It’s no secret that Minneapolis is one of the greatest cities for queer culture and arts. It’s not perfect, but it has so much heart and passion for advocacy. It is so brimming with talent that we frequently top “best of” lists for everything from making a living as an artist to unexpected vacation spots. There is no shortage of queer live events full of local superstars. On any given night, LGBTQ+ consumers get to decide if we want to spend our time, money, and energy on theatre, spoken word, burlesque, drag, film screenings, music, comedy, or something else entirely. But there’s also so much queer digital art.
I grew up in the Bible Belt, and to have felt that any one of these mediums was speaking to me in my hometown would have been a complete saving grace. I settled for MTV’s Real World and Roseanne reruns — not exactly satisfactory. The world has started shifting, however. While mainstream media has gotten better about inclusion, queer people are still a talking point for inclusion and not exactly running the show. So, like any marginalized group, we’ve made our own culture and our own art, and much of it takes place on live stages, which is great!
Except I’m not always in Minneapolis. And one of the big “cons” of living here is that five months of the year are absolutely horrible and no one wants to leave their apartment. And sometimes (a lot of times) I’m broke. And occasionally I am so overwhelmingly smitten with an artist that I want to hear from them all the time.
Luckily it’s 2016! By which I mean we live in a beautiful, if over-saturated, age of technology and internet culture and solutions to the aforementioned problems. In the case of seeking queer, local art, many of those radical creators are creating content for the internet (or at least your data plan) alongside or in place of their other work. While the internet is certainly nothing new by now, what gets overlooked is the capability for arts innovation.
If marketers, and academics have this rich landscape which to reach us now, theatre, comedy, and literary creatives can not only reach a broader audience but do completely new and different things with innovative formats like short form videos and podcasts. Economic downturn too is usually surprising good news for art. Many cabaret houses and small, cheap theatres thrived during even The Great Depression. When our most recent downturns happened and were coupled with extreme technological advances, it was a recipe for artistic richness that with those advances, also has the ability to endure.
Stoeckeler and McKay of the new podcast Broadside come from a live arts background, and were drawn to podcasting, in part, for the indefinite amount of time work could stay up and accessible. The contrast of a live show where so much of your energy is spent in the moment versus online creation which allows for continued conversations is a huge draw for a lot of Twin Cities artists we already know and love to either put their work online or create for the internet specifically. Artists get to experiment with and learn new sides of their art, and a great number more are creating their work for creation’s sake and then finding that online avenues work best to get their work and name out there to as many people as possible for as many people as possible.
With the latter, we see some awesome Web series and short films become instantly accessible. Ian Donahue is an actor living and working in Minneapolis, and a member of the sketch comedy group “Laugh Please Laugh.” “Laugh Please Laugh” was looking for a new creative outlet and a way to get instant feedback, so they decide to put their work on YouTube. While updates are infrequent, having this outlet allows the troupe to see their art from all sides, and to create with different intentions in mind. Like the podcast Magnotronic spearheaded by local comedian Maggie Farris, “Laugh Please Laugh” is primarily for fun and to practice one’s art.
Taking it to a wider audience as an LGBTQ+ person though does make you more visible, and that visibility benefits people far beyond your local community. Local filmmaker Brit Fryer recently learned about the reach that your voice can have. He recently went to Sundance with his short film Trans-ience, which won him an Ignite scholarship to cover going to the event. His story and film got picked up by Buzzfeed and the Vimeo hits went through the roof. When asked about the article and sudden publicity, Fryer blushed and reacted very humbly. This makes sense — Fryer does want to be one the most heard voices telling trans stories, but Fryer’s primary goals are simply to make great films that support the trans community. He is particularly interested in how we look at black trans masculinity. Fryer’s short film can be found online for free in part as a nod to support and accessibility for trans people.
Accessibility is a primary factor in deciding to go digital for many creators. Across the board, interviews with local creators saw themes of wanting to reach a wider audience, wanting to branch outside of the Twin Cities, and wanting their work to be easily reached by people who may not have access to these voices and stories elsewhere.
Jesse Mueller is an important voice in the trans community here in Minneapolis, and is fairly new to film-making. He actually fell into it via his primary work as a remodeling contractor. His short film Merge was a natural progression of his goals as a contractor. As a contractor his life’s work to create a clean, safe, comfortable space for everyone—especially his transgender community—is a very literal application. Through a team-up with the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network to create Merge, a short film about identity, community, and building things, that personal mission got to reach a wider audience, and become more about creating that space in the world at large. Mueller is excited to continue on his path, and is glad to have online resources to reach those who may need messages of community.
YouTube and other online video platforms have been great for accessibility of information and marginalized voices, as well as building community and growing your audience. I can only imagine how my life in a largely conservative Baptist South Carolina town as a child and teenager would have differed with all of these beautiful voices just a couple of clicks away. I am very close to several queer youth, and I know the internet has been crucial in discovering themselves and being able to come to terms with their identity at a much younger age. Video hosting and putting work you’re already doing online is a natural progression. Having such a cheap way to provide your work to others allows for a fair amount of innovation in and of itself. Risks become less risky when the worst that happens is it falls on deaf ears, which allows bravery both in your artistic being and in claiming your voice.
