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The Origin of the National Transgender Library & Archive (2004)

The Origin of the National Transgender Library & Archive (2004)

©2004, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2004, 25 March). The origin of the National Transgender Library & Archive. Program book for Dedication of the National Transgender Library & Archive, Labadie Special Collections, Hatcher Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.



Thumbnail Image: The Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan is home to the NTL&A. The Labadie preserves the history of hundreds of social movements.

About This Article

In 1994 I founded the Transgender Historical Society and the National Transgender Library & Archive. I seeded the archive with my personal collection and material acquired by The American Educational Gender Information Service, the nonprofit I founded in 1990. In 2000 the NTL&A moved to the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where it’s available to researchers, students and faculty at the university, and the general public. The collection has been fully catalogued since 2001.

In 1994 my good friend Dr. Sandra Cole worked with the Labadie to host a dedication ceremony. I flew to Michigan for the impressive ceremony. Speakers included myself, Sandra, Labadie curator Julie Harrada, University Provost Paul Courant, and State Sen. Liz Brater.

On display were selected items from the collection, including two pairs of 50-year-old shoes worn by Virginia Prince in her younger days.

The Origin of the National Transgender Library & Archive

By Dallas Denny


When I was fourteen years old, I went to the card catalogue of the public library in the small (pop. 30,000) southern town in which I lived and looked up the words transvestite and transsexual. I was scared to death.

There were only two books listed. One was in the reference section— and I wasn’t about to ask the librarian for a book on that subject! The other was shelved in the stacks, but I couldn’t locate it despite repeated searches over the course of the summer and fall. Since I lacked the nerve to ask the librarian about its disposition, since I wasn’t comfortable talking about my transsexualism with my parents, minister, or teachers, and since I knew nowhere else to go for information, I went without.

Around 1975, I was in the bookstore of my college and happened upon a compendium of underground comics that included a story about a San Francisco transsexual. I had little money to spare for nonessentials, so I didn’t buy it, and more’s the pity, because for nearly 20 years, it was the only piece of literature I was able to find that depicted transsexuals as anything other than desperately unhappy, mentally deranged, or woefully sinful.

A few years later, I happened across a transgender-themed book in a remainder bin in a mall. The Man-Maid Doll, a sordid autobiography of a transgendered prostitute in New York City, was the first acquisition of what would eventually become the National Transgender Library & Archive.

The Man-Maid Doll was soon supplemented with photocopies of journal articles and book chapters acquired at the medical library of Vanderbilt University; without exception, the material focused on the moral failings, character defects, personality disorders, and sexual deviations of transsexuals and crossdressers. On the basis of this information, I couldn’t understand how I could possibly be transsexual, as I just didn’t seem to be seductive, manipulative, suicidal, unstable, or larcenous enough.

In the fall of 1988, I finally made contact with the forming transgender community. Most of the people I met, medical literature notwithstanding, were more or less like me. Through my new contacts, I finally had access to the information I had been seeking for so many years. Before long, I had a shelf full of books, magazines, and newsletters, and a box full of correspondence. Soon, it had grown to fill a bookcase and a filing cabinet.

I was coming to realize the transgender community had little sense of its history. There seemed to be no libraries, archives, or repositories for material about transsexualism and other transgender behavior; few of the national transgender organizations even maintained file copies of their own publications. A few organizations and individuals had been wise enough to donate archival materials to universities and nonprofits, but for the most part transgender historical materials were being discarded and destroyed on a daily basis.

I hadn’t forgotten how difficult it had been to come by information, and how difficult it had been to make sense of my life in an intellectual vacuum. In the fall of 1990, I found myself, almost to my surprise, forming the American Educational Gender Information Service, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the dissemination of information to help transgendered men and women make informed choices. For nearly ten years, AEGIS would consume my life. I wrote, edited, and published a variety of materials including a quarterly journal (Chrysalis), answered correspondence, staffed a telephone information line, edited what was arguably the world’s first on-line transgender-related newsfeed, started and facilitated a local support group, and co-founded a national conference.

To keep up with what was becoming a flood of materials, in self-defense, really, I began to catalog not only my still-growing private collection, but every piece of transgender-themed material I came across. By 1992, there were thousands and thousands of entries.

