Wilfredo: You’re listening to Tell Me More!, a podcast for amplifying the work of graduate students. I’m your host, Wilfredo Flores... or just Wil.
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W: This is a show where we ask graduate students a singular question: Tell me more!
W: So, let’s get into the episode.
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W: Hi there! Welcome to Tell Me More! where we chat with graduate students about their work, ideas, and more! In this episode, I’m chatting with Tyler Gillespie, a second-year PhD student at the University
of Memphis. Welcome, Tyler! Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Tyler: Hi, thanks so much for having me. I am a second-year PhD student at the University of Memphis, as you said, and I'm a Floridian, and I'm coming to from Florida right now because I'm teaching virtually and quarantining with my grandmother here in Florida.
W: OK cool! Well, I guess not cool because of the quarantine. But, all that sounds great. So, you're here to give us an overview of your research on rhetorical practices and Florida's LGBTQ community, the specific article you want to discuss has been accepted for the Routledge Handbook of Queer Rhetoric. As you say, the self-published Womyn's Words ran from 1983 to 2011 and is known as Florida's oldest gay publication. It established a lesbian mecca in Gulfport, and your chapter is going to focus on the publication’s text creation, collaborative production, and circulation as a means of place-based community formation. That all sounds fascinating. So please tell me more!
T: Thank you! So, I'm going to give you the kind of long story about how this came about, which isn't really that long. So, I have a Master's in journalism and media studies from the University of South Florida, St. Pete, here in the Tampa Bay area. And so for one of my classes on covering elections, I was assigned to cover Gulfport, which is a little town of about 12,000 folks that's near adjacent to St. Pete, and something like 30% of folks, residents, there are LGBTQ members. And so that's partially why I got assigned—cause I was covering a lot of like LGBT political stuff. And so I started covering it a few years ago, and I knew some folks who live there, mostly lesbians, who I had met, you know, through different ways, but I didn't really, you know, think about doing too much about that town until I was interviewing—fast forward this past year, I was talking to Florida State representative, Jennifer Webb. And we were just talking, I was interviewing her and then she mentioned Gulfport again, because she lived there, she lives there, and she was like, “Yeah, I moved there because I was told like, ‘Oh, all the girls live there,’ you know?” Cause she was from up north. So when she was moving to Florida, and then she was telling me that she was like, “Oh, did you, you know, I've heard that, you know, Gulfport started as a lesbian, lesbian separatist community back in the seventies.”
T: Right? [laughter] So, you know, when I heard that and I was so close to Gulfport. I needed to know more about that, just you know, as a former journalist and just someone who's like, you know, interested in those kinds of stories. So then that kind of got me on to and introduced to some of the folks that I am writing about in the article. And so, you know, usually when we think about like separatist communities, they are in like very rural areas, like—I think there's one in Alabama or, you know, somewhere in Florida, that's very rural. But, Gulfport really isn't; it's right near St. Pete. So anyway, then I was kind of put into contact with different community members who had started Womyn's Words and just a fascinating history about how they were producing the texts and, and all of that kind of thing.
W: Cool! That sounds awesome. Can I ask, like, how are you kind of approaching the whole story? Like, is there a particular or, the entire project, is there a particular methodological consideration you're taking, like, through those journalistic, kind of, tell-me-your-story interview practices?
T: So, you know, I've been writing about the LGBTQ community for about a decade now, but only recently have I been able to like understand, frame it as rhetorical practice, right?
T: And so through graduate study—hello and that's helped—so my methodology or my methods are like semi-structured interviews and observation when I can. So this started, I have like more, kind of different chapters. This is kind of the first one that I'm kind of working on. So I can't really observe the—they, they have this organization called the Women's Energy Bank, and it kind of disbanded a couple of like few years ago, but I can't really observe A) because it was a women's-only space. So a as a male-identified person, I could not observe that. And now they're, they're not... So that, that was some interesting ethical stuff, which I can talk about later and for my methodologies. So this stuff, I'm doing textual analysis, as well, because they published Womyn's Words for so many years, and I'm doing archival research of ephemera and stuff that wasn't necessarily published, right? So those are the main kind of methods that I am using: a lot of interviews and textual analysis. And so part of my methods, as well, which is a lot different than, yes, they are informed by like my journalism background, and... but something that I wouldn't do in journalism that, that I do now is kind of circulate drafts to the people that I'm interviewing.
W: Right, yeah!
T: To get, you know, so it's more collaborative, which I wouldn’t—but it's interesting, cause like, as a journalist, you're not, I was taught never do that. Like, that's out of the question, but in this kind of, like, more qualitative research in my methods, I can circulate it to folks to make sure that I'm accurately presenting them and yeah.
