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Department of Sociology
400 E. University Way
Ellensburg, WA 98926
Phone: 509-963-1305
Fax: 509-963-1308

TransRural Lives: Trans Elders Digital Storytelling Project


Project Information 

A community-based collaboration among Helen House, a LGBTQ+ youth organization in Ellensburg, WA, Central Washington University professors, M. Eliatamby-O’Brien (they/them) and Griff Tester (he/him), and Humanities Washington, TransRural Lives is a digital storytelling project designed to document and celebrate the lives of transgender* older adults (ages 50+) living in or with strong ties to rural areas and small towns in Washington State. We seek to document and make accessible older adults’ stories of survival, resistance, transition, love and relationships, and everyday life, and the transgender histories these stories reveal.

Stories will be publicly shared using an interactive website, where visitors can navigate between older adults’ narratives and learn about the richness and diversity of their lives. As a way of fostering connections across generations, we want to share these stories with LGBTQ+ youth via in-person and virtual events. In Spring 2023, we will host our first community event at Helen House, where youth will be able to listen and post responses to transgender older adults’ stories, and, as the project unfolds, we are hoping to join with other LGBTQ+ (youth and adult) groups across the state to share and celebrate these stories. 

If you have questions or would like to participate, email or call 509-963-2005.   

* By trans, we include and welcome anyone and any identity that falls outside the gender binary, including nonbinary, genderqueer, gender-diverse, gender non-conforming, and Two-Spirit folks. 


  • Who is eligible to participate in the storytelling project? 

    • Transgender adults 50 years of age and older who live in or have strong ties to rural areas and smaller cities/towns in Washington State (outside the Sea-Tac metro). In 2024, we will be expanding the project to include transgender older adults who live in Oregon, Idaho, wesetern Montana, and British Columbia.  

  • How will stories be collected? 

    • M. Eliatamby-O'Brien and Griff Tester will interview individuals or small groups of participants in person or online. Individual interviews will last approximately one hour and, with participants' permission, will be audio recorded and transcribed.

    • If you are not comfortable being interviewed, participants can share their stories in writting or other creative ways. 

  • How will the interviews/stories be used? 

    • Segments of participants' stories will be shared on the interactive TransRural Lives webpage. The primary audience for the project, via the webpage, is LGBTQ+ individuals and groups, particularly transgender youth and older adults in more rural areas.

    • Participants' stories will also be used to educate students in the Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies program, in other relevant academic programs, and during community and academic presentations. 

  • What will happen to the audio recordings and transcripts of the interviews (or other materials shared, such as writings and photos)?  

    • Full audio recordings and transcripts (and other materials shared) will be securely stored at the CWU Library, Archives & Special Collections. However, participants retain copyright of the audio file and other shared materials and can have it removed from the Archives and the TransRural Lives webpage at any time, upon request. 

  • Who are the indivduals and groups involved in the project? 

    • Helen House is a LGBTQ+ youth organization in Ellensburg, WA. Tylene Carnell (she/her) is the founder and director and has extensive experience supporting and organizing on behalf of LGBTQ+ people, including transgender adults, in and beyond Central Washington.  

    • M. Eliatamby-O'Brien (they/them), Ph.D, is an Associate Professor in the English Department at CWU trained in interdisciplinary, Cultural Studies methods, and directs the Women's Gender, and Sexuality Stuides Program (WGSS). Their research focuses on the experiences of gender, sexual, and racially-minoritized forced migrants through engagement with digital life narratives, digital storytelling, and multimodal rhetorics. They co-led Cosmopolitan Possibilities, a digital storytelling project connecting the contents of the life narratives within Australian Multicultural Archive with digital storytelling projects in Canada and the USA, with a particular focus on LGBTQ+ forced migrants. 

    • Griff Tester (he/him), Ph.D, is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at CWU and program faculty in the WGSS program. His research focuses on sexuality, gender, and social gerontology, specifically the social ties and support networks of gender and sexual minorities in later life. He brings extensive experience with engaging and interviewing minoritized, hard-to-reach groups and, using queer and life course perspectives, analyzing interviews to discover and conceptualize underlying social patterns and structures. 

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