Always surprising and engaging
Podcasts are now a well-established means of communicating with a wide audience. Whilst this is just another medium for some, others have been more creative. One is the American Love + Radio, which is neither straight journalism nor pure fiction. Many of its broadcasts are of interest to psychologists.
Its fourth season has had a particular focus on sex and sexuality. Deep Stealth Mode is about a seven-year-old transgender girl. We hear mainly from the girl’s mother, as she talks about parenting, but also from the girl herself, and their conversations together. The girl says that something had gone wrong in her mommy’s tummy because she came out a boy. She called herself a girl by four years old. At one point, we hear them discussing her daughter’s impending trip to camp, with the mother asking the child to decide whether they should tell the staff in advance that she is a ‘girl with a penis’ in case she needs help. I wasn’t sure if giving a child that age the responsibility for managing her ‘secret’ (their words) was enlightened, or irresponsible. There’s no attempt to steer the audience as to the rights or wrongs of the situation; rather, it’s about fully entering someone else’s world.
In contrast to this loving relationship, A Red Dot is about Frank, a registered sex offender and advocate. Frank says sex offender is not who he is, it’s what he did, 35 years ago. As a citizen of California, he is on the sex offenders register for life, and Frank discusses why he wants the law changed. But as he moves on to talk about the offence itself, it becomes a hard listen: he was charged with ‘lewd and lascivious acts’ with a minor under 14-years-old (Frank won’t say exactly how old). Unlike Deep Stealth Mode, the interviewers leave some of their questions in, so we can be in no doubt that they challenge Frank’s interpretation of the abuse, from which he seems to have distanced himself. It’s thought provoking stuff, and puts the listener in the position of those who work with sex offenders, and must – at some level – try and understand them.
Then there’s Thank you, Princess. This is about neither loving nor abusive relationships, but commercial ones. Ceara Lynch paints a vivid picture of her life as a professional humiliatrix. There’s no interpersonal sexual acts involved, as she works entirely on line or by phone. This includes the genius money-making scheme of running an expensive phone line which people call up, to be deliberately ignored. Listening in to one of her callers as she verbally humiliates him is truly instructive about the many aspects of human sexuality.
Other episodes defy categorisation. The most successful of the season is The Living Room, where Diane Weipert finds herself irresistibly drawn to spying on her new neighbours. And my favourite is Greetings from Coney Island, where Rachel Prince receives a Coney Island postcard, addressed to her, from a mysterious ‘M’ – and dated 15 January 1938. Love + Radio maintains a low output of approximately one podcast a month, but it always surprises and engages, and is well worth subscribing to.
- Kate Johnstone is Associate Editor for Reviews.
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