W: Right, yeah. There's a dimension of relationality there that—so I totally see that, yeah, how big of a shift it goes from actually accounting for those community members and taking care of their stories as it were, and like letting them know, like, “Hey, is this okay?” And like working collaboratively in that way. One thing that you said that was really interesting and actually reminded me of an experience I had, too, I, so there's in Lansing, Michigan, there is a women's festival that happens every year.
T: Yes! Yeah!
W: And when I went there to volunteer for like an outreach thing for our writing center, I encountered a Lesbian Connection, which is the name of the magazine. And I remember reading it and being like, “Oh, wow!” Of course, as a cis gay man, I feel sometimes I'm too into those cis gay male spaces and don't really pay much attention to our relatives across the queer community. And I remember reading the magazine and it saying, like, “If you're a man, you can't read this!” And I was like, well, let me put this down! So can you talk to me a little bit about, was that kind of a—not confrontation cause that seems kind of, I don't know, that ascribes some kind of violence, but can you tell me what that was like to like, “Oh, maybe sometimes these stories aren't meant to be told,” at least by someone like me maybe?
T: Yes. I mean, it's something that I'm still trying to figure out, you know, and I think it's an ongoing, ongoing thing because, right. Lesbian Connection is, it is, it was circulated for—I think their tagline is like, not “For lesbians by lesbians,” but it's, it's kind of that, it’s in the same realm. And so, it's for a specific audience, which, you know, I'm not a part of. And so I really, when I started to do this research, this article, this chapter, I had to really think about that. I mean, I've thought about that before specifically covering I was covering as a journalist in a historically black neighborhood in St. Pete, and I was teaching students—like, we were, we had a partnership with our paper there, so we were helping write stories for the community paper, but how do we do this? And should we do this? Is it ethical? And is it ethical for me to write about these, this, these women and this community? And, you know, I think. You know, so part of it can be like, okay, well, if you're not the person to write about it, you can then make a connection with someone who might be more connected to the community and help make those connections. So I thought about that, but then I kind of also had to think, well, if I'm only writing about like communities that I embody, then I'm only going to be writing about white men. And if my, my major project looks at Florida communities, so it's like, you know, hopefully ends up being a, like a book-length or like, you know, just different things, right? And, or different chapters. So if I'm only focusing on my embodied identity, then I'm totally neglecting all these other communities. Right? And, and so I also think it's really interesting to think about gender too, and like gender identity and in what space, you know, what exactly that means. And when you're approaching this kind of research. So what made sense to me and what feels right to me is to kind of foreground this with the people that I'm with—the people that I'm interviewing—and so I talk about it with them, and that led to really interesting conversations and also building a relationship and, and stuff and more trust. And I think circulating the drafts back to them, cause it's more collaborative. But I'm still, I'm still on the—I still don't know exactly the best way to answer to that. I just, I just, that's what it feels right for me right now.
W: Right? Yeah. I think, I mean, I'm not toward the complete end of this dissertation, but the project that I have is, is wrapping up fairly soon. And even after like data's been collected and, like, I've done the analysis and whatnot, I'm still wondering like, is this okay? Like, is it right for me to do this? And I've tried to build in these things to like, make me feel okay as well with like community feedback, but I think you're right. Yeah. I don't think that process will ever go away. And I think it's just maybe an aspect of research, at least research, working with people and their stories that is always just going to be there, maybe.
T: And I think, you know, just being transparent, but it's also like limits some of the data collected. Right? So the group that I was specifically looking at, there were some lesbian separatists in there. So, you know, they're not going to necessarily want to talk to, to me about the research, and that’s totally real. And I'm like, I'm into that, like... Hey, you know, like do, do you, and I'm totally here for that and I support that if that's your choice, So that being said, it's like, I'm not the only person that I think should be doing research on it, but if I can be like intentional and, and don't, and try to cause as little harm as possible, because you know, I've been writing up people for a long time and there's always that risk, like of, of, you know, exposing, bringing harm to someone. I never, I don't want to do that about the community, you know, my community and... But it's hard, you know?
W: Yeah... Cause like the IRB of course always has things in place, but when it comes to stuff like oral history projects and storytelling and qualitative methods kind of a little bit more, uh, writ large, there’s always just like a, “Oh, it's fine, do whatever, you're not handling like human specimens or whatever.” Human specimens? Human material—I forget what the language was, but you're not actually like working with people's lives or their bodies, but in a sense you still are. Right. So yeah, that's all to say, it’s tough.
T: Some of the folks are like in their 80s, that I'm interviewing. So these are stories that, you know, when we think about the, the generation of LGBTQ and queer, like leaders and activists, I mean, we, you know, tried to document their stories and as respectfully as possible, but you were talking about your project, how did you navigate that?
