An interview with the hosts of “Nancy,” a podcast made by queer folk for queer folk
As a member of the LGBT+ community, I have found it hard to find media representation of queer folks that is accurate, includes a variety of experiences, and is entertaining. That dearth of content is what makes “Nancy”— a queer podcast made by queer folk for queer folk— so important to me.
As season 3 of the “Nancy” podcast from WNYC Studios comes to a close, co-hosts Kathy Tu and Tobin Low took some time to tell the FBomb about their show, their lives, and which Queer Eye character they would be.
The FBomb: Where did the idea for “Nancy” come from?
Tobin Low: Kathy and I first met at a radio bootcamp, when we were first learning how to make radio. We immediately became friends because, out of the very small program, surprise, surprise, we were the only two queer Asian people. We immediately locked onto each other and were like “We have to do something together.” [We had] the idea to do a podcast that was very much pulled from our identities as people of color and queer. We got very lucky because shortly after we decided we were going to do this podcast together, WNYC opened up a call for show ideas and we pitched it to them. And that’s how “Nancy” ended up becoming a WNYC podcast.
The FBomb: Kathy, the story you tell about your fear of cutting your hair and presenting more masculine in the episode “Fear of Being Butch” was the first time I had ever heard a queer female discuss what it was like to try to understand her own gender presentation. In that same episode you also revealed your own insecurities about how you presented your sexuality. How does it feel to know that the topics you discuss on your podcast are often the first exposure listeners have to some of these issues, and is the choice to depict yourself as imperfect in your own exploration of those issues deliberate??
Kathy Tu: A lot of people will give me feedback about the first episode, [which is about] coming out multiple times to parents. People will send me photos of their haircuts and stuff [because of “The Fear of Being Butch,” but besides that, I didn’t know that [episode] was a thing that people resonated with very much.
I think it is important to show people that we don’t have everything figured out. I know some people who have it “figured out,” but I would say that most queer people in the world haven’t. We wanted to show that it’s OK to still being figuring out your identity. Identities change and evolve as we get older and have different experiences, so I just think it is important for people to know that.
The FBomb: Has doing this podcast changed how you have seen your own identities?
Kathy Tu: For me, yeah. Like, before I did this podcast, I didn’t feel very connected to the word “woman,” but I definitely felt connected to the word “female.” I don’t ID as nonbinary, but I ended up feeling more “masc of center.” Growing up I always felt like I had to fit into society’s definition of what a woman was, but that didn’t resonate with me. I don’t think it ever will. I definitely feel more comfortable now knowing where I am, but I mean, I got there only after going through all these experiences.
The FBomb: For you, what’s the difference between “female” and “woman” that makes you feel more comfortable identifying as one but not the other?
Kathy Tu: I think “woman” comes with such a long history and baggage of, honestly, what men think women should be. And I think female, at least for me, is a little more scientific, removed from societal expectations. And I think it just always has been a little bit more comforting to me to identify as female. I don’t even like being called “lady” because I don’t think I am one. It’s been an experience trying to figure out what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not comfortable with.
The FBomb: You guys have interviewed some incredible people from Ru Paul to Lena Waithe to Cameron Esposito. Is there any particular story that you are most proud of?
Tobin Low: I think we have always been very proud of the episode called “Here’s What It’s Like,” which was two HIV-positive men of different generations talking about their experiences. It was just a thing we hadn’t heard explored a lot, and I think that that episode was really lovely.
Kathy Tu: When people ask what my favorite one is — that’s [the episode on the] Golden Girls. But the one I think I am most proud of — I really liked the body image one. I don’t hear gay men talk about their body image issues very often. They seem very confident and project the ideal body type, and I don’t get to talk about, you know, maybe I am never going to be that.
The FBomb: One of the highlights of season 3 of “Nancy” has been a guide on how to assemble a “gaggle,” or a group of queer friends. Why do you think that being in a queer-normative space is so important, and how has that played out in your own lives?
Tobin Low: I think it is something that you don’t realize you have been missing until you experience it for the first time. I think for me, that project partially came out of an idea that we had been hearing from a lot of people that there was this expectation that when you get older and come out and get to know your queer identity, being in a queer-normative spaces and having queer friends just comes along with that. Actually, it turns out that, like everything else in life, you have to put in effort to make those things happen. So we wanted to show that. I think it is one of those things you don’t know you are missing until you start putting in the effort to find those spaces. The thing that is so important about it is just being able to be in a space where you don’t have to explain yourself. [Where you can] just be with a group of people where everyone understands your experiences and you can just speak in that shorthand, which is so lovely.
The FBomb: Do y’all remember the first time you made a queer friend?
Tobin Low: I think, unfortunately, the first queer friend that I had was my first boyfriend.
Kathy Tu: I think my first queer friend was my first girlfriend.
Tobin Low: It happens.
Kathy Tu: Yeah, it does.
Tobin Low: [My experience] was wonderful and also very complicated. It was probably not until I got into grad school that I was able to sort of divorce friendship from that experience. I met a bunch of lovely people in graduate school, and that was where I found my gaggle. I just remember feeling like “Oh, this is what people were talking about, about having a group of queer friends.” We laughed so much. It was great.
The FBomb: It’s like finally having someone understand all the references you thought only you knew?
Tobin Low: Yeah.
Kathy Tu: Exactly.
The FBomb: Kathy, you have documented the journey of coming out repeatedly to your mom — difficult conversations that cross cultural boundaries and comfort zones. How did you make the decision to record and publish that vulnerable conversation?
Kathy Tu: To start [another] conversation. There is a lot of stuff that gets left unsaid, especially in my family and maybe even more generally in Asian culture, in which you deny things that are difficult or uncomfortable. I think it was just a way for me to not only have documentation that this happened [to me, but also for] other people, so they can hear that [coming out] can happen no matter how awkward it is, and so maybe they can do it too, if that is what they want to do.
The FBomb: Have you guys received any feedback that changed the way you see anything?
Tobin Low: Someone reached out recently [to say] that the podcast helped them identify something that they had been feeling and didn’t realize they identify with. For example, a listener responded to the episode we did with Asia Kate Dillon, who is nonbinary, by saying, “I knew I was queer, but listening to that episode helped me identify something [else] I was feeling.” And that gets back to what Kathy was saying, that we assume that queer people [inherently] know themselves and who they are. But hearing how the show has helped people evolve and figure out new parts of their identity always blows my mind.
The FBomb: Did you guys go to Pride?
Kathy Tu: Yeah, we went to New York Pride, and Tobin and I spent a good four hours in a cherry picker announcing the parade, the floats, and the groups stepping into the parade. Jonathan Van Ness waved at us. And that was everything.
The FBomb: Oh wow! Are you guys big Queer Eye fans?
Kathy Tu: I am a big Jonathan Van Ness fan.
Tobin Low: I would say the same. I like the show but I love Jonathan
Kathy Tu: I love Jonathan and really like Queer Eye.
The FBomb: I feel like every friend group self identifies as a member of Queer Eye. Who would you be?
Kathy Tu: Bobby. I am Bobby Burke. Who would you be, Tobin?
Tobin Low: I would be the sixth, edited-out Queer Eye whose only skill in life is eating pizza in bed.
Kathy Tu: Tobin is wrong; he’s Tan. He’s 100 percent Tan.
The FBomb: Is there anything you guys are working on right now that we should look out for?
Tobin Low: Yes, I think the biggest thing for us is, we’re — well, everyone — is thinking about the midterm election and what that means. For us, specifically, we’re thinking about what do queer people care about in these next elections.
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