I’ve been binge-listening to Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, a podcast hosted by comedian Chris Gethard. The premise is so super basic: He “tweets” out the phone number when he is in the studio, and whoever ends up getting through talks with Chris, anonymously, for exactly one hour. Sometimes it’s just chit chat, sometimes the caller has an agenda and they want to make the most of this platform. Sometimes it’s funny, but more often, it’s sad, intense, and heartfelt. I’ve heard the experiences of someone in an abusive relationship, someone who escaped from a cult, someone who was a heroin addict, someone who was in an inappropriate relationship with their teacher, and so much more – including two episodes in which the caller is a trans-person.
What Not To Ask A Trans Person (Episode #54) In this episode, Chris deviated from the formula a bit – every so often, instead of taking a random call, he’ll ask people to leave a “pitch” as a phone message, and he will reach out to one of those people. In this case, the caller is a 28 year-old transman who is engaged to a transwoman… and, unfortunately, that’s about all we get to know about him as a person. The majority of the call is Trans-101 stuff – we are STILL only at this basic level with the general population. Chris puts his foot in his mouth a couple of times (he makes it clear this will be inevitable.) At one point he uses the word “transgender” as a verb, when he meant to say “transition.” Also, this exchange was super cringe-worthy:
Caller: “Even people who are not in any way transphobic, most people don’t know a lot about the experience being trans or the trans community, so they tend to be very curious. And this is fine, except that often it ends up that often trans people end up being … put in a position of having to answer all their questions, sometimes very invasive questions … like, what your genitals look like.”
Chris: [Talks super eloquently about mental health in the trans community, transphobia, and other vulnerabilities. Then says] “I do like that the first one you did mention was people asking you about your genitals. That’s gotta get real old real fast. That being said, on behalf of everybody who is wondering, I wonder what your, what your eh, your your…” and then he trailed off. DUDE. The caller handled it really well, making it super clear that that’s not a question that you ask people.
Chris: “Are there any stories… Is there any real life shit you can put out there and just make it eye opening of like, ‘yeah, this shit is real.’ You know?”
Caller: “You know, like, I think … the biggest thing is like, maybe stop murdering trans people.” He said this so casually that I laughed out loud.
One other thing that the caller pointed out that I’d never really thought about before was when talking about the high percentage of trans people who have attempted suicide – I always saw that as some concrete indicator of how outcasted the population is, how brutal society has been toward trans people. But for someone who is apt to brush that off and think that trans people are just mentally ill to begin with, that person will just cement it in their mind further that of course trans people want to kill themselves. They’re crazy. That’s demoralizing to think about.
Coming Out, With Katie Couric (Episode #77) This one also deviated from the normal format in that it was the second episode ever where Chris had a co-host. (The first one was episode #37 with Hannibal Buress.) Apparently Katie Couric reached out to him, really wanting to come on his show! The only thing I’d heard about her, any time lately, was that she botched an interview with transgender model Carmen Carrera in January 2014, asking things such as, “Your private parts are different now, aren’t they?” And then later, Laverne Cox stepped up, came on her show, and told it like it is, namely, (and yep, I’m reiterating this from just a few paragraphs ago) That’s not a question that you ask people!
Since then, I’d basically villified Katie Couric in my head, just assuming she’s too mainstream and out of touch. But, as she tells it, she had the opportunity to just edit all that garbage out, and she decided it was important to leave it in as a teachable moment, and admit her mistakes. And then! She went on to produce, along with National Geographic, a whole documentary called Gender Revolution, which came out in February of 2017. I had no idea.
So when the random caller for this particular episode happened to be a trans-woman (and she had no idea Katie Couric was there with Chris when she called), it feels serendipitous. And it’s a lot more interesting and personal than the other episode I’m highlighting, largely because it feels more meandering and off-the-cuff. Chris, again, is a little off (he isn’t usually, haha!) and Katie Couric is super thoughtful and poised. I kinda like her after this, even. The caller is at the very beginning of her journey, as a 20 year-old junior in college, studying math and economics. She has only told 6 people so far, and she’s just dabbled in painting her nails, little things like that. She’s been on estrogen for two weeks. She’s not yet comfortable seeking out support from other trans people, experimenting with clothing in private, anything along those lines.
It’s super interesting to hear from someone who is just starting to feel out her gender identity, as opposed to many of the voices from the trans community who seemingly have a lot of it figured out / are much further along in their journey.
Highly recommend these episodes!
I wanna recommend a podcast! It’s called How To Be A Girl. A while back ago, I had been following a blog, gendermom, on wordpress. It’s written by Marlo Mack (pseudonym), about life with her (now) 8 year-old transgender daughter, M. I really love reading/hearing from the perspective of parents, especially parents of young trans-kids. And this one in particular has a lot of input from the daughter. They are in it together.
