Moving Trans History Forward creates a safe space for connection and learning

- Richard Dal Monte

Participants at the 2018 Moving Trans History Forward conference
Participants at the 2018 Moving Trans History Forward conference

Moving Trans History Forward 2023 runs from March 30 to April 2 at the University of Victoria, hosted by Aaron Devor, UVic’s Chair in Transgender Studies.

The world can be a scary place for transgender people. Across the US, politicians are passing and pondering hundreds of laws that restrict trans+ people’s freedoms and access to health care. Around the world, there are places where being trans+ can result in a death sentence.

But at the end of the month, the University of Victoria will provide a safe place for transgender people and their allies at the fifth Moving Trans History Forward (MTHF) conference. Scheduled for March 30 to April 2, MTHF 2023 will feature academics, community activists, service providers, artists and allies from around the globe, and offer both a hybrid format—participants can attend in person or online—and a rich mix of talks and topics.

Providing a positive and supportive space is key to the event, says Aaron Devor, UVic’s Chair in Transgender Studies—the world’s first such position, established in 2016—who organizes and hosts the conference.

Aaron Devor, UVic’s Chair in Transgender Studies
Aaron Devor, UVic’s Chair in Transgender Studies

“That level of safety and normalization—where you don’t feel like you’re the only one in the room and you’re different from everybody around you on the basis of your gender—it’s a very rare experience.”

—Aaron Devor, UVic Chair in Transgender Studies

Devor notes the aim is to attract not only academics and students, but members of the public who are transfeminine, transmasculine, non-binary and all other kinds of gender-diverse individuals.

“We try to bring in people from all of those communities and make sure that they feel there’s a space for them,” he says. “I encourage them to talk to people they don’t usually talk to and to listen to people they don’t usually listen to—to get dialogue among different sections of the community that are usually siloed from one another.”

There will be plenty to talk about. Conference sessions range from a Two-spirit trans+ panel discussion to presentations that cover trans+ activist history, sex and gender research, and trans+ art making. There will also be an elders panel because, Devor says, “There’s a real hunger among young trans people to know that it’s possible to live a long and good life as a trans+ person.”

As for the keynote addresses, the first, on March 31—the International Transgender Day of Visibility—will feature a screening of the documentary feature Framing Agnes followed by a panel discussion that includes the filmmaker, Chase Joynt, a trans man who’s a writer, director and UVic assistant professor in gender studies.

Chase Joynt, UVic assistant professor in gender studies and director of Framing Agnes

Chase Joynt, UVic assistant professor in gender studies and director of Framing Agnes

“We are thrilled that the film will be screening in an environment where the majority of the audience self-identifies as trans and/or non-binary. It is a rare occasion to be offered such community-focused and intentional space.”

—Chase Joynt, UVic Assistant Professor in Gender Studies

Framing Agnes is born of deep collaboration,” he adds, “and we hope the work contributes to many ongoing conversations about trans history, archives and the politics of representation in concurrent conference programs.”

Author and longtime activist Julia Serano, a trans woman, headlines the April 1 keynote, titled "Balancing Acts and Bottom-Up Approaches to Trans Activism.”

“I have written about how certain marginalized subgroups tend to be excluded from activist movements,” she says. “My talk will discuss strategies I've proposed to overcome this. In addition to fostering more inclusive trans movements and communities, I believe they can also help counter the current anti-trans moral panic we are living through.”

Julia Serano, author and activist

Julia Serano, author and activist 

“One of the most common anti-trans talking points is the idea that there were hardly any trans people 10 or 20 years ago, which gives the false impression that we must be some kind of new phenomenon that should be viewed with suspicion. Trans history shows that we have always been around, even during time periods when the powers that be actively tried to suppress our existence."

—Julia Serano, author and trans activist

“The university's archives and this conference provide a vital resource to document our longevity and resilience,” says Serano.

Indeed, UVic’s Transgender Archives—the largest in the world—show a history of trans+ people and even activism dating back more than a century, says Devor, who established the archives that are held by UVic Libraries.

“People who might fit current descriptions of transgender or trans+ have always existed in every society around the globe,” he says.

That’s important to understand in the current fraught political climate, when developments south of the border are “sowing fear among trans+ people in Canada,” he says, noting that Canada’s laws and social attitudes are quite open-minded toward trans+ people.

The conference, the archive and even the existence of his position are signs of a welcoming environment and the “full-throated” support of UVic, which he says is a leader in equity, diversity and inclusion.

“What we’re doing at UVic is a beacon to the world,” Devor says. “I hear from people all over the world about how important it is to them and how inspirational it is to them, when things are dark and scary where they are, to know that there is someplace in the world where what we’re doing at UVic is not only possible, but it is real.”

His goal for Moving Trans History Forward 2023 is powerful: “I’d like the participants to learn new information, to make new connections with people that will improve their lives. I’d like them to feel seen and heard and valued and appreciated in a deep way. And I’d like them to feel uplifted… to come to the end of the conference and they know more, they know more people, they are more connected, they are more grounded, and they’re hopeful for the future.”

Find conference and registration information about Moving Trans History Forward 2023.

UVic’s Chair in Transgender Studies supports visiting and community-based scholars, graduate students and administrative support staff. A large portion of its funding comes from public donations.  

Interested in studying trans issues?

This summer, the Department of Gender Studies is offering GNDR 219: Introduction to Trans Studies and Activism. Taught by Alyx MacAdams, the course will offer an overview of key topics in trans studies, including the construction of trans identities and resistance to anti-trans rhetoric.

Learn more about it through the Gender Studies department.

Related story: Every aspect of world-famous Transgender initiatives at UVic touched by donor support


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Keywords: community, administrative, international, student life, gender, diversity, international, human rights

People: Aaron Devor

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