Back when I first came out transsexual and began getting involved and familiar with community-relevant media in the mid-90′s, there really wasn’t a heck of a lot of out there for transgender and gender-variant people. With the exception of the few offerings specifically intended for transfolks, virtually all of it was directed exclusively toward the interests of gay men and lesbians. In those days, it was a pleasant surprise to find something that actively and directly spoke to the gender-variant segments of our community.
As frustrating as that was, though, it was particularly infuriating when there was a news story which would have gotten plenty of community media coverage if it concerned gays and lesbians but because it was chiefly of concern to the gender-variant it would instead be all but completely ignored everywhere except in transgender-specific discussion forums.
One such story was GenderPAC‘s repudiation of its founding mission to represent the interests of Transgender-Americans to instead focus on the much broader issue of gender rights and freedom in general. The move instigated a firestorm of protest and resistance from transgender activists, especially those who had actively supported and participated in the founding of GenderPAC and then had found themselves ostracized from the organization’s agenda and leadership.
Despite the loud public outcry from the transgender community over this move, the vast majority of so-called “LGBT media” (for by then the acronym had come into common usage as a PC nod to inclusiveness even though the actual content still remained focused on those first two letters) simply ignored it. There was plenty being written and said on the topic, but virtually all of it was coming from within the trans community itself. After several months of community media silence on what was probably the single most significant transgender-relevant story of the time, some of us decided to start calling out these media publicly.
At the time, I was a loyal listener of the first commercial LGBT Internet radio station, GAYBC, and decided to take on the issue there first. Even though GAYBC had been somewhat better than most, taking on trans-relevant topics and issues now and again as an occasional show feature, for the most part they’d basically ignored this story, along with most other stories and topics of interest to the transgender community, right along with the rest of the “LGBT” media. I started calling into GAYBC shows, bringing up the topic, and emailing the hosts. Eventually, John McMullen, President of GAYBC and host of the station’s flagship talk show, agreed to set up and host a panel discussion on the topic.
While it was certainly a step forward to get this issue aired out publicly on a media outlet as mainstream as GAYBC, it ultimately proved to be little more than a shot in the dark. The rest of the “LGBT” media didn’t pick up the story to any real degree, and this continued to be the case for years afterward, even though GenderPAC’s mission redefinition continued to be a topic of intensive debate and discussion within the trans community itself. Then, in 2001, a friend and I decided we’d had enough and we decided to do something about it ourselves.
Marti Abernathey and I had become friends through GAYBC and we were both frustrated about the lack of coverage of transgender-relevant issues in mainstream “LGBT” media. We both listened to and enjoyed GenderTalk, a Boston-based broadcast radio show focusing on transgender and gender-relevant topics and issues hosted by Nancy Nangeroni which was archived online, but when I emailed Nangeroni to ask her to cover the GenderPAC story on GenderTalk she declined. One day, while discussing the issue in the GAYBC chatroom, Marti and I came up with the idea to create and host our own Internet radio show to directly take on the issues critical to our community which even GenderTalk refused to cover.
We knew we didn’t have an easy task ahead of us. It took us the better part of a year to put together the technical backend to make it happen, and once we had that working, we set about creating our show. Taking from what we’d heard on GenderTalk and GAYBC and adding liberal helpings of our own ideas and opinions, we debuted our show, which we dubbed “Trans-Sister Radio”, in April of 2002.
Our sound quality was terrible and we had technical issues by the truckload, but somehow we got it on the air and did some pretty damn great community radio during our all-too-short four-month run. Finally, the finances caught up with us and we had to take the show off the air, but we’d made our dent, creating and hosting the very first Internet-based transgender-relevant radio talk show ever.
After TSR was off the air, Marti and I both did stints co-hosting with Ethan St Pierre and took our opinions to the blogs. Marti eventually went on to found Transadvocate.com while I teamed up with Producer Mike Scott to create and host “The Rebecca Juro Show”. Last year, both Marti and I joined the editorial staff of the Bilerico Project, helping to bring a level of transgender inclusion to the site that’s still virtually unequaled in LGBT community media.
Ironically, the penetration of LGBT-relevant content in commercial radio has sadly remained nearly non-existent over the years, with only the marginally inclusive pay-to-listen Sirius OutQ making discussion of LGBT topics available to radio listeners on a daily basis, as Hollywood and even commercial television have shot past radio at lightning speed in presenting LGBT-relevant and inclusive content, giving us television shows like “Will and Grace”, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”, and “Dirty Sexy Money” (featuring the very first regularly-appearing transgender character on television played by an actual transgender actor), and groundbreaking movies like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Transamerica”.
