TOBIN: So when I was in the sixth grade, I would say I was a very serious poet.
KATHY: Sixth grade poet, okay.
TOBIN: [LAUGHS] I thought that I had discovered my medium. Like, this is how I was gonna express myself to the world.
TOBIN: So, of course, when a poetry contest was announced at school, I was like, “This is it!”
KATHY: You entered ...
TOBIN: And, of course, I won.
KATHY: Of course! You won! [BOTH LAUGH]
TOBIN: Truly. So my parents drive me to the local Barnes and Noble, where the the awards ceremony is being held. And we walk into what I would say is a stage full of five- and six-year olds reading limericks about friendship, [KATHY LAUGHS] and it’s immediately clear, “Oh no. This is a contest where everybody won.” [KATHY LAUGHS] “I am not special.”
KATHY: Oh, Tobin.
TOBIN: I know. And it wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t’ve been going through my dark phase.
KATHY: An emo phase?
TOBIN: An emo phase, exactly. It’s that phase where everyone thinks that in order to be serious and important you have to be as dark as possible.
TOBIN: So the poem I had written was about a heartless CEO of a company who accidentally shoots his only friend in the world, his dog, on a hunting trip.
KATHY: [LAUGHS] Oh, Tobin, that’s so sad! [STILL LAUGHING]
TOBIN: [LAUGHS] It was very dark. And when my parents read it, they were like, “Is this a cry for help?” And i’m like, “NO! I’m a serious poet!” So they drive me to this awards ceremony. We're standing there in front of all the five- and six-year olds and we look at each other and I’m like, “We gotta get out of here.”
KATHY: Oh, so you didn’t scar people.
TOBIN: Of course I’m not gonna read that poem in front of six-year olds!
KATHY: [LAUGHS] I mean, ehhh …
TOBIN: Well, yeah. The moral of that story, really, is that poetry is powerful.
TOBIN: You know, it’s, like, a powerful thing.
TOBIN: Which is a great segue, because our story today is about poetry, and it’s from our friend Peter.
PETER: Hi, guys.
TOBIN: Are you excited?
PETER: S-s-sort of.
TOBIN: Well, I’m excited. So, Peter, take it away.
[THEME MUSIC STARTS]
GUEST 1: You just want me to read this?
GUEST 1: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
GUEST 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN: So, Peter, take it away.
PETER: Okay. I remember the exact date I fell in love with Joe: it was June 6th, 2010. [SCHOOL BELL RINGS] It was the end of my junior year of high school. And this is boarding school, so picture lush manicured lawns and Georgian architecture and salmon-colored shorts. Everyone was about to go home for the summer, but before we left, a group of my friends and I decided to have a sleepover in one of our dorm rooms. And the next day, for some reason I woke up very early, probably around 6 or 7 in the morning. And when I opened my eyes, I saw that my friend Joe was awake, too. Joe was this skinny, pale, redheaded kid who was in my class. We knew each other a little — we acted in our school’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace together, and I was drawn to his frantic way of moving through the world that was somehow both anxious and fearless at the same time — but mostly we were more like polite strangers.
But then that morning, something happened. It was super early, Joe was standing by the door, getting dressed. He didn’t notice I was awake, too. There was a beam of light coming in from the window. And the light landed on Joe’s face in this way that made his pale skin glow and his red hair glow. And I don’t know why, but in that second, before I was even fully awake, I realized that I loved Joe more than I had ever loved anyone else in my entire life.
For most people in that situation, the next step would be obvious. But for me, it wasn’t so easy. I’d only just come out the year before, and I still couldn’t even say the word “gay” out loud. And to make matters worse, while I thought Joe might be gay, he wasn’t saying anything about it either.
Still, I tried. My attempts at romance ranged from the subtle — sending him an anonymous cupcake on Valentine’s day — to the extremely subtle — brushing my hand against his when we walked past each other in the hallways. Sometimes Joe seemed to reciprocate these little gestures — he’d smile, or he’d grab my hand a little as I passed — and sometimes he didn’t. For about a year this was my life. Then we graduated. But my love for Joe just kept getting stronger and stronger.
Then, six months after we graduated, Joe came and visited me in college, at NYU.
PETER: And those six long months apart from Joe had made me a little more confident and a little more desperate. And so, late on the night of Joe’s visit, we were sitting on the floor of my common room. All my roommates had gone to bed. And then, in the lull between one topic of conversation and another, I leaned forward and I kissed him. And Joe kissed me back.
