Queer Are You Going, Queer Have You Been

From 2011 to 2013, I worked on a project titled Queer Are You Going, Queer Have You Been, which explored the lives and artistic practices of important but lesser-known queer people from the fairly recent past—that is, a past still available to us through generational memory. The project's methodology featured traditional archival research, interviews with people who knew the person in question, an openness to non-traditional historical objects encountered beyond the archive, and, whenever appropriate, a reenactment of ritual, artistic, and everyday practices that the person developed and held dear during their lifetime.

Each thread of biographical research culminated in a public event and a series of writings. In April 2013, I presented a lecture about the life and times of Bay Area poet, performer, and activist Tede Matthews (1951–1993) at San Francisco's GLBT History Museum, and then, in June, organized a literary event in his honor featuring readings and remembrances by people who knew him at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. During the same period, I worked on a series of writings about poet and environmentalist Elsa Gidlow (1898–1986). I gave a public talk about the project at UC Berkeley in April 2013 and then reworked it into an essay, "Elsa Gidlow's Garden: Plants, Archives, and Queer History," which appeared as a chapter in the book Out of the Closet, Into the Archive: Researching Sexual Histories, edited by Amy L. Stone and Jaime Cantrell (SUNY Press, 2015). The essay also includes a section that outlines my thinking about queer history and the "archival impulse" among queer scholars, artists, and curators working today.

The project was cut short by my departure from the Bay Area in the summer of 2013, first to take a job in upstate New York and then my current position in Bellingham, Washington. I continue to pursue the methodology I developed in the project, however, and Tede Matthews and Elsa Gidlow continue to feature in my work. Matthews enters into my book manuscript in progress on Bay Area queer cinema in the 1970s, and Gidlow is the topic of a separate manuscript, "Harvest of Years," which I developed during the summer of 2016 as a writer in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts.