Michelle Esther O'Brien

Interviewed By Ted Kerr

In this interview, Michelle O’Brien discusses milestones in her politicization: Ancient Forest Defense Network in the Pacific Northwest, highway blockades in Minnesota, trans healthcare organizing in Philadelphia, and the AIDS struggle in New York City. From anarchism to socialism and everything in between, O’Brien discusses how important both high intensity direct action and marxist/feminist/queer theory and analysis have been every step of the way. Despite traveling around the world and meeting older queers, radical fairies, lesbian seperatists, and more, listen to O'Brien explain why she is happy to call New York home, as well as assess the ups and downs of her current work as a Sociology doctoral candidate at New York University. (Summary by Evan Zavidow.)

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love for New York City (59:04)
New York City (59:08)
New York (59:10)
New York (59:16)
social democratic (59:21)
history of NYC (59:23)
social welfare (59:29)
public hospitals (59:35)
public housing (59:36)
libraries (59:37)
mass transit (59:38)
health insurance (59:41)
welfare (59:43)
New York (59:46)
Europe (59:49)
United States (59:51)
free public education (59:55)
higher education (59:57)
CUNY (59:58)
white immigrant (01:00:01)
post war struggles (01:00:04)
working class African Americans (01:00:07)
United States (01:00:13)
history of struggle (01:00:17)
New York (01:00:20)
being trans in New York (01:00:27)
dense (01:00:33)
queer communities (01:00:38)
transwomen (01:00:46)
AIDS movement (01:00:48)
transwomen (01:00:52)
queer punk scene (01:00:55)
transwomen (01:00:58)
hostility (01:01:04)
New York (01:01:09)
butch presenting (01:01:11)
butch presenting (01:01:14)
gender ambiguous (01:01:16)
transwoman (01:01:17)
passing (01:01:20)
harassment (01:01:27)
misgendering (01:01:30)
misgendering (01:01:36)
confusing gender (01:01:44)
trans people in New York (01:01:56)
NYHRE (01:01:58)
East Harlem (01:02:02)
Bronx (01:02:03)
East Harlem (01:02:07)
out queer scene (01:02:09)
Puerto Ricans (01:02:13)
transwomen (01:02:14)
queer scene (01:02:19)
East Harlem streets (01:02:20)
bathrooms (01:02:24)
125th and Lexington (01:02:26)
penises (01:02:30)
ciswomen (01:02:39)
sex workers (01:02:45)
incredible trans scenes (01:02:48)
beautiful trans communities (01:02:51)
pro-trans (01:02:58)
Philadelphia (01:02:59)
New York (01:03:04)
language barriers (01:03:09)
New York (01:03:12)
diversity (01:03:17)
diversity (01:03:19)
Philadelphia (01:03:30)
Philadelphia (01:03:32)
diversity (01:03:34)
New York (01:03:46)
tolerance (01:03:51)
pro-trans (01:03:58)
changing gender (01:04:04)
gender ambiguous (01:04:12)
diversity (01:04:17)
tolerance (01:04:21)
trans people (01:04:27)
cities (01:04:30)
space (01:04:35)
gender respect (01:04:37)
gender respect (01:04:42)
extreme difference (01:04:45)
diversity (01:04:47)
humane (01:04:56)
politics (01:05:01)
socialist politics (01:05:04)
anarchists (01:05:07)
networks (01:05:11)
social benefits for all (01:05:14)
guaranteed housing (01:05:27)
guaranteed food access (01:05:28)
guaranteed healthcare (01:05:29)
social service scene (01:05:36)
behavioral management (01:05:38)
syringe exchange (01:05:42)
New York (01:06:15)
casual dating (01:06:17)
political queer scene (01:06:25)
punk (01:06:27)
young Left queers (01:06:33)
people of color organizing (01:06:35)
connect (01:06:43)
diverse community (01:06:46)
children (01:06:55)
family (01:06:56)
family (01:07:05)
culture (01:07:16)
organizing (01:07:17)
culture (01:07:23)
punk shows (01:07:28)
sixteen (01:07:30)
anarchist (01:07:34)
communist (01:07:36)
study group (01:07:37)
punk shows (01:07:40)
hard core (01:07:45)
study group (01:07:54)
punk show (01:07:56)
