NPR Appreciation Post: Top 10 Gayest This American Life Episodes

As you most likely are aware, the Republican Budget, along with attempting to destroy Americorps and every aspect of women’s health as we discuss in House Votes to Pull All Federal Funding from Planned Parenthood and The PP & Me, axes funding to NPR and PBS. This makes me so angry I feel sick to my stomach and want to kick them in the shins. The UK is destroying libraries and now the Republicans are trying to destroy everything I like about America. WHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!

If you don’t like NPR, I don’t really want to like you. NPR is like a blanket; my parents didn’t believe in listening to music in the car and I did not really know there were other radio stations until my older sister drove me home from ice skating one day and my 6 year old brain exploded. The theme to All Things Considered evokes the feeling of staring glassy eyed out a car window at traffic on I94 and to this day Morning Edition makes me feel like I need to go to school. As an American living abroad I still religiously listen to This American Life. Autostraddle has named Ira Glass as one of the top ten people who can do no wrong and I couldn’t agree more. NPR needs to be saved and protected, you should sign the petition to save NPR and PBS or give them money by buying the smartphone app or donating directly.

We fucking love TAL as one of the most queer inclusive programs available anywhere. I was surprised to find that there is no list of the queer related episodes, so I am listing some of the best ones for you here. Listen,enjoy and keep in mind that TAL illustrates a diversity of opinions and perspectives both on and within the queer community!
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Top 10 Queer Parts of This American Life

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1. The Best One


Episode 204: 81 Words

Alix Spiegel tells the story of her grandfather and the group of gay psychiatrists, known as the GAYPA, who led to the American Psychiatric Association deciding that homosexuality was no longer a mental illness in 1973. One of the best single topic episodes of there is, LISTEN TO IT AND LEARN THINGS.

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2. Trans* Episodes

Episode 220: Testosterone

In Act Two: Infinite Gent, Griffin Hansbury discusses how injecting T changed him and his views on nature vs. nurture. Griffin gives a candid account of the effects of massive amounts on testosterone, male stereotypes, passing and walking down the street. This episode also includes an amusing test of the testosterone levels of the TAL staff.

Episode 247: What is This Thing?

Episode 247 is a Valentines Day episode that explores what love is, and how to find it. In Act Two: A View from the Other Side, Griffin talks to different guys from his group of friends about how they re-learned to navigate dating as straight and gay men.

Episode 347: Somewhere Out There

Act Two: Tom Girls is a powerful and touching story of two 8 year old transgender girls, Lilly and Thomasina, who become friends and their parents attempts to find them a place where they can strive and be happy. This made me cry for reals, especially as one of the fathers is a complete asshole.

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3. Lesbians!

As you can tell by now I love TAL, but they are hella short on lesbian content. I found a metric fuckton on gay men, but only 2 prologues that involved lesbians.

Episode 268: My Experimental Phase

In the prologue Nancy Updike tells an amusing story of how she spent 2 years convinced she was a lesbian, even though she had no attraction to women.

Episode 154: In Dog We Trust

Have you ever felt that your girlfriend loved the cat way more than you?

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4. David Sedaris is Gay

David Sedaris is one of my favorite humans and a regular contributor to TAL. He is amazing and you should read/listen to all of his stories. There are two things that can always make me laugh. Animals riding on Roombas/wheelbarrows/other animals is one; David Sedaris singing as Billie Holiday is the other.

Episode 27: The Cruelty of Children
Act One: I Like Guys

Teenage David knows he is gay and is surrounded by kids and adults mocking homosexuals. At summer camp in Greece he meets a boy. The boy is cruel. David is funny.

Other notable episodes: Them, What I Should Have Said, Santa Claus vs. the Easter Bunny, The Book That Changed Your Life

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5. Dan Savage is also Gay

I have some mixed feelings about Dan Savage, but I like the It Gets Better campaign and a few of his stories on TAL are pretty good.

Episode 293: A Little Bit of Knowledge
Act Two: And Daddy Makes Three

Dan’s six year old son is vehemently opposed to gay marriage.

Other notable episodes: Monogamy, Republican Convention, Father’s Day ‘98, The Missing Parents Bureau, The Cat Came Back

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6. “Sissies”

Episode 46: Sissies

This entire episode is gay. TAL tells stories about being seen as a sissy, both gay and straight. It includes a sweetly sad story about a man taking care of his mother, a funny act by Dave Awl and Dan Savage reports how even in the gay community it is taboo to be a sissy.

