Making The Queer Utopia Kid-Friendly
by Rose Amer
R: Rose Amer
L: Lindsay Amer
R: Tell the good people of Hunny who you are. And your pronouns.
L: She/her/hers, Lindsay Amer (pronounced aim-er, just so you know).
R: Ah yes, good good. I didn’t know that. [Just kidding! I did know that! It’s also my last name!]
L: I’m the creator and host of Queer Kid Stuff, which is an LGBT educational video series for kids. And I’m also the co-artistic director and founding member of Bluelaces Theater Company.
R: Which is?
L: Titles titles titles. We create multi-sensory, immersive, theatrical experiences for individuals on the Autism Spectrum and with developmental differences.
R: That’s a mouthful.
L: That’s our mission.
R: That’s a good mission, as far as missions go. So yeah, for people who are not aware, we are siblings.
L: Oh, yeah.
R: Yep. Queer Kid Stuff - going really well so far! Lots of views.
L: Yes, yeah, we’re at like 4K right now. Which is kind of crazy. I’ve gotten some pretty decent publicity out of it, which is why the views are good. I had an article on Autostraddle, which is like an indie lesbian online magazine. That a lot of lesbians read. I was also featured in Curve Magazine, that was one of the first things that covered it. They’re also a lesbian online magazine.
R: Those lesbians love their content.
L: Yeah, and I think it helps having a queer lady behind and in front of the camera. My analytics have been telling me mostly women have been watching my video.
R: Well, that’s all those lesbians.
L: That’s the big coverage...My target audience is kids, but most of the time kids have to watch things through their parents, and teachers, and the adults in their lives. The ultimate goal is for kids to be able to find the video themselves, but they’re obviously not reading any of these publications...But that’s what will ultimately be the most rewarding, because kids are on YouTube. Kids are, like, legitimately on YouTube. And they can definitely find it, I just need to help them.
R: So you’re ultimate vision – obviously this is educational content – but the purpose of these videos is for kids who are just sitting at home on their laptops, who are just curious?
L: Kind of, yeah. I don’t know, it’s really surprising how many kids just don’t know what the word “gay” is. Or like “lesbians” or anything within a queer vocabulary.
R: There’s a lot of stuff in the queer vocabulary that I don’t know.
L: Yeah, and like, all that stuff is around you all the time every day, even if you don’t realize it. And so if a kid walks by someone who just says the word “Gay” and they ask, “Mom what does ‘gay’ mean?” and mom doesn’t tell them, the kid is still gonna be asking why, what, how, when, where. And they have the Internet at their fingertips now, so they’re gonna google it: “what does ‘gay’ mean?” That’s literally what a child who can type will type.
R: And what comes up when you search that?
L: A dictionary definition, and resources that are for parents and teachers.
R: So you’re making content directly for those kids, not the adults.
L: Yeah. That’s kind of where the idea came from actually...I just googled it one day and was like, “Huh. This doesn’t exist.”
R: So, and there’s only one video up right now –
L: Yeah, and the theme song video, which is more or less the channel trailer.
R: That’s us! We did that.
L: Which we wrote together!
R: So what are your plans for the rest of the channel?
L: So it’ll come out to a full ten episode season. I’ll be looking at more general definitions. I want one video to dive a little bit into contemporary kids pop culture and kind of exploring queerness that exists there, so that kids can kind of open their eyes a little bit more to queerness that’s not quite explicit around them, but that’s implicit and they can identify for themselves a little more. This is all spoilers, but, yeah.
R: Well thank you for this top secret information.
L: Yeah, I know. Top secret. There’s a lot that I’m working on, that I’m thinking about in my brain. And I really want to do – one of the first episodes I’m gonna release after this one – is “what does ‘queer’ mean?” because it’s in the name of the series and I also think it’s just a really important word that needs to be reclaimed, and has been reclaimed, and that reclamation needs to be passed on. It’s also a word that means so much more than just LGBTQ - it means difference, it means intersectionality.
R: I feel like I learned this about the term “queer” like a month ago. I was sitting in class and we were talking about how this one thing was very “queer,” and I was confused because it wasn’t to me literally “queer” [in the LGBTQ sense]. And we just had this conversation about how things that are anti-normative are queer in their own way. Which was eye-opening.
L: It’s weird because it’s started to create another binary of norm versus queer. I don’t know, in my brain it’s not like a binary, it’s like a queer spectrum.
R: Even more than a spectrum, I feel like it’s a constellation, where you don’t even want to be operating between two poles.
L: Because it’s so intersectional that there’s so many different points to plot within it that it turns into this three-dimensional matrix. And it’s so flippin’ cool.
R: It’s very cool, and it’s also very complicated and also very hard to wrap your –
L: It’s complicated! It’s an interesting puzzle to figure out what’s going to resonate with kids. What I loved about doing that first episode is I was able to really make – what I think I was able to accomplish – is taking a topic and simplifying it down to a child’s level. But it’s still very dense. It still has, like, a lot to it. I really wanted to try and build a foundation for the vocabulary that I would use for future episodes. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out as I’m writing more – solidifying the language and all that.
R: I think a lot of naysayers would be like “this stuff is too complicated for kids to understand,” but I don’t think that’s true.
L: Yeah. The educational videos are kind of a means to an end. I don’t really want to be making educational content, I want to be making good art, good storytelling because that’s where representation is key for kids. They need to see fictionalization and storytelling that includes queer characters and queer things. (Which is why Steven Universe is awesome). But, right now the meaning of it doesn’t exist. You can’t put that content out there if they can’t understand where that queerness might be.
R: There needs to be some kind of a foundation.
L: Because then it becomes invisible. Which isn’t helpful. So you need to make it explicit before you can do the implicit work. So that’s what I’m trying to do.