study group (01:08:01)
early 2000s (01:08:06)
coming out as trans (01:08:07)
hip hop (01:08:10)
Philadelphia (01:08:13)
breakdance (01:08:17)
breakdance (01:08:20)
organizing (01:08:23)
culture (01:08:26)
organizing (01:08:29)
cross-cultural organizing (01:08:32)
ball scene (01:08:37)
crossdressers (01:08:38)
punk scene (01:08:42)
organizing (01:08:45)
culture (01:09:04)
culture (01:09:17)
culture (01:09:23)
writing (01:09:28)
writers (01:09:31)
books (01:09:32)
genres (01:09:37)
political philosophy (01:09:39)
marxist political philosophy (01:09:41)
anthology of revolutionary feminism (01:09:47)
gender debates (01:09:51)
revolutionaries (01:09:52)
1890-1983 (01:09:54)
feminism (01:10:02)
Women's Studies (01:10:05)
post Second Wave (01:10:06)
post-1983 (01:10:08)
legacy (01:10:11)
feminism debates (01:10:13)
communist (01:10:15)
anarchist (01:10:17)
Black Nationalist (01:10:19)
new Left (01:10:21)
marxist feminism (01:10:29)
study groups (01:10:37)
New York (01:10:47)
history of feminism (01:11:01)
history of queer politics (01:11:03)
revolutionary (01:11:04)
gender (01:11:11)
capitalist development (01:11:15)
capitalist class relations (01:11:18)
political philosophy (01:11:20)
queer theory (01:11:23)
feminist theor (01:11:24)
marxist theory (01:11:25)
Black liberation (01:11:27)
Science Fiction (01:11:34)
Science Fiction (01:11:37)
feminist Science Fiction (01:11:39)
queer Science Fiction (01:11:41)
Science fiction (01:11:52)
social structures (01:11:59)
Science Fiction (01:12:06)
liberated societies (01:12:10)
gender (01:12:13)
sexuality (01:12:14)
alternative forms of material social relations (01:12:16)
socialist (01:12:21)
feminist (01:12:22)
political philosophy (01:12:36)
community (01:12:38)
Science Fiction (01:12:44)
Science Fiction (01:12:48)
internet (01:12:56)
world wide web (01:13:00)
internet (01:13:08)
technology (01:13:12)
technology (01:13:38)
technological skepticism (01:13:48)
online community (01:13:50)
political space (01:13:53)
online community (01:13:58)
coming out as trans (01:14:03)
Portland (01:14:04)
transwomen (01:14:06)
feminist punk websites (01:14:09)
Spread (01:14:13)
Chainsaw Records (01:14:15)
Spread (01:14:17)
radical queer people (01:14:25)
transwomen (01:14:27)
live journals (01:14:29)
Camp Trans (01:14:35)
Michigan Women's Music Festival (01:14:37)
boycotts (01:14:41)
Spread (01:14:52)
online arguing (01:14:53)
live journals (01:14:57)
live journals (01:14:58)
community (01:15:01)
organizing (01:15:03)
organizing (01:15:05)
Leftist discussion groups (01:15:15)
Facebook (01:15:16)
discussion groups (01:15:17)
marxist value theory (01:15:19)
gender discussion groups (01:15:22)
European communists (01:15:24)
political organizing (01:15:36)
offline (01:15:42)
secrecy (01:15:46)
security (01:15:48)
ancient forest defense work (01:15:50)
offline (01:15:52)
communist socialist organizing (01:15:54)
offline (01:15:55)
internet (01:15:56)
lack of record (01:15:58)
NYU (01:16:03)
face to face (01:16:08)
email (01:16:11)
solidaristic (01:16:21)
face to face (01:16:28)
internet communities (01:16:34)
organizing (01:16:38)
political work (01:16:40)
face to face (01:16:43)
writing (01:16:49)
blogging (01:16:55)
publishing (01:16:56)
blogging (01:16:57)
website (01:17:00)
shame (01:17:03)
writing (01:17:04)
publishing (01:17:09)
getting published (01:17:13)
graduate student (01:17:16)
anxiety (01:17:18)
job market (01:17:20)
writing insecurity (01:17:22)
writing (01:17:28)
wanting to share (01:17:33)
anxiety (01:17:38)
aspiring academic (01:17:45)
trans communities (01:17:56)
HIV/AIDS (01:17:57)
Philadelphia (01:17:59)
AIDS Philadelphia (01:18:05)
Action AIDS (01:18:13)
trans focus (01:18:24)
organizing (01:18:27)
Taking it to the Streets (01:18:31)