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7. Double Lives

Episode 10: Double Lives

I’m still not sure if I am actually a fan of this episode, but it stuck with me. It revolves around a book that Susan Bergman wrote about her father, who lived a secret life as a gay man and died of AIDS. It led to her being contacted by many other children and wives of gay men, as well as men who explain why they choose to stay married to women.

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8. The Sanctity of Marriage

Episode 261: The Sanctity of Marriage

Ira Glass interviews a marriage researcher about what makes a successful marriage, and finds that same sex marriages tend to be more stable. In the next act he explores perspectives around DOMA (this episode is from 2004).
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9. LGBT Political Issues

As homosexuality is such a hot political and religious issue, it pops up quite a bit when TAL has political episodes. They especially love to talk about gay Republicans.

Episode 272: Big Tent
Act One: Pink Elephant

Patrick Howell discusses what it is like to be a Log Cabin Republican. A perspective I hadn’t personally paid much attention to before, and I learned things I did not know.

Episode 372: The Inauguration Show
Act Three: Lions and Lambs

Ira Glass explores President Obama’s choice of conservative asshat Rick Warren for the inauguration prayer.

Episode 304: Heretics
Act Two: Fall

This is a single topic episode which tells the fascinating tale of what happened when evangelical preacher Carlton Pearson stopped believing in hell. In the second act, he loses most of his congregation, but finds that he is embraced by the gay religious community. (If you like this episode you should also listen to Godless America)

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10. Other Acts Involving Queers

There are over 400 episodes of This American Life, so I am positive I have missed many as queer issues are treated as normal content and not clearly demarcated. In hours of listening I found these acts in which queer people (ie more gay men) were involved but where being gay was not necessarily the point of the story.

Random Queer Acts:
Episode 88: Numbers Act One: Corporate Culture, Episode 53: Valentines day ‘97 Act Four: Negress, Episode 192: Meet the Pros Act Three: Martha, My Dear, Episode 248: Like it or Not Prologue, and anything else by David Rakoff.
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Do you know of any others? Any favorites?

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Laura has written 3 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. Let me just say that I mark my place in my personal memories by referring to the TAL episode I happened to listen to that week. Um… so reading this was weirdly nostalgic and personal?

    so I’m really happy there are little links here so I can just be obsessive via one website and not comb my podcasts for hours. More procrastination.

  2. Thanks for the list! I grew up surreptitiously listening to NPR, but for some reason the one show that wasn’t syndicated on my beloved Lexington, Kentucky station was This American Life. I have plenty of sweet, sweet catching up to do.

  3. I like this article because I like This American Life, and I’m at the point where I go to the archive and just click on a random episodes I haven’t heard yet because I’ve already exhausted the “favorites” section, as well as all the episodes by my favorite contributers. There are probably 3 episodes here I haven’t heard yet, and I’m very excited to change that.

    Also, Somewhere Out There made me cry too.

    Also also, my name is Laura too, so I’m thinking you might be my dopleganger… Laura.

  4. I actually attended the Unitarian church that embraced Carlton Pearson after he lost so much. He’s such a cool guy and even though I’m not terribly religious, hearing him speak about faith with such love and compassion especially as a closet gay teenager in the South was a powerful experience for me. I’m glad to see him on a really awesome list.

  5. My love letter to NPR would go something like this..

    Dear NPR,

    Thank you for lulling me to sleep with music from the hearts of space and teaching me how much I love ambient, down tempo music. Thank you for the amazing voice of stephen hill. For wait wait don’t tell me, all things considered, science friday and the BBC news hour. Thank youfor helping me through my 40 minute commute which without you would have been filled with morning radio drivel. Thank You for teaching me new things every day.

  6. I also grew up with NPR constantly on in the background. It is so good.

    In particular I love This American Life. When I graduated college and became underemployed at a library’s special collections where I did mostly stationary, menial tasks all day I decided to work my way through their catalogue. I was there for about two and half years and I managed to get through about 250 of the episodes. Not too shabby.

  7. I was 12 when I realized that our radio at home could be tuned to stations other than NPR, but I would still switch it back to NPR before my parents got home because I was afraid I would get in trouble! (Looking back, I realize there’s no way I would have, but I felt like I discovered something super secret at the time.)

  8. LOVE This American Life.
    I’m not American, and I just stumbled across TAL because so many blogs I read had mentioned it. Gave it a go, and ended up downloading every episode I could find.

    It reminds me of the ‘other’ BBC radio stations other than Radio 1. It’s sort of like a BBC Radio 2, 3 and 4 mix :)

    I’ve finally convinced my other half to listen to TAL also – so we’ve started from episode 1 – I figure at the rate we’re listening, we’ll have caught up by about 2016.

    Also, if Ira Glass was a girl – I would totally fancy him.

