Hear, Queers: The Unafraid Podcast on untold queer stories

Queer podcasts, which have long been a source of education and connection, have become even more imperative as we’ve spent less time together in person. The folks who host our podcasts feel like—and are—some of our best friends and when we get caught up on all the episodes of a podcast, it hurts just as much as when we finish a favorite book. So, to help keep you connected, educated, and reminded of how great queer people are, we’re launching a new column called Hear, Queers where we talk to the folks behind some of our favorite podcasts about their projects and why they do them. Today, we talk to the person behind the Unafraid Podcast about their incredible program.

Started in the wake of a personal epiphany, the Unafraid Podcast aims to elevate the individual stories of LGBTQ+ folks in their own words. With guests including creatives like Stephanie Williams, creator of the Living Heroes fancomic and Marvel author, and Veronique Emma Houxbois, Transcription comic creator; activists like the folks from The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, a community of trans, armed, anti-fascist alpaca farmers; and queer and trans folks who just have a story to tell, the Unafraid Podcast brings to life the stories forced out of the mainstream.

To share these untold stories with you, host Jae LaVelle strives to create a safe space for queer and trans folks, where are our stories are valued and respected, which they do by opening up and sharing about themself. They tell Bella Media Channel, “What I really want is to send out as much love as I can into a world that can sometimes feel cold and bare.”

Read on to hear directly from Jae about their podcast and why you should be tuning in.

Bella Media Channel: Why did you start the Unafraid Podcast?

Jae LaVelle: I made a discovery about myself in the last couple of years, one I wasn’t expecting, and I certainly wasn’t planning for. I am queer. My gender identity is not what I was assigned at birth, meaning, I am transgender. I identify as genderqueer/nonbinary. I’m forty years old, so this is a pretty huge, mind blowing revelation, and I’m still reeling from it.

When I started to make this realization, I also realized that I knew very little about my queer community. I went down to my local queer community organization, and told them I wanted to get involved. I’m white, and I look like a guy, so that carries a bit of privilege, and I hoped I could use that privilege to do some good in the community. That’s still my hope, really, it’s all I want to do. The community center didn’t have a lot of volunteer opportunities at the time, and they didn’t really have a way of reaching a lot of people at once, which is when I got the idea to produce a queer podcast. I already have quite a bit of experience being behind a microphone—I produce several other shows, and host live performances as well—but this was the first time I was about to dive into something that really spoke to my heart. I hoped that I could create a show that was inviting to all queer people, where they could share stories about their lives, about pain or joy, and that others would hear those stories and learn from them, or even just be entertained. I say it all the time, but what I really want is to send out as much love as I can into a world that can sometimes feel cold and bare.

Bella: What inspiration do you draw from for the Unafraid Podcast? What queer media or projects have influenced you as a creator?

JL: Ha! I really don’t draw inspiration from anywhere for the show, I’m notorious for not doing enough research! When I first started, I wanted the show to be a more highly produced storytelling podcast like Snap Judgement (great show, btw), and the first few episodes are more about story than conversation. However, that wasn’t easy for guests. Not everyone can put together a story about their life, and not everyone is comfortable trying. So the show has evolved more into a conversation with queer people, which I think is good for guests and enjoyable for me, but I do hope I can return to a story format again, because that’s my favorite kind of podcast to listen to. Though I don’t draw specific influence from these shows, there are several excellent queer podcasts I want to recommend:  Oh! Hey Kiri! a brilliant and heartfelt conversational show about the trans life experience and /Queer, a highly researched and wonderfully produced academic podcast exploring queer culture around the world. The hosts of both of these shows are my friends, and they are great people.

Bella: What do you think Unafraid is doing that no one else is?

JL: This isn’t something I really think of. I don’t ever think of Unafraid Podcast as different, or as standing out. Unafraid is what it is, a show where queer people can share freely about their life. With the amount of content creators out there today, I’m sure there are numerous podcasts doing what I’m doing, at least I hope there are. I hope there are hundreds of queer podcasts for people to enjoy, and I’ll probably only ever hear a fraction of them, but having them available is what matters.

Bella: What’s your favorite part of hosting this podcast?

JL: If you ask any podcast or talk show host what their favorite part of their show is, they’ll likely tell you it’s the people they get to talk to. When I have a guest on the show, it’s much more than a conversation. There’s a huge level of trust that goes into coming on a podcast and sharing intimate details about your life, and that brings vulnerability along with it.

