Octavia Leona Kohner

Interviewed By Michelle Esther O'Brien

Octavia Leona Kohner was active in the successful unionization campaign at Babeland, a NYC sex toy shop. Here, she recounts her upbringing in a working-class family in Staten Island, and describes social isolation, friendships, and sexual encounters during adolescence. She relates her experience coming out as a trans woman while attending Hunter College, and her struggle with depression. She also discusses her own political journey, participating in advocacy and activism during high school and college, listening and learning at Occupy Wall Street, and her affiliation with anarchism. She shares stories of organizing at Babeland, recounting workplace grievances, anti-union efforts by management, the bargaining process, and details of their first contract. She places the victory by Babeland workers in the context of the broader labor movement. (Summary by Justine Ambrose.)

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childhood (00:55)
Canarsie, Brooklyn (00:59)
Staten Island (01:11)
grandfather (01:28)
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mother (01:48)
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union history (01:21:49)
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working-class family (01:29:53)
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worker solidarity (01:32:17)
International Women’s Strike (01:32:20)
strike (01:34:01)
trans community (01:35:29)
love (01:35:50)
sisterhood (01:35:55)
trans community support (01:36:33)
solidarity (01:38:14)
love (01:38:41)

Transcript

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Interview Data

Date of Interview
March 27, 2017
Location of Interview
NYU Sociology Department
Place of birth
Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York
Occupations
Sex Educator, Sales Associate, Youth/Peer Outreach Worker
Gender Pronouns
She/Her (They/Them)
Birth Year
1992
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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.