In the summer of 2014, she branched out and also started producing a podcast. At first I was reluctant to check it out. I guess because although I was listening to some podcasts at that time, I preferred reading and connecting through blogs. But then one of the episodes was featured on a podcast I was already a big fan of, Here Be Monsters, and I made a mental note to go check out the rest of the episodes. It’s taken a while, but here I am to say it’s great, haha. I listened through episodes 1-6 twice now…
The first three establish some backstory and facts (I’m not going to give too much away!). At this point, M is 6, and she has the support of her mom and dad (who are divorced) and other family members and friends. Hardly anyone knows that she is trans (better to be more cautious at first and see how things might play out). She had been saying she is a girl, basically as early as she could talk, and although it took a long time to convince her parents, they are fully on board now. She likes the color pink, my little ponies, stuff like that…
Episode 4 is called Tom Boy Trans Girl, and it’s about, how girly do you have to be to be considered a girl? There are plenty of tomboys out there… M gradually shifts to liking blue over pink and getting into Pokemon and ninjas. Marlo Mack is afraid the being-a-girl thing was just a phase. M sums everything up super succinctly.
Episode 5 is about finding love. Marlo Mack has to navigate through transphobia from potential dating partners, and she talks about how she handles it. M also tells a love story.
Episode 6 is super cute. It is a straight-up interview, Marlo Mack asking M a bunch of questions. The perspective of this 6-year-old is really amazing and surprising. Well, she’s been through a lot, so I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising!
Some talk about the other episodes, coming soon!
My spouse and I have been talking about the idea of working on a podcast together. We have a local community of radio people we can plug into / in with, and I already do a weekly music show. This would be totally different though, and would involve a steep learning curve. We got some books out of the library (always a good place to start!), and I’ve been trying to pull apart, think about the elements that go into the podcasts I do listen to: the way the sound editing overlaps, the hooks to keep you listening, stuff like that. We’ll see. I think it would be a lot of work, but could be really rewarding.
When I think about Halloween, I think candy, jack-o-lanterns, movies, and all that stuff, but I also think about it as the perfect opportunity to try out something totally different, appearance-wise, and test out whether it’s worth exploring past that. I’ve definitely seized it as an opportunity in the past, both to try out a different type of “masculinity” – dressing like my idea of a punk a few times, something I was definitely interested in; and also to see what it felt like to dress femme. I think a lot of people try out things like this too, in the guise of a “Halloween costume.”
I wrote about that here: Hey Halloween! (how costumes fit into our lives)
I just listened to a really interesting podcast about how what you wear can affect how you feel, how you’re treated, what you decide to do, your cognitive abilities, your identity, and so much more! It starts with a brief snippet of a Halloween night, with kids running around a neighborhood in all kinds of costumes. Here’s part of that transcript, talking with a girl who is afraid of flying:
FRANNY: I’m wearing a leather jacket and an aviator hat and aviator goggles and jeans, boots and an aviator scarf.
ROSIN: Franny’s dressed as…
FRANNY: Amelia Earhart.
MILLER: Yep, a woman who ate airplanes for breakfast. Who was…
FRANNY: Awesome and brave.
ROSIN: And as Franny puts on the white silk scarf, the leather jacket, the hat with the floppy ears… …Guess what happens? The nervous disappears. If I put you in an airplane right now, what would happen?
FRANNY: I’d feel like a pro.
It’s true, to an extent! We’ve all experienced this, somehow or another, I think.
Listen to the full podcast here: Invisibilia
For me, shoes have always been a big deal – probably my favorite element of self expression. I remember the first time I got to get a pair of boy’s shoes, in 3rd grade, and the emotional tenor of that moment and of every single day that I got to wear them. It was the best thing ever. And of years later, in my early 20s, when I first got a pair of skateboarding sneakers – it was that same feeling (or, OK, maybe a diluted young-adult version of that same feeling) because I decided that I was worthy of wearing the type of shoes I always coveted. And I was an adult. And I could buy and wear whatever I wanted (I had a hard time “letting” myself buy things that I wanted.) And now! I recently got a pair of Reebok pump basketball shoes, and I have such a fun time just putting them on! I’m not a skater or a b-ball player, but that’s OK, shoes say so much more than “basketball,” “running,” “work-boot,” etc.
What are your favorite articles of clothing to play around with?
Have you used Halloween as an opportunity to try out something new, that you might want to incorporate into everyday life?
There are 6 other stories in the podcast, including someone who uses sunglasses to avoid getting bullied, and then ends up feeling so strongly about their magical powers that he just ends up never taking them off. This was my favorite story, and it’s the first one, so if you wanna just hear that one, it’s totally worth it!
Parts 2 and 3 are also really good. Part 2 is about a person who started out as a cross-dresser, and then after a breakup, they started wearing feminine clothing all of the time, and identifying as a trans-woman. She was also a fairly public figure, doing stand-up comedy regularly and being covered in the media. She was also 6’5″, never passed, and always was on guard, feeling paranoid and defensive. It was wearing her down, and the feminine clothing had lost their allure. After about 7 months, she went back, from “Sarah,” to “Will.” And he endured backlash from the trans-community for doing so.