Another form of innovation in the digital age though, has been the unexpected return of the radio show, rebranded, available for download, and called Podcasts now. The Twin Cities are rife with brilliant queer podcasters who, like our video creators, create for a variety of audiences and reasons. The newest on this front is off to a great start, Kristin Stoeckeler and Kelly McKay of Broadside who I mentioned earlier. Broadside is only one episode in as of the time I am writing this, but it’s a much needed queer, feminist take on local arts and culture. In the team’s own words:
“Broadside podcast is a queer feminist conversation about arts and culture. We work to support queer and feminist art, music, and theater by providing a platform for discussion and connection among artists and communities both in the Twin Cities and nationally. Broadside strives to represent a diverse group of artists and cultural workers through coverage and commentary. We hope to address what we perceive as a lack of spaces for substantive dialogue about queer and feminist-produced work, particularly by local artists. We join a growing community of voices working to open up more of these spaces.”
Stoeckeler and McKay have been working together and collaborating for a long time as members of the band Kitty Kitty Bang Bang and in their work with Twin Cities superstars Dykes Do Drag, but Broadside gives them an opportunity to keep conversations about queerness and feminism in art going past the live event, and to have something people can access indefinitely. I am so excited to see where Broadside goes. Stoeckeler and McKay have the passion and the connections to really elevate the Twin Cities queer arts scene, and having their work just a click away opens up a flood of possibilities.
Les Talk! Girlpond is another podcast devoted to queer female voices being heard—that’s the crux of their goal and mission. Women, especially those who love women, are frequently silenced still, and the creators of Les Talk! Girlpond also see podcasting as a way to fill that gap a little and have ongoing conversations that empower women doing sexy things. Les Talk! Girlpond is incredibly sex-positive but focuses solely on female sexuality and pleasure. In addition to all of the wonderful reasons to create online that we’ve discussed, doing so also opens the door to “edgier” material. Les Talk! Girlpond may have run the risk of being censored or diluted in a more traditional format, and the creators very smartly chose this medium to explore this important conversation in.
The drive to create provocative material is another reason many online creators turn to online mediums or podcasting specifically. Anna Bongiovanni’s Fist You is one of my favorite talk shows ever, and started as Bongiovanni and their best friend Ethel were drunkenly sharing sex stories and joking about how to “score free sex toys.” Fist You was born, and though it started as a joke between friends, it has been a vital voice for those exploring their sexuality who don’t fit in in other places where sexuality and sex toys are being discussed. Anna is most well known for their Autostraddle comics chronicling the misadventures of Andy and Scout, two queer best friends based on Bongiovanni’s own life and misadventures. Fist You is very aligned with Bongiovanni’s overall work in that while it focuses on sex and sex toy reviews, the overall themes of chosen queer family, embracing your identity, and finding the hilarity in topics so often treated so headily come shining through. This show has been crucial for me in my own journey over the past year or so to accept my own body body and varying shades of queerness. Anna and Ethel are completely upfront about who they are and about the role sex plays in their life.
Fist You may have started as a joke between friends, but like Les Talk! Girlpond and Broadside the conversations it starts make it something else entirely. In most art, we learn as we go that the things that seem the most personal and specific to us end up being the most universally relatable and “important” work we end up doing for other people. Fist You is a prime example of that, and it’s a podcast talk show that wouldn’t have been possible for a plethora of reasons 15 years ago. Anna is no stranger to creating online (their comics have always been for online audiences), but the podcast format has given both Anna and Ethel a more well-rounded knowledge of how creation works from start to finish. Bongiovanni commiserated about some of the trial and error they’ve had while learning the recording equipment (a sentiment echoed by the Broadside team who were very excited to learn the editing process nonetheless), while noting that their creative partner has benefited greatly from having to learn the social media side of creating online to create that sense of community.
Another podcast of note recorded locally is Magnotronic. Maggie Farris is a local lesbian comedian (and one of the most hilarious and kindest people in the world). Like Bongiovanni, Farris saw podcasting as a modern, easy way to take her ideas to a wider audience and have some fun. Like many of our YouTube creators, Farris also liked the permanence of having something recorded. Similarly to Donahue’s sketch troupe’s YouTube channel, Magnotronic is primarily an exercise and excuse for the comedians involved to practice their craft and, as Farris will be the first to tell you, be really silly.
Farris is adamant that Magnotronic is “strictly for fun” and it’s definitely one of the most hilarious shows I’ve encountered in any format. Few would argue though that there is not value in LGBTQ+ fronted comedy. It’s a hard world out there, and we have few affirming experiences that also take us out of the struggles many of us encounter daily. Comedy and “silliness” are vital to this community because it allows us to get outside of ourselves for a bit. That’s why among a list of people creating evocative work that talks about identity and discusses and addresses our culture in a lot of important ways, Donahue’s “Laugh Please Laugh” and Farris’ Magnotronic are still necessary in the conversation. That’s not to say I haven’t cracked up at every episode of Fist You or been incredibly charmed by the first episode of Broadside—it just means there’s value in something that has a queer or progressive slant but primarily exists to make us laugh.
I am so grateful to live in a world where when someone comes out to me, I have a long list of resources I can refer them too. For many of us caught between Gen X and millenial age (and certainly those growing up prior to that) we remember all too well a time this was not the case, and truth be told, there are affluent suburbs and small, rural towns all over the country where this is not the case still. Yes, the resources exist now but not everyone has the education, location, or financial privilege to access them or even know they are there if they need to see themselves reflected or figure out who they are. The variety and depth of online content is a lifesaver to so many, and for those passionate about supporting local artists, I’ve created a list below of where to find all of this amazing work I mentioned, as well as how to best support the content creators involved. I can not stress enough how important supporting local makers is. Because these shows are done with accessibility in mind, they are labors of love, and providing support when we are able—be it via financial support, buying their other work, or just sharing links, ensures this community stays rich in LGBTQ+ centered art and culture.
Other ways to support:
Trans-ience by Brit Fryer
Merge by SPNN
Laugh Please Laugh