PETER: The next morning, I woke up and Joe and I were lying in bed together. And in that moment I saw the future. I imagined Joe meeting my parents. I wondered what gay men were supposed to wear to a wedding. I hoped that our children might have red hair.
But when Joe woke up, he got dressed and he left.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
PETER: After that visit, my contact with Joe slowly fell to zero. He stopped responding to my text messages. And there were moments when I wondered if maybe the night we’d spent making out on my dorm room floor had been, like, one vast hallucination. And at this point, I could have chosen to forget about Joe. I’d already spent two years pining after him, as it was. But instead, I started writing love poems. [MUSIC BED] So that, one day, when Joe was ready, I could share them with him.
KATHY: I'm assuming you don’t mean a haiku?
PETER: No, I wrote, I started writing Shakespearean love sonnets.
TOBIN: Oh, man.
PETER: So, there’s different kinds of sonnets, and I chose the Shakespearean form.
PETER: [LAUGHS] Because it seemed the most impressive to me. They were created as a way to show a lover that you loved them, so you did this incredibly complicated, incredibly obtuse piece of poetry in order to prove to your lady that you were skilled in the art of language.
TOBIN: You wanted the grand gesture?
PETER: I wanted the grand gesture. Yeah. So I think I wrote fifteen-ish sonnets, and then I gave them a title, and the title was: Verses in Amber.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
KATHY: Verses in Amber?
TOBIN: Why Verses in Amber?
PETER: Like, so, the -- amber is that thing where, like, insects will sometimes crawl into tree sap, and then the sap will, like, solidify? That’s -- and that’s like -- and that’s so -- and -- that’s amber, and so the idea was that I would ...
TOBIN: It was like a romantic Jurassic Park.
KATHY: I was gonna say that too! [BEAT] So what happened to the poems?
PETER: Um, I put them in this little black accordion folder, and I just put them away, and I was gonna wait until Joe was ready to see them. And so I sat on them for 6 years. And one night I had too many fruit punches to drink, and I decided that it was time to invite Joe over to my apartment to show him these poems.
PETER: And, so I give him a call, and a couple days later, he shows up at my front door.
PETER: It’s the right house. Come here.
PETER: Joe looks basically the same way he did back in high school. He’s still got the same red hair, the same bright blue eyes. We made small talk for a few minutes. And eventually we went to go sit down on my couch. I was really excited to finally talk openly with him.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
PETER: Can you tell me what we’re doing here?
JOE: Yeah, we’re having a conversation about how you used to be in love with me and I apparently had no idea. Is that generally what we’re doing? And there’s poetry involved.
[MUSIC COMES BACK IN]
PETER: Umm, I guess the first thing, before I show you anything … Can you tell me about your memories of me, your first memories, and I can see if I can remember my first memories of you, too?
PETER: We started with our first year in high school; we talked about that that production of Arsenic and Old Lace we’d been in together.
JOE: And you were the romantic lead.
PETER: And you were the reverend.
JOE: No, no, no, no. I was a police officer. I think I was onstage for all of three scenes.
PETER: You were in the cutest little outfit, I remember.
JOE: It’s true, it’s true.
PETER: And eventually, I told him about the morning when I’d fallen in love with him. And I asked: If I had said something to him all those years ago, how would he have responded?
JOE: I probably would have run like hell for the hills. No, I was … No, I don’t think I would have taken that well at all. I wouldn’t have known what to do with it.
PETER: Was it because it scared you, or … ?
JOE: Was I -- was I terrified? I mean, I was uncertain. I didn’t really know ... I don’t know where, which direction forward was. I don’t think I would have begrudged you it. But I would have been confused and conflicted.
[SUBTLE, DRAMATIC MUSIC IN]
PETER: At last, we got to the poems. I took out the black accordion folder I’d kept the poems in for all those years, and I pulled out a sheet of paper.
JOE: Yeah. Do you want me to read it?
PETER: Do you mind reading it out loud, actually? Okay, there you go.
JOE: Though dreams be wild, none be so wild as this crepuscular illusion of present you, who offers, as this be in sleep, a kiss remembered fresh and wet as if were new.
But what so floods my sheets in midnight warmth is not imagined touch,
but a silence sheer that marks you close, and clears the blaring earth of all but us.
Electric hums the air when you do share, not just a grasping bed,
but chairs across an empty table, or a room, a street, cities, a time far spread, with me.
