Uncovering Queer Voices in New Mexico through the Process of Oral History

Monday, January 5, 2015: 8:30 AM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Jordan Biro, University of New Mexico
The New Mexican gay and lesbian experience is centered on the negotiation of openness and secrecy. The trajectory of this negotiation fluctuated: sometimes allowing tolerance in prescribed places like bohemian art circles, but demanding discretion in public; other times transitioning to tight bonds of heteronormativity forcing gay and lesbian life completely underground; and, finally the establishment of a growing and visible LGBTQ community.

Uncovering how queers constructed formative identities, cultures, and activism in New Mexico in the 1920s through the 1980s has been a challenging task because of the paucity of written sources on LGBTQ history in the state. Therefore, a major component of my project became the creation of new sources and finding a safe place to house the oral histories for future scholars to access. Queer scholars, in particular, possess the dual task of establishing records where no document trail exists and researching and writing on undervalued communities.

My paper highlights the process and findings of doing queer oral history in New Mexico. In particular, the interviewees reveal how features of the New Mexico landscape structured queer interaction, how queers in rural spaces and urban areas intertwined, institutions used in forming queer lives, and the growth of political activism and geographic visibility of gay men and lesbians in the state. The next phase of gay liberation will likely be waged in states with predominately small towns and rural spaces, places that often seem to deny the presence of queers. Queers exist in rural areas and small cities and have found ways to partially embrace non-normative sexual identities. New Mexico provides a strong example.

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