magazines, catalogs, flyers, personal papers, and ephemera about transsexualism and transgenderism, currently located in Atlanta, GA.
GEA is requesting proposals from organizations which are interested in acquiring, housing, and maintaining the NTL&A.
The collection will be awarded to the library, archive, or other nonprofit organization which best demonstrates a willingness and ability to house, catalog, and continue to develop the collection, while allowing scholars access to the materials.
Deadline for proposals is 15 March, 2000. Proposals should be e-mailed to <email@example.com> or sent via U.S. mail to GEA, P.O. Box 33724, Decatur, GA 30033. To be considered, proposals must be postmarked on or before 3/15/2000 or in our e-mail box before 12:01 am 3/16/2000.
On 30 April, 2000, the GEA board will announce its decision about a new home for the NTL&A. based on the following areas of concern:
1. What is your organization, and why is it interested in acquiring this collection?
2. Do you plan to keep the entire collection, or only those parts you consider historical or otherwise worth safeguarding?
3. Do you plan to keep the collection intact or merge it with another collection or collections?
4. When and under what conditions will the collection be available to researchers? To the public?
5. What are your physical facilities? Where do you plan to initially use the collection? What will be its eventual location? How will you protect it from heat, light, moisture, insect and plant damage, theft, etc.?
6. What personnel resources do you plan to devote to the collection? Do you plan to catalog it, and if so, how? Do you plan to acquire new materials to add to the collection?
7. How can you guarantee your organization will be financially able to house the NTL&A 10 years from now? 25 years from now? 100 years from now?
8. Please describe when and how you will transport the collection from Atlanta to its new location. Please keep in mind the fact that the
collection will fill a large U-Haul truck.
Proposals can be any length. Short proposals are appropriate so long as you feel they sufficiently address nos. 1-8, above.
WE LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING FROM EVERY INTERESTED PARTY
GEA's Checklist for Decision-Making
Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.
Checklist for Decision-Making, NTL&A Proposal
0 = Poor, or no track record 5 = Excellent reputation
0 = Poor, or no track record
5 = Excellent reputation
0 = Least Secure/ no facility 5 = Most Secure
0 = Least Secure/ no facility
5 = Most Secure
0 = Least Secure (e.g., depends on yearly fundraising) 5 = Most Secure (e.g., operated from endowment)
0 = Least Secure (e.g., depends on yearly fundraising)
5 = Most Secure (e.g., operated from endowment)
0 = Not availability to researchers 5 = Readily available to researchers
0 = Not availability to researchers
5 = Readily available to researchers
0 = Remote location, or problems with access 5 = Easily Accessible No. Hours available/week
0 = Remote location, or problems with access
5 = Easily Accessible
No. Hours available/week
0 = No personnel available to maintain collection 5 = One or more full-time staff persons assigned to collection
0 = No personnel available to maintain collection
5 = One or more full-time staff persons assigned to collection
GEA Press Release: NTL&A Moves to New Home
27 November, 2000
For Immediate Release
National Transgender Library & Archive Moves to New Home
In September 2000, the National Transgender Library & Archive was transported from its former home in Atlanta, Georgia to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it is now housed as part of the Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan Library.
In January 2000, the Board of Directors of GEA began a national search for a new home for the NTL&A, which had grown too large to house. A call for proposals was distributed via the internet and existing archives were contacted to determine their interest in the collection.
By the deadline data of 15 March, the Board had received 14 excellent proposals from prestigious institutions across the United States. Board members evaluated and ranked each proposal according to pre-determined criteria, and after a lengthy telephone conference in early April in which both objective criteria and subjective feelings were discussed, determined that the NTL&A would be awarded to the Labadie Collection, with any duplicate material going to the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California. The decision was a difficult one, for the proposals were truly outstanding and the Directors had deep feelings about the importance of the NTL&A and how it should be best preserved in perpetuity.
Board Chair Jamison Green contacted those who had submitted proposals to inform them of the Board’s decision, and a September date was set for the physical transfer of the collection to Ann Arbor.
