Kate McLaughlin ‘21
The first installment of the spring semester’s Working Writers Series took place on Thursday, February 8, featuring Eric Marcus, the creator and host of the award-winning podcast series “Making Gay History.” Marcus has produced three documentaries and is the author of a dozen books, including “Male’s Couple Guide: Finding a Man, Making a Home, Building a Life, and Is It a Choice?,” “Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gay & Lesbian People,” and “Making Gay History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights.”
In “Making Gay History,” Marcus used interviews that he conducted with people who have been pivotal parts of the fight for gay rights to tell a personalized and intimate story of the first 50 years of the movement. Now, he uses that rich audio archive of oral history to bring those profiles of LGBTQ activists, champions, and history-makers to life in the form of podcasts.
Marcus’ podcasts offer insight into the lives and struggles of those who have contributed to the hard-fought and ongoing movement, individuals both well-known and long-forgotten. Many were trailblazers and pioneers, many had risked losing their careers by speaking out, and a few were dying of AIDS at the time the interviews were recorded. Such individuals include television personality and talk show host Ellen Degeneres; Edythe Eyde, who created the first known lesbian magazine in 1947, in which she wrote under the pen name Lisa Ben; and Pauline Phillips, or as she is better known, Dear Abby.
Marcus played short segments of some of these podcasts in which these individuals talk about being open about their sexuality in a world that was generally not accepting and about the hatred they often received for doing so. Some said that this angry backlash actually inspired them to continue fighting and were hopeful about how the future might look for gay people.
Marcus admitted that although these individuals’ stories were first published in print, being able to hear the stories told in the voices of the people who were central parts of them allows for a much richer experience. He hopes that his podcasts “offer a window into the big story,” saying, “One of the things we’re able to do in this podcast is make icons human again […] Oral history is history as we remember it, as each of us remember it individually and as we may want our personal history to be remembered.”
First-year Daniel Tallman attended the lecture and echoed this idea, adding that he likes that Marcus’ work “focuses less on the collective movement and more on the individual queer, allowing unique faces and ideas to flourish.”
Toward the end of his presentation, Marcus played a piece of his podcast in which he interviewed Vito Russo, who was dying of AIDS. Russo talked about leaving a tangible impact on the movement with his book, so that 10 or 15 years later, someone else could read it and “carry the ball from there,” and continue the fight for gay rights.
Marcus referenced taking Russo’s book off the shelf in 1981, saying, “I’d like to think that Harry Hay passed the ball to Vito Russo, Vito Russo passed the ball to me, and that I now have the opportunity to share these stories with people, through earbuds […] and I hope that my work and their work gets carried forward by you.”