Baird Campbell takes the page 99 test

Page 99 of my dissertation falls in the middle of the second chapter, “Historia: Social Media as a Tool for Counter-Memory.” Each chapter takes a salient concept from my fieldwork as a jumping off point, and in chapter 2 this concept is “historia.” Historia is interesting because of the ambiguity that this word creates when translated to English; it means both ‘history’ and ‘story,’ which I use as an entry point to discuss the online history making practices among Chilean trans activists at the heart of this project. As they tell stories, they make history…

Though I began with a more traditional project in mind, social media emerged unexpectedly as a central theme in my interviews, as a tool for community building and knowledge sharing, and as an archive. At the same time, as I conducted life history interviews, the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) and its aftermath seemed inescapable. Though the advent of social media and the end of the dictatorship were separated by two decades, the connection between them felt obvious to me, but in a way that took me several years to articulate.  

Page 99 is dominated by two lengthy quotes from Alejandra Soto, the president of trans sex worker’s rights organization Sindicato Amanda Jofré. In these quotes, Alejandra recounts in painful detail the suspected murder of the organization’s namesake at the hands of a former member of Pinochet’s secret police, the DINA.

(from pg. 99)

——-

Both Amanda’s subaltern position and that of her compañeras meant that, though charges were filed and evidence presented, he was ultimately cleared of all charges, understood to be de facto a more credible witness than the women he made a habit of torturing. This is especially telling given that there was another compañera present during these events whose eyewitness testimony was essentially ignored in favor of protecting a man with connections to the halls of power.

“There was another compañera there, and he told her ‘She’s suffocating. Let’s let her die and we’ll just throw her body into the Mapocho.’ And the compañera said ‘No, no, don’t throw her away.’ And she called us and we showed up with the cops, the media, and saw them carrying her outside, dead.”

“So what happened to him?” I asked, shocked at the brazenness of what I was hearing.

“He was out in a month. I mean, he was in the DINA. He had a lot of support.”

——-

It was through becoming Facebook friends with many of my interlocutors that I was able to learn—in bits and pieces—more about the stories they told me in interviews, like the one above. As I became attuned to these traces, in classic ethnographic fashion, the connection revealed itself. I began to connect faces, names, and events, revealing small glimpses of Chile’s trans history.

Marginalized communities have long had to develop their own methods of preserving their histories. For Chile’s trans community, this has historically taken the form of oral history. In turn, this practice has become enmeshed with the open wound of thousands of murdered and disappeared political prisoners whose stories will never be known, a central focus of contemporary Chilean activism.

Though my ethnography bridges on- and offline spaces, it ultimately maps a trajectory of alternative history making practices that predate the internet. Social media is simply its most recent iteration.

Baird Campbell. 2021. “The Archive of the Self: Trans Self-Making and Social Media in Chile.” Rice University, Phd.

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