Thom, Elliott, and Jesse crowded onto my office balcony. It was early August and we were all incredibly sweaty.
We cracked our beers and complained about the heat. Jesse offered to hold my recording device, checking the angles periodically and moving the phone from corner to corner to capture the clearest audio. Jesse is the quietest part of the Do You Queer What I Queer? (DYQWIQ) trio and works behind the scenes to help keep the self-proclaimed “faggoty messes,” Elliott and Thom, on track.
Thom and Elliott are the public faces and voices of DYQWIQ, a Toronto-based queer podcast. Starting as an outlet for their collective rage and as a springboard for mobilization in the aftermath of the alt-right wave in global politics, DYQWIQ aims to be a hub for the queer community.
Through weekly episodes, Thom and Elliott provide a platform for queer individuals, especially those usually left outside mainstream representations of queerness, to share their lives and reflect on their experiences.
Thom, trained as an educator and a performer, currently works in community arts programs. He’s tall and loud, but somehow not intimidating. Rather, he puts people at ease. Relentlessly busy, Thom often sacrifices his own needs for those of the projects he involves himself in. He’s well matched by Elliott, who started his PhD in anthropology at U of T this fall. Elliott often brings his academic lens into DYQWIQ episodes, especially when the topic of queer history comes up. Listeners can practically hear him shift forward in his seat and lean closer to the microphone when he gets excited about a topic.
Elliott explained that “rage and anger seemed to be very productive” in his studies of queer activism, and he wanted to harness his and Thom’s in something bigger than themselves. “We realized we have the most privilege situated in our community and we turned that into activism,” Elliott continued. “[We] realized that you can’t just acknowledge privilege — you have to activate it, you have to use it.”
Thom agreed. Being an activist doesn’t have to be hard, he said. “Take what you’re good at and turn it into something that matters.” Thom laughed before continuing, “And for me, what I’m good at is, I guess, talking shit?”
When Thom falls down a rage rabbithole, Elliott usually grounds him. Likewise, when Elliott spins off, Thom reassures him. They bump into and off of one another’s energies; so comfortable together that listeners might feel like they’re just listening in on an everyday conversation between best friends. And they can’t be blamed for thinking that; casual, colloquial and of-the-moment, DYQWIQ doesn’t pretend to be CBC. They even have a show mascot, a porcelain cat named Pamela, who they dress up in different costumes and ask guests to describe on air. Hilarity often follows.
Occasionally, listeners and guests criticize the specific language choices inherent in DYQWIQ. The word ‘queer’ carries a heavy legacy, especially for older generations. For Elliott and Thom’s peers, the word ‘fag’ or ‘faggot’ is likely more salient, and can trigger a gut-twist of shame and embarrassment. But Elliott and Thom don’t see it that way. For them, their active and consistent use of these terms is a form of protest, of reclaiming. Elliott explained that this re-appropriation is where his politics lie, that “if you take something back and you find power and a place for activism within it, then it can’t hurt you.” Thom nodded along, adding that “‘faggot’ is our word now. Ours being mine and Elliott’s specifically, and if you want it to be your word too, great, take it.” He continued, “It can’t hurt us, because we own the word and we own its power.” But, Elliott added, “We just need to communicate that that’s how we understand it and use it to our guests. To show the wonder and the love within it and the power within it.” Elliott and Thom wear this on their bodies, in twin ‘faggot’ tattoos.
Some of the first questions they ask guests on the podcast is to define what being queer means to them and how they use their queerness to influence positive change. Since hearing and interacting with different understandings of queerness through these conversations, their own definitions have shifted. Thom explained that to him, queerness now means inclusivity and broadening the umbrella. The gift of queerness is making space for complexity in identity and personhood that an acronym like LGBTQ+ can’t quite hold. Elliott concurred, “I think many people use that word in different ways than I might come to it, but I kind of use it as a praxis [rather] than an identity.” To Elliott, the politic in queer “lies in people’s inability to pinpoint one meaning, and kind of the fluidity in queerness.” But, he cautions that “people who identify as queer need to recognize that within that umbrella there’s still a hierarchy in terms of social order.”
These hierarchical relations within the queer community are a frequent topic of discussion on DYQWIQ. Elliott and Thom regularly acknowledge how their own perspectives as white, cis men heavily influence their experiences. To counterbalance this, they try to focus on providing a platform for diverse experiences of queerness and keep one another very aware of the narrowness of their own understandings.
Elliott explained how he and Thom hope that “people come out of episodes with not us as the authority, but with the guest who can speak to it or the resources we refer them to. It’s awareness, but not the be all end all of the conversation.” They frequently reiterate that being queer “doesn’t just mean being gay and getting drunk at a gay bar. It means going out and advocating for Indigenous rights, standing up for people of colour, [and] fighting the trans fight,” and that listening to other perspectives is central. “Although,” Elliott said drily, “The irony of this is I want to say listening more and speaking less, but we have a podcast, so…”
Their queerness also hugely influences their interactions with the world. Elliott’s academic career at U of T has been formative in the development of his politics around queerness. “In fact,” he told me, “U of T is what helped me learn about queerness and adopt queerness for myself. But I know that’s probably not a lot of people’s experiences, especially in other programs.”
