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Meet Marina Labarthe del Solar of Enby Spoken Histories in East LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marina Labarthe del Solar.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Marina. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
When I came out as trans nonbinary, about three years ago, I didn’t have a community to look to and I was too mentally unstable at the time to attempt to find one. My poor mental health took many forms and I struggled with addiction, not eating, exhaustion, panic attacks, hospitalizations, and more. When I wasn’t panicking, I was seeking out LGBTQIA archives, looking for books and archived stories hoping to find people similar to me. I just wanted to see myself reflected because I thought I was completely alone. The few books that I found, I read in a day and was constantly seeking more- more books, more movies, more of our histories written outside of niche online circles. The first book that resonated with me was Lexie Bean’s Written on the Body, and I remember feeling validated and seen for the first time. It marked the beginning of my healing journey.

In the Fall of 2018, I met my dear friend and now co-founder, Carter Schneider. I realized how important it was for me to connect with my queer trans community. Meeting Carter and hearing their story, in many ways, saved my life.

At the time, I was on a path to receiving my Oral History Masters from Columbia University, leaving in the middle of every class with panic attacks and waiting outside until a kind student would bring me my backpack. It became clear to me very quickly that I was too sick to attend school. I took a medical leave and moved to Los Angeles in hopes of finding better trans informed health care at UCLA, the hub of gender research, I was told. I had seen all the doctors I could in NY, but no one could tell me what was wrong. Doctors constantly used my transness to explain why I was mentally ill.

Shame has been terribly hard to unlearn, but I have found conversations with my trans nonbinary community members to be the most healing, which is a huge part of the reason I started Enby Spoken Histories. I wanted to see us reflected, I wanted to help build and connect our communities and I wanted to be a part of them. We are not alone.

Although I was at Columbia only briefly, I quickly learned the power of institutional resources and teamed up with StoryCorps to form a longstanding historical archive at the Library of Congress. Sometimes online communities can feel like an echo chamber and we wanted to be heard loud and clear by the institutions that negatively affect our queer lives daily.

Carter and I have held recording sessions and public events in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Our most successful event was at The Bureau at The Center in NYC for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. We had speakers, performers, listened to produced interviews, and talked about the importance of telling our stories. Being fifty people overcapacity and the overall joy in people’s faces encouraged us to keep going. We plan to hold educational events more frequently and use our archived interviews to start an Enby Spoken Histories podcast once I return to NYC in January 2020.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
We have our interviews archived at the Library of Congress offering the possibility of having them heard by policymakers, academics, etc. However, this archive is not accessible to our immediate community because in order to hear the conversations one would have to physically go into the Library of Congress. We are actively working on expanding the project to more accessible platforms, such as a podcast, but obtaining resources to do so has not been easy. Without consistent financial backing it is taking us longer than expected to publish the interviews for the public to listen to and share.

Most of our successful outreach is through Instagram, where we come across the problem of having only trans folks in our small online pool seeing the posts for recording events. We are doing a small recording session in Hawaii and that had to be primarily done through friend outreach due to how difficult it is to get people involved through community postings. We hope to grow our reach to new potential participants through more local engagement, events, and word of mouth.

Finally, we feel it’s important to carve out extra space for trans nonbinary voices as they are often excluded from mainstream narratives. Our focus is on nonbinary identities- while remaining inclusive to all trans identities. Because of the limit in resources and opportunities for all trans people, it creates pressure to create something for everyone, but over time we have come to realize that it is okay to make this specific space for trans nonbinary voices. It’s been difficult for us to communicate this effectively; we realize our name might not be affirming to all members of the trans community. The last thing we want to do is make anyone feel invalidated, The project is open to the whole trans community, but the last thing we want to do is make anyone feel invalidated.

Enby Spoken Histories – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Our stories have been passed down for hundreds of years cross culturally, but the way they have been understood and misunderstood throughout Western society is dangerous, which is why we need to be in charge of writing our own narratives. Enby Spoken Histories facilitates recorded conversations between two loved ones, then archives them at the Library of Congress. Although there has been more of space for trans voices recently, we have yet to see a project that focuses specifically on trans nonbinary identities. Even with an increase in visibility online and in media, we see a huge lack of space for trans nonbinary folx to tell their own stories in a conversational setting.

Enby Spoken Histories creates a space for real conversations, stories that incorporate joy and resilience, questioning and discovery. It can be lifesaving for listeners seeking human resonance with someone who may or may not be like them. We needed a place to actually hear our voices. It creates hope and strength within the community and allows people to access our stories in a way that they have not been able to before.

Our recording sessions are 40 minutes of an organic, unstructured conversation. People can talk about whatever they want; we just provide the space to do so. We ask people to prepare a shortlist of topics that they’re interested in discussing and encourage them to illustrate personal experiences. Our conversations so far have covered many themes connected to gender justice, such as stories relating to the patriarchy, transphobia, gender inequity, and gender-based violence, including racial injustice, economic injustice, immigration activism, reproductive justice, health & HIV/AIDS justice, trans/intersex/queer justice, disability justice, healing justice, anti-violence and/or anti-criminalization.

I’m proud of how we’ve helped form community through the few events we’ve held so far. It makes me excited for the future. I’m proud to see how much of an impact it makes for people to be given the space to have their voices heard. Just seeing the reactions from participants after their recording sessions and knowing that they are being empowered through storytelling is why we do what we do.

I also take pride in watching people form relationships with one another. When we host events people thank us endlessly for bringing the community together outside of internet spaces, bars, or support groups. There’s so much pride in the knowledge, joy, and resilience that we hold as a community and as individuals for us to share with one another.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
The most rewarding feeling is watching people meet each other between recording sessions, smiling from ear to ear, connecting on something almost immediately, even if it’s merely the fact that they both use the same words to describe themselves. A successful session looks like one where people are able to laugh, cry, or just emote to whatever truth they are feeling. We want to create an environment where people feel comfortable to express whatever they want and share a piece of their journey. This allows healing in the community, strengthening and affirming people’s existences. Although we have a lot of big goals, we mostly value human connections- it’s hands down the best marker of success we could ever ask for.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Carter Schneider, Dana Lovasz

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