Transgender issues have entered the public conversation in a big way. To those without much direct connection to them, they might all seem to have come up suddenly, with little precedent, within the past few years. But most phenomena that seem to have achieved instant prominence have a rich, if long-hidden, history behind them. In this case, you can now discover a great deal of the history at the new Digital Transgender Archive, an "international collaboration among more than twenty colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations, and private collections" aiming to create "a generative point of entry into the fascinating and expansive world of trans history."
Hyperallergic's Claire Voon has more on the site's origins, including words from the project's leader, College of the Holy Cross English professor K.J Rawson. Its impetus came from the problem that “a lot of trans-related materials were held in dissipated collections, and it wasn’t really clear who had what, why they had it, how it related to other collections, and how it was accessible to researchers." The Digital Transgender Archive replaces some of the unnecessary arduousness under which those researchers used to labor, providing them with a simple search box or, an ability to browse by collection, institution, geographic location, genre, or topic.
Ranked by the number of the items in the archive, that topic list gives a vivid overview of the sorts of social practices and categories best represented there: crossdressers and crossdressing rank first and second, respectively, followed by the rest of a top-twenty, including drag queens, photography, activists, and actors.
Given the importance of the visual to transgender culture, it should come as no surprise that the Digital Transgender Archive's growing collection of documents, photographs, periodicals, and "ephemera," organized all together for the first time, offers plenty of striking material to look at — as well as to introduce the history of a world about which few could openly communicate before now.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.