ian daniel on travelling the world to tell queer stories

We spoke to the 'Gaycation' co-host about working with his best friend Ellen Page, and sharing LGBTQ experiences.

by Issy Beech
15 November 2016, 4:15am

In Gaycation, longtime friends Ellen Page and Ian Daniel travel the world documenting the diverse corners of the global LGBTQ community. The series has seen Ian and Ellen visit cross-dressing bars in Tokyo, meet a self-professed killer of gay and queer people in Rio, and butt heads with Ted Cruz at the Iowa State fair.

Gaycation season one is set to premiere on Australian TV this week, on the brand new channel SBS VICELAND. Ahead of the series' debut, we spoke to Ian about working with your best friend, interviewing through translators, and growing up idolising Danny from The Real World New Orleans.

You're probably not supposed to have favourites, but can I start by asking if you have a favourite episode so far?
All the episodes are so unique and I've learnt something different from each one. My gut reaction is Japan, that was a country I'd never been to, and it was the first episode so I have all these memories of being excited and figuring out what the show can be. There is a scene where we're present for a man's coming out to his mom. We realised then the show had potential to show really deep, human stories.

Is it hard to have exchanges like that—where you and Ellen were witnessing a young man coming out to his mother, in a country where it's pretty deeply frowned upon—and have to have the conversation translated?
Definitely. On one level, the translating does get in the way and change the way you're connecting. You're not directly able to respond to their words. But instead you find other ways to connect with them: your facial expressions, your energy. It's just a new way of reading people. And sometimes the translating gives you time to think of your next question, so there are pros and cons.

Do you find it taxing to be opening yourselves up to such emotionally loaded situations so often?
I've just started reflecting on that now, I've been thinking about it a lot. On one level, this show is about sharing these people's stories and that's why we make the show—we have the privilege to have this platform and we want to use it to give people a voice. But yeah, anytime you're witnessing people's oppression or discrimination, it's going to affect you personally. It affects me personally as a gay man when I see people discriminated against and sometimes brutalised because of their sexuality or their gender. It's hard to define how it affects me, but it does something to the core of my being. It's sad, it motivates me, it humbles me, it lifts me, it destroys me. It does all those things. And I think it probably does that to the people that watch the show on some level.

I think one of the greatest, if not the greatest, thing about the show is how beautifully it balances the sad and the hopeful. One minute you're feeling so discouraged about the state of the world and how much hate there is out there; and the next you and Ellen having the best night of your life in some incredible city. You meet such lovely, earnest, special people, who are living in defiance of all that, and it kind of makes everything okay.
You're saying it so well. I have nothing to add.

Sorry, I'm talking more than you are.
It's okay, I like it.

Do you feel the conversations you're having with people are making changes? There's moment where you're talking to someone who is deeply opposed to LGBTQ rights, or even just gayness, and they meet you and Ellen, and have an open conversation about the reality of it all.
That's a great question. I think sometimes there is a shift in attitude, but mostly people are pretty set in their ways. Sometimes I'm the first gay person they've ever had a conversation with, so I imagine that might open them up to something. The scene with the family band in the bus, you can tell in that conversation they're thinking about it. Ellen and I are trying really hard to humanise our experience, so that's the angle. I'm from a small town in Indiana, a religious town for the most part, so that wasn't all that new for me. But we do get trapped in a small space with people for a certain amount of time and you're really just trying to understand them, and help them to understand you, and have some kind of human connection.

There's some really crazy interactions with people that you would never imagine yourself in a room with, I bet. Like the self-described murderer of gay, queer and trans people in Brazil. Which experiences stand out to you as the most intense exchanges you've found yourself in?
Yeah, that scene is a huge standout and it seems to be the most shocking to our audience, because it's really intense. I mean, people ask me if I think what he was saying is true, and yeah, I do. Even if, you know, he didn't do all those things, I think that even just to be saying those things, it's really astonishing and upsetting and disgusting. So while we're looking into the eyes of somebody that is saying these really evil things, we're still trying to find what makes this person human. I don't even know how to describe it.

What has the response been like, from gay and queer communities?
I get lots of messages from people, and people stop me all the time and tell me how much the show means to them. That mostly comes from young LGBT people who are really struggling with coming out, or having love in their life, or telling their parents. It seems like these kids really latch onto the show and kind of need it, as something to educate them on what's out there in the world. I also hear from a lot of straight people in unlikely places that watch the show and learn so much about the countries we go to, and they're learning a lot. So, for me, I've heard mostly overwhelming positively in response.

Gaycation premieres tonight on SBS VICELAND at 8.30pm EST. To see the full SBS VICELAND schedule, head here


Text Isobel Beech

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ian daniel