Luther College senior Meyers completed summer research on gender transformation using oral history

"It is always exciting to hear your own family's stories told and preserve them, even the difficult ones that we do not typically discuss," said Ashley Meyers, Luther College senior from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. As part of a Luther research opportunity over the course of summer 2015, Meyers collected and transcribed an oral history from two of her grandmothers to preserve one couple's story of gender transition and, in doing so, add to the fields of transgender and family history.

Meyers, the daughter of James and Ruth Meyers of Brooklyn Park, is majoring in religion and women and gender studies at Luther. She is a 2012 graduate of Champlin Park High School.

Meyer's grandparents, JamieAnn and Peggy Meyers, have been married for 49 years. JamieAnn is a transwoman, a woman whose feminine gender identity does not coincide with her male birth assigned sex, and Peggy is a cisgender woman, a woman whose feminine gender identity coincides with her female birth assigned sex. 

According to historians, one of the most compelling ways to preserve the stories of people neglected by traditional archival collections is through oral history, allowing interaction between individuals and their historical moment to be analyzed.

Meyers conducted one-on-one interviews with JamieAnn and Peggy as well as a final joint interview. The interviews were semi-structured and questions focused on gender identity, sexual identity, their marriage, relationship, family and family dynamics as well as how they both individually and together experienced JamieAnn's coming out process, the gender transition process, adjustment to the life-changes involved and other topics related to their relationship. Meyers filmed these interviews and transcribed them.

To help her understand how her role as granddaughter affected the collection of an oral history, Meyers read extensively in oral history, transgender history and family history in order to prepare an introduction to the interviews.

In regard to her research, Meyers explained, "This research will help add to the fields of family and oral history in examining gender transition in the family from the perspective of those actually living that reality, a topic and perspective that many are only beginning to understand. It will also contribute to our understanding of transgender history in the United States in preserving the stories of an older married trans-cis couple and making their particular narratives accessible."

The interviews will be housed at the University of Minnesota Archives' Special Collection's Tretter Collection, and submitted to OutHistory.org. The Tretter Collection launched the Transgender Oral History Project under Andrea Jenkins' leadership in June 2015. Meyers' transcriptions will join the others that Jenkins, an oral historian, is collecting. "This project will support the Upper Midwest Transgender community and empower individuals to tell their story, while providing students, historians and the public with a richer foundation of primary source material about the transgender community," Jenkins explained.

Meyers worked with Lauren Kientz Anderson, Luther assistant professor of Africana studies and history, on the research project during summer 2015.

Meyers and Kientz Anderson's research was one of 23 summer student-faculty research projects funded through Luther's College Scholars program and Dean's Office. The Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities at Luther intended to deepen the learning process and that are part of Luther's academic core.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,400, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college's website: http://www.luther.edu.

Ashley Meyers