Random Scribblings (frightened) wrote in queerhistory,
Random Scribblings

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Queer history, oral history and attitude

Quick explanation/introduction: I'm a lesbian from Birmingham, England. I'm starting an MPhil in 20th-century British history, and my dissertation topic is the West Midlands (the county I live in) LGBT community after 1967 (when homosexual acts in private between two males were legalised in Britain). As far as I can tell, there hasn't been anything written specifically focussing on the development of this community, and since it's my community, I wanted to study its history.

I've been thinking some more about my dissertation topic. I hope I can get some of this angst into the bibliographical essay. Hell, something's got to fill the gap created by the lack of existing literature to write about... The thing is, I'm aware that it's completely obnoxious to
  1. Expect a member of a group to educate someone who is not a member of that group, and
  2. Treat an individual as a spokesperson for a group.
When people try that with me, depending on how well-meaning I think they are, they get either let down gently or fixed with the Cold Glare Of Death. Which is a bit of a problem, given that my dissertation's going to involve quite a bit of oral history.

LGBTQ is an umbrella. Yes, I have the advantage, in this context, of not being heterosexual (it's not often I get to use that sentence). But there's still privilege within that - being born later, I'm lucky. Being born a gender I'm happy with, I'm lucky. Being someone who doesn't look particularly butch (until I start shifting heavy objects, anyway) and is happy with that, I'm lucky - much as passing gets annoying, it does save you hassle. It's all unearned privilege, which creates the perfectly understandable response, "Why is it my job to educate you?"

I'm particularly thinking in terms of trans history. I'd really like to talk to the people at Transformation's Handsworth shop, which opened in 1985 to predictable disgust from the Evening Mail (the fairly right-wing local paper). In the great 'should LGB have a T?' debate, I'm very definitely in favour, so it's important to me not to ignore the West Midlands trans community (and there were support groups back in the 1970s, advertised in the Birmingham Gay Liberation Front newsletter - it was definitely there). But I'm not trans, and they've got no obligation whatsoever to indulge my curiosity.

I don't mean this in some kind of whiny, overprivileged "ooooh, I don't see why they can't be nicer to me" kind of way. Firstly, I haven't actually spoken to anyone yet, and this is all just me thinking out loud. Secondly, as I said, it's really obnoxious to act as though you have a right to anything from members of a disadvantaged group. The problem is all mine: trying to figure out how not to act like that.

(Also posted in historygrads)
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