Existing in a Lesbian Present: An Interview

Existing in a Lesbian Present: An Interview


Existing in Lesbian Present: An Interview with Olivia Newsome on her Lesbian Oral History Thesis Project [Transcription]

This interview was recorded at 10:45 pm EST in New York, NY, US on Thursday, December 8th, 2022.

Olivia Newsome is pursuing an MA in Archives & Public history at NYU and an MLIS focusing on special collections at Long Island University. She is currently conducting her thesis project, titled “Multiple Marginalities: Young Lesbians on Community.” The project will be comprised of audio recordings of multiply marginalized lesbians discussing their experiences as they seek community. There will be an exhibition component where participants will display objects they chose to be displayed and archived alongside their oral history recording.

As a close friend of Olivia, I witnessed much of the planning firsthand. I asked her, “Will you include your own oral history in this project?” She responded, “Ethically, I can’t include my own oral history.” She went on to explain that because this is an official thesis project, including herself is not allowed. I sat with this for a while. Olivia is a 22-year-old, Black, autistic lesbian. Much of her work is centered around disability justice and race. In her undergraduate studies, she studied Black Atlantic history and Indigenous history. She is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). She is also in the process of navigating her lesbianism and is also seeking her community. She, herself, would have been a perfect candidate for her own project.  It would be a shame if there were no record of this, who she is, and her motivations for conducting this seminal project. I took it upon myself to interview her and record her answers, thoughts, and experience.

Several of the questions I asked her were inspired by the questions that she had crafted for her participants. I, myself, have recorded an oral history for her project. Although she’s one of my best friends, it didn’t feel like a mere conversation between friends. Her questions were thought-provoking and required intense self-reflection. Olivia listened and watched without judgment and was encouraging when questions got increasingly probing. I’m very proud that my recording has been the longest of the ones she’s done so far. As members of a distinct community in ways that encompass more than our shared identity as lesbians, it was almost as if we communicated in a secret language. I was not speaking to be understood by everyone and the questions she asked were not intended to be understood by everyone.

In this interview, I wanted to honor Olivia’s guiding principles for this project. Because she is opting to not edit any of the recordings she made, this recording has not been edited.

Olivia is still open to accepting interested applicants. If you would like to contact her or apply, send an email to ogn206@nyu.edu. Visit her Instagram page @oliviagnew for updates on “Multiple Marginalities: Young Lesbians on Community,” including access to the recordings and exhibition when available. 

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