Right to Marry Blog
Being a WILL Intern is turning out to be a very interesting job. I enjoy being able to read the stories of others because it connects me with the outside world, and it shows me what is going on in the community, state, or even country that I might not know about.
I have really enjoyed my first few months being a WILL intern. Last year as a subbie, when I heard about the oppurtunity to be an intern, I knew that it was for me because I had enjoyed my subbie interview so much. I am excited to keep working on the radio production and to see what happens next.
While I was looking over my own and a few other transcripts this summer, I kept finding myself surprised at how many people were being treated. It was as if people had no regard for their own feelings. One thing that always surprises me is how parents can react to their child coming out or being with a different race in such a negative way.
I started working as a WILL intern when I was a freshman two years ago and honestly can’t believe I have done work in three different project. I can still remember working on my project with four other girls three years ago. When I started as a WILL intern, I started on what we call the ‘pre-production’ aspects of the project. That normally included doing background research and going out to find the people we wanted to interview for the new radio documentary. Now as a third year intern, I’m getting the opportunity to do the ‘post-production’ aspects of this project. I’m especially excited to work on this project because I started with this project from the bare bones and now I get to see it come full circle into a completed and meaningful one-hour radio documentary. Last year, I did four pre-interviews and when we were doing the initial reading of the transcripts, I realized that I was reading the transcript of one of the women I pre-interview. This was a truly meaningful moment because I got to know more about her, go deeper into her life story than I had before in the 45 minutes we shared chatting about random aspects of her life. I’m really excited to hear more of these incredible stories in their entirety and I can’t wait to see this project turn from a bunch of people’s life stories into a cohesive piece that moves us and tells us a story about what all these people have in common.
I started my first WILL Oral History project back in 2010. Just looking at that date is almost surreal to me. Has it really been almost five years? Where has all of this time gone?
I still remember my very first year as the Team Captain of a group of four boys. Our mission: to interview a Mr. Richard Adkins, a veteran of the Vietnam War. Slowly, but surely, we emersed ourselves into the beautiful and colorful world of Counterculture here in Urbana-Champaign. A now, about four years later, a group of five seniors embark on the second half of a journey to explore the right to marry (or R2M, as we fondly call our project). We started off with nine different project ideas. That's right, nine. As you can see, a lot of work went into choosing the right topic for us five. We eventually chose to delve further into the issue of marriage, not only because it was (and still is) a hotly debated and discussed topic, but also because we wanted to compare the harships and stories of other "non-traditional" marriages and unions, both historic and current. Orinignally we focused on four different topics: interracial marriage, same-sex marriage, interfaith marriage, and intercultural marriage.
Now that our project is becoming something more than just words on a piece of paper, I am really able to appreciate the people in our community that have shared their stories with us. Throughout the whole first year process, I met so many people who were really passionate about our the right to marry. Everytime a new project begins, I meet more and more individuals who truly open my eyes to the amazing and diverse Champaign-Urbana community.
One of the stories that has struck me is of Kathleen Robbins, a transgender woman who served in the Marines and married a women before her sex reassignment surgery. Ms. Robbins shares an abundance of stories of her life that we hope to include into our final documentary. For now, I want to share just a short segment of her 1.5 hour interview.
"I did all the normal things for a boy; I played sports, I was an Eagle Scout. But I also had a secret that I was carrying along all the time. I knew two things about that secret. Number one: it was impossible. Number two: it was shameful. So I did everything I could to avoid that."
I feel that this segment, although quite short, really encompasses what a lot of youth are going through today. Many of the interviews we have gathered this past year, and in other years past, have opened my eyes to information and experiences that I would not have dreamed of knowing otherwise. So although this is my final year and my final project, I know that my years as a WILL oral history intern will stay with me for quite some time.
