To coincide with the Launch of the Call for Papers for OUTing The Past 2019, the Comms team has reached out to previous contributors, in order to showcase the work that participants and audiences may come to expect from the Festival. Cheryl Morgan has presented at the past two OTP Festivals, and she was kind enough to share what inspired her to be involved in ‘LGBT History’ and an activist:
I’ve always loved history, but having chosen not to make a career of it I didn’t expect to do much more than read books and watch TV documentaries. All that changed when I discovered LGBT history, and the opportunity to get involved in actual research of my own.
We talk a lot about the value of history as activism, but for trans people it is absolutely crucial. So much of the discussion about trans lives in the media centres on the idea that being trans is somehow a new thing that has been recently invented. That is inevitably followed by the claim that it can, and should be, un-invented.
The reality, as anyone who has studied trans history knows, is that trans people have always been with us. Most societies through human history have had some means of coping with the fact that some people are uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth. Indeed, many of these societies have had a much more humane attitude towards gender variance than we have today.
The problem is that none of this is taught. Trans people tend not to become famous, and when they have their stories have often been omitted from the history we learn at school, or they have been portrayed in a very negative light. Therefore most people are totally unaware of the long history of gender variance in human society.
For me, uncovering that history, and presenting it to a wider audience, has become something of a passion. The Outing the Past project has given me the opportunity to present my research in all sorts of places around the country. Along the way I have learned how to do historical research, and to become confident at public speaking.
Of course research does sometimes require talking to actual academics, but for the most part I have found them very approachable. Many have been absolutely delighted to discuss trans history with someone who has actual trans experience. We have a lot to learn from each other.
In addition there is now a small but wonderful group of young historians who identify as trans. Working with them has been an absolute pleasure.
We are only at the beginning here. Trans history has a long way to go, as evidenced by the ongoing debates about how we actually understand gender variance in the past. But it is always exciting to be in on the ground floor of a new movement. I hope to see a lot more trans historians giving talks in future years.