Statement of Positionality

Olivia is a cisgendered Black lesbian, autistic, Disabled woman from a class-advantaged background. Our research, like ourselves, is shaped by our unique experiences and upbringings. Olivia believes that including your particular background remains important when working with materials on the axis of disability, classism, sexuality, gender, racism, and injustice.

She focuses on how to apply Disability Justice to the larger work as information professionals. Her personal research is on Disability Theory, Crip theory, Queer studies, Black diasporic, and Lesbian studies. Olivia loves powerlifting, the color pink, cozy gaming on her Switch, romance novels, and crocheting!

Olivia with pink and purple hair in her apartment wearing headphones.

Project Summary

‘On Selfhood: Young Lesbians within the Margins’ documents the lives of 42 multiply marginalized Lesbians from the ages 18-25 through oral histories and item collecting. The organizing questions for this collecting project focused on how Lesbians within the margins arrived at their Lesbian identity. How did they think about their Lesbianism in relation to their other marginalities? Also, how are young Lesbians crafting, forming, and creating communities from their beds, homes, apartments, and online? On Selfhood deeply invests in the personal while creating histories of our present moment.  This is a ‘real time’ collection that pushes the boundaries of what is historically significant, capturing present-day youth culture. This collection is also a completely community-focused, community-centered project from the creation of the interview questions to the description itself.

Four prints made by Baylee.

There are 42 collections with an anonymous collection where participants felt more comfortable sharing their items. 38 people chose oral histories and 4 people wrote their stories. Every collection either has an oral history or a written story. People included items like collages, paintings, drawings, song lyrics, audio diaries, journal entries, essays, poetry, stage plays, t-shirts, zines, photography, polaroids, and prints.

A shoebox filled with Fabliha’s audio diary cassette tapes.

Processing History

Olivia first created a Google Form where people introduced themselves, why they wanted to join the project, what they think would improve the process, as well as negotiating their levels of access. They decided whether or not they wanted a virtual recording,  in person recording, or written story. Everyone got to decide how they wanted their name displayed, their age, or if they wanted their face at all attached to their oral history.

The questions themselves were crafted in community with other multiply marginalized Lesbians whose marginalities Olivia did not hold personally to create inclusive questions. The questions evolved as the project progressed where every single participant added to the questions’ depth.

All the Lesbians with oral histories engaged in pre-interviews where they talked with Olivia, the project coordinator, going through the questions deciding what worked and what they wanted to change, learning about each other, and discussing what would make sense to donate or display. It was incredibly important for Olivia not to force anyone to answer questions they had never seen or were uncomfortable with. For the written story, everyone was given a list of questions that they could choose which ones they wanted to respond to. All the written stories include the questions that they were asked to respond to. 

Everyone engaged in this project knew that they would donate items as well. The item donation and exhibition curation idea was to represent the wholeness of every Lesbian involved beyond their marginalities. Furthermore, the exhibition and collection is supposed to address archival silences; a self-conscious awareness about what stories from who are normally excluded from the historical narrative. Olivia wants this exhibition to think about art as a creative outlet for processing identities and yearning for community. 

Nina posing behind a painting of themselves, moving out of their New York City apartment.

This is also a community description project where every participant described their own items individually foregrounding their own agency to describe themselves and their materials. Olivia went in and changed spelling, pronouns, tense, and added some context when necessary. Olivia also summarized all the oral histories herself. When thinking about content warnings, Olivia decided on tagging and keywords to notify listeners of potentially triggering contents. Because of the storytellers’ multiple marginalities, avoiding triggering content or marking it out completely would be futile and a disservice to the openness each Lesbian shared in their lives. If you have personal questions about triggering content in a specific oral history, please email mmlesbianoralhistory@gmail.com.

Rights Statement

Every participant maintains the rights to their collection. If you want to publish, Olivia would send you contact information for whatever participant’s items you want to utilize. Email to get information on how to publish at mmlesbianoralhistory@gmail.com.