Photography Amy Pearl

‘nancy’ is a podcast for queer people of color

Hosts Kathy Tu and Tobin Low share pivotal LGBTQI+ stories on their heartfelt show.

by Zio Baritaux
27 December 2017, 4:37pm

Photography Amy Pearl

Kathy Tu and Tobin Low sound like a lot of other podcast hosts: They’re curious, witty, and instantly likable. It seems like they’re like two best friends having a conversation because, well, they are. But unlike most podcasters — who, with some notable exceptions, tend to be straight and white — the Nancy hosts are “super queer.” “Oh, and by the way, we’re both Asian,” Kathy says at the end of the preview for season one. “You thought you were listening to white people this whole time,” Tobin laughs, “and that’s on you.” That clip set the stage for the provocative first season of Nancy, a production of WNYC Studios, which started with their own coming out stories, and included episodes on the queerness of the Harry Potter franchise and the usefulness of The L World for discussing Trump’s trans military ban and being out at work. But whether amusing or emotional, Nancy is an essential listen. Each episode is an honest portrait of people on the LGBTQI+ spectrum and their myriad experiences. “Inclusiveness is something we talked about at the very beginning,” Kathy and Tobin explain in the following interview. “[We wanted] to try to include as many different voices into the show as possible.”

How did the two of you meet? How did you decide to make a podcast together?
Kathy: We met at a radio bootcamp called the Transom Story Workshop, where we spent every day for about two months working on radio stories.

Tobin: And after the workshop was over, we both went home to our respective coasts, but we knew we wanted to work together. So, I reached out about doing a podcast featuring queer stories, and Kathy was into it!

Why did you choose Nancy as the title? Was it a way to reclaim that word?
Tobin: Absolutely. We wanted to reclaim this word that was used in the past as a slur against gay men. And if you’re in the know, then you know what this word used to mean and what we’re trying to do. And if you don’t, then maybe it’s sort of intriguing and fun so that you’ll check out the show.

Why start the podcast with your own coming out stories?
Kathy: Our show started at coming out so our listeners can get to know us a little better, and then we moved on from there.

Toward the end of that episode, Kathy, it seemed your mom made some progress. But then, in the follow-up, it seemed like she fell back: “I just wish you would be... be normal,” she said. Why was it important to re-visit that conversation with your mom? Is it important to show that coming out can be a process rather than a one-time conversation?
Kathy: I think I’m always going to be curious what kind of progress my mom has made, even if it’s very little progress. It’s important for people to know that coming out can be a long process, and I guess I use my own relationship with my mom as a way to show people that. I don’t know that my mom regressed as much as I am coming around to understanding what she’s trying to tell me. Coming out this many times to my mom has shown me that there are just some fundamental concepts that we each hold that the other will possibly never understand. For my mom, it’s the concept of what’s “normal” in society. For me, I can see what she means by that, but I don’t care about what’s considered “normal” in society and I’m happy to be outside of it. And unfortunately, that’s where my mom and I will always miss each other.

How important is inclusiveness to you? Do you worry about leaving someone out?
Kathy: Inclusiveness is something we talked about at the very beginning. We didn’t want to just make a queer show, we wanted to make a queer show for people of color. We’re both East Asian, and it made sense to us to try to include as many different voices into the show as possible. We’re always thinking about gender, orientation, race, class, location, etc. when we look at a story.

Tobin, what episode have you most related to?
Tobin: I did an episode to start Season 2 about my own body issues, which is something I still have trouble talking about openly. What ultimately made that episode feel very special was folks reaching out to talk about how that episode resonated with them, and how they had very similar experiences with growing up overweight or feeling unattractive. I also related to a more recent episode we did that featured a story by Lewis Wallace about his relationship with his grandmother. That story really digs into what it means to be a queer person with family that doesn’t necessarily “get it.” I have people within my family who are still on that journey towards understanding me, so to hear Lewis talk so candidly about it was really moving.

Can you explain the “Ring of Keys” episode a little, and why you think it was your most popular episode?
Tobin: So if you’re unfamiliar, the queer graphic artist Alison Bechdel wrote this amazing graphic novel called Fun Home, which later got turned into a Broadway musical. In both the book and the musical, there’s a moment where young Alison Bechdel sees an adult queer woman who is wearing a ring of keys on her belt loop and it’s like a bolt of lightning. She can suddenly envision who she is meant to be as an adult. So the story on our show was about a woman named Sarah Lu who tracked down her own “Ring of Keys” person, a woman named Maura Koutoujian. And they ended up having this really beautiful conversation about the influence Maura had on Sara, and how she was an inspiration without even knowing it.

Kathy: I think what hit people so hard is that moment of recognition that can feel like a lifeline. Growing up queer can be difficult, and there are moments like the one described in the story that help you make it through. We heard from so many people who heard the story and wanted to talk about the people in their lives who helped them figure it all out. It was one of those stories that seemed to open people up to sharing.

Where did the “Out at Work” idea come from?
Kathy: We wanted to do a project that really featured our listeners in the show, and the thing that we landed on is that everyone has to do work, but not everyone has the ability to be out at work. So we wanted our listeners to tell us to what degree they were out at work, and what obstacles they come up against. And it was interesting to see that there was a real spectrum in the ways people are out at work. Everyone’s situation is different and the way they choose to be out is unique.

Tobin: I think we also wanted to address a couple misconceptions that people have about being out at work, the first being that it’s just a matter of being out or not. Like Kathy said, there’s a whole spectrum of experiences that we wanted to highlight on the show. The other reality we wanted to talk about is how our protections as queer folks in the workplace are a patchwork, and in a lot of cases, very tenuous.

What do you hope will happen or change because of this podcast?
Kathy: From the beginning, my goal for the podcast has been to make people feel less alone and seen. It’s tiring to constantly be othered by society, and I hope those people can find a home in our show, or to find community in our listeners. We’re here to tell stories, elevate voices, and build community. And hopefully, someone will find a home with us.

Tobin: I’ve always hoped that people listening to the podcast would feel like they were hanging out with friends. We’re always trying to be as authentic as possible on the show, and that means being real with the emotional range of how friends talk. Maybe one minute you’re laughing, and then suddenly you’re in an emotional place. I think that’s how a lot of people are with their closest friends, and if we can capture that authenticity on the show, then we’ve really accomplished something.

tobin low
kathy tu