W: So, part of how I tried to approach this project was through, like through cultural rhetorics, understandings of relationality and using that as an, as an ethics guiding research. So part of my argument, since I'm handling like Twitter data, like tweets from queer and trans folks of color online, I don't want to put them in, put their tweets essentially in a way that might put, like, bring harm, as you say. So part of that is, oh, wait, let me back up. Cause this—let me talk about myself on my own podcast in a way that sounds smart. So, using the ethics of relationality, I'm trying to approach this by countering this big data, anonymized data approach to social media research. Because if you listen to cultural rhetorics and understand that stories are all we are, as Malea Powell et al. would say, anonymizing people’s Twitter data or their social media data removes the context of their lives, their identities, they're embodied realities. So I'm trying to account for that through like a protective stance of like, if you ask me any of this information, I'm not going to tell you like my social media data collector thing has that data and it's there and I account for it, but I'm not going to tell you anything if you need me to. And if that makes me sound less assured as a researcher, Then that's totally fine. Right? Like I'm, if I look less of a researcher or something for that, that's totally fine. So as long as their stories in their tweets are protected, and of course this is all public data or like semi-public data, but I still try to bridge that line between anonymizing things like if I'm using a tweet as an example, I mess with the words so that a Boolean search won't show, like won't find it through any kind of search or anything. So there's certain methods that I take to like, protect that data. But for the most part, it's just constantly questioning like, “Is this okay?” Maybe don't include this tweet or maybe exclude this because it's talking about something that's too real, like a partner dying of HIV or AIDS. Cause that's what I'm looking at, so yeah. Just all those considerations.
T: Yeah, and I think that's so important because I think about, you know, it's taken me a kind of a, you know, over the years writing, but it's like the community that I'm writing about that, I'm a part of, I can do objective research and put research out there, but I still want to protect as much as I can, because there already been so much violence and you know, like all this stuff that I'm looking at is archival. You could find, you can go to the archives—it's, so it is public, but like at the same time a lot of people haven't read it, you know? So like not publishing names of folks necessarily. Even if it was published in there, if I haven't gotten their consent to do that—stuff like that.
T: It's hard. And I don't think that I, you know, and it's, it's interesting because I was kind of figuring this out as I went, because I thought it was going to be a whole different thing and like, oh yeah, I've written about queer stuff. And like, I got this. And then like, you know, I'm, I'm in these kinds of ethical issues, which I think are really good to consider, especially because I'm writing like more chapters and stuff. So, if I would have kind of started with a chapter that felt easier to write, you know, then I wouldn't have necessarily framed the, these questions so early on in the research. So I'm really grateful that it happened. I'm still grappling with it and probably, you know, love any ideas of how to do a better, you know, of course,
W: Right. I'm sure, there's people out there listening to you who are like, “Okay, good. I'm not the only one.”
T: I appreciate that. I love that, you know, and, and not to get like too in the weeds with it, but it's also like, thinking about like, who's publishing the work? Usually maybe not queer people or doesn't have the same conversations that, you know, which is great about the anthology is that, you know, those editors are already there with that kind of information and those conversations of course. So I feel really excited to be able to work with them and, you know, have some guidance from them on that kind of thing, as well. Whereas if I was in maybe a different publication, I wouldn't have that same kind of communication.
W: Yeah, having folks who are part of the community lead these kinds of projects is so nice, I should say, because there's so many things—like at the start, there's so many things you don't have to explain, which is nice, which I find difficult sometimes, because I hate having to like, I'm sorry, listeners, but I hate having to explain things to straight people. [laughter] Like, I don't have to—I hate having to explain queer rhetorical practices to straight people who would be like, “Girl?” What, like, “What, what's that like? Why are you saying it this way and like, not that way? And it's like, because everything's girl to me, I don't know. Like, what do you, I don't know what do you want from me? This, this AirPod case is girl. This, this water bottle is a she, I don't know what to tell you.
T: Same! So I have, I come from a creative writing, like, program, you know, back in the day. And we had so many conversations about like, audience, like... if you're in a workshop with the only straight folks, obviously you can get great feedback, you know, but it's still like how much you want to explain, especially with, like language practices, our words, stuff like that... cause if you're over-explaining, then it can be very boring because your reader's like, “Okay girl, I already know that.”
Wilfredo: Yeah, exactly! [laughter] Yeah, totally.
T: I do kind of want to pivot to another project that I'm working on because I'm looking for interview participants, so maybe it could be a good opportunity. I'm looking for specifically. So I, another thing that I'm working on is creative writers who teach composition like first-year composition or some kind of, you know, rhetoric or discourse class, who maybe have a background in or as an MFA or just creative writer. Cause I've, I didn't necessarily realize this until I became more in the writing studies and first year kind of composition side of things, but there's kind of a disciplinary conversation—maybe disconnect for some folks—is sometimes... The folks I've talked to, creative writers may feel a little bit difficult situating themselves in their like practices. But once they do it's all love. It's all great. Like, and I, so I had kind of that situation, but not as much as other folks that I've talked to. So, I’m just kind of interviewing folks about their experiences and how to kind of enculturate so we can keep that conversation ongoing and validate people and help with their teaching and just have, you know, more communication.