Part 3 was about a social science experiment (I think I’d read about it in a book, as well), where people were asked to put on a white lab/doctor’s coat, and then go through a battery of concentration tests. The control group wore their regular clothes. And it was proven that those with the coat on did twice as well as those without! Was it something about the extra weight on the shoulders? No, that was tested for with just pressure being applied. What about if the coat was referred to as a “painter’s coat” instead of a “doctor’s coat?” No go – that did not produce any improvements. It appears that when people feel like they are putting on something that has a particular meaning, they will, largely subconsciously, act accordingly.
So, I’ve been listening to this one podcast religiously since its beginning in December of 2014… it’s kind of a guilty pleasure; it’s a straight up advice column! It’s called Dear Sugar; the “Sugars” are Cheryl Strayed, of Wild fame – the book, the movie (starring Reese Witherspoon), the attitude, and Steve Almond, who wrote Against Football, among many other books and essays. They also always bring in an “expert,” or someone who can speak from personal experience about the person’s question.
They have fielded numerous letters about relationships, family dynamics, friend betrayals, weddings, lies and secrets, infidelity, personality clashes, (surprisingly, nothing that I can remember about work drama or school issues…) A couple of them have been about lesbian and gay -centric problems: parents who are unsupportive, partners who are still in the closet, etc…
I have been waiting for something that relates to trans-people. Finally, after a year and 9 months, they tackle it!
And… it’s totally underwhelming.
Have a listen, here: I’m a Transgender Man, Seeking Acceptance (For reference, it’s 39 minutes long.)
I mean, I think it’s great for the general population. So, it’s a good start. They read two different trans-men’s letters, and they seem to be at different points in their transitions, so that’s cool.
The first guy is in college, and he’s feeling great about his path and the people around him and everything – everything except for his parents, who just will not get on board. This, I feel, is super common.
The second guy seems to be a little more established, in a career, and he’s navigating the world of dating. He is concerned that since he is short (5’2″), does not have a lucrative career (social worker), and does not have a penis, he may be unlovable. This, too, seems like a pretty common concern.
The “Sugars,” in general, use radical empathy as a basis for starting a dialogue. And, in this case, since they don’t know how it feels to be transgender, they take the angle that,
“The best way to begin to understand an experience very different from your own is to listen to the stories of others. This week, we read the letters of two transgender men who are struggling to find love and acceptance. The Sugars discuss with Cooper Lee Bombardier, a visual artist, writer and transgender man.”
According to his bio, Cooper “has been a construction worker, a cook, a carpenter, a union stagehand, a welder, a shop steward, a dishwasher, a truckdriver, a bouncer, and a housepainter, among other things, for a paycheck.” He’s currently super successful with the writing and the art. He sounds super cool!
Steve Almond starts off talking about the first time he met a trans-woman. It was slightly cringe-inducing, but also definitely a worthwhile story. Then they get into the letters, and introduce Cooper. He, as a guest, is eloquent and upbeat, but he does keep it pretty basic, and seems somewhat detached from his own personal stories. There is a really great moment though where Cooper says he’s been “transitioning” for about 15 years, and when the Sugars ask him how old he was when he started, he says, “in my early 30s.” They sputter about how young he looks and how could this be? And he replies, “I moisturize.” And then later, “It’s the trans-fountain of youth, you know…” and there’s lots of laughing, and Cheryl says, “Sign me up!”
One thing that Cooper says really well in discussing the first letter is,
“We wrestle with these feelings for so long, that by the time we articulate it to somebody, it’s like a bottle bursting open. …And we tell our parents and we expect them to get it, like, tomorrow. Even though we’ve been struggling with it for years and years, right? And so I think that… it’s really hard to be patient when we’ve waited so long to kind of actualize and realize that this is what’s going on for us. But for those relationships that we do want to bring along with us, we do need to offer some patience, even though it’s hard.”
When discussing the second letter, they telescope it out, to bring it to the wider theme of anyone who feels like they are unloveable, and how to change that internal notion. Cheryl says, “This is a universal conundrum. …Am I too fat to be loved? No. Am I too poor to be loved? No. Am I too fill-in-the-blank to be loved? No.” They touch on how his height and his career might factor into this, and no one makes one further mention about the fact that he does not have a penis. Is it because they think it’s not important to talk about? No, I kind of doubt it – I think they are finding it too awkward to address. And/or, in being respectful, they feel that it’s not up to them to talk about a trans-person’s genitalia (or sex life, or surgeries, or…) which is definitely important that we’ve gotten that far, but in this case, it was right there, in the letter, and it just got straight up ignored.
I do really hope they expand the dialogue about what it feels like to be a transgender person. I have been thinking of writing in, for a while now, and I only feel more motivated after listening to this. I’m planning on it; I’ll let you know.