Radical History: GLAPN’s Community-Based Archive

Radical History photo

By Ampersand Crates, GLAPN

We often see the term “radical” used to describe politics and modes of thinking, but what exactly does this mean? The word “radical” stems from the Latin radix, meaning “root.” Think of a conversation with a young child, where they ask a seemingly simple question:

“Did you go to school too when you were younger?”
“Yes, I did,” you answer.
You pause. “Well, children need to go to school because that’s how they learn things from teachers.”
The child shrugs and asks, “Why?”

And so on they ask after every answer you give to every question they pose, continually peeling away the layers of meaning and subtext until they either get to the origin of that particular human institution or, at least, know where they next need to hunt for answers.  That child is practicing radical thinking.

History, much like education, is often structured on the assumption of hierarchy: the study and preservation of our past belongs to the extensively trained archivists and degreed historians, both of whom we assess as authority figures. Information is circulated linearly, from top to bottom, and those who are not trained as creators are mere consumers. But looking through a radical lens, we will find ourselves asking, “Why?”

A community-based archive is an alternate way of viewing the creation of our historical record. Instead of following the creator-to-consumer model, all members of a community-based archive are creators and contributors. It’s an empowering concept, and it is especially important to consider when documenting queer and trans history. Personally, I tend to emphasize three reasons for this importance:

  • If we rely solely on trained experts and mainstream media outlets, we are left with an incomplete and inaccurate record. Historians record history, but the actual creation of history rests with us all. Imagine a protest attended by thousands of demonstrators; while it’s true there is a single event taking place, every one of those protestors brings their own perspective and experience to the forefront. An outside observer will only be able to piece together the overarching story of this protest; collectively, the voices of the demonstrators merge to create a more complete and potent history.
  • Primary sources are infinitely valuable in historical terms, and many of them never see the light of day due to perceived insignificance by their creators. Primary sources are basically the raw materials of history—they include diaries/journals, letters, event flyers, articles of clothing, etc. These sources can be intensely personal, offering an unfiltered look into the individual experiences behind crucial periods of queer and trans history that otherwise receive little to no coverage. Using a community-based model of archiving history, every voice is given value and unique consideration. Primary sources are recognized for their value precisely because they comprise the core of our lived reality as a community, free from any spin or bias.
  • Telling our stories, sharing our memories, and saving remnants from our past are all ways to assert our worth and significance in a world that is often violently opposed to our existence. If we view history as a collective effort, we empower ourselves to mold the narrative of queer and trans struggles in a way that centers our humanity and autonomy. A community-based archive also excels in amplifying our intersecting identities. Much of history focuses on a singular narrative that is white, wealthy, cisgender, heterosexual, and male; if we shape history ourselves, we subvert this paradigm and center those at the complex intersections of identity.

Do you have a story to share? An old journal from your early days of activism? A homemade sign from the first time you participated in a demonstration? We invite you to connect with us! Every one of us has a story to share, and every story gives us a broader understanding of where we came from and where we hope to be. In the realm of radical history, your experience is at the center of our movement, and we want to help you preserve it.

          GLAPN currently meets on the 4th Thursday of every month, from 7 PM to 9 PM, at Q Center. For more information, contact us through email at info@glapn.org.