A new podcast explores something we need to discuss more: domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships
Drew Denny and Kaitlin Prest's Asking For It is 'a queer contemporary take of the Goldilocks tale'
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.
In the new CBC podcast Asking For It, writer and filmmaker Drew Denny and artist and award-winning podcast creator Kaitlin Prest have collaborated to create a seven-part fictional narrative of one woman's path out of an abusive same-sex relationship. Described as "a queer contemporary take of the Goldilocks tale," the series follows Goldie (voiced by Denny), a musician who finds herself in a cycle of relationships that nearly drown her.
"It's a fictional world, and in that world we have set out to tell a truth — a really important truth," Prest says, introducing the first episode. "This fictional world was created based on deep research that we did and observations of real relationships that we, and many people that we know, have had. Maybe you have had one. This show deals with topics that many of us find triggering, but we do it a way that aims to lighten the load and to give tools for growth and healing. Also, obviously it represents sexuality...honestly, and without shame."
Featuring an original soundtrack — performed by Denny's real-life band HIPS — Asking For It was released in its entirety earlier this week. I chatted with both Denny and Prest about the journey they took to get the podcast made, and why it's so important we all start talking more about the issues at its core.
Tell me about Asking For It. What was the genesis of the project and how did the two of you come together to make it happen?
Drew Denny: I started writing Asking For It in 2018 while taking care of my mother through breast cancer treatment. I aspired for it to be a novel, but I am an impatient outdoor cat so I started trying it out as stand-up comedy material at my Mom's "55 and better" community. I applied for some grants and theatre programs and then Kaitlin convinced me to make it as a podcast instead. She's completely responsible for my foray into podcasting, which I'm sure saved me many years of crying over my computer alone.
We began production of the podcast in early 2019 with Kaitlin teaching me and my best friend and bandmate Christina Gaillard the tried and true techniques she has developed through [her previous podcasts] The Heart and The Shadows. Then in the summer of 2019, I was selected by the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater to perform the story on stage. This was a pivotal experience for me — hearing an audience react to the story in real time. The process of moving between mediums — writing it first for stage and then for audio and now, hopefully, for screen — has been incredibly enriching. And I will always be grateful to Kaitlin for championing this project as a podcast — a medium that was new and scary to me but that so quickly proved to be a magically immersive way to tell this story.
What are each of your specific roles on the podcast and what was that collaboration like?
DD: I wrote the episodes, performed a few voices including the main character Goldie and directed most of the performances in person. Kaitlin directed several of the performances as well — notably, the sexiest scenes! My bandmate Christina Gaillard wrote several original compositions for the score, and the two of us created a soundtrack [with our band HIPS] in which Christina produced all the tracks and I wrote the lyrics and vocal melodies. In addition to performing as one of the characters in the series, Kaitlin listened to and gave notes on about 50 drafts of each episode and then took the project into her private sound design and mix lair to bring it home with her engineer and mixer Harry Knazan.
The Asking For It team is much more than Kaitlin and me — not only did Christina work on it from beginning to end, but The Heart's Phoebe Unter helped produce some of the very first drafts and longtime The Heart contributor Rider Alsop came on in the fall to cut and re-cut and re-re-re-cut what became the final drafts. Our friends Basement Babies, Amara and Crown Plaza contributed songs to our soundtrack and our cast brought the whole show to life. Kimmy Robertson plays my mom, and it was an absolute honour to work with her. Mel Shimkovitz plays Taylor, and her brilliant improvization took her scenes to a whole new level. And so many friends guest star — John Ennis, Josh Fadem, Anna Albelo, Dr. DAR, Emily Anderson, Kyle Lasky and so many other artists who brought their voices and spirits to the story.
Kaitlin Prest: Aaaaah roles. Audio making is such a wildly collaborative thing; often we start out with certain titles and then it gets all mixed up. Drew and I were constantly checking in about how to name the work we were each bringing, and ended on "writer/director" and "producer/director." This is Drew's writing, her characters, her story and her concept, and the way that story and the characters and the concept were brought to life in podcast form is a style and a technique of audio fiction and audio storytelling that is very much my "brand." And then all of the other artists who gave their expertise and creative force to the project along the way...each person bringing their style and creative genius to make this magic end result. Even though I'm the "sound designer," Drew had tons of sound specific ideas of how to turn the writing into an audio landscape. And while Drew is the writer, when I sit down to sound design, pulling specific cuts of dialogue from the improvised scenes and building out a cinematic story progression...to me that's writing. So the roles and titles in the end...if we're being honest...become very mixed up.
Drew and I joked that she is the Mommy who carried and birthed this baby from her body, and I am the daddy who fertilized the egg, supported the pregnancy and held her hand in childbirth. Both of our DNA is what made the baby, but Drew is the one who held it for nine months with swollen ankles eating pickles and peanut butter and ultimately endured the pain of pushing it out of her.
What do you want people to take from the story you're telling in the podcast?
DD: My main hope is that if anyone hears themselves or someone they love in this series — that they know they're not alone and that there are people out there who can help.
KP: My hope is that people who are questioning whether what they're experiencing is "abuse"...will realize that yes, it is. I think abuse is something that most often happens in intimate situations, with our parents, our lovers and our friends. Because of that, it's extremely difficult to name the behaviour as abuse because it feels like you're condemning someone you love. It's so hard to cross over into actually naming a situation an emergency, naming a situation "not okay." I hope that people listening will feel like they see a path inside of this story to their own liberation.
I think the representations of abuse that exist are really polarized along lines of "victim" and "abuser," and the abusers are always monsters. I'm hoping that because we represented these characters as more complicated than that, that people who cause harm to their loved ones will be able to relate with these characters and reflect on their behaviour.
Domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships is really not discussed enough and seems a lot more prevalent than a lot of people think. What do you think we can do as individuals and as a community to change that?
DD: Talk about it. Talk about it some more. And keep talking about it! Like abortion and rape and sexual assault, domestic violence is common. As soon I start talking about it, people come out to me about their experience of intimate partner abuse — or about their mom's, their girlfriend's, their sibling's or partner's or friend's experience of domestic violence. It's so pervasive and yet so rarely discussed, which I think is a very dangerous combination. I think queer folks keep it extra quiet because we want to protect our own — but also because of internalized homophobia. I hope that in creating more conversation around abuse, we can help each other know we're not alone — inspire each other to find help and safety and to work toward healthy relationships.
KP: I think as a community we need to get better at figuring out restorative justice-oriented solutions. Or solutions in general, where the community steps up to heal both the victims and the abusers. This might be naive or too forgiving a point of view, but I think if abusive people didn't fear being cancelled, imprisoned or exiled, they would be more inclined to do the work to heal themselves and be open about their harm. Also, I think if we start to understand how pervasive abuse is, we will be able to talk about it and heal it more readily because it won't feel like this aberrant dark thing, but something that a lot of people have been through and figured out how to fix.