The National Transgender Library & Archive, now located in Ann Arbor, Michigan as part of the Labadie Collection, University of Michigan Library, was born out of the private collection of AEGIS founder and Executive Director Dallas Denny. The NTL&A is a repository for books, magazines, films, videotapes, journals and newspaper articles, unpublished papers, photographs, artwork, letters, personal papers, memorabilia, and ephemera related to the transgender and transsexual condition. The NTL&A is believed to be the largest catalogued collection of transgender-related materials in existence.
Those interested in visiting the NTL&A should contact Julie Herrada, Curator, Labadie Collection, 7th Floor, Hatcher Graduate Library, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1205, 734/764-9377 (voice), 734/764-9368 (FAX), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A comprehensive list of the NTL&A’s holdings can be found at GEA’s website, http://www.gender.org.
Gender Education and Advocacy (GEA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation which serves as a clearinghouse for information about transgender issues. GEA maintains the website http://www.gender.org, which is the organization’s main tool for information dissemination. GEA is the successor organization of the American Educational Gender Information Service.
By the March 15 deadline we had 14 serious proposals from a variety of universities and nonprofits, including The Kinsey Institute, The GLBT Service Center in New York City, The GLBT Historical Society of Northern California, The University of California at Northridge, The University of Minnesota, The University of Michigan, Cornell University, and two universities in Illinois. We also had a proposal from the Rikki Swin Institute, which was then known as the Gender Education, Research, and Library Institute.
When the proposals were all in I made photocopies of each and mailed them in a package to GEA’s board, which at the time consisted of myself, Dr. Sandra Cole, Jamison Green, Gwendolyn Smith, Jessica Xavier, and the late Penni Ashe Matz. I asked the board members to use our checklist to evaluate the proposals and to think about any qualitative concerns they might have about choosing the recipient of the NTL&A.
Several weeks later we met in a lengthy telephone conference call. We discussed each applicant, using the checklist to narrow the field down to four institutions. I asked the board members to talk about their qualitative concerns.
It was soon clear that everything else being equal, we all would prefer the material remain with a community-based transgender organization. We all wanted to safeguard against our history becoming lost in a larger collection of GLBT or general human sexuality materials. But we all agreed physical and intellectual safety of the collection was of top concern– and that meant a recipient with long-term prospects of financial stability and a physical facility capable of storing and displaying the materials. No transgender organization offered this.
We had a special discussion about the Rikki Swin Institute. We each expressed concern about awarding our materials to a brand-new organization created and headed by a new and unproven community activist.
At that point Jamison Green told the board Ms. Swin had told him privately that she would fund GEA to the tune of $40,000 if her organization were to be awarded our collection.
We were stunned, but we all agreed not to let money influence our decision because our RFP had specifically noted that money would not be a factor and because the safety and accessibility of the collection was what mattered most to us all.
In the end it came down to three organizations– The University of Minnesota, The University of Michigan, and The GLBT Historical Society of Northern California.
We liked the idea of the Historical Society, but eliminated it because it had no hard funding. We did agree to ask our awardee to send all duplicate material to the Society.
That left the two universities. They had equally strong presentations, and we felt sure our materials would be safe at either. However, although the University of Minnesota was planning to build a facility that could house our collection, the University of Michigan already had one. This, in the opinion of the Board, gave Michigan precedence.
Because Dr. Cole was a retired professor at U. Michigan, we had a discussion about a perception of bias in the community and whether it might be best to make the award to Minnesota. In the end we did what was best for the collection and for the community and made the award to The University of Michigan.
The next morning I phoned Julie Herrada, curator of the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, to let her know of our decision, and sent out letters to each organization to thank them for their proposal and inform them of our decision.
Everyone took it in good grace except Ms. Swin, who phoned me to ask– it felt like a demand– to send a team to Georgia to photocopy every page of our collection. I took her request to the board and responded to Ms. Swin as directed by the board, saying as the collection was now the property of the University of Michigan, she would need to get their permission to make the copies. That was pretty much the end of that.
A month or so later Dr. Herrada flew to Atlanta and filled a large U-Haul truck with our boxed archival material and made the long drive back to Michigan. Within two years the collection was catalogued and online and available to researchers scholars. We had made a good choice.