You’re here, I cannot ask for more. And once awake, and ghostly forms are passed,
I cry to see the dreams at my feet amassed.
PETER: Cre -- Crepuscular means, “Of --
JOE: No, you’ve written it “Crepuscular.”
PETER: Yeah, crepuscular.
PETER: “Of or relating to twilight.”
JOE: Certainly. Okay.
PETER: Can I ask you how you feel? Because your face is sort of hard to read.
JOE: I don’t know how I feel. Umm. It’s a nice poem. It’s … strange to imagine that it’s about … us. That’s strange.
PETER: Why is it strange?
JOE: I don’t know, to be a character in a poem? It didn’t feel this pretty. This isn’t what I experienced, even a little. This does not describe what happened, as far as I’m concerned.
PETER: And then we just kind of sat there … for a while. Joe’s eyes were glued to the sheet of paper.
PETER: And then, like, I’ll show you --
JOE: We were in a relationship! I had no idea. [PAUSE] We were! -- There is a whole narrative here that I was not privy to, that I did not participate in. I didn’t -- I didn’t have access to this. I wasn’t allowed to see this.
PETER: But am I wrong in thinking that … that you ... You wouldn’t have wanted to see this?
JOE: I don’t know if that’s fair to say. I don’t know how I would have responded five years ago.
PETER: If I had just sent you an email with my poetry in the spring of 2011, you know, in our freshman year, would you have ever talked to me again? I mean …
JOE: I would have been disappointed in myself for not feeling as deeply about anything as you seemed to have felt about me.
[GENTLE MUSIC IN]
PETER: For the next hour or so, Joe and I picked through every detail, every memory I had of what I thought had been a kind of courtship. All those times I brushed my hand against his in the hallway? He didn’t remember those. The anonymous cupcake I sent him on Valentine’s Day? Maybe, but vaguely. The night we made out in my NYU dorm room?
JOE: I -- it was -- I think it was more of an experimentation on my part than it was a stab at something deeper. I did not leave that dorm room in the same head-space at all.
PETER: Does this make you feel loved at all?
JOE: No, not particularly.
PETER: You’re saying I loved you like crazy for a long period of time, and that doesn’t make you feel loved?
JOE: No. Why would it? I wasn’t there.
JOE: I don’t know, I’m not someone who’s done much thinking on the nature of love in-between two people. But I don’t imagine that you can go back and add love later to a memory or a relationship.
PETER: And … let me see if there’s anything else I need from you. Unless you have any other questions?
JOE: I think I’m all set. Okay. [MIC TURNS OFF]
TOBIN: Oh, man.
TOBIN: Yeah, I mean, I have to ask: was this the worst case scenario?
PETER: Yeah, I mean, yeah. It was the worst case scenario. I wanted Joe to tell me that he had loved me for a second -- for even one fleeting second, he had liked me back. And I didn’t even get that. I got the emotional equivalent of a concrete wall.
PETER: And I’ll try to rationalize this a lot, but I was so mad. I was pissed off. And then I started going back through, not just my crush on Joe, but all of my past relationships. And I started thinking maybe there were other things I’d missed: maybe this wasn’t the first time I’d imagined a love that wasn’t there. [PAUSE] And then, I found something.
TOBIN: Ooh, this sounds ominous.
PETER: I was doing something you shouldn’t do -- which is read through all the Facebook messages you’ve sent to your ex-boyfriends.
TOBIN & KATHY: Ohh …
PETER: And I happen to find this old Facebook message from my very first boyfriend, Jeffrey, who I dated in high school, right around the time I fell in love with Joe. I looked in it and the very first message was a love poem.
TOBIN: That you had written?
PETER: No, that he had written to me.
TOBIN: Ahh. Do you have it?
PETER: But -- I do.
PETER: This is the poem:
The icy darkness.
I plunge into it
like a swimmer in the sea
feeling no cold on anxious skin.
I feel the heat
from the furnace
in little gestures: a stroke here
a caress there, a stolen kiss on the cheek.
The fire burns,
leaving passion wild as untamed jungles consumed in its raging blaze.
[GENTLE MUSIC IN] I see his eyes --
bright as stars,
golden as a summer's liquid beam --
shine on my face in wonder.
Their liquid light
is comforting as earth;
stoke the fire burning under my skin,
capture me in their crystal-perfect gaze.
No more darkness.