Matilda Bernstein (01:18:34)
Sycamore (01:18:35)
queer strategies for resisting assimilation (01:18:37)
trans organizing (01:18:44)
trans specific work (01:18:47)
Philadelphia Trans Health Conference (01:18:50)
Trans Health Information Project (01:18:54)
HIV (01:19:28)
transwomen (01:19:30)
transwomen (01:19:36)
trans communities (01:19:37)
lack of documentation (01:19:44)
institutional memory (01:19:48)
trans history (01:19:57)
trans history (01:20:03)
poor people (01:20:07)
trans history (01:20:09)
trans organizing (01:20:17)
AIDS movement (01:20:19)
sex worker organizing (01:20:21)
syringe exchange (01:20:23)
service and healthcare access (01:20:26)
poor and trans access (01:20:28)
African American (01:20:31)
Latina (01:20:32)
AIDS movement (01:20:37)
1990s (01:20:39)
1990s split (01:20:41)
drug research (01:20:48)
drug research (01:20:51)
social services (01:20:58)
very poor people living with AIDS (01:21:01)
AIDS (01:21:03)
Housing Works (01:21:05)
syringe exchange (01:21:07)
organizing (01:21:09)
VOCAL (01:21:11)
VOCAL (01:21:12)
gender spread (01:21:16)
transwomen (01:21:21)
transwomen presence (01:21:24)
poor people organizing (01:21:28)
AIDS (01:21:30)
1990s (01:21:32)
1970s-1980s (01:21:34)
1990s (01:21:40)
New York (01:21:41)
queer people of color (01:21:47)
transwomen (01:21:49)
organizing (01:21:58)
trans communities (01:21:59)
punk scene (01:22:05)
ball scene (01:22:07)
syringe exchange (01:22:11)
AIDS poverty services (01:22:13)
New York (01:22:17)
1980s-1990s (01:22:23)
AIDS services (01:22:25)
Highway 55 (01:22:46)
Highway 55 (01:22:48)
World Trade Organization (01:23:10)
HIV/AIDS (01:23:14)
late 1990s (01:23:24)
environmentalists (01:23:29)
AIDS movement (01:23:32)
direct action (01:23:37)
lockdown (01:23:42)
protests (01:23:47)
AIDS (01:23:48)
1990s (01:23:49)
AIDS movement (01:23:53)
Philadelphia (01:23:56)
2001 (01:23:57)
ACT UP Philadelphia (01:24:03)
protests (01:24:05)
AIDS and prison (01:24:07)
national drug policy (01:24:12)
Health GAP (01:24:16)
Health Global Access Project (01:24:19)
prison work (01:24:25)
connect (01:24:29)
Philadelphia Prison Health News (01:24:32)
prisoners (01:24:39)
high visibility (01:24:46)
direct actions (01:24:48)
2000s (01:24:51)
Rudy Giuliani (01:24:53)
New York (01:24:56)
1999 (01:25:00)
militants (01:25:06)
2000s (01:25:08)
New York (01:25:09)
late 2000s (01:25:10)
2004-2008 (01:25:12)
politicized (01:25:14)
direct action (01:25:16)
AIDS organizing (01:25:17)
late 1990s (01:25:18)
Giuliani era (01:25:21)
bridges and tunnel action (01:25:24)
April (01:25:26)
1999 (01:25:27)
East Side (01:25:31)
Manhattan (01:25:33)
Occupy Wall Street (01:25:46)
ACT UP (01:25:50)
AIDS scene (01:25:54)
2005 (01:25:56)
massive direct action (01:26:03)
direct action (01:26:05)
Occupy Wall Street (01:26:07)
VOCAL (01:26:08)
civil disobedience action (01:26:10)
AIDS (01:26:17)
research (01:26:24)
community (01:26:32)
dissertation (01:26:44)
dissertation (01:26:51)
community (01:27:07)
cities (01:27:08)
community (01:27:11)
NYU (01:27:14)
University (01:27:16)
grad student (01:27:19)
scholar (01:27:21)
union (01:27:28)
graduate students (01:27:30)
university (01:27:34)
stipends (01:27:40)
graduate student workers (01:27:45)
transformation (01:27:47)
graduate students (01:27:52)
academic job market (01:27:55)
adjunctification (01:28:04)
adjunct professors (01:28:10)
adjunct professors (01:28:15)
living wage (01:28:17)
graduate student workers unions (01:28:21)
graduate student workers unions (01:28:22)
unionization (01:28:26)
1970s (01:28:27)
public universities (01:28:29)
public universities (01:28:33)
private universities (01:28:37)
graduate students (01:28:43)
graduate student workers (01:28:45)
unionize (01:28:46)
NYU (01:28:47)
union contract (01:28:51)