In 2004 the University of Michigan Library held a reception in my honor. On display under glass were materials from the National Transgender Library & Archive, including a pair of Virginia Prince’s shoes, the 1953 Madame Arthur’s program book, and an assortment of rare old flyers and books. Officials from the university, Ann Arbor, and the state of Michigan spoke, as did Dr. Sandra Cole, who with Julie Herrda had organized the event. I was brought to tears.
Sandra wrote an article which appeared in the Summer 2005 issue of Tapestry (#108) and the event was covered by the local and university press.
The Rikki Swin Collection Vanishes
In 2000 Rikki Swin announced the formation of the Gender Education Research Library. The name was soon changed to the Rikki Swin Institute. RSI soon acquired IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
RSI aggressive pursued existing transgender collections, offering cash. Long-term community activists Virginia Prince, Merissa Sherrill Lynn, and Ariadne Kane sold RSI their collections and the Institute acquired materials from Betty Ann Lind’s estate. RSI purchased the archival material of the International Foundation for Gender Education, including file copies of their journal Tapestry. As I already noted, Ms. Swin submitted a bid for our NTL&A collection.
In one fell swoop, Ms. Swin had purchased a huge portion of our community’s historical materials.
Ms. Swin celebrated the opening of her organization’s library concurrently with the 2001 conference of the International Foundation for Gender Education in Chicago. Conference attendees were whisked by busses to attend an elegant reception in a downtown three-story brick building Ms. Swin had purchased.
Her extensive collection of recently-acquired transgender historical materials was nowhere in sight, but we were assured it was in the building and would soon be available. One attendee, unimpressed with the brouhaha, or possibly with the hors d’oeuvres, said to me out of the side of her mouth, “Nice box. Wonder what’s in it?”
That comment stuck with me. When I got home I wrote an article suggesting Ms. Swin was acting out of personal vanity. It was one of only two times I have resorted to a pen name– in this case, “Lotta Hubris.” The piece was published in July in the Renaissance Association’s Transgender Community News & Views.
Several of my friends and acquaintances told me they had seen Ms. Swin’s collection (most of it was boxed, they said) and two expressed concern about the safety of the material. Ms. Swin announced she had hired a librarian, but the collections were never made public or publicly catalogued. Then, a year or so after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Ms. Swin and her institute– and her extensive collection of transgender historical materials– simply vanished from sight.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Ms. Swin had relocated to another country– Canada– and was living on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Word was she was having conversations with the University of Victoria about acquiring the collection, but it was only a rumor. The location and safety of the Rikki Swin Institute’s extensive holdings of transgender historical material was still very much in doubt.
The Editor of Transgender Tapestry is Censored
Because I was worried about the well- being of so much transgender historical material, I decided to take my concerns to the community. In 2004, in my capacity as editor of IFGE’s Transgender Tapestry Journal, I wrote an editorial called “Where Is Our History?” in which I took Ms. Swin to task over her irresponsibility with so much transgender historical material.
IFGE Executive Director Denise Leclair asked me to hold the editorial until the next issue, and I did. She did the same for the next issue, and the next, and the next, and I complied. Finally, in 2007 I insisted the editorial go to press. Ms. Leclair made it clear the editorial would never appear in Tapestry; this was the biggest factor in my resignation as editor. I refused to be associated with an organization that would withhold important information from the community it professed to serve.
My editorial was never published. Now, for the first time, it is seeing the light of day.
The Rikki Swin Collection Resurfaces in Another Country
In September 2011, at the international symposium of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health in Atlanta, sociologist Aaron Devor (pictured) gave a presentation at which he announced the acquisition of the Rikki Swin Institute’s holdings by the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Dr. Devor said an official announcement would be made soon.
For years, I had been hope for just such an announcement. It was a relief to know Ms. Swin’s historical material, which had been missing in action for some seven years, was in the hands of such a respected institution, and apparently had been for some time.
I have reservations about an American collection belonging to an American nonprofit going to another country, but all-in-all I’m thrilled the material is safe and will soon be catalogued and available to researchers. Ms. Swin is to be commended for making the donation, especially since the material cost her tens of thousands of dollars. I only wish she had kept the community informed about the location and condition of her archive.
