For the holiday season, we're pleased to highlight and support a nonprofit that we love. Between December 15th and December 17th, we'll be donating $5 from every subscription sale to I'm from Driftwood.
I'm from Driftwood is a nonprofit online storytelling project that, since 2009, has been producing and archiving first-person stories from LGBTQ people across the country and around the world.
IFD stories are viewed from all around the globe, and used by family counselors and educators to aid them in their work. Their impact is significant, serving not only to create a collective oral history, but in ways large and small, from saving the lives of at-risk youth to showcasing the diversity of LGBTQ lives. Below, we spoke with IFD's founder and executive director Nathan Manske about why IFD was formed, and some of the project's highlights so far.
One belief we, at Jarry, share with I'm from Driftwood is that it's important to capture LGBTQ stories before they’re lost—that stories helps us to contextualize ourselves in a broader LGBTQ narrative and history. When and how did it become important to you to do this work?
The inspiration to create I’m From Driftwood came from a photograph of Harvey Milk. He’s in the San Francisco Pride March holding a big sign that reads, “I’m From Woodmere, N.Y.” Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official, isn’t from a big queer mecca; he’s from a mostly unknown town on Long Island. I connected with that because I’m not from NYC, I’m from Driftwood, TX. What that meant to me is that no matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re going through, you’re not alone. I wanted to share that message with others through storytelling.
You’ve been collecting stories for almost 9 years—what are some of the big-picture takeaways over this time? Have any themes emerged, ones that transcend age, orientation, race, gender, etc?
In terms of story topics, it’s hard to find a recurring theme, but one thing I’ve noticed after collecting over 800 written stories and 450 video stories is a recurring reason people want to share their stories. I put a lot of emphasis on actual storytelling, which involves a character’s journey and how they change through conflict and a resolution. At the end of the filming process, I ask every storyteller the same question: “Why is your story important to share?” The details of their answer are always different—sometimes it’s about work, or love, or acceptance—but every answer is about helping others. There’s such a common desire to try to have others learn from our own journeys and struggles, whether it’s, “This is what I did, so don’t do that,” or, “This is what I did, definitely do that!”
How do you go about finding a subject and their story, and what’s your process of interviewing and editing them?
Sometimes we’ll do call-for-entries through social media, sometimes we’ll work with other nonprofits to help us find storytellers, and sometimes I’ll meet people at a bar, tell them what I do, and then convince them to share a story. I go all-in on the belief that everyone has a meaningful and important story to share. By far my biggest pet peeve is when someone tells me they don’t have a story to share, or that their story is boring. Our stories are viewed all over the world, and what may be perceived as a boring story to the storyteller is exactly the story someone somewhere needs to see. I’m not meaning to be dramatic, but your story could save someone’s life.
Once someone expresses interest in sharing their story, we send them a Storytelling Guide that helps them not only think of a story, but structure it as well. We then have a phone call to talk about their story, and then we schedule a time to go to their home to film it. We don’t want their story to feel rehearsed or performed, so we just make sure they have an outline and then get all the details on camera. We want the viewer to feel like it’s the first time the storyteller is telling their story.
We also discourage coming out stories because we want to document all the moments and experiences of being LGBTQ as opposed to a single moment that we all share.
We’re always looking to film more stories so if you’re interested, just email me and we’ll walk you through the simple and hopefully fun process.
Tell us about some of your proudest moments in this work.
I feel recharged and a great swell of pride any time I read feedback about what these stories mean to people. My three favorite pieces of feedback are 1) from a gay teen, soon after we first launched, saying that these stories literally saved his life; 2) from a 58-year old man saying the stories helped him come out; and 3) a young person commented on a story from our “What Was It Like?” series that focuses on LGBTQ elders, saying, “This series is amazing. I didn’t even know LGBTQ elders existed.”
What’s next for I’m from Driftwood?
We’re continuing our Weekly Video Story program (new story every Wednesday!), and our “What Was It Like? Stories by LGBTQ Elders” program, and in 2018 part of I’m From Driftwood is going to be archived in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Back in 2010, we did a 50-state Story Tour to collect stories from towns and cities all across the country. The Smithsonian wants to archive that experience, so we’re spending a lot of time with an oral historian and digging through over 10,000 photos we took from the tour.
Also, since so much of I’m From Driftwood is based online, we’re starting to focus more on creating a community offline. So we’re having more and more Storyteller Spotlights, which are free events at bars and community spaces where we show a few stories and have the storytellers in attendance to participate in a Q&A. They’re a ton of fun, and we’ll be having them in NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and DC. Follow us on Facebook to find out when the next one is.
From December 15th through 17th, $5 of every Jarry subscription sale will be donated to IFD. Subscribe now.