Summer (01:28:54)
union contract (01:29:00)
NYU (01:29:01)
Summer (01:29:03)
National Labor Relations Board (01:29:04)
private university (01:29:08)
graduate student workers unions (01:29:10)
fighting the university (01:29:19)
union (01:29:22)
United Auto Workers (01:29:24)
organizing (01:29:32)
autonomy (01:29:41)
caucus (01:29:46)
Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (01:29:47)
graduate student union (01:29:54)
California (01:29:56)
University of California (01:29:57)
United Auto Workers (01:30:00)
solidarity (01:30:03)
UAW (01:30:10)
critique of the UAW (01:30:11)
UAW (01:30:14)
UAW (01:30:17)
multi-issue social justice organizing (01:30:27)
union (01:30:29)
union resolution (01:30:31)
solidarity (01:30:34)
union (01:30:37)
NYU (01:30:38)
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (01:30:39)
Israel (01:30:42)
United States (01:30:47)
controversial (01:30:56)
United States politics (01:31:00)
United States labor (01:31:01)
Black Lives Matter (01:31:05)
Occupy (01:31:07)
university (01:31:20)
university (01:31:23)
academic life (01:31:30)
competitive (01:31:32)
mentors (01:31:45)
finding your path (01:31:50)
Sociology (01:31:54)
New York (01:32:17)
child (01:32:18)
failure (01:32:25)
university (01:32:37)
trans academia (01:32:39)
trans communities (01:32:40)
trans (01:32:59)
transwomen (01:33:07)
NYU (01:33:08)
transwomen academic isolation (01:33:09)
trans academics (01:33:19)
queer conferences (01:33:24)
transwomen (01:33:32)
gender (01:33:47)
liberal academic environments (01:33:48)
speak like a man (01:33:55)
misogyny (01:34:05)
homophobia (01:34:06)
transphobia (01:34:07)
butch (01:34:17)
butch (01:34:27)
hostility (01:34:35)
disability (01:34:43)
gay (01:35:00)
woman (01:35:05)
perceptions (01:35:10)
effeminate gay man (01:35:18)
effeminate gay man (01:35:23)
NYU (01:35:25)
butch (01:35:31)
feminist studies (01:35:36)
university (01:35:53)
masculinity (01:35:58)
masculine performance (01:36:06)
tipping point (01:36:23)
transness (01:36:25)
transwomen of color (01:36:28)
tipping point critique (01:36:35)
tipping point (01:36:37)
tipping point (01:36:45)
Laverne Cox (01:36:50)
Janet Mock (01:36:51)
Caitlin Jenner (01:36:53)
tipping point (01:36:58)
tipping point (01:36:59)
Left wing (01:37:08)
left wing trans people (01:37:09)
recognition (01:37:19)
visibility (01:37:21)
political possibility (01:37:27)
Philadelphia Trans Health Conference (01:37:34)
trans children (01:37:41)
trans children caucus (01:37:49)
online community (01:37:55)
political problems (01:38:00)
traditional narratives (01:38:06)
transsexuality (01:38:07)
coming out as trans (01:38:20)
coming out as trans (01:38:21)
pre-adolescence (01:38:23)
parental support (01:38:25)
trans children (01:38:36)
hormone-induced (01:38:42)
gender (01:38:43)
hormone blockers (01:38:47)
trans support (01:38:49)
progress (01:38:53)
struggles around trans narrative (01:39:01)
trans narratives (01:39:02)
parent of trans children (01:39:06)
roles of children (01:39:09)
trans movement (01:39:11)
visibility (01:39:28)
critical mass (01:39:29)
queer friendly parents (01:39:33)
parental support (01:39:44)
gender non-conformity (01:39:46)
transformations in capital (01:39:56)
labor markets (01:39:59)
massive transformation (01:40:02)
trans visibility (01:40:05)
ongoing liberation struggles (01:40:18)
erasure (01:40:22)
what it means to be trans (01:40:25)
progress (01:40:28)
progress (01:40:31)
visibility (01:40:34)
Laverne Cox (01:40:41)
Janet Mock (01:40:42)
world heroes (01:40:49)
queer anti-assimilation (01:41:00)
cultural isolation (01:41:04)
cultural marginalization (01:41:06)
communist (01:41:10)
equal access (01:41:13)
queer communism (01:41:15)
opportunity (01:41:19)
non-assimilation (01:41:22)
