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From the LGBTQ Vault: Sylvia Rivera & Marsha P. Johnson



Sixth season of our podcast is focused on LGBT activism in the Post stonewall seventies two of the most prominent trans activists to emerge out of that period were Sylvia Rivera and Marsha p Johnson in one thousand nine hundred seventy the year after the stonewall uprising in New York City's Greenwich Village. The two friends founded street transvestite action revolutionaries or star and set up a barebones refuge in a run down apartment building on the lower east side in Manhattan for street kids much like themselves. They called it star House. In December Nineteen Seventy Liza Cowan and twenty year old reporter for Wbai radio conducted. What we believe is the oldest recorded interview with Sylvia Marsha and other members of star? She is a reel to reel tape recorder and set out to do a story on what was then known as crossdressing. Eventually a single reel containing an edited version of the interview found. Its way into the basement of the lesbian. Her story archives in Brooklyn New York. And that's where making gay histories self-described Archive Rat Brian. Free founded in the spring of two thousand nineteen before we share some of that incredibly rare tape with you. I thought I'd ask Brian about his experience of discovering this long lost interview. And how did you find this tape. Where were you what were you doing so I was looking for audio for the fifth season of making a history for our stonewall season listen and my mission was to find archival audio tapes that were made around nineteen sixty eight to nineteen seventy-one so I went to the LGBT center archives? I went to the New York Public Library and I went to the lesbian. Her story archives in the basement of Lesbian Her story archives. I was going through all of their cassettes for WBAI shows. I didn't find anything thing that reached back that was applicable to what we were looking for but out of the corner of my eye in the basement I saw a box of open. Reel you've you. Which is an older style of audio? Recording then cassettes would be. So what is can you describe. What Open Reel Recording is is you see in the movies or in photographs an actual real of tape. Yes these are the big reels. These are like three inch five inch the seven inch ten inch and I didn't know what was in this box when I saw it but I went upstairs to the volunteer archivist. I Rachel Gordon and I asked her if I could go through it and right there in the middle of the box. I pulled out this recording that was labeled star. I was afraid to open at because some of these tapes. They're so fragile when they're fifty Sixty seventy years old. They are so fragile that you can destroy them and I know how difficult it is to get archival material surrounding star. Yeah so what did you when you saw this. Besides being afraid that you would you could possibly damage the tape I mean it's almost like finding the holy we grow. You know you WANNA listen to it immediately when you find a tape like that and you can't why couldn't you just play it. Well for one there are some tapes that as you play. They will erase when they're fifty years old. So you will listen to it but nobody else will. So if you WANNA have a tape digitize like that what do you do. We took the tape to a studio in Harlem called Old Swan Studios that specializes in this type of digitisation. I took so much care when I took it out of that building I I was so afraid of damaging it it was like I had ten thousand dollars in my backpack and couldn't let anyone near it so I arrived at Swansea in Harlem and Robert. The sound engineer started rewinding the tape and when he did every single manual edit snapped. Oh my so. This is an edited. This was an that was done. That was then edited. And and and how do they edit tape. Well they had to take it physically and slice it and then with adhesive give glue at packed together so each and every time it hit one of these physical edits it would snap which for me was terrifying. But for him was just run of the mill he would just take the two ends reapply adhesive and keep rewinding it once he rebounded. What did he do next? Well he was kind enough to let me sit in the studio and listen to it as he played it for the first time and I knew I was listening to something very special. What made it special special for me? Because they're not just talking about the organization that they created they're also talking about their lives and they're talking about how they see the world around them and how they see gender. It's very personal. They're not altering the same line. What did you take away from hearing that recording? I think it reminded me of how young everyone was. Then I think the March Johnson and Sylvia Rivera that I've grown accustomed to. They were older by at the time. the film that I've seen of them the video that I've seen of them the recordings that I've listened to from them. They had more time under their belt. And this it was it was like they were freshly ride in New York and just letting it all about the quality of tape. You're about to hear in this remarkable and far-ranging conversation is a bit uneven. In addition to a snippet of Jefferson an airplane. You'll also notice hissing in the background. During part of the discussion anyone who has ever lived in an Old New York City apartment will recognize that sound. It's coming coming from faulty valve of esteem heat radiator. The first person to speak is nineteen year old Sylvia Rivera. The second is someone named Victor and the third is Marcia Johnson who was twenty five at the time before my mother passed away three years my mother used to Jesmyn Golf Clubs and my mother. My grandmother kept on one little blouses and girls stocks of about six seven years old. Before if I wouldn't start addressing boys 'cause during that period that's when I discovered my homosexuality was like you know watching television and placed in myself and the role of the female or just pricing myself As another there's another boy in the Mail on demand was praying such a fantastic love role in the television. And and when I left home at eleven was really when I went into transparent system and make hustling speech and the game against experiences. DIFFERENT THAN SYLVIA'S I. I didn't know secretly because My mother would catch me. She would forbid it. And by the time I was five years old I knew enough that Do these things secretly So I used to and no one was around to put on a and wear women's clothes close. I can get my hands on but otherwise I grew up quite masculine. I went to school. I played baseball. I went to college so and the beard and was the revolutionary did time in jail for Pacifist demonstrations and and Just recently I I decided what's You know why not wear the clothes. I prefer to wear what I was. I was the time I was living a masculine role that I didn't really prefer at least I didn't prefer to do it. Permanent preferred the times to be feminine And women's Lib people Feel that the women are forced to take certain roles which are unacceptable to them and they want to break out no. I've often felt the same way about being a man that I've been forced to take certain roles number one something as unimportant as the clothes I have to wear men's restrictions. Men's dress are much more severe than the restrictions on women's dress of men are forced to look a certain way and I didn't want to look that way then then of course there's a man has to be tough. He has to have responsibility to take care of people. You know suppose I wanted to be petted or I wanted to be taken care of. As I was growing up I met a lot of men. They never pale to me to my sexually. I used to try and keep away from because my hometown. You mistakes where you were out of it and they recall you all kinds of names And then when I first came in York seventeen years old that's when I started getting kind of invest breath more like a transvestite. I started out with makeup in nineteen sixty three nine thousand nine hundred sixty four And in one thousand nine hundred sixty five. I was coming out more and I was still wearing make up but I was still going to jail just wearing doing makeup in one thousand nine hundred sixty nine. I started wearing female attire full-time usually I wear dress every day of the week. I I just don't put on much makeup anything until after the dog because address too much attention if we make in the daytime they might think that I was a male. Al But if I were a little makeup they think I'm a female and he's right on I and if I will not make it night they automatically know female female they really can tell the difference about me because I'm on my way to be. SX teams

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