A History of GenderTalk Radio
Gordene O. MacKenzie & Nancy R. Nangeroni
“Good Evening, I’m Nancy Nangeroni, I’m Gordene MacKenzie, and this is GenderTalk … worldwide radio that talks about transgenderism in the first person. Each week we bring you news, information and exciting voices that challenge our traditional view of gender and more. Tonight we’re going to focus on the history of GenderTalk and glimpse behind the scenes in the making of Activist Radio.”
Listeners will recognize parts of the preceding as our weekly introduction to GenderTalk. As the co-hosts, founder and producer of the program, here are our humble efforts to share some of the history of GenderTalk and our lives.
The seeds for GenderTalk were planted in late 1994 when Nancy was a guest on a WMBR program called “Pride Time” hosted by Deb Rich, an ‘out’ lesbian woman. Deb had previously hosted “Say It Sister”, WMBR’s long-running feminist talk program that aired through the early 90s. Deb had invited Merissa Sherrill Lynn, the executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), to be interviewed about the growing transgender movement, and Merissa asked Nancy to join her for the interview. After a follow-up solo interview with Nancy in early 1995, Deb confided that she was looking for someone to take over the task of hosting Pride Time so that she could host a country & western music program (which became “Debbie Does Dallas”). Nancy saw an opportunity to further transgender visibility, and volunteered for the job, but she did not want to do it alone or every week.
Deb encouraged Nancy to make whatever changes she wanted to the program, including making it a gender-themed program. Deb suggested that she could even call it ‘GenderTalk’. Eight years later when Deb, now transman Jake, told Nancy and Gordene that he didn’t know how to transition his popular “Debbie Does Dallas” to his new identity, Nancy returned the favor. “Just call it Jake’s Juke Joint” Nancy said, and so it became. The addition made WMBR, to our knowledge, the only radio station carrying two ‘out’ transperson-hosted radio programs.
Nancy’s desire to do a transgender-themed radio program arose largely from her personal frustration with the media depiction of transgendered people. At that time Nancy had appeared on a number of radio and television programs that delved into transgender issues. She observes “I had some good experiences with the media and some bad experiences. In every case someone else did the narration; someone else edited or otherwise determined the content of the program. We were never allowed to truly speak in our own voices. I saw the power of the media and felt that it was important to have our own voices represented genuinely. ”
Having no previous experience with producing or hosting a radio program, Nancy turned to the local gender community. At a trans group meeting in the basement of a pizza restaurant in Harvard Square, she asked if there was anyone present who would like to help produce a radio program about trans issues. Hal Fuller, an ‘out’ cross-dresser (and as such a rarity), responded positively to Nancy’s plea. He had previously done both professional and community radio work, and brought a crucial element of experience to their efforts. Although Nancy was well qualified to do the engineering (as an MIT graduate in electrical engineering), she deferred to Hal for the show’s leading technical role, so she could focus on the content. Hal also brought with him a favored segment from his “Folly Farm” program at WMFO (Medford, MA), called “The Twisted, Nasty News.”
MIT grad student and cross-dresser Ross Lippert, and transsexual Jamie Stowell also volunteered to help produce the program. Jamie’s stay was the shortest. When she transitioned from male to female in her workplace, some of her co-workers responded with hostility. Jamie eventually landed a good position on the west coast, which took her away from the radio program. Ross eventually graduated with a PhD in mathematics and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to do research. (Ironically, he left the area just months before Nancy and Gordene moved to Albuquerque, bringing the production of GenderTalk to the southwest).
Although it would now be more work than she had wanted to take on, Nancy started GenderTalk as the sole host. The program got off to a good start. Nancy recruited fellow MIT graduate and transperson Robin Goldstein to join her in the first program for a conversation about their personal experiences and observations on transgenderism. (Robin later hosted a talk show of her own in Santa Cruz, CA). Midway through the program, they invited listeners to call in. Their first caller rudely opined, “You folks are all crazy, you should see a psychiatrist.” Nancy and Robin burst into laughter and replied. “We tried that! We’ve tried everything, tried to change, to quit, and tried getting help but none of the professionals really know what they’re talking about when it comes to this. We ended up teaching them!” That genuine and unabashed response effectively refuted the popular and erroneous stereotypes of transpersons as mentally ill. Since that first phone call, the vast majority of communication from listeners has been positive and helpful.
Gender Talk began weekly broadcasting on Wednesday evenings from 9 to 10 p.m. Currently, the program airsfrom 6:30 to 8pm on Monday evenings. Since 1997, listeners have also had the option of listening to the program at anytime by virtue of the GenderTalk website (www.gendertalk.com).
Nancy created GenderTalk.com as a program support website shortly after the program got rolling, but it really came into its own when program audio was made available online. In early 1997, Jamie Faye Fenton of TGForum.com volunteered room on their web server for Gender Talk to provide streaming audio for online listeners, and the program’s worldwide audience has been growing ever since.
In 1998, while working as executive director for the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) at the “Texas ‘T’ Party,” Nancy met a long time feminist and gender activist, Gordene MacKenzie, who was at the conference doing a panel on “50 Billion Galaxies of Gender.”
Of that meeting Nancy says “I had heard of Gordene, who was regarded with enormous respect in the southwest for her transgender work, and I was hoping to meet her, thinking that there might be some opportunity for us to collaborate. When we met, we were both swept off our feet.”
