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Remote Rap Sessions – Lost Notes Imagining Billy Tipton

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 @ 11:00 am 12:00 pm

Register for the Zoom Discussion

The third session of TRLN’s Remote Rap Sessions will be about episode 6 of the podcast Lost Notes called “Imagining Billy Tipton“. This episode is available on multiple podcast platforms, but can also be streamed from Registration helps with our planning and is much appreciated. You can register before and during the discussion and will receive the meeting link as soon as you register.

Billy Tipton wasn’t a star or a jazz virtuoso; he was a working musician from the 1930s until the late ‘50s. He toured small clubs, performed variety shows, and recorded a few records for a no-name label. Then, in 1958, he walked away from his life as a musician. He became a family man, settling in Spokane, Washington, for the next three decades. Then, in 1989, Billy Tipton’s death made national headlines.

He had several health problems, and when he collapsed, his son called an ambulance. As the paramedics tried to resuscitate Tipton, they discovered that he was anatomically female. His bandmates, his sons, and ex-wives said they didn’t know. His personal life became tabloid fodder and TV talk show gossip. And for some in the transgender community, Billy Tipton became a trans pioneer. But how do we apply our categorizations of identity today to someone’s story from the early 20th century? It’s difficult to say whether Tipton was confined, or actually felt free, without being able to ask him. His story isn’t so easy to tell – especially not decades later – and that’s why it’s important to try.

Edward Gomes, Senior Associate Dean – Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Laurin Penland, Rubenstein Library Technical Services Assistant at Duke University, Kristan Shawgo, Social Sciences Librarian at UNC-CH, and Aaron Smithers, Special Collections Research and Instruction Librarian at UNC-CH will co-facilitate this discussion.

Discussion questions:

  • How can we ensure that we are respecting people’s (research subjects’) preferences when we talk to library users about materials and research?
  • Who gets to decide how people are represented and remembered?
  • When is it appropriate to emphasize the subjectivity and uncertainty of descriptions? When is it okay to make assumptions about a person’s gender, race, or disability status?
  • What do you do when you don’t know how to describe someone?
  • How can we balance our understanding of identity today with identity in the early to mid 20th century? How does this impact representation and projection?
  • What systems and structures do we currently have in place to help our users self-identify and feel represented respectfully and accurately? Where can we improve?

Suggested resources:

We hope you can join us and please reach out to with any questions!