I Make the Decision to Visit the World’s Major Transgender Archives
It feels so good to be able to finally tell this story! It’s no fun being censored.
I’m grateful for the integrity of the board of Gender Education & Advocacy in handling our own historical materials, and pleased the University of Michigan has done such a great job cataloging our collection and making it available. Most of all I’m happy this story has a happy ending.
I find it amazing so much of our history was sold rather than donated. I can understand why Virginia Prince, Ariadne Kane, and Merissa Sherrill Lynn, all of whom were living in reduced circumstances, would sell their materials, but I’m less forgiving about those handling Betty Ann Lind’s estate and furious about IFGE’s divestment of its historical material. I’m not sure which I consider the greater betrayal: IFGE’s sale of the material or its later cover-up of news that the material had gone missing.
The surfacing of Ms. Swin’s collection and the happy accident of my having been in the room when Dr. Devor made his presentation led me to make a vow: over the next several years I plan to visit major archives of transgender material around the world and report on my adventures and finding in these pages and, if I can find the money to travel, at the 2014 WPATH symposium in Thailand. I’ll be visiting collections in British Columbia, California, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Germany, Denmark, and Northern Ireland. This is no small undertaking, but I’m determined to do it. I’m not sure anyone has done it before.
Preserving Our History
Before the mid-1990 transgender historical materials were in the hands of private collectors and archives of community organizations or scattered widely as single volumes in libraries. When organizations dissolved, so, too, did their papers. For instance, when the Erickson Foundation disincorporated, Executive Director Zelda Supple, at the instruction of Board Chair Reed Erickson, destroyed the organization’s correspondence and archival material. Privately-held collections usually disappeared when their owners passed away and were often purged during individual’s lifetime. Transgendered and transsexual people are, after all, infamous for purging.
Not only did researchers find it difficult and expensive to track down resources, most transgendered and transsexual people were unable to find materials of any sort. Libraries– even those of universities– would have at best only three or four books, and bookstore finds were rare.
I suppose the reason I’m so passionate about trans history is because for years I was unable to find material– and when I finally did, it was horrible and inaccurate psychomedical books.
My Own Experience
I wasn’t about to ask the library for the reserved book (considering my age, she probably wouldn’t have given it to me anyway. Every week for months, and occasionally over the next four years I checked the library to see if that “checked out” book was in, but it never was. Years later I realized it had either been stolen by someone, like me, too ashamed to check it out, or destroyed by a hater.
When I was in college I stumbled across a compendium of underground comics with a delightful story of a transsexual woman who was looking all over San Francisco for a source for estrogen. I loved the story, but, having no money, I had to settle for reading it whenever I was in the library. (I’m still looking for that story! Please contact me if you know the author, title and issue!)
When I was in my late twenties and pursuing sex reassignment, I took myself to the medical library at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. There I found horrible books by the likes of Robert Stoller and Leslie Lothstein, and journal articles, none of which painted a positive picture of transsexuals.
My first “find” was Patricia Morgan’s The Man-Made Doll (1973, Lyle Stuart, Inc.), an autobiography by a transgendered prostitute. It was horrible in its own way, but at least it was authentic! I was in my mid-30s when I stumbled across it at a flea market.
Things got better after I transitioned– and the newly-available internet helped a lot. Suddenly I was finding LOTS of material. I remember talking to Ms. Bob Davis, a San-Francisco based collector. The year would have been about 1993. We were wondering how much our material was worth. I remember Bob saying, “In ten years, maybe, there will be a market and we’ll know.”
Well, that market is here. A wealth of transgender material is available on eBay, from the Advanced Book Exchange, on Amazon, and from private websites, and I’ve a good idea of the monetary value of vintage books, magazines, and other materials. Bob was right!
Today there are at least a dozen publicly available archives, some transgender-exclusive, and some significant portions of larger LGBT collections. And yet they represent only a fraction of the material out there.
At long last we have a history. You can help to make it stronger. Please do your part!