Making Gay History and the best LGBT podcasts

We look at the decade-spanning Making Gay History podcast from Eric Marcus

Feature by Brian Cloughley | 18 Apr 2018

The first thing that strikes you is the sense of loss. There’s the loss of life, of course, through violence and suicide and, once the AIDS epidemic unfurls, in the cruelest way imaginable. There’s also the loss to society of so many fine, smart men and women, people made unable to contribute in the way they might – sacked, ostracised, marginalised, jailed.

But Making Gay History is about much more than loss. Throughout the 80s and 90s Eric Marcus interviewed dozens of activists to help him chronicle the gay and trans civil rights struggle in America from the end of the Second World War to the end of the 20th Century. He made recordings of these conversations, and over the last couple of years they’ve been released into the wild. They’re wonderful.

Marcus doesn’t try to tell the story of the LGBT civil rights movement as a definitive, chronological narrative. The interviews in the podcast are more about personal experiences and memories. They build together like tiles in a mosaic – the more of them you listen to, the more the whole picture reveals itself. They’re straightforward and spare, and sensitively edited to allow for natural pauses and short silences. Bookended by a simple piano piece, the overall effect says ‘come closer, listen up.’

The Vito Russo episode is particularly splendid, sweeping through an extraordinary life in just twenty minutes. Russo was an amazing guy – a thinker, a writer, an organiser and a protester – and here he speaks with a controlled anger and a moral clarity that’s shared by many of the interviewees on the podcast. As the conversation moves on to the 80s, two topics emerge. There’s the tragic part; about the death of his partner, Russo’s loneliness and the holy injustice of it all. But there’s also his legacy; how he hoped he would “pass the ball” on to the next generation of gay activists, and that they would fight for what he describes as “radical issues” like same-sex marriage and LGBT adoption. Russo was dying of AIDS when the recording was made, so he knew that he would never see these things happen. But of course, they did.

So how do you weight up these two sides, the tragic and the heroic? The subjects of Making Gay History faced oppression and unspeakable tragedy, but found a vehicle for their humanity, their intelligence and their bravery. While no-one would chose the cruelties and injustices that so many endured, my god, there’s some lives well lived here. So despite the pervasive sense of loss, Making Gay History is ultimately a positive experience.

There’s a lovely moment in the Barbara Gittings episode when, on the subject of her devotion to the cause she sums up her life as a campaigner: “I can’t imagine not being gay. What would life have been like? Dull? Dismal? Decrepit?”

More great LGBT podcasts

1)  Eric Marcus – A cracking interview by Memory Motel with Eric Marcus about the urgency and passion behind Making Gay History.

2) Homo Sapiens – It’s quickly established itself as the premier LGBT podcast in the UK, largely on the back of the phenomenal likability of Will Young and Chris Sweeney. They’ve had some high-profile guests (Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Tatchell et al) but they’re still probably better at the light-hearted stuff than the serious stuff.

3) Nancy – A breezy, well-produced series about LGBT USA. Lots of laughing, lots of honesty and quite a lot of wisdom too.

4) Savage Lovecast  – Of course this isn’t an LGBT podcast per se, since the venerable Dan Savage is an agony aunt who doles out sex and relationship advice to people of any conceivable orientation.

5) Queer as Fact – Sexual intercourse may have begun in 1963, but homosexuality’s being going on a lot longer. This queer history podcast tells stories from way back. Fascinating tales but it might not be lively enough for everyone.