Elliott’s PhD focuses specifically on queer digital activism in rural communities. “I think the main vehicle for my queerness is the education I’m in now,” he concluded. Thom’s queerness manifests in his career as well. He mainly teaches creative classes, including writing and drama, so “in order to facilitate that, the space has to be completely safe.” He continued, “I think I understand that as a queer person, because I celebrate ‘come as you are.’ Speak as you want, think as you want.” Furthermore, he’s always learning from his students.
“It’s very different to be a 15-year-old now,” Thom said, and “they understand that art in this climate should be, maybe has to be, a vehicle for social change.”
Elliott’s training in anthropology rings through his approach to podcasting. “We’re taught that self-reflexivity is the strength in anthropology because as embodied researchers you need to recognize who you are and how your experiences have shaped how you interact with the world.” Reflecting on how he and Thom balance the divisions between their personal lives and the public personas they project on DYQWIQ, he said, “I think it’s getting more difficult to separate the podcast from our lives. I think that in the future it’ll be one and the same.”
Elliott and Thom pride themselves on their painful honesty on air, especially about their mental health. One of their segments is the practice of sharing their ‘colour’ of the day, as a way to express their mental state. “The colours started when I was, you know, having really dark days or days that I didn’t want to leave my bed or days where I was so angry I didn’t know what to do. So I’d text Elliott and be like, ‘This is a red day.’ It was my version of putting it out there and giving it to someone so I didn’t feel so alone,” Thom shared. “Now it’s morphed into this fun, creative but still quite vulnerable way of expressing who we are and how we’re feeling.” Elliott nodded, adding, “We’re also trying to show that even when you’re at your lowest and you’re not feeling well, you can still be active and help. Talking about your truth can be activism.” “And you can still even laugh!” Thom interjected, smiling.
The sharp change in Ontario’s political climate after the election of Doug Ford this summer helped them realize their convictions. “We started really angry at concrete things and at an ethos that, for myself, I couldn’t pinpoint. But to see it reproduce in front of our eyes in Ontario, it’s like we’ve talked our own activism into existence,” Elliott reflected. They want to hold themselves accountable to their convictions by actively protesting the changes imposed by the Ford government, and they encourage their listeners to follow suit. “There’s active things that are easy to do, like emailing the education minister or attending the rallies at Queens Park. These are all actionable things that not only we can all be doing but we can be sharing that we’re doing and supporting each other.” Elliott noted.
Thom agreed. “As like a stupid, queer actor I always thought it was over my head. I always though that ‘Oh, I’m not smart enough to really understand that.’” He paused. “The difference now is that I realized it is accessible. Everyone can be active.”
Elliott looked over, “I will say too, to address the elephant in the room, we’re both white, cis men. Not to reduce everything to that, obviously, but I think that’s why we were able to have our heads in the clouds for so long.” He raised his voice slightly. “If politics isn’t part of your everyday life, that’s because you’re privileged enough to not have them impact you.” Thom and Jesse nodded.
DYQWIQ encourages its listeners to be accomplices to the queer community. “I’m just gonna take one sec to say to people who aren’t queer: we’d like to see you be respectful in queer spaces. That’s not to say don’t be in queer spaces; come, we need accomplices. But know that these spaces function as safety for a lot of people who didn’t feel welcome or who were actively marginalized in non-queer spaces,” Elliott said. “Being an accomplice is talking to people in a community and finding out the best place to help,” he explained. Elliott encouraged U of T students to take classes in gender studies and other queer topics, advising students to take advantage of their electives to learn as much as they can.
Thom agreed. “Showing up and supporting queer businesses is huge,” he added, but also emphasized the importance of “showing up on the front lines. Go to protests at Queens Park, at Nathan Phillips Square. Get out there for our missing and murdered Indigenous women, for our Indigenous allies, for our people of colour who don’t have the same chances as we do… get out there for them.”
DYQWIQ is a refreshingly self-aware take on queer issues and broader social justice causes in Canada. Thom and Elliott offer much of themselves to their listeners, leaning into vulnerability without veering into performance. They play into one another’s quirks and personalities and have steadily honed their dynamic since their first episodes. They’re funny, irreverent, and sometimes heartbreaking. Yes, DYQWIQ is a queer podcast, but it’s for everyone. After all, as Thom says, “If you’re angry, if you’re an activist, if you don’t subscribe to the patriarchy or heteronormativity, that makes you queer.” He looked directly at my recorder: “Straight people, allies, you’re queer too — we welcome you.”