Before I bring up the two items I wanted to highlight here, I have a confession to make: Only very recently did I become a regular podcast listener. Yeah, go ahead and call me a luddite, but please hear my explanation: While at work, I listen to live online radio station streams, far too many of them to single out here. Which leads me to a two-part conundrum: My employer doesn’t mind when its employees stream music stations on company computers, they frown on any streaming of “news/talk” stations. And “news/talk,” for all the political leans that term suggests, can too broadly encompass any spoken-word content that’s not political at all; the hosts and guests could be discussing, say, gardening tips, but to an unforgiving employer, they could very well be talking a lot of left/right hot air.
I don’t rule out listening to the occasional public radio discussion that’s streaming, which leads me to the other part of my conundrum: To avoid any issues with using up company resources to enjoy tunes/talk/etc., I utilize radio apps on my smartphone to enjoy the tunes/talk/etc. But those streams use up a lot of data on my phone plan, and I have a top-of-the-line 4G smartphone and data plan (I start to get nervous when my monthly usage goes over 75% of the data allotment). So, I’ve finally gotten with the 21st century and have begun downloading podcasts at home and moving them to the itty-bitty SD card on my phone. And since my employer also frowns upon employees using their cell phones for personal use during work hours, I set my phone to “airplane mode.” That way, not only am I assured my data usage decreases dramatically (I didn’t even hit 2GB usage this past month), the boss can’t prove I’m checking my personal messages during my work time (“Eh, ya got nottin’, Copper!”).
So, now that you know why I’m so late getting on the podcast listening bandwagon, let’s use this post to highlight a couple of podcasts, or more precisely podcast episodes, that really perked my ears — and my mind — the past couple of weeks. I will preface this by saying most of the podcasts I’m enjoying are actually over-the-air radio broadcasts I usually don’t get to enjoy at work for various reasons. They’re also from well-known sources, including NPR, which produces the show Invisibilia, which explores “the invisible forces that shape human behavior — things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” (Yeah, a lot of brain science going on.) One Invisibilia episode that was released in July spotlighted the power of clothing. Yes, what we wear can leave an impression on others, but how does what we wear affect us internally? One of the people Invisibilia spotlighted has a story that’s right up my alley: Will Franken is an American-born, British-based comic who has incorporated media-parodying characters into his repertoire. Some of his characters, judging from one bit on the program, are female or feminine in nature. And it has a basis: Franken has been dressing up in women’s clothing since his youth; he associated it then with the safety and comfort of women.
By his adult years, Franken associated his wearing of women’s clothing with, as he puts it, the “intimate access to a woman as well as feeling a side of the world that by virtue of your biological sex you’re not supposed to.” It also led him to realize there may be more, and he began to fully present himself to the world as a transgender woman, Sarah Franken. Yes, the media she so freely lampooned on stage caught on and turned her story into a tidy narrative, with the benefit of added exposure to her talent. But life wasn’t perfect, with Sarah realizing she felt more comfortable presenting as a woman on the stage and with close friends than being with the general public, some of which were all to critical and not very open-minded.
So Sarah Franken went back to being just plain old male-mode Will Franken, leaving the women’s attire for the closet and the stage performance (and withstanding “poser” criticisms from the trans community). It’s interesting how Franken admits in the Invisibilia interview that dressing in women’s clothing and presenting as Sarah was a way for him to cope with the loneliness that came with the single life (his marriage broke up before he began presenting as Sarah). Now, Franken believes that being a drab ol’ male (my term there) is “the lesser of two lonelies” (his term there).
Listening to Will Franken’s story makes me wonder if my dressing up is a way for me to cope with being unattached and not having a significant other in my life. Yes, it is a way to express my inner female side, but perhaps it’s a way for me to cope with my “lesser of two lonelies.” But my own feminine side is so much a part of me, not in a “take over my entire life” way but in a “this is me” way. So maybe not having that significant other to share intimacies with is only part of the reason I dress up. The main reason? Well… I guess I’m such a big question mark that I don’t know that answer yet. At least Will Franken’s story is making me think about the question. Anyways, you can listen to the full Invisibilia episode, which includes not only Will Franken but other interesting stories about how clothes affect the wearer, at this link. Click on the section marked “Silky Knickers” and you’ll see a couple of videos of “Sarah Franken” in action. There are more of his performance videos on his personal website, including one of a “post-operative transsexual who can’t have an orgasm.”
Another podcast (or perhaps, for me, podcast-ed?) episode that really piqued my interest while listening to it comes from the CBC Radio series The Doc Project, which is just what it sounds like, half-hour radio documentaries of various subjects presented each week. One Doc Project episode that aired earlier this month was called “There’s Something Queer About Devine Lake.” The Devine Lake in question is a lake near the community of Port Sydney in the Muskoka Region of central Ontario.
Jennifer Warren, who is a content editor and writer for CBC’s books section, grew up in the Port Sydney area, and wracked her brain this summer trying to remember the story about Devine Lake, a story she couldn’t shake from her mind. The recollections of stories Jennifer heard while working in a pub in Port Sydney during her younger days, over a quarter century ago, were somewhat fuzzy in regards to Devine Lake. In this half-hour, she sets out to get background on the locale. Her efforts make the documentary not so much about the place in question but more about adding definition and clarity to the stories she heard and recalled about Devine Lake.
But, oh, what a story Devine Lake had: In the area of “lakes, cottages, and little vacation lodges,” there was a lodge along Devine Lake that was intended to be a place where “gay people with AIDS” could relax, meet up, convalesce, or do whatever. But this was a time where there was still a lot of fear from the closed-minded about how AIDS could be spread. One very unfounded belief communicated by witnesses heard in the documentary is that if a mosquito bit someone with AIDS, that mosquito could fly across Devine Lake and bite a rather healthy person and give that person HIV or AIDS.
“There’s Something Queer About Devine Lake” is a nice adventure to listen to. I think Jennifer Warren makes some pretty interesting discoveries during her journey, including what did happen in that cottage; how the locals reacted (spoiler alert: it isn’t pretty); and about her own life, including a special someone she would meet on that lake. You can here the episode at this link.