So, when I’m speaking to someone on Unafraid Podcast, I’m trying to let them know that I’m safe, and they are safe in this space that I’ve opened up, and more than that, that my audience is safe and accepting of them. The way I do that is by opening myself up as well. I tell my guests and by extension my audience a great deal of personal information about myself, I want people to know that I am not afraid to share with them, so they can also share with me. To me, at least, it makes sense. I have cried my eyes out on my own show, and I’m not afraid to tell people when I am, because life is nuts, these journeys we take are intense, and when you throw in being queer in a world that can be very unaccepting, then the journeys become downright scary. But with each person I talk to, I gain a little bit of their experience, I learn a little bit more about life, and therefore I grow a little bit stronger (not unlike the Highlander). So, my favorite part of doing the show… it’s the people, but not only for who they are as individuals, but the enrichment they are freely and fearlessly giving the rest of us.

Bella: What has surprised you either about the process of interviewing queer folks or in their specific stories?

JL: Queer magic. It’s a real thing, believe me. When I get on a call with another queer person and we’re sharing our stories, something happens, and I don’t know that I can fully explain it, other than it’s magic. I feel extremely close to my guests, and we share things with each other that sometimes have never been spoken aloud before. There’s something really special about talking to people like you, something incredibly genuine and moving when sharing intimate, emotional experiences, something I’ve never felt before. This show has really taught me a lot about myself. I never thought I was a people person, but now I know that I just never knew the right kind of people, because I don’t think you’ll find more loving and accepting people anywhere than you do in the queer community.

Bella: How has this project mirrored your own gender identity journey? (Or not!)

JL: This seems like a question a college lit class would ask! So my own journey, even though I’m forty, is very new to me. Before it was released a year or two ago, I picked up a copy of Love Lives Here, as a reviewer. It’s the true story of a family in Canada in which several family members came out as transgender. I cannot tell you this with enough force, READ THIS BOOK! It broke me, a big, thirty-eight-year-old, cis (so I thought) guy with a wife and four kids. I’ve spoken to the author a number of times, and jokingly told her that she ‘made me trans,’ and I mean that with kindness in my heart, though it is an incredibly scary thing.

Once my eggshell had been cracked, all sorts of new and crazy ideas and realizations started flooding in. For those who have experienced this, it isn’t really a joyous and liberating experience, it’s terrifying. I’ve lived all my life believing I was one thing, one thing that had a lot of problems, only to realize that I am not even close to that thing, and my very identity was the problem. It’s heavy, it’s hard, and it was unexpected. After a few months of crying, I started to actually find comfort in the fact that I’m queer, and I’ll tell you what, finding queer friends and talking to other queer people is one of the most incredible feelings I’ve ever had. It’s like I’d worn the wrong size shoes my entire life, and I didn’t realize how uncomfortable I was until I slipped into this custom fit orthotics.

But back to the podcast, it can be heavy, and hard, I have heard truly tragic stories that absolutely gut me. But I’ve also heard so much joy, happiness that could never be faked, and a deep sense of belonging that actually seems to come through the speakers to say, “it’s ok, you’re here now, we’ll take care of you.” The show is always changing based on what works best for me and my guests, it’s a fluid entity, always in motion, always adapting, and in some ways, I think our lives as queer people are like that, we are always in motion, changing based on what’s right for us, and our ability to adapt is how we’ve survived.

Bella: Why do you think projects that are specifically, intentionally, and overtly queer matter so much?

JL: I think this is a question that thankfully, people are starting to understand the answer to a little better. Queer stories that portray us in realistic ways are extremely important in helping the world to understand that we are human, that we are safe, and that we aren’t scary. It sounds silly, because if violence is going to occur, it’s usually against queer people—by cishet society. Even so, we want the rest of the world to understand us, to not fear us, because the more they understand (hopefully) the less violence and discrimination we’ll experience. Having a conversation with other queer people in a safe and inviting place is a great experience for us, I feel so good when I get to connect with people. It’s not all about activism or advocacy, sometimes it’s just about friendship and comradery, and that’s ok too, in fact, it’s wonderful. We all deserve to be able to talk to our friends, share our stories, and love people without having to fear. Ideally, at least for me, there would be queer elements woven into more content that isn’t queer specific, so that everyone can experience a little bit of queer culture, and just maybe, everyone can be brought a little closer together because of it.

Bella: How is The Unafraid Podcast funded and how can listeners support you?

Ah, funding, the thing we all need but most of us do not have. The Unafraid Podcast is sponsored by author Rebekah Jonesy. Rebekah is a friend and ally of the queer community, when she heard the first few episodes of the show, she insisted on sponsoring for a year. Podcast sponsorships and advertising can be done a number of ways, in this case Rebekah pays for the web hosting for the show, which allows me to operate at no cost to myself. I am very grateful for her support because like most artists, I’m pretty much broke. If you enjoy my show, please take a peek at Rebekah’s books, she has a variety to choose from, and if it’s possible for you, leave me a rating or review: it lets me know people are out there listening, and that you enjoy what I’m doing.

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