non-conforming (01:41:25)
future (01:41:28)
hundreds of genders (01:41:31)
future (01:41:40)
marginal subcultures (01:41:45)
spirit (01:41:49)
cultures (01:41:52)
mainstream (01:41:54)
transformation (01:41:58)
subculture (01:42:04)
sacrifice (01:42:14)
political substance (01:42:17)
cultural radicals (01:42:27)
mainstream (01:42:37)
transformation (01:42:47)
trans children (01:42:50)
Philadelphia Trans Health Conference (01:42:51)
trans children (01:42:55)
aging (01:42:58)
trans realities (01:42:59)
older transwomen (01:43:06)
trans aging (01:43:13)
queer people (01:43:18)
generational boom (01:43:34)
post WWII (01:43:36)
politicization (01:43:40)
late 1960s (01:43:44)
early 1970s (01:43:46)
queer liberation movement (01:43:51)
United States (01:43:54)
generation (01:43:56)
coming of age (01:43:58)
senior years (01:44:02)
America (01:44:03)
generational bubble (01:44:07)
aging (01:44:08)
National Domestic Workers Alliance (01:44:18)
universal home care insurance (01:44:22)
seniors (01:44:26)
domestic workers (01:44:27)
social benefit (01:44:31)
nursing homes (01:44:34)
domestic workers (01:44:35)
aging (01:44:41)
organizing (01:44:42)
universal benefits (01:44:43)
aging (01:44:53)
United States (01:44:55)
radicals (01:44:58)
queer scene (01:45:00)
radicalized (01:45:05)
aging (01:45:14)
revolutionary elders (01:45:17)
queer scene (01:45:20)
gay liberation front (01:45:34)
AIDS struggle (01:45:38)
queer seniors (01:45:51)
trans seniors (01:45:52)
children support (01:45:56)
extended family support (01:45:59)
employment (01:46:04)
retirement (01:46:08)
social security (01:46:10)
homeownership (01:46:24)
economic marginalization (01:46:29)
senior years (01:46:33)
job access (01:46:38)
aging crisis (01:46:40)
poverty (01:46:42)
elder poverty (01:46:50)
queers of all ages (01:46:52)
responsibility (01:46:55)
queer elders (01:47:00)
economic struggles (01:47:14)
economic survival (01:47:16)
queer elders (01:47:17)
links (01:47:22)
queer elder communities (01:47:24)
elder rights organizing (01:47:26)
defense of social security (01:47:28)
elders (01:47:40)
severe poverty (01:47:42)
urgent task (01:47:45)
bleak future (01:48:15)
survival (01:48:33)
bleak future (01:48:39)
revolutionary strategy (01:48:51)
making the world a better place (01:48:59)
bleak future (01:49:05)
making the world a better place (01:49:09)
confidence (01:49:19)
bleak future (01:49:25)
crisis of capital (01:49:36)
capitalist profitability (01:49:39)
1970s (01:49:41)
struggle (01:49:46)
bleak future (01:49:51)
bleak future (01:49:55)
Trump presidency (01:50:00)
writing (01:50:15)
generational support (01:50:35)
mentors (01:50:39)
mentors (01:50:42)
hundreds of genders (01:51:12)
queer communism (01:51:20)
creativity (01:51:28)
self-realization (01:51:30)
marxist tradition (01:51:35)
queer subculture (01:51:37)
Black liberation movement (01:51:40)
creativity (01:51:44)
alienation (01:51:58)
siphoning (01:52:01)
future (01:52:12)
creativity (01:52:16)
desparate material scarcity (01:52:24)
society dedicated to full human development (01:52:31)
socialism (01:52:34)
future (01:52:38)
trans people (01:52:39)
adversity (01:52:44)
trans people (01:52:46)
alienation (01:52:50)
trans people (01:53:01)
struggle (01:53:03)
self-authenticity (01:53:08)
self-realization (01:53:10)
full human beings (01:53:13)
social stigma (01:53:16)
transformation (01:53:18)
future (01:53:23)
future (01:53:26)
future (01:53:27)
transformation (01:53:36)
radical transformation (01:53:45)
flourishing (01:53:50)
trans human (01:53:56)
post human (01:53:57)
future (01:54:00)
violence (01:54:07)
violence of profit (01:54:08)
violet of capital (01:54:09)
tyranny (01:54:11)
future (01:54:24)
trans future (01:54:26)
trans struggle (01:54:29)
capitalism (01:54:31)