Only pure light
As you hold me in your arms
And stroke my hair -- never letting go. [MUSIC OUT]
TOBIN: That’s a beautiful poem. I mean, like --
KATHY: High school, right?
PETER: Yeah, that was high school. We were 16.
TOBIN & KATHY: Wow.
TOBIN: The level of passion.
KATHY: Jeffrey really loved you.
TOBIN: I mean, is that representative of your relationship at the time, with Jeffrey?
PETER: It’s not, because … I didn’t really love Jeffrey back.
KATHY: Oh, Peter ...
PETER: Okay. I was 16 and I had just come out. And I think I was -- I think I was so confused -- I was still really struggling with who I was, I just was not in a place to feel anything toward anybody.
TOBIN: I have to point out the obvious here: do you realize that what you just said parallels pretty intensely what Joe said to you?
PETER: Yeah. And that makes me sad. Because, being in the place in life that I am, where I think I want deep love, it’s super hard to get that poem, because I was like, “Oh shit, there was an opportunity of someone who really deeply cared about me, and it didn’t -- it didn’t affect me.” And that was sad. It feels like something that I missed. And I read that and I just -- I stopped being mad at Joe, like, all of a sudden. And I think what I ultimately realized was that … I don’t think I was ever in love with Joe, honestly.
KATHY: Well, I dunno. I feel like I’ve fallen in love with an image before of somebody that I couldn’t get out of my head, and I would argue that that was still love.
KATHY: Like, it’s still a thing that exists, I wouldn’t say that that wasn’t really love.
PETER: I guess, for me, it’s not the love that I want.
PETER: The kind of love that I want, I think, is the love that acknowledges another person in all their sort of failings and foibles and beauties and amazingness.
[MUSIC PLAYS OUT]
KATHY: That was Peter Bresnan with his grand gesture.
TOBIN: And, friends, we wanna hear about your grand gesture. For example, have you ever written a book of haikus for someone?
KATHY: Mhm. Or hired a skywriter to propose to your girlfriend maybe?
TOBIN: Or paid money to name a star after somebody?
KATHY: Tobin, that happened to me.
TOBIN: No it did not! Did it really?
KATHY: Yeah! Ex-girlfriend.
TOBIN: How much money does that cost?
KATHY: Uh, not as much as you’d think. But I did get a big framed picture of it.
TOBIN: So there’s a Kathu Tu in the sky?
KATHY: Yeah. From one of the companies, I know.
TOBIN: Well, we wanna hear about your Kathy Tu’s in the sky.
KATHY: Yes, we do!
TOBIN: So record your voice memo on your phone and send it to email@example.com.
KATHY: And we’ll share some of our favorites!
TOBIN: We’re asking about grand romantic gestures.
GUEST 1: What has John done for you?
GUEST 2: Literally, we have been together 10 years, and the answer is nothing. Like, no, we got engaged and that, like, wasn’t a big deal.
GUEST 1: Surely he’s done something. [PAUSE] Well, he did let you get cats and he’s allergic to them.
GUEST 2: Oh, yeah, maybe that’s it. We have two cats and he’s allergic.
TOBIN: How allergic?
GUEST 2: Like, super allergic. Like, like, he got shots for two and a half years.
TOBIN: How does he get by now?
GUEST 2: He takes Claritin. And he doesn’t really touch them. And they’re not allowed to come in our bedroom, like, because he would die.
TOBIN: I’m gonna say that’s like a long-game romantic gesture.
GUEST 2: Right? Yeah, it is. That’s true. [LAUGHS] It’s like a long-form grand gesture of love.
GUEST 3: This is Nancy. We’ll be back after these messages.
TOBIN: Kathy, I think we might overshare too much. Like, somehow, I not only know that you switched to a Diva Cup --
TOBIN: But, also, that you’re on a journey and that you’re very satisfied with it.
KATHY: Tobin, that is private information.
TOBIN: I mean, you did share it!
KATHY: Okay ...
TOBIN: Well, we can edit it out! [WHISPERING] No, we won’t, because it proves the point I wanna make.
KATHY: Tobin, I can hear you!
TOBIN: Okay, okay. Easy. [LAUGHS] The thing I’m trying to say is that ... I think oversharing can be kinda powerful.
KATHY: Can it?
TOBIN: No, seriously. Especially if the oversharer’s coming from a place of people, like, wanting people to understand them better.
