The Transgender Usenet Archive

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2016-17 Winnemore Digital Dissertation Fellow Avery Dame spent his fellowship year building the Transgender Usenet Archive, a public archive of posts from targeted Usenet newsgroups which grew in popularity during the 1990’s upswing in online discussion forums, in this case around groups which were central to the development of a transgender community.

From the earliest days of Fidonet, trans individuals have made spaces for discussion and resource-sharing online. Some of these spaces were hosted on Usenet, a decentralized, worldwide discussion system founded in 1980 and organized around topic-specific newsgroups. Usenet, as a communications network, is an influential predecessor to modern social media platforms and the origin point for now-common bits of contemporary Internet vocabulary like “spam.”

These spaces offered transgender users the opportunity to communicate and find support, without falling into “maladaptive” coping strategies. The resulting archive is a record of online discussions in five important transgender-related forums:

  1. Alt.transgendered;
  2. Soc.support.transgendered;
  3. Alt.support.srs;
  4. Alt.support.crossdressing; and
  5. alt.fashion.crossdressing.

Dame’s research focuses on how posters use the term “cisgender” in their discussions. These groups are one of the few archival locations where participants regularly used the term, and several origin narratives point to different newsgroups as being the where it was first used. His larger dissertation explores the affective and structural meanings assigned to “community” in English-language transgender discourse online. Read more about Avery’s research, methodologies, and the process of building the archive in the blog posts completed during his fellowship.

Users can access the archive here, and can search for any single word or two word phrase.  Searches can be filtered by newsgroup or post publication year. By default, all searches are case sensitive, but this setting can be changed under the “Case” header on the far right corner next to the “Search” button. Each search result under “click for texts” includes a link to a plain text file of that message, including date and message subject.