W: Right, totally. I love that idea! Here at MSU, there's quite a number of people who have MFAs who are creative writers who are fiction writers—non-fiction and fiction writers—who teach in our first-year writing program, because as a graduate TA, I'm also teaching the first-year writing program. So I get to speak with a lot of them. So yeah, I see those disciplinary tensions sometimes, but then like when things kind of gel together, it works out great. And I've seen some wonderful like curriculum that people have created that I would never have thought about as someone with a non-creative background. Like maybe I am a creative, who knows, but without like the training—
T: All writing is creative!
W: Exactly, there you go! But like, without that like proper training, as it were, I guess. Totally, yeah. I love that idea.
T: I was just going to say that I started, you know, teaching and as a first, first-year writing. And, and I think I really resisted it as a creative writer, cause I didn't really know anything, you know? And it seems like, oh, it's a required class, students don't want to be there. You know, there's all these like narratives about what first year composition is and who's in the class, you know?
T: Then I get in the class and I, I love it. You know? I like, okay, this is great.
W: Right, I love first-year writing!
T: I think if we can have these conversations and maybe reframe it, I think it will just be good, good for, you know, those, those grad students, people that work their way up kind of, you know, stuff like that.
W: Right. totally. I can totally see that particularly benefiting graduate TA's coming in from maybe like, if there's an independent writing and rhetoric studies department or a writing program coming in from like English studies or like a creative writing program, I can totally see something like this, benefiting them and being tuned into those disciplinary conversations and how things can work well together because yes, yes, yes, yes—all that. I love that project. That sounds cool.
Tyler: And we're, you know, we all have, or not, we all, but we have there's similar interests. We're just not to go too deep, we're using differently lexis, right? We just have different languages, have different frameworks and angles, which is cool, but like, how do they overlap? How do they inform each other? And at the end of the day, like, you know, we're trying to teach our students. So how do people just feel more comfortable to bring in their like writing practices and their embodied experiences? You know? And so part of what I'm doing is interviewing folks who—I'm interviewing grad TAs all the way up or not all the way up. That sounds, you know, not exactly how it is, but like at different points in their careers. So, I'm like interviewing instructors, associate professors, WPAs, writing center folks, just, just all trying to touch on different aspects of that.
W: That sounds nice. Very cool. After this, I can probably send you an email to some people who would definitely love to talk about that at least here, from MSU, if you would like more participants. I know people here who've been definitely thinking about this as well.
T: So I would love, I appreciate that so much because now I'm just kind of like, you know, snowballing, sampling, like word of mouth, whoever, oh, I know this person, whatever, you know, which I think is a great way to approach it. But also I want to try to get as many people—it’s very early in the project.
W: Yeah, anything to help that project along I'm down for it, cause this sounds cool. I love it!
T: I appreciate that!
W: Yeah. and then maybe in a couple of, well—hopefully, listeners, if this podcast is still going, you can't see, but I'm like crossing my fingers—if this podcast is still going, then you can revisit and then tell us more about that project later on, too. So, well, this has been great. Thank you so much again for joining us. This has been an excellent conversation. Do you have any emails or professional websites or some handles that you'd like to share to the audience?
T: Yes! So you can find me on Twitter at @TylerMTG. I don't really tweet that much anymore during the semesters, you know, feels claustrophobic. My professional website is my name, TylerGillespie.com. And you can email me—especially about anything. But if you are interested in being interviewed, my email that I'm using is my work email, and that’s T-M-G-I-L-L-E-S at olemiss dot edu.
W: Awesome, and I have everything linked in the show notes. Well, thank you again—
T: Sorry. I was just talking way too much, but like any, anybody that wants to reach out, I mean, I live and work in the south, you know, which has its own its own stuff. So specifically, if you're in or around, you know there and you want to reach out I'm here.
W: Definitely. I know there is a burgeoning amount of work dedicated to looking at queer rural spaces in the south in particular and in the Midwest. I think because too often, I think, everything queer focuses on LA, San Francisco, New York, which is great. There's like lots of history, but there's so much that still needs to be said. So totally, yeah. I love that. Well, thank you again for joining me and yeah, thank you listeners!
T: Thank you so much, yes!
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W: Thanks for listening! You can find out more about this and other episodes at tellmemorepod.com, where you’ll also find transcripts for each episode. The opening and closing theme song is “Metre'' by Slow Alarm. Music licensed under an Attribution, Non-commercial, Share Alike License, and special thanks to Slow Alarm for providing the music free of charge. You can learn more about Slow Alarm at nultielrecords.blogspot.com. Be well!