The real action in LGBT talk and opinion media, however, our community’s truly cutting-edge thinkers and opinion-makers, just can’t be reliably found in commercial community radio or television anymore, if they were ever really actually there to begin with. With the advent of the blogs, Internet radio, and podcasting, the true home of community-relevant opinion, commentary, and provocative discussions of interest to today’s LGBT community has moved almost entirely to the Internet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there are now hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of different perspectives from all walks of LGBT life available online, and that explosion of perspective and diversity has now completely overwhelmed the tiny number of narrowly-focused “LGBT”-relevant offerings in this genre found on satellite radio and elsewhere in commercial media.
Now, people like me, Marti, and so many others are able to have ourselves and our opinions heard regularly on Internet radio, podcasts, and the blogs, offering free, worldwide access to everyone with an interest. Unlike in the past when media like GAYBC, Sirius, and the gay and lesbian print media were pretty much the only game in town, Internet-based LGBT community media is now the majority by a wide margin, competing directly for listeners and readers with the relatively small handful of currently available commercial media offerings intended for LGBT people. It’s a very different, much more diverse world for us as LGBT community media consumers than it used to be.
Sadly, commercial radio still offers LGBT listeners interested in community-relevant news, politics, and opinion little more than the well-produced but only intermittently-inclusive “The Michelangelo Signorile Show” on Sirius and the completely sanitized and virtually emotionless “The Agenda with Joe Solmonese” on XM as flagship examples of what satellite radio considers entertaining and informative LGBT community-relevant opinion programming. With this being the most commercial radio is apparently prepared to offer our community, it’s hardly surprising that LGBT radio listeners are leaving these media behind in droves and turning to the Internet for the kind of community talk radio and print commentary which really pulls no punches and takes on the topics and issues they really care about in a hard hitting, take-no-prisoners style, the kind of LGBT community radio which speaks directly to them and to the issues which are really important in their lives.
The LGBT community-focused blogs are no less a part of this movement as well. Many LGBT-relevant community websites now list links to popular online community blogs and other media, as well as to articles published at these sites. Blogs covering the full diversity and breadth of topics and news important to our community, such the Bilerico Project and Pam’s House Blend, have enjoyed explosive growth during this time, often breaking stories and new developments far more quickly and efficiently than the vast majority of commercial LGBT media are able to.
With LGBT mainstream commercial radio in particular remaining relatively stagnant in availability, content, and diversity since the mid-90′s, perhaps due to the upper management of these media companies being more concerned with drawing the most lucrative listener demographics and keeping costs down rather than with producing content that’s truly relevant to their listeners, it’s no surprise that Internet radio creators, podcasters, and bloggers have kicked the community media door wide open, filling that void and going where commercial LGBT opinion media has not only not gone before, but doesn’t seem especially interested or motivated to go in the future. Where once there were just a few of us out there making content available online specifically targeted to those segments of our community commercial LGBT media has consistently failed to adequately represent and serve, there’s now a plethora of cost-free and commercial-free alternatives all over the Internet for LGBT’s who still aren’t getting what they want and need from commercial radio and television.
For me, the most exciting part is watching it all happen right before my eyes. It’s thrilling to be a part of this, to be able to witness firsthand as our community finally demands alternatives to the slick, sanitized, and homogenized radio and television shows which are so common in the commercial media marketed as LGBT community-relevant these days. Instead, those people now coming to the Internet, to us, where kid gloves really come off, where corporate profit-focused agendas don’t water-down the content and diversity, and where the primary concern is serving listeners and readers and creating great media, not getting a higher number in the next Arbitron or Nielsen ratings book than the next guy. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a profit creating community media (would that we all could), but if that profit comes at the expense of properly serving the community you’re creating that media for in the first place, then you know the price is far higher than it should be.
Mercifully for LGBT, and especially transgender, media consumers, the 90′s are over and they’ve been over for a good long time. Hopefully, one day media like LOGO and OutQ will figure that out too, and will finally come to really understand that media by rich, white, gay men focused mainly on the interests of rich, white, gay men just doesn’t cut it in this community anymore, not with the Internet around.
As has been so often the case throughout history, these commercial LGBT community media offerings will have to catch up and keep up with where the rest of us already are, or like other commercial relics of the past once thought to be industry leaders that couldn’t or wouldn’t keep pace with the demands of the modern consumer, they too will ultimately just be left behind.