TOBIN: So I'm thinking of this cabaret artist named Shakina Nayfack. She's a trans actress in Hulu's Difficult People and an amazing cabaret performer. She recently starred in an autobiographical musical called "Manifest Pussy" -- which is an incredible name. And the thing about this show is that Shakina goes into very specific, sometimes graphic detail, that people don't often talk about. For a lot of trans folks, these are conversations that they either don't wanna have, or, you know, very much want to have on their own terms. For Shakina, she says it's important for her to put it out there.
SHAKINA: When I was doing the investigative work to see if I really wanted to do this and I looked up all the websites that were, like, medical, clinical websites, I was terrified. I mean, the information was presented in such a daunting manner. And this, for someone who was looking to do it for themselves. Now, if I'm just, like, a general cisgender person who's never questioned my relationship to my body in regards to gender, then there's a total mystery to me as to why someone would want to go through that process. And I think that that mystery creates assumptions, and creates fear out of lack of understanding. And so, to me, the most important thing that I could do through my process was to be public about it in order to demystify it and give people insight into what I was experiencing, why I was doing it, what I was feeling. And in my show I get very gruesome about the details of what the procedure is.
TOBIN: Well, actually, we have a clip of that.
[CLIP] SHAKINA: Well, he explains to me how the surgery will work. [PAUSE] First, my scrotum will be sliced from the bottom up and my testicles discarded. Then, my penis will be filleted, the head of my dick spliced to create a clitoris, and a ring of erogenous tissue lining the upper crest of my labia minora, made from either side of what was once my shaft. Then the skin of my scrotum will be removed completely, the top layer cauterized to get rid of all the hair follicles and sown around a stint to create a tubular skin graft that'll be inserted into a cavity hollowed out in my pelvic floor. So, six and a half hours and 450 stitches later, I'll be female!
SHAKINA: I open it up as, like, a metaphor for anyone who's had a quest for self-fulfillment. And when you start to understand gender confirmation as one form of this really universal struggle, which is to become your truest self, then it's not so terrifying or confusing. And even if you can't identify with the specifics, you can identify with that longing.
TOBIN: Well, and you take it even a step further, because it's not just talking about the metaphor of transformation but there's a lot of spirituality in the show.
TOBIN: Can you talk a little bit about that?
SHAKINA: Yeah. I mean, I think there's nothing more subversive than being a trans woman of faith. Especially right now. I think that queer people have so often been forced out of their churches and synagogues and systems of faith ... and, uh, granted, there are a lot more affirming and inclusive congregations, but, on a personal level, I think the experience of being shunned socially, but also being told that you're unlovable in the eyes of God, has really made queer people feel like they can't have a one-on-one relationship with a divine source.
TOBIN: But at some point you started talking about transitioning less as like a medical procedure and more as, like, a spiritual transformation. How did that realization help you?
SHAKINA: I was really afraid to transition. I was afraid that I would not be "passable." I was afraid of the pain. I was afraid of rejection. And I sort of clump that all together into a belief that I told myself, which, as I said, was that God doesn't make mistakes, and my body is perfect the way it is. So what ended up happening is that, as I wrestled with my transgender identity, I was really wrestling with God. Which is an essential aspect of Judaism. Anyway. I grew up with a culture that really wrestles with God very openly. I realized that I had been telling myself this story that was, in fact, not true. And so ... over the course of those ten years between the time that I came out as trans and the time I decided to transition medically, I had really focused on cultivating a feminist and spiritual sense of womanhood in my male body. And [I] had really built, like, a pretty deep reservoir of both of those things. So when it came time to undertake my medical transition, it, to me, was, like, the ultimate pilgrimage. And I mean that in a Biblical and a ritual sense. Like, it was a journey that implied sacrifice and covenant in exchange for some sort of divine affirmation. And that literal sacrifice of my flesh was a ritual exchange.
TOBIN: You're gonna share a song with us from Manifest Pussy.
SHAKINA: I am. I'm really excited about it.
TOBIN: Do you mind setting it up? When it is? When it happens in the show, what's happening?
SHAKINA: Yeah. So, this song happens about two-thirds of the way through the show. It's the first song that happens after the surgery takes place. And after I had been in bed for a week, a nurse helped me out of bed and escorted me to the bathroom so I could take my first shower. And it was the first time I saw my body in the mirror naked, and it was also the first time that I touched my new vagina.
TOBIN: And the song is called...
SHAKINA: "Down the Shower Drain," and it's by my dear friend Julianne Wick-Davis --
TOBIN: -- who is with us now at the piano.
