It’s Saturday afternoon and, two weeks before the gala that will mark its 10th year of existence (coming up Wed/14) outLOUD Radio is talking style. Elders from the queer community are sitting in a circle in a LGBT Community Center third floor conference room, translating their thoughts on the concept of “gay uniform” into the waiting mics of outLOUD Radio youth volunteers.
“Describe what you’re wearing today.”
“Jeans, which could be categorized as old hippie jeans with tight ankles — not flares. That’s what I feel comfortable in, pants.”
“I’m wearing designer jeans. I bought them from Goodwill for $4.” “Nice.” “Very nice, actually.”
“I’m a dyke, and I wear pants. I’m cold a lot of the time because of my peripheral circulation.”
“There’s something about this T-shirt that makes me feel more alive, more vibrant.”
This is outLOUD’s intergenerational storytelling project.
Phuong Tsing is 20. Tsing is holding the mic for the seniors to talk about their clothes because “I wanted to feel more connected with the LGBT community, to make myself feel more comfortable about myself. [The elders] make me feel like I live in the present, but I’m connected with the past.”
“What does your outfit say about you?”
“I decided at some point in my old age I was not going to dress like a geezer. And I live in San Francisco, so I don’t have to.”
“Not too flashy, except for the rhinestones on the shoes.”
“I’m alive, grateful, a vital human being.”
“I have on what I have on to keep warm.”
The first generation of out LGBT elders are coming of age these days, and they’re providing the community with a heretofore unique resource — the chance for baby gays to sit around and listen to what it was like being queer back in the day. Pre-Stonewall (some of the seniors at this Saturday session were actually present at the infamous raid and insuing protest), pre Glee, pre civil unions. Not only that — one of outLOUD’s major goals is the empowerment of youth through this archiving. Young people assemble pieces on the salient issues of their day, forming their own voice in the process.
“Is there a gay uniform?”
“No. It just seems to me that there’s so many reasons why people put on one thing any morning. Right now in modern times you can wear anything, be anything.”
“What I really love about his group is that it feels really empowering,” say Tsing. Like outLOUD’s other projects, eventually this footage will be edited, and assembled into a radio show that can be streamed online and heard on radio stations across the country. Past podcast topics have included transbodied athletes, the definition of masculinity, sexual harassment on the Muni, even history like the piece below, that interviews members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence about creating the first safe sex pamphlet.
The work, led by executive director Noah Miller, has been going on for a decade, and needs more funds to stay on track. This week’s gala, featuring gay NPR White House correspondent and sometimes-Pink Martini vocalist Ari Shapiro, and KQED host and reporter Scott Shafer.
“Did you dress differently before and after coming out?”
“Not really. But I got my ear pierced when only gay men wore earrings.”
Assembling stories is important work — and not just for those that would compile and listen to the recorded product. That afternoon in the LGBT Community Center, the seniors being interviewed were aglow after interacting with the young people, and probably had plenty to think about after being interviewed about what they were wearing, from the guy in rhinestone shoes to the woman who proudly asserted she was wearing the activist dyke uniform. Telling your stories makes you realize that you have stories, to be really simplistic about it.
Anyway, listen to this podcast — we need 10 more years of this right?
“10 Years of Making Waves”: outLOUD Radio benefit
Wed/14 7pm, $25-5,000
2781 24th St., SF