I love the radio program THIS AMERICAN LIFE. The first time that I listened to the show was on a car trip through upstate New York. After this car trip and eight episodes back to back, I was hooked. I started downloading the podcast, I made mix CDs of my favorite episodes for friends and family, I even bonded with Chris Walla during the making of The Con about our mutual desire to collect and own a library of ALL the This American Life episodes ever broadcast. Which would be a lot because the show has been around since the mid 1990′s. As an obsessive collector of my favorite things it makes my brain hurt to imagine the satisfaction of a book shelf chronologically housing every incredible episode!
The show has brought me so much comfort during long bus drives across Europe and North America. I’ve passed countless Cross Atlantic flights with Ira glass and the programs many contributors as my main source of entertainment. I can’t think of another program that has made me laugh and cry so consistently. I’ve buried my face in countless jackets, scarves and pillows to stifle the sound of my private emotions in many of those public spaces.
After our most recent tour wrapped up in San Francisco I stayed in the city a few extra days to visit Alcatraz and the much loved city lights book store! During one of my walks I was knocked off my feet listening to this episode: http//www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/204/81-Words
What made it particularly important and incredible was that I can still remember quite vividly my first day of “psychology 10″ in high school. My mom was a social worker and I had entertained the idea of taking social work or psychology in university and thought the class would be a great introduction.
As my teacher handed out much of the semesters work sheets/photo copies, I scanned quickly through and noticed that in the documents homosexuality was referenced a lot. However, a giant “X” was drawn over the paragraphs or sections outlining descriptions about homosexuality. It was done carelessly and you could still read much of what was written underneath. I imagine the teacher informed us that we were supposed to ignore the outdated inclusion of homosexuality but I don’t remember the explanation or how it made me feel to see it listed after schizophrenia or any of the other psychological conditions or mental illness listed within the pages of our work books. There were countless other moments in high school where teaching materials or teacher themselves clumsily handled (MY) sexuality or gender, but psychology 10 and those photocopied papers stand out in my mind as a particularly upsetting reminder of how truly fucked up things were (and still are).
The remarkable moment I had walking around in San Francisco listening to the history and explanation of the DSM and the important change that happened because of so many people’s bravery was very moving. I wish that my teacher had explained the history of homosexuality’s removal from the DSM (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagnostic_and_Statistical_Manual_of_Mental_Disorders). It’s been almost fifteen years since I was a grade ten student, but it gives me such pride and hope to hear stories of people in history who worked to make change for LGBTQ people. I feel sad thinking that so much still needs to be done but listening to this American life and episode #204 reminded me that things are getting better.
Here finally is a piece I wrote last year for AOL’s laugh cry rage column: http://www.spinner.ca/2008/11/10/laugh-rage-cry-with-sara-quin/