Foundations for the Future: Aaron Devor & the Transgender Archives

-Laura Carpentier, Em Von Euw & John Miller

*illustrations rendered by Milo Groundwater

In 2007, the University of Victoria opened the Transgender Archives. This archive is the largest of its kind in the world; offering more than 160 meters of material dating back over 120 years, in 15 languages, from 23 countries, and six continents. Dr. Aaron Devor is the archive’s founder, and the world’s only Chair in Transgender Studies. Devor and the Transgender Archives are monuments to trans history. They return attention to, and thus commemorate, queer voices that have been erased from national memory. Lives outside the cisgender binary—especially non-white lives—have been violently repressed in Canada since colonizers first arrived. Devor and the Transgender Archives work to heal this trauma, undoing such repression by carefully bringing trans embodiments to the centre. Critical of historical Canadian narratives which have focused on cisgender figures, we chose Devor, the trans flag, and Vancouver Island (Coast Salish land) as images for our bill. These images disrupt Canadian cis-story and (re)imagine a mappable transgender past. We recognize that working with the medium of national currency is a perpetuation of colonial state violence; and we believe employing this medium for the purpose of celebrating a subaltern past is an act of resistance to the medium itself. Thanks to the Transgender Archives, we have physical pieces from this temporal space. Holding these memories—now accessible to all—perhaps we can dream of a future in which trans Canadians are paramount to the story, not persecuted.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Agarwal, Kritika. “What is Trans History?” Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazne of the American Historical Association, May 1, 2018.

Ashley, Susan, “The Changing Face of Heritage at Canada’s National Historic Sites.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 13, no. 6 (2007): 478-88.

Beemyn, Genny. “A Presence in the Past: A Transgender Historiography.” Journal of Women’s History 25, no. 4 (2013): 113-121.

Chenier, Elise. “Canada’s LGBTQ coin glosses over radical struggles: When did gay liberation come to mean equality?” Salon, May 26, 2019.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “Minority histories, subaltern pasts.” Postcolonial Studies: Culture, Politics, Economy 1, no. 1 (1998): 15-29.

Devor, Aaron, and Ardel Haefele-Thomas, ed. Transgender: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2019.

Devor, Aaron, and Jamison Green. FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2016.

Devor, Aaron. The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria Libraries, 2014.

Stryker, Susan. Transgender History. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008.

Wilson, Lara. “UVic now has the largest transgender archive in the world.” Times Colonist, October 31, 2012. 


One thought on “Foundations for the Future: Aaron Devor & the Transgender Archives

  1. I wonder what Aaron would say about being on a $2 bill!? It is great to see attention being paid to queer history. Is there a danger in reproducing a “great man” history here, I wonder? What might be the advantages and disadvantages? I hope this project inspires you to continue to ask hard questions about history and visual representation.


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