At the urging of renowned sexologist and historian Vern Bullough, I signed a contract with Garland Publishers and in 1994 Gender Dysphoria: A Guide to Research was released. Weighing in at more than 650 pages, it represented the very thing my fourteen-year-old self had been seeking— access to information.

In the face of the general lack of interest in transgender history, I founded the National Transgender Library & Archive in 1992, establishing it as a division of AEGIS. I seeded the NTLA with my private collection, which had grown large, and began to actively acquire materials. By 1993, the NTLA filled two large bedrooms in the house in which I lived.

I appealed to the transgender community for financial support for the NTLA, which was now a community asset. To their credit, a dozen or so people sent the $25 I requested, but only one sent more than that, and most contributed but once. I also called for individuals willing to serve as stewards for the collection, but no one stepped forward.

In 1998, AEGIS began its metamorphosis into a new nonprofit organization. Also in 1998, I moved from the five bedroom house I had been renting into a home of my own, a circa 1930s lake cottage too small to house the NTLA. Because my venture into the wonderful world of real estate had left me short of funds, I appealed to the Atlanta community for help; the response was wonderful. Katherine and Erlene M. were kind enough to offer free storage space (they housed the collection for more than two years), and on moving day, Andrea Bennett showed up with her son and one of his friends in a truck she had rented. With the help of other volunteers, we boxed the collection and moved it to its new home, which would keep the materials dry and secure, but, alas, inaccessible in cardboard boxes and plastic bins.

From the ashes of AEGIS, Gender Education & Advocacy was born on 1 January, 2000. The first article of business was the disposition of the NTLA. The GEA board was determined that the collection would have the best possible home. In his accompanying article, Jamison Green, Chair of GEA, describes the laborious and intensive selection process, which culminated in the awarding of the NTLA to the Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan Library System. In September 2000, Julie Harrada traveled to Atlanta to oversee the physical transfer of the NTLA to Ann Arbor.

Immediately upon its arrival in Michigan, the Labadie began the laborious and time-consuming process of unpacking, sorting, labeling, and cataloguing the collection.

In July 2001 I flew to Ann Arbor to visit the collection. The many books were in the stacks and in the university library computer system; to my amazement, a computer search of the words National Transgender Library brought up early a thousand books— today, more than 1200 titles appear. Scholars were already visiting and utilizing the collection. By 2003, the entire collection had been catalogued, an amazing feat.

The Labadie’s aggressive cataloguing, sensitivity to issues of privacy in personal correspondence and sincere appreciation of the NTLA materials have convinced me the GEA board made a wise decision— one which benefits the entire transgender community.



The NTLA contains more than 1000 transgender-themed books published from the 1800s to the present. Some are private or obscure printings or special editions, and some are signed by the authors. There are runs of many years of magazines, newsletters, journals, and newspapers, and clippings dating from the early 20th century. There are garments, including the infamous Transexual Menace t-shirt and two pairs of shoes worn by transgenderist Virginia Prince some 50 years ago. The collection includes lapel pins and buttons, awards, flyers and brochures, name badges, program books, signs, audiocassette tapes, and handouts from conferences, and questionnaires. There are programs from night clubs— my favorite is a 1953 book from Mme. Arthur’s in Paris— playbills, publicity photos from films, old postcards and tintypes, calendars, comic books, sheet music, and greeting cards. There are any number of unpublished manuscripts, original artwork, LPs and video tapes and video disks, movie posters, bumper stickers, mugs, bottles of wine, and key chains and other giveaways. There are packets containing personal histories, and oral histories recorded on tape. If it has a transgender theme and I came across it, it’s in the collection.

The NTLA also contains the corporate files of AEGIS; this includes file copies of all publications, publicity material, and a huge correspondence. Of particular note are thousands of often desperate typed and handwritten requests for help and information. Due to the sensitive and private nature of some of these materials, access is restricted to selected documents.


Dallas Denny

Founder, American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc.

Founding Board Member, Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.

Atlanta, GA

March, 2004


For information on the NTL&A, contact Julie Harrada, Curator, Labadie Collection, Special Collection Library, 711 Hatcher Library South, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1205; 734-764-9377 VOICE; 734-764-9368 FAX; E-MAIL.