Transcript

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Interview Data

Date of Interview
January 16, 2017
Location of Interview
NYU Department of Sociology
Place of birth
Eugene, Oregon
Gender Pronouns
She/Her
Birth Year
1978
Rights Statement
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About This Collection

NYC Trans Oral History Project

NYPL's Community Oral History Project is teaming up with the NYC Trans Oral History Project to collect, preserve, and share oral histories from our city's transgender and gender non-conforming communities. 

We'll be training a community corps of interviewers to collect these largely undocumented oral histories in order to build a lasting and expansive archive on NYC transgender experiences.

About the NYC Trans Oral History Project:

We are a collective, community archive working to document transgender resistance and resilience in New York City. We work to confront the erasure of trans lives and to record diverse histories of gender as intersecting with race and racism, poverty, dis/ability, aging, housing migration, sexism, and the AIDS crisis. 

We are inspired by the public history activism of the ACT UP oral history project to build knowledge as a part of our anti-oppression work. We believe oral history is a powerful part of social justice work, and that building an alternative archive of transgender histories can transform our organizing for transgender liberation. 

You can listen to interviews, search interviews tags (like #genderfluidity #self-knowledge #gentrification and #queerfamily), and soon read transcripts. We hope the interviews and tags will preserve and proliferate new knowledges about trans and gender non-conforming experiences.

Content warning: Many of the interviews here include personal accounts of violence, sexual assault, abuse as children, or trauma.