  9. When I saw the picture of Ira Glass, I knew this was a post I had to read. I LOVE TAL! I made a list of my favorite contributors and the episodes in which they appeared before they put the easily searchable one on their site (which I – and probably many other listeners – suggested they create).

    On that topic, David Rakoff (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/contributors/david-rakoff) is also a gay contributor. My favorite David Rakoff episode: Christmas and Commerce – ep. 47 act 3 – Christmas Freud. He was one of the staff members who had his testosterone levels checked in the Testosterone episode mentioned above and he guest hosted an episode (ep. 248: Like It or Not).

    My favorite David Sedaris episode not mentioned above is 165: Americans in Paris. In the prologue, David discusses the Louvre and in act 1 he takes Ira to his favorite places in Paris.

    One of my many favorite non-queer episodes is 177: American Limbo, specifically act 1 – THE FAMILY THAT FLEES TOGETHER, TREES TOGETHER. I could go on and on listing my favorite TAL episodes and acts, but I’ll stop here. I can’t imagine life without TAL, RadioLab, On the Media, Tell Me More, Masterpiece Mystery/Contemporary/Classic, British Comedies, and so many other public television and radio programs that I and millions of others watch and listen to every day. These funding cuts are so aggravating.

  10. The only reason I had anything even remotely intelligent to say while in college, was because I listened to NPR. Vitamin NPR, daily.

    and David Sedaris singing Christmas carols as Billie Holliday fucking wrecked me for life…like…omg you have no idea…..

    Laura L.– finally, someone who understands me….thank you thank you thank you. (& welcome)

  11. Ira Glass got me through my first heartbreak by whispering stories to me every night as I fell asleep since silence and music were too much. I love every episode, but I really love Mike Bribiglia’s [spelling?] segment on “fear of sleep.” It makes me die laughing every time.

  12. I don’t even have words for how much I love TAL. The day I saw Ira Glass in person was one of the greatest days of my life.

    My favorite episode of all time may be #209, Didn’t Ask To Be Born (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/209/didnt-ask-to-be-born). It just has an intensity and intimacy that kills me every time.

    My number one top fave contributor is Scott Carrier. Everything he’s ever done is brilliant, but especially Running With Antelope and the story he did about his relationship with his ex-wife.

    Have to admit, though, I’m not a huge fan of the political bent they’ve taken in the show lately. It’s just not as engaging to me.

  13. Canadian here and this is one my favourite things about the US.

    I have this really strong feeling that I learned about TAL from Autostraddle / an Autostraddler. Therefore, I love you guys.

  14. Every time I see that picture of Ira Glass I’m overcome with envy for that suit. It’s perfect. (Well, maybe I’d make the tie just a half inch skinnier.) He looks pretty little, maybe I could borrow it.

    It’s hard to choose a favorite episode — I ransack the archive for company every time I do the dishes, cook or clean house — but I love Adam Gopnik’s story in no. 177, “American Limbo,” about telling his Paris-raised son stories about baseball. (Described that way it sounds possibly boring, but it is a really lovely, touching, funny exploration about the way we, and especially children, recreate stories in our minds.) And my vote for Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Encountered in My Life, Ever, Period. is Act 2 of no. 323, “The Super.” Just trust me on this one.

  15. There is an episode with a woman who is in Alaska I think or something? And she’s a lesbian but her brother is a born-again Christian. I can’t really remember, but she’s definitely a lesbian. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

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  17. I have to say I’m not a huge Ira fan… there’s something about his voice that kind of gives me the pip. I know, I’m unamerican. What can I say?
    However, I’ve found another NPR program that has some of the same kind of awesomeness without the Iraness. It’s called “To the Best of Our Knowledge” and you can get it on iTunes and at ttbook.org.

    Check it out.

  18. Double Lives was one of the first This American Life episodes I came across and it struck a chord. I’m in the same situation as Susan Bergman, (gay closeted father with HIV, uninfected straight mother), the difference being that I’m also queer. I looked Bergman up because I wanted to write her a letter about the episode and her book, only to discover she died 5 years ago. I really wish I would have gotten the chance to correspond with her.

    Double Lives frustrated me to no end because both Bergman and some of the men who’ve written to her make fucked up comments. She doesn’t seem to get how homophobia would have pushed her father to lead a double life, but then the closeted married guy Ira interviews seems totally clueless as to how his wife might deserve a husband who is attracted to her, or how that relationship might affect the children, not to mention how the secrecy and shame would affect the children if they happened to also be queer. It was really sad hearing Bergman and those men attempting to have a dialogue without really listening to each other.

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