[SONG BEGINS WITH A PIANO INTRO]
Water falls on my thirsty skin
Like rain on a dry riverbed.
My hands are eager to take the journey
But I wait and let the water go ahead.
Trickling down my shoulder
Hugging every bend
Seeking out the places
Where my travels will end.
And this ritual feels
So new today,
Washing the old me away
And the water circles round,
Circles round, circles round
The old me circles down,
Circles down, circles down
The shower drain.
Soapy fingers on a virgin tour
Head south to explore a new land.
They slide down my belly
Eager for changes
Never felt before with my hand
Falls upon a landscape
And a newly fashioned mound
A railroad of stitches
To a paradise found
And the water circles round,
Circles round, circles round
The old me circles down,
Circles down, circles down
The shower drain.
Water, turn me into puddles
And wetlands and shattles and rapids
Find my valley and chasm and harbor and hollow
I'm a natural park
With a river you can follow
To the shrine of glory with a baptismal font
Formed by years and years and years and years
Here I stand
A newfound me
I saw in a Thailand dream
The nurse asks,
"Do you feel pain?"
And my tears began to flow into the stream
Water drips off
All the things it should
And all I say is,
"No, I feel good."
And my mind circles round,
Circles round, as the old me goes down the drain
And my heart, it circles round and round
And round and round
And round new terrain.
As the world goes round
And round and round and round and round
The new me.
[HUMMING AND PIANO OUTRO]
TOBIN: That was beautiful. Thank you for being willing to belt at 10 in the morning. [LAUGHS]
SHAKINA: Yeah, my pleasure.
TOBIN: You have performed this show in New York a bunch. It's one thing to do it for a New York friendly audience. But also, recently, you took it to North Carolina after HB2 passed.
TOBIN: What was it like performing for those audiences?
SHAKINA: It was incredible.
SHAKINA: Yeah, it was really incredible. You know, we crowdfunded that tour and it was just 8 cities in 9 days. And it was just me and my band in the van. And we had an incredible time. And not only were we performing the show, but we were also meeting with different community groups in these different cities that were [PAUSE] dealing with the law and doing the direct action organizing that was necessary to -- to challenge it. And then I was stuck, like, using men's restrooms in all the public places throughout the entire trip. Which was ... disheartening and, at times, harrowing. [PAUSE] But, also ... 48 hours after we left New York, the Pulse nightclub shootings happened. And I had just done the first performance and I had 7 more to go. And it really changed the tone of the trip, which was originally this sort of irreverent protest tour that was really, like, cheerleading for the queers. And then it became ... "I need to hold space for mourning for these communities in each city that I was going to." People ... who already felt unsafe in their own state were now at a total loss for what to do. And ... and how to feel, and how to go on with their normal lives.
TOBIN: Do you wanna go on tour again?
SHAKINA: I do, so badly. I do. Ahh ...
TOBIN: Where would you -- where do you think your next tour should be?
TOBIN: Wow, you really just go right into the areas.
SHAKINA: Yeah, well, I'm not afraid ... and you know, like, I feel like it's sort of my duty. I've always said that when the revolution comes I wanna be on the front line entertaining the troops.
TOBIN: So, I just want to make sure that we get to talk about Difficult People a little bit.
SHAKINA: Oh, sure, yeah!
TOBIN: [LAUGHING] So you joined the cast of Hulu's Difficult People for Season 2. Um, if people aren't familiar, it's Julie Klausner, Billy Eichner ... They play, I would say, most of the time, charming people, [LAUGHS] but mostly unlikable people, also. And your character Lola kinda gets right in the mix there.
TOBIN: And the first time we meet Lola, it's with a bang. Um, I wanna play that first scene.
SHAKINA: Oh, great, okay!
TOBIN: Which is at the restaurant where Billy works. And your character Lola has just been hired ...
[CLIP] MANAGER: Hell, we thought you quit when you didn't show up for three days, so we hired Lola.
BILLY: Oh, quit, no no no! I was just in ... very deep sleep.
LOLA: Lola. And yeah, I'm trans.
BILLY: Oh, okay.
LOLA: Oh, is it okay, Mr. Biological Essentialist? Do I have your cisgender permission to be who I am? And you know what else? Bush did 9/11 and jet fuel can't melt steel beams.
BILLY: Well, now seems as good a time as any to have that conversation.
LOLA: Yeah, I'm a trans truther, motherfucker.
