Re-storying colonial history through a trans anti-colonial lens


- Molly Randhawa

Jamey Jesperson, UVic History PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar
Jamey Jesperson, UVic History PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar (photo supplied)

Jamey Jesperson faces the uphill battle for visibility navigating academia as a trans woman studying anti-colonial histories. Her journey highlights the challenge in platforming and amplifying voices both like and unlike hers—critical in conveying the realities of trans histories. 

Jesperson's dissertation stems from a challenge—and invitation—by Saylesh Wesley, a Stó:lō Two-Spirit Knowledge Keeper. Known as a leader of Two-Spirit resurgence, Wesley entrusted Jesperson with her oral history in the summer of 2022, now archived at the Stó:lō Library & Archives. 

Jesperson's studies at The New School in New York, where she learned and organized with queer Indigenous-led collectives as a settler scholar, deeply influence her research at UVic, grounding her work in a commitment to anti-colonial politics. As she begins her research for her dissertation project, titled "A Trans Indigenous History of the Pacific Northwest," her goal is to re-story colonial narratives of contact between settlers and trans Indigenous people in the early colonial period, 1774-1857. 

Central to her research is pushing back against damage-centred narratives of trans Indigenous pasts. Collaborating with Wesley and mentor Tłaliłila’ogwa, Dr. Sarah Hunt, Jesperson aims to revive silenced and often violent histories, focusing instead on stories of trans Indigenous autonomy, resistance, and survivance across the centuries. 

Trained as an ethnohistorian, Jesperson specializes in dissecting colonial archives, extracting stories from sparse references. She describes this method as "looking for glimpses and glimmers," referring to uncovering a sentence about an historical trans person and building their narrative from context. 

The Vanier scholarship holds profound significance for Jesperson, serving as a vital resource for her research aspirations as a trans woman in academia.

As it stands, there has never been a trans woman history professor in Canada ever. I am determined to be the first, and the Vanier Scholarship is how I can get there. That's why I fought so hard for it."

—Jamey Jesperson, Vanier Scholar

As one of the few trans women globally afforded the opportunity to pursue a PhD of this nature, Jesperson sees her role as a scholar to provide rigorous, concrete historical evidence for use by activists, especially towards decolonial projects.

"History is vital in proving that the violence trans people—especially women—face is not new, but neither is our resistance and protest to it,” she articulates, underlining the enduring existence of trans people across diverse temporalities, geographies, and cultures.

Driven by this mission, now with funding to support her research, Jesperson continues her two-and-a-half-year research journey—sharing the truth of trans histories for communities and activists.

"I want to provide communities, activists and my trans and Two-Spirit siblings the evidence they need to prove that they have a history, and from that history we may forge a better future," she concludes, emphasizing the significance of her work.


In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, transgender, history, community, colonialism, research, writing, graduate research, racism

People: Jamey Jesperson, Saylesh Wesley

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