Gordene was moved by Nancy’s talk. “I was so happy to hear her calling for collaborative activism and a respect for difference. I suggested she do some fundraising for IFGE and I made an appeal. We raised nearly $1000. After everyone was tucked into bed we spent the night wandering the hotel corridors (we both had roommates) talking excitedly about our ideas our experiences and lives.”
“As we got to know each other, geographic time seemed to stop as it does when people fall in love. It was like discovering the Sandia mountains (in Albuquerque) beneath the ocean’s floor where coral could morph into cactus and vice versa.”
Nancy and Gordene became inseparable and joined forces, becoming life partners, excited to pool their creativity, intellectual interests and love of nature. In January of 1999, after a year of flying back and forth we decided to live together in Cambridge. Nancy invited Gordene to join GenderTalk as a commentator. Within a few months she began producing, and later, co-hosting the show. “It flowed from the work I was already doing.” Gordene says. Gordene had been a frequent guest on local radio and TV and had done some national radio and television, so doing a weekly radio program came easily to her.
Nancy observes, “Gordene took GenderTalk to the next level. As a visible gender activist, respected academic, savvy feminist, and media analyst with a wild streak, Gordene brought in cutting edge guests involved in progressive politics from trans and gender issues, feminist concerns, indigenous rights, race and class issues, alternative radio, globalization and more.”
Gender Talk frequently receives comments from listeners in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Australia. Meanwhile, the combination of Nancy’s transgender activism, Gender Talk’s radio airwave community service in Boston and growing online audience began to attract notice.
The program received an award from the Hero’s Journey FTM conference in 1997 for it’s support for their efforts, and drew favorable mention in the New York Times in that publication’s first-ever respectful article about transgender activism. In 1999 GenderTalk was a finalist for a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) award and in May of 2000, was recognized with the GLAAD award for “outstanding GLBT radio”.
In 2001, Nancy, Gordene and their four cats moved together to Albuquerque in search of a more relaxed lifestyle and more room for writing. GenderTalk was warmly welcomed by KUNM, New Mexico’s leading NPR station. WMBR continued to broadcast the program in the Boston area, linking with KUNM by phone line to the studio in Cambridge.
In mid 2001, only 9 months after moving to Albuquerque, Gordene was offered the position of Director of Women’s Studies at Merrimack College near Boston. So Gordene, Nancy and their cats, Anwar, Xena, Salvador and Mango, drove scenic back roads through Kansas’s cornfields back to the Boston area.
On Mondays we wake up with a mission. Nancy moves between the basement office and the study, recording and posting last weeks show on the website, writing copy for our guests, sending announcements that the show is posted to our listener list, and updating the website. Meanwhile, Gordene works on booking guests, planning upcoming shows, doing research on the guests, topics to be discussed and confirming the guests. We both work on a skeletal script and one of us reminds the other to eat before we leave for the studio. We don’t script everything, but the scripts outline what segments will be happening over the course of the program, as well as the guest’s phone numbers, introduction and some notes for the interview. Every Monday we drive south to Cambridge on 93 for 20-25 minutes (depending on the traffic) to do the show. During the ride we share power bars and discuss the show.
It isn’t always easy preparing for the show or getting to the studios. We all work other jobs and finding the time and energy to do the show every week can be challenging. But it is a way to give back to the community. We feel fortunate each week to speak with writers, activists and artists committed to social change. In the last few months we have discussed the differences between Asian and US experiences of being transgender. We recently revisited Gwen Arujo’s murder and how her family is being impacted by this hate crime against a young transgender woman of color. We spoke with a Buddhist transwoman who offers hope and healing to transpersons, feminist artists who are doing environmental work, documentary makers whose work on F2Ms raises questions about how the camera is used to make visible and/or objectify transbodies.
Controversy and Conflict
The show has had its ups and downs. We once interviewed a bi activist who declared that bisexuals were the most oppressed people of all! That mobilized us to redouble our efforts to educate. But we have also had wonderful moments with many guests like international activist and author Noam Chomsky, who offered a hope for global change; transactivist Virginia Stephenson on her key role in making NM the only state with gender identity in non discrimination and hate crimes laws; masculinity studies pioneer Harry Brod who spoke about how white men can challenge racism; transman Stephen Whittle on progressive changes in the European courts for trans persons; transactivist Ethan St. Pierre who spoke of the brutal murder of his aunt (a transwoman) and how the legal system re-victimized the family; and feminists Carol Gilligan and bell hooks who spoke of re-thinking relationships to include the revolutionary power of love to heal.
We are often reminded by thoughtful listeners that our work does matter:
“I appreciated your insights about sexism and homophobia, and how your relationship with Gordene means that you are now read as lesbian and what that has added to your understanding of sexism. It is so cool that you share these insights with listeners,” a lesbian feminist activist listener in Boston wrote.
” …your show, to me, is a like a lighthouse, throwing out a clear, guiding beacon, in a very dark and stormy world. The issues you discuss have helped not only me, but also my wife (of 18 years) to deal with it. Please, for all of our sakes, keep up the good work…we need you!” a listener in Texas sent in an email
Our listeners give us the strength to keep doing the show. It is a labor of love. Once we arrive at the studio and slide into our chairs, adjust our mics, put on our headphones, smile at one another and glide onto the airwaves, it is all worth it. With love, maybe we can help change the world.