Last year was my first year as a WILL intern. We started off the year by researching different topics of the Right to Marry project and uploaded them to the wiki for our use in the future. When pre-interview season rolled in, we did several of them and it was just a great way to hear many interesting stories from many people in a very low key, off pressure way. We generated a list of interviewees for the subbies to interview, and I myself remember excitingly looking forward to listening to the actual interviews. When we began conducting the interviews, I was there for two of them. I sat in the interview with Becky Lewis and helped with the transition between the interviews with Leah Mosser and Karen Bush. I just loved having the opportunity to listen to their great stories. Some interviewees know how to tell their stories extremely well. You almost feel like your living in the past with them in some moments. It’s just amazing how you can feel a story even when it’s just through audio. I loved being in an interview environment so much that I want to be the interviewer myself. I got an opportunity to become one for an intern-led interview with Becky and Jan Himes. I loved it. Being the interviewer was a lot different than just listening to the interview in the sidelines. I just loved having the chance to talk to the couple and listening to their story. It was truly a different experience because I had a chance to engage in their story, ask for more information myself to feel the complete story. At some points I remember feeling completely emerged in their story, like I traveled back into time with the couple as they were talling their story about how they met each other and the various difficulties. Same goes when I pre-interviewed the Allston-Yeagles with Simone. I just loved being in that environment where I was learning about another person’s life stories. I just found that so interesting. I am looking forward to a new year as a WILL intern, a new year of life stories.
I was on the Intellectual Disabilities project my subbie year and definitely can say that I learned a lot. It sure did open me up the the real heartbreak of the world of disablities, but also how people who live with that constant struggle every day are able to find joy and happiness. However, the R2M project has seemed very different from the Intellectual Disablities project in many ways. Different things have stuck out to me in the R2M interviews than in the Intellectual Disablities interviews. While the Intellectual Disabilties interviews were very informative and quite motivating to at least think about how one could go about trying to stop the injustice against people with disablities, the R2M interviews really came through to me in a different way with the love and emotion and the fact that these people had found their own little pockets of happiness despite the struggles and unfair circumstances. One of the interviews that really struck out to me was the Barclay and Howard Milton one. The story that they told almost came out of a fairytale and was entrancing just like fairytales are to little children. There was the "villian" which was basically the fact that they were an interracial couple in a mostly Caucasion town. But there was also the sweetest love story I have heard in a long time, with the couple knowing each other since childhood but their relationship developing over time. The couple's real love for each other also came through the audio interview, even without me sitting in the interview I could tell these two people had a real story to tell just through the audio. Sometimes the sweet stories are the best, the ones without huge dramatic events but the ones that show us times were changing and people were being able to accept interracial couples with more and more respect to eventually reach the point where we are today.
One of the many things that I love about the WILL Oral History project is the opportunity to listen to so many stories. Previously, I didn't think I'd be able to hear so many interviews as an intern. I heard about some interviewees and their stories in meetings after pre-interviews beginning almost a year ago. Interns are also given the opportunity to listen in on the subbie's interviews, which is another great opportunity. Additionally, I did an intern-led interview, which was probably my favorite listenting experience. It was so cool to be back in the room conducting an interview. I'm so excited to hear the Moores in the radio documentary! This summer, I also read through two transcripts, picking my favorite pieces from them (which was extremely hard because I loved ALL of the interview). I'm so surprised by how many opportunities I've had this year to hear from various people throughout the community. And I'm so happy that I will be able to hear more this year on both projects! I know this blog post was pretty short and sweet, I just thought I'd share one of my favorite things about this project.
It's amazing what these people have been through.
In my assigned transcripts alone I have read about discrimination, difficult situations, and downright miserable conditions that my interviewees have survived. For example, in SpegalSprout, I found that Kathie Spegal had a hard time with the nuns at her all-girls Catholic school. She and her drinking buddies (term credited to Mr. Rayburn) carried around handkerchiefs that were a specific color to indicate that they were lesbians. The nuns called them to the office and taught them that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. So Kathie had to battle that at a very young age.
