‘Nancy’ isn’t a person, it’s a podcast. Oh, and it’s super, super gay.
When I ask the creators of new LGBTQ podcast Nancy how gay their show is, they’re caught a little off guard.
“We’ve never been asked that,” laughs Kathy Tu, one-half of the friend duo that hosts the show.
But co-host Tobin Low has it figured out: “We’re ‘Rachel Maddow’s haircut’ gay,” he says. “That’s exactly how gay we are.”
OK, so Low and Tu are joking, but Nancy does wear its queerness loud and proud. It’s a new podcast from WNYC Studios, created by two queer co-hosts featuring queer stories from all arenas of life.
In fact, Tobin and Tu have playfully referred to their show as “Gaydio Lab” (a riff of popular show Radio Lab) or “This American Life but gayer (or less gay).”
Since it officially launched on April 9, the show has covered a wide variety of topics — coming out, unrequited love, living with HIV, and even the very divisive question of “Is Harry Potter‘s Dumbledore actually gay?”
Only a little more than halfway through its 12-episode first season, the show still has an impressive list of subjects lined up for future episodes, including a look at Orlando, one year after the Pulse shooting.
If you’re getting whiplash from the spectrum of topics covered — well, that’s the point.
“One of the tag lines of the show is that it’s a show about how you define yourself, and the journey it takes to get there,” Low explains. “The stories [we’ve covered] have been all over the place, but they all have this nugget of ‘how does someone get to a point that they’re at,’ or ‘how are they figuring it out right now?'”
“Nancy is driven by a pretty simple premise, which is [that] we just wanted a space for LGBTQ stories and conversations.”
At its core, the podcast has one mission: “[Nancy] is driven by a pretty simple premise, which is [that] we just wanted a space for LGBTQ stories and conversations,” Low says.
Sure, it’s a simple idea, but in a lot of ways, that mission makes Nancy a quiet revolution in podcasting.
While the podcast world is filled with LGBTQ shows and/or shows featuring queer hosts — including The Read, Throwing Shade, and RuPaul: What’s The Tee — there are few, if any, singularly queer-themed shows produced by today’s top public radio networks.
And for Low and Tu, having a specifically queer show hosted by queer people means there’s an opportunity to change the way media approaches LGBTQ stories.
“Radio stories generally have this focus sentence: ‘Person who’s trying to do something, but here’s the obstacle,’” Low says. “And a lot of times, the obstacle is, ‘But they’re gay. But they’re trans.’ So to get to tell stories where [LGBTQ themes or identities are] not the obstacle but part of person X trying to do something, that’s really exciting to me.”
But that goal comes with one big challenge: How do you create an inclusive show that covers a variety of identities in just 12 short episodes?
“I constantly am terrified of leaving somebody out somehow,” Tu says. “We’re trying to be as inclusive as we can, but we’re not going to get everything right. And it’s not so much admitting that we’re wrong about something; it’s that we’ve overlooked a thing that we didn’t know was there. I’m kind of scared of that.”
To navigate that, Tu and Low just listen.
“I try to take in as many of other people’s stories as I can, because if you’re willing to share, then I want to hear it,” Tu says.
Low also clarifies that the show is not meant to be the singular authority on queerness.
“Part of the show is that nobody who is on it, including us, is coming at it like we are the experts. Like we know everything of what it means to be queer,” he says. “It’s more just a bunch of people like, ‘This is my story, this is how I relate to it,’ and hopefully over the course of the episodes and the stories, [Nancy] says something broader.”
The result is a show built on radical empathy, sharing LGBTQ stories that listeners of all sexualities can relate to.
“It’s been a lot of people saying ‘I’ve been waiting for this kind of show,'” Low says. “I think the one we always love is, ‘This feels like it was made for me,’ which is great when people say that.”
And according to Tu, straight listeners are responding to LGBTQ stories, too.
“There have been messages from straight people that have been like, ‘I’m a straight cis something and I love being able to hear a diverse point of view … and you welcomed me into this new world that I didn’t know about.’ I was surprised to hear that,” she says.
“There are people who come to us with stories and seem to be relieved to be able to talk about it so openly.”
Low has a theory about why the show has been so well received — the zeitgeist of identity-focused conversations happening among young people right now.
“We are a generation that thinks about identity in a certain way that’s not just curious about our own identity, but about other people’s identities,” he says. “I sense an openness right now of wanting to have that conversation — people are starving for trying to understand each other and trying to own their identity.”
And perhaps that’s the magical thing about Nancy: It does feel like a conversation, rather than just two podcasters broadcasting to listeners. In fact, since the show launched, the duo says listeners have been sharing their own stories with Nancy, too.
“There are people who come to us with stories and seem to be relieved to be able to talk about it so openly. There’s a sense of, ‘Ah, I can finally share this,'” Low says.
One such story was the episode “Here’s What It’s Like,” in which two people living with HIV share their experiences.
Inspiration for that episode came from a WNYC coworker, David Gebel, who told Nancy that he has been living with HIV since the ’80s and was wondering how a younger generation was dealing with the virus.
“It’s very important what we’re doing here,” Gebel says in the episode. “Because we can’t have gone through all of this for nothing.”
It’s an apt sentiment for not only the specific episode, but all of what Nancy strives to do — share LGBTQ stories that nobody has been talking about.
Because no, we can’t have gone through all of this for nothing.