Arts·Queeries

What 'turned you' queer? With tongue planted firmly in cheek, this podcast digs into origin stories

On his podcast You Made Me Queer!, Trevor Campbell explores LGBTQ identities with guests like Jinkx Monsoon, Scott Thompson and Joshua Whitehead.

Host Trevor Campbell uses comedy to explore the catalysts of our queerness

You Made Me Queer host Trevor Campbell. (Trevor Campbell)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

We're here, we're queer ... and it's your fault.

That's the tagline — and comedic conceit — of You Made Me Queer!, an "accusatory podcast" by Toronto-based comedian, writer and radio producer Trevor Campbell. Campbell asks LGBTQ guests to explain what or who turned them to our side — with, of course, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

"As queer folks, at least of a certain generation, we have spent and continue to spend a lot of our time correcting bad info and educating people constantly about how there's actually no gay agenda and we're not out there trying to convert anyone," Campbell says. "So I was like, 'You know what would be really funny is to lean in to this [idea] that things are making people queer.' All these things I put so much energy into correcting, it's way funnier to just double down on all of them."

Just prior to the pandemic, Campbell — a self-professed "long-retired theatre actor" — had been based in Tokyo for four years, doing a "whole mish mash of stuff," including working for an NGO.

"This story does lead to the podcast, I promise," he says. "But basically what happens normally in NGOs is that you do a thousand different jobs because it's a skeleton crew. So one of my jobs was [at] this Tokyo-based NGO that chartered global voyages doing humanitarian work on a cruise ship. And one of my jobs on this ship was emceeing and hosting tons of events and interviews with people who, quite frankly, I had no business talking to. Literally like, heads of state of countries, politicians, scientists — all these things where me, a Toronto Fringe supporting actor, was suddenly being like, 'So tell me more about politics in Laos.' So the great thing about that is it basically had to be like, 'Well, I'm not going to win this one on smarts, so I just need to figure out how to talk to this person compellingly for an hour.'"

At the same time, Campbell had started doing a lot of freelance audio and radio journalism, and the dual experiences conjured an internal question. 

"At a certain point, I wondered, 'What's my voice if I don't have anyone steering it? What's the project that I can really kind of shepherd myself?' And that's how this podcast came about."

Campbell was cautious to ensure the podcast had a specific conceit, largely because he did not want to be just another one of the "billion gays-giving-hot-takes podcasts."

"When those are done well, they're great," he says. "But there's just so many of them. And I also think it tees up a guest nicely when you're like, 'Here's the action item: what made you queer?' And also, you can Wikipedia Jinkx Monsoon or you can Wikipedia Scott Thompson. You don't need me to ask them about where they were born or whatever."

The podcast's concept also feels particularly relevant as we find ourselves in a moment where rampant homophobia and transphobia is very much escalating.

"The pendulum just seems to swing back and forth, and we have these super liberal periods or sort of 'awakenings' and then a lot of people get spooked and then it swings hard back the other way," Campbell says. "And unfortunately, it's swinging back that way during World War 3 and a pandemic, which just feels like a lot."

Trevor Campbell. (Trevor Campbell)

Campbell feels that, in this context, people don't necessarily find it fun to feel like they being taught or given a lecture. — "but it is fun to organically learn something, especially through comedy."

"I think people can learn a lot from this podcast, but I don't ever want it to feel didactic or like a PSA. It's a very broad comedy conceit that I think is quite obvious. But some of my guests still say, 'Yeah, I just want to make sure your listeners know like, I don't want to blame anything and nothing actually made me gay.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I think they're OK. But for the purpose of comedy, can you just lean into this for me?'"

Campbell made sure his roster of guests wasn't just the obvious mix of queer celebrities (something plenty of of LGBTQ-focused podcasts already cover).

"I didn't set out to make a podcast that just had famous queer folks on it because I think we have a lot of those too. I really wanted to try and show the breadth of the queer community as much as I could, be it ages, ethnicities, countries that people are from, professions, various levels of quote-unquote stardom and exposure," he explains. "So it's not just queers who succeeded within capitalism. A lot of the time, that's the snapshot we get, but there's amazing queer folks doing so many things and they have such interesting stories. And those are the people that light me up."

You can listen to Campbell get lit up as the second season of You Made Me Queer! continues its release on the Sonar Network. And be on the look out for live You Made Me Queer! shows this summer, which Campbell is in the process of putting together.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and hosting the video interview series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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