My friend Julie came to visit me in Lansing last summer. She was in the midst of nine months “on the lam” to rescue their dog Tiberius from hateful neighbors in suburban Maryland. She was living in Saginaw for the time being, in the house where she grew up, and was nearer than she’d been in a couple decades. I relished getting to see her more often, more than I had since we first met working on the newspaper Between The Lines in the mid-1990s, in the paper’s baby years.
I’d pulled my files of obituaries to show her. One file is general obits, one is of AIDS obits, and one labeled “Deaths in Exile” is of obits for people who died from AIDS after moving away from Michigan. I started keeping obits of local LGBTQ folk soon after I bought my first hanging file folders and a Crate-A-File milk crate in the early 1980s from Carlton’s Stationers in Flint, where I grew up. I sat watching as Julie gently turned over each clipping after she’d looked at it. Then she suddenly gasped, “George Fadiga died?!?” George was a devoted gay activist in Metro Detroit until a heart attack took his life at age forty-six. He died in 2000 and Julie hadn’t heard. She’d lived away so long.
I have come to feel a special bond with Julie over the years. She, too, pursued grad school, and so knows the world of academia and the particular lens of LGBTQ studies. She also knows Michigan and the queer possibilities and drawbacks of our home state, from her native Saginaw to Ann Arbor, where she attended the University of Michigan, to Metro Detroit, where she helped run BTL for two years and shepherded Affirmations Community Center as executive director following Jan Stevenson’s tenure. I’m able to talk with Julie about both queer scholarship and real life queer experience in ways that I can with few others. Our shared personal history has enhanced my capacity to do queer history in its many dimensions.
Over the course of the summer, Julie and I had a number of conversations that gave me new sustenance. In addition to prodding me to keep on with revising my dissertation into a book, she pressed me to strategize about ways to make a living while in the midst of adjunct teaching and chasing after tenure-track jobs. She urged me to pursue projects to keep engaged, to do something with all the files I’ve amassed, to give back to our community.
The Michigan LGBTQ Remember website provides a new dimension of queer history/herstory: queer history/herstory through obits. It seeks to document and convey Michigan’s LGBTQ past through real individuals and to do so in ways that a traditional book or documentary cannot. It is meant as a kind of public history/herstory that embraces the idea that the personal is political. The project is inspired and nurtured by my friendship with Julie.
Meanwhile, in this companion blog on Queer Remembering, I hope to consider facets of how we relate to the LGBTQ past, especially through the lens of those who lived it. I’ll be discussing my own path to queer remembering and exploring different aspects of LGBTQ historical memory, method, and meaning.
My goal here is to foster local queer history/herstory that is centered on people, and to see where it leads.