Talking About the Queer Public Podcast with Erin McGregor – Mél Hogan

Erin McGregor is a good friend and a long time queer media activist in Canada and the US. She has been featured in NMP before. She’s back to discuss her project, Queer Public and The Queer Public Podcast. This interview was conducted in writing in February 2015, prior to the launch of the first episode, available on iTunes and StitcherShort URL: http://goo.gl/DSI2M9

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NMP: What does “queer” mean?

Erin McGregor: My thought is that the word “queer” is a departure from tradition and hegemony and therefore is often used to describe a community of people who don’t personally identify with the traditional or mainstream point of view. I like to think of it in the broadest sense, like an umbrella term that helps people understand themselves as the people on the margins and the people they live their lives with. I think of “queer” as the foundation for a lot of stretching and pulling at traditional ideas of sexuality and gender.

I do think it is important to mention that queer is a reclaimed word. Queer used to just mean weird or off, and then I think it came to mean something derogatory when directed at the gay community. I think now, the LGBTQ community can sometimes find themselves fitting comfortably under that term because it doesn’t necessarily mean “gay” but it doesn’t pinpoint someone to a specific spot on the spectrum either.

NMP: I think of queer as not being so much about who you sleep with, but rather about what you’re willing to put on the line for that love to exist in the world. Do you think that there’s a risk in having the term be watered down if adopted too broadly, by anyone? Or is that its power? Who decides what’s queer?

EM: I think that the queer risk – is in everything. It’s in the way we communicate and interact with the rest of the word. Of course, it’s in our appearance and the way we wear our clothes.  It’s in all the ways we present ourselves to the world – and only we know what hard work that can be. And because of our physical presentation, our bodies and different ways of being and knowing are not necessarily common, “queer” ends up being political in a sense, a form of activism in and of itself. And saying “I’m queer” is political. I think you’re right in what you say about it not being about who you sleep with. If it was about who we sleep with, then people wouldn’t define themselves as queer at all, because gay or lesbian or even trans would suffice. But it doesn’t work for everybody because that kind of label can come with a rigid interpretation. Not everyone wants to be pinned down like that. So, in the same way it’s damning to be labelled by a rigid heteronormative world, its also damning to be labeled that way within the community itself. Queer helps alleviate some of that pressure because you can define it as you will.

To answer your question, I am not worried about the term being watered down, because I’m so focused on bringing people stories that help folks understand how broad our stories, our upbringings, our identities all are. It’s my job to find the commonality. “Queer” helps me do that. It’s everybody else’s job to be themselves, stay weird, stay queer and live their lives. I’m just here to document it in this one particular way.

NMP:  What is Queer Public?

EM: I’m glad you asked. Queer Public refers more specifically to that group of people who don’t identify with the term straight or even hegemonically male or female. But it’s also an identifier that places the individual, however they might identify, in public – so the people we see – but also together in public. It’s also what we are calling our particular brand of content generation, whether that be podcast episodes, or a blog or images. It’s a place to go and see yourself represented in the media.

NMP: Talk me through your process: how do you select a theme, find people to interview, craft a narrative, edit, and output your podcast?

EM: Some themes are just taboo subjects or things that I want to explore, things that pertain to the queer community, experiences we share and that I want to get into. More often though, I hear about or come across a story or interview subject, and build from there. When I hear a story that touches me, I repeat it to friends and other producers to figure what the heart and core of the story is. Then I ask “If I had to categorize this, what would I file it under” and I come up with broader themes. Then I usually realize that I have 40 more minutes of content to fill to complete an episode and I have to find people to do stories on that theme for me, no matter how obscure. It sort of forces us to find stories that are both the same and different. Different as to provide a variety of voices and topics, but the same, so that it builds an understanding of a community that is rooted in those likenesses.

Pre-interview prep takes on a life of its own, depending on the kind of piece we are doing. There are many variations: narrated by me, narrated by a contributor, interview style, scripted, a recorded conversation or any combination of those. Sometimes we go back and forth and draw out a timeline for the story, and establish what we can and can’t talk about. When it comes time to record, we just talk it over together, in complete sentences. Sometimes a contributor has written out something so when we record we just read it, line by line. Sometimes I write up some interview questions to go with something like that. I can hear myself giving direction on all the tape so I know I am actually “crafting” a story, but it always feels like their narrative.

In terms of an editing strategy, we are still learning to do that as a team, especially on the second episode because the first episode is our only planned exception to “stories on a theme” and is instead documentary style – so it wasn’t enough to work out a style or method. I was recently joined in this project by two producers who have changed everything for me and the production of this show, because, well, I am not an editor at heart and they have more experience there. They are also just incredibly talented and darling people. I have a lot to learn from them.  I guess my favorite days are when Andy Alseri and I just listen back to the clips in their studio and banter back and forth about the content. Often times, the stuff we say to each other is the stuff that ends up in the show.

NMP: What are some of the issue you hope to explore with the podcast?

EM: Right now, we have varying levels of content on the subject of Binational Couples, Friends with Exes, Rural, Idol Worship, Gay Haircuts, Injury, Gay Tour and Tops and Bottoms. I also have some amazing interviews with queer sex workers that I haven’t placed within the season yet, but that’s the gist of Season 001.

NMP: Having heard a cut of the first podcast on marriage, I wondered who your audience was? And who you imagine it to be for future podcasts… I mean, is it a queer voice for queers, or is there a broader awareness approach happening?

EM: When I first started getting interviews for Ep.001 –Binational Couples, I was at at the center of it the subject matter. I am one half of a binational couple and at the time, I had no path to stay in the USA with someone who would eventually become my spouse.  I was connected to activists – Lavi Soloway and Brynn Gelbard – who you’ll hear from in the episode. They were working with masses of binational couples and LGBT families, collecting their stories. I think originally I was also making Ep.001 for myself, just seeing who would talk to me, as someone whose lifeblood is conversations and interviews, I often don’t need a reason – or an audience. But then there was also all of this real life momentum leading up to the Supreme Court ruling in 2013 and with The DOMA Project to get those stories out there, so people would understand how damaging the Defense of Marriage Act was to queer families. In the end, I think the episode is for the people that fought for DOMA to be overturned, and fought for LGBT families. I think, as a Canadian, I never thought immigration or “marriage equality” as it’s called in the US, would affect me. I never thought I would be in a situation where I didn’t have the rights I had in Canada. So, it’s creating awareness of the lives of other queers, but we try to feature as many different and diverse voices each episode as we can. I mean, this piece is a documentary so there’s always new perspectives to learn about.

NMP: Can you give a few teasers about the ‘Friends with Exes’ Episode?

EM: Well, we have three main stories for the Friends with Exes episode. One is about a recipe for “getting back to friends,” one is about collaborating creatively with your ex and and the third is with another NMP alumni – but you’re just going to have to wait to find out who…

 

Since last contributing to NMP, Erin McGregor has travelled the world, immigrated to the United States and eventually even completed her Master’s Degree in Social Justice with the help of an entire village. Her love of interviews never really went away, and she just keeps talking and talking and talking and talking.  She married her bandmate from electro-project WIIVES in 2013. They live near the beach in Southern California with their little dog and play an obscene amount of cards with just about anybody who comes to visit.