TOBIN: [LAUGHS] You declare all of the things about Lola ...
SHAKINA: Yeah, boom. It's a very declarative scene. And, you know, I say things in that show, and in that character, that a lot of trans folk would take issue with. And I've been called out for it. But, you know, it's also -- it's called Difficult People. You know what I mean? We're not there to be pleasant.
TOBIN: Yeah. Well, in a lot of ways, I think -- Maura from Transparent, Sophia from Orange in the New Black ... You gave me a little bit of a face there. [LAUGHS]
SHAKINA: [WHISPERS] Sorry. [NORMAL SPEAKING VOICE] I'm glad this is only an audio recording.
TOBIN: Well, and they're labelled as comedic characters ... [LAUGHS] And now you're shaking your hair in a "Don't even start with me ..."
SHAKINA: Tell me one time you've laughed. [TOBIN CRACKS UP] There are really funny aspects of Orange is the New Black, and really funny aspects of Transparent. None of them have anything to do with the trans characters.
TOBIN: Right. Well, that's my questions -- because they are in a lot of ways heroic, or ... so ...
SHAKINA: I would say sympathetic, more than heroic.
SHAKINA: Yeah, and that's -- listen. I think that every oppressed minority that has made their way onto the mainstream entertainment scene has done so through sympathetic portrayals, first and foremost. Like ... like, whether it's like the, you know, suffering black mother in Invitation of Life, or the, like, gay man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia, we have to gain mainstream acceptance by making people "feel sorry for us." It's terrible! But it has worked. I'm not interested in that. Lola, for me, is the first trans character where she's ... creating comedy. And it's not -- and it's -- there's nothing sympathetic about her, and she's also, like, a generator of humor. Not a subject of humor.
TOBIN: I just wanna close with my favorite scene from the season when you and your coworkers and getting CPR training in the café because it turns out that none of you actually know how to do it. And it just goes so terribly wrong for the poor volunteer trainer named Marcy.
MATTHEW: Don't yell at me! I'm just trying to do what you said, Marcy!
BILLY: This is my one free night, I have to sit here and listen to Marcy. Get the fuck outta here, Marcy.
LOLA: Fuck you, Marcy!
MATTHEW: We hate each other, but we all agree that fuck you!
BILLY: Fuck you, get the fuck outta here, Marcy!
LOLA: There's the fucking door, Marcy.
MATTHEW: Yeah, fuck you! Mhm.
LOLA: Cisgender privilege, women's shelter bullshit.
BILLY: Give it a rest.
BILLY: Take Choking Chucky and get back on the bus, Marcy.
MATTHEW: Yeah, the bus is that way. And sit in the back, by the way.
LOLA: On the bus back to your cisgender, transphobic women's shelter.
TOBIN: Is it fun to get to play an unlikable character?
SHAKINA: Oh, it's a blast. Yeah. [BOTH LAUGH]
SHAKINA: Well, I take out a bunch of my own aggression in those scenes. Because, you know, there's just certain words that are off-limits, and I'm gonna be using some of those words in Season 3.
TOBIN: Yeah. [LAUGHS] That's great.
TOBIN: That's Shakina Nayfack. You can see her on Hulu's Difficult People, and her one-woman show is -- say it with me, Kathy --
TOBIN & KATHY: "Manifest Pussy"!
TOBIN: Alright, that's the end of the show. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, we are @NancyPodcast.
KATHY: And be sure to give us a great review wherever you download the show!
[CREDIT MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: And now it's time for credits!
KATHY: Our sound designers...
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom and Isaac Jones.
TOBIN: Jenny Lawton.
KATHY: Executive producer...
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman.
KATHY: And our incredible producer...
TOBIN: Matt Collette! Hi, Matt.
MATT: Hey, guys.
KATHY: What's a thing that people need to know about us?
MATT: Is this where you want me to say something, like, nice about you guys?
MATT: How 'bout, instead, I just tell everybody that this is, like, the fourth time we've had to record the credits.
KATHY: Matt! Stop it! That is not true.
MATT: I think it is, though. Also, I guess you guys are great.
KATHY: Aww. I'm Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: I'm Tobin Low.
KATHY: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[CREDITS MUSIC ENDS]
MATT: I almost said, "I'm Matt Collette!" But [ALL LAUGH] I don't belong there. [LAUGHS]
KATHY: You could try, I'd just be like, "Matt! Just stop!"
MATT: Get back behind the glass! [ALL LAUGH]