That may sound like a lot to deal with, but when I came to Lynn Sprout's story, my jaw dropped at the troubles she has gone through. Fast-forward to when her marriage (which wasn't to great to begin with) ended abruptly when she found out her husband was sexually abusing her children. To protect them, Lynn took her children and ran to Texas with her best friend. There they had to live in a worn-down barn and consume cheese, rice, and powdered milk provided by government cheese lines. That was the beginning of Lynn's first lesbian relationship. (Romantic, right?)
Anyway, I don't want to spoil everything, so I'll stop there. But I'm really shocked at how much our interviewees have had to live through, and I'm proud to be a part of making a documentary with stories from all these awesome people.
"This is Simone Gewirth. I am interviewing Thomas and Martha Moore for the Uni High WILL oral history project on the history of the right to marry." I heard as the outrageously large sound file finishes downloading onto my computer. Clocking in at one hour, fifty-three minutes, and fifty-five seconds, the task seemed daunting. What was my task? To transcribe. It is not something difficult to do, but it takes a lot of time. One minute of audio might take anywhere from five minutes to fifteen minutes, depending on how rapidly and intelligibly the subject is speaking. After that process, one must then listen back to the entire segment to make sure there is no variation what so ever.
During the Subfreshman Oral history project, each team of students is responsible for transcribing their interview. However, the Moores were not interviewed by subfreshmen. They were interviewed by interns. What this means is, while various intern teams were delegated to transcribe, some portions were forgotten or missed all together. That meant it was my job to listen to the interview and find what was missing.
Though it seems tedious and time consuming, I was eager to begin transcribing! In the classroom setting the most efficient way for me to learn is to take notes as teachers lecture. I know that for me the best way to learn is to do so actively. Memorization of facts is simply easier for me after writing them down and following along in class faithfully. This being said, it is no surprise that transcription is just my cup of tea.
Reading the transcripts brings you closer to interviewees. Reading the transcripts is only two steps away from being in the actual interview. One step closer to being there, is listening to the transcript.
As I listened intently, following along with Martha Moore through the stories of her childhood and adolescence I felt very connected and invested. It was the sort of feeling you get during the Wizard of Oz when the whole world is in black and white and then everything suddenly springs into color. That is the difference between reading the words and hearing them.
Later on in the interview the transcript became very choppy. It was paraphrased and some portions were boiled down to just one or two words. That's when the real work began. I commenced the dance of my fingers along the key board as rapidly as words tumbled into my ears. I was constantly jumping from the play/pause button to the keys. Then I would rewind the section and listen to it to make sure my transcriptions matched up with the audio. I heard each segment three or four times each before I was satisfied with my work. But sometimes I just wanted to listen again and again. After a while, I was even to the point of quoting and using information from the interview when talking about civil rights and marriage rights with my family. Ultimately we want to share stories about love as we move forward with marriage equality.
Stories about love are timeless. They are ever relatable. The context about marriage has changed overtime and certainly shaped our world but essentially, Thom said it best: "I think after we got started it was like, 'look. What’s so hard about interracial marriages?' Who’s taking out the garbage and if you say you’re taking out the garbage take it out, don’t just leave it there for someone else. Remember to pick up the paper when it’s on the floor. It’s just living your life. There’s nothing different about it. It’s the same problems that people-- when you have more than one person living together. When you add another person that changes the dynamics. There’s nothing unique about this."
I am not denying that there were trials. I am not denying that I felt waves of sadness when I heard that Martha has never reconciled with one of her brothers over her marriage to Thom. But what I am saying is that in an interview we are given the opportunity to see into another person's life, and to be honest their lives aren't that different from yours and mine.
I'd like to close with another quote from Thom Moore. I remember this one distinctly and believe it is a philosophy that we all can benefit from. He said, "the fact [is] that you could deny rights to people. I think that people should be allowed to do what they want to do. Marry who you want to marry." And that is just one example of the effects of transcription.
The stories of the Moores went in one ear, but are forever a part of the way I see the world.
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