R: You’re building a foundation and you’re gonna build on top of it. Is it [the kind of content] you wish that you’d had as a child?
L: Yeah, totally. I think a large part of me having a hard time coming out was that I didn’t see representation of myself as a kid. You just have no idea that there are any alternatives, so you just go with what the mainstream ideal is. And it’s hard to disassociate yourself with that until you get older and work through it on your own. I think kids especially now are so immersed in their cultural content that surrounds them. Like, look at the Frozen craze. I mean, great movie and pretty queer - but it’s still not explicit. What I loved about that #giveelsaagirlfriend campaign was that it was so acknowledging the implicit queerness of that movie [and making it explicit]. Just the movie itself without the campaign allows for a space for Elsa to either not find anyone and be totally chill with that, or to find someone of whatever gender. And I’m really glad that kids are growing up with that.
R: I can imagine movies that I watched as a child where now, in retrospect, I can be like, “That’s pretty queer,” but as a kid I never would have landed on that conclusion.
L: Exactly. You need an explicit reference.
R: I find what you said interesting because we grew up in New York City which is fairly diverse –
L: Ha “fairly,” okay
R: – yeah, “fairly diverse.” But we also grew up in the Village, which is Gaytown Central.
L: Yeah, but I didn’t know that as a kid.
R: I guess. And we knew lesbians growing up. [NB - our long-term babysitters as kids were a lesbian couple].
L: Yeah I definitely didn’t realize they were lesbians for a while. Until someone said the word “lesbian” around me about them - it didn’t really compute. And when that happened I was scared because I didn’t know what that meant. Like, I thought that that was a bad thing.
R: Because they were like, “an exception to the rule”? Like, rare amongst other relationships [you were exposed to]?
L: No, because I had negative associations with that word, I think.
R: Just from the media or...
L: Just from anywhere. I don’t know exactly where it came from but it wasn’t a good thing. And that’s just something that happens in our culture. Words like that have meaning even when you don’t really know what they are. And even though we grew up in a super liberal, accepting family, our parents didn’t really ever explain what “gay” was. There’s never a sit-down. It was never a thing.
R: I’m looking through the comments on this video and they’re overwhelmingly positive which is great.
L: Yeah, they’re good! I very heavily moderate those comments, and I haven’t gotten a single bad one. The only place I’ve gotten really nasty comments is on the Facebook page.
R: What are people saying?
L: Real nasty, like, I don’t want to repeat it. Like, really bad.
R: Like, towards you? Towards the idea? Both?
L: Both. People want me dead, call me a pedophile.
R: Oooh! A “pedophile”? That’s a fun one.
L: They didn’t spell the word “pedophile” correctly, though. So the profanity filter didn’t get it.
R: Aw. Bummer. That’s harsh, though.
L: Yeah it was. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting that. And I’ve come across it in the work that I’ve done before. Yeah it sucks, and those people are messed up. And the fact that you openly, publicly say crap like that to a person you don’t know, hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet is cowardly and awful. But there are people like that in the world and compared to the outpour of really positive feedback...The comments on the Autostraddle article – it’s really positive feedback. So beautiful. And that’s just outweighed everything that’s negative...When I get a bad comment on the Facebook page, people that I don’t know have replied to them and been really cool.
R: Defending you.
L: That’s been cool to watch. When mom posted about it on her Facebook wall - did you see this? That there was a comment, I think the post was public or something. And so someone commented on it -
R: So it wasn’t a friend of hers.
L: No no no. Just like a rando. It was this giant, multiple-passage bible quote. I was just like, “I’m so sorry, mom”
R: She’s tough, she can handle it.
L: She’s fine. I was expecting it, but I was hoping people would be better.
R: Do you think most of the [positive response] is from people who are parents or people who are queer themselves and are experiencing what you talked about, wanting to have had this as a kid?
L: I think it’s largely because [of my publicity from] the queer community. Tons of people from college have shared it, which was really cool and they’re not all necessarily queer. I’ve had people come out of the woodwork a bit.
L: Yeah, right? And then a friend of someone I went to college with, she tagged me in a post of her friend sharing it. It’s getting back around to the people I know. I’m sure it’s gone to straight families and stuff, I’m sure it’s going to people who have queer people in their lives. I hope to figure it out at some point, because that’s the intended audience. As great as this is for queer families to be able to have, it’s still kind of preaching to the choir.
R: Obviously, the production quality is pretty high for something that’s being crowdfunded. Is that something that’s important to you?
L: Yes, very. I wanted it to be done well. What’s great about content like this is it’s stuff people feel is important enough that they want to take the time to do it.
R: It’s a project people believe in.
L: This test run has gone incredibly well. My goal was to get a thousand views, and I was stoked at the end of the first week to get to that….I woke up this morning and it was at 4K and I was like, “Great. People are pumped about this, I want to do more.”
R: What are you gonna do when Ellen DeGeneres calls you?
L: I’ve like...kind of thought about this.
R: Ha, yeah I know you have.
L: I’ll use my frequent flyer miles to get to Los Angeles.
R: Oh, they’d pay for you.
L: Invest in a nice suit, maybe.
R: That’s a good plan.
L: I’m going for that Mr. Rogers vibe.
R: Oh interesting. Is there a reason other than that you love him that you’re using Teddy? He goes by he/him/his, right?
L: No, actually. They/them. I recorded a prototype of these videos about a year ago that are horrific and will never see the light of day –
R: Oh, but I’ve seen them.
L: You have seen them and they are horrible and you will attest to the fact that they are horrible.
R: Yeah they’re pretty bad.
L: Which is kind of why quality was so important this time around, just wanting to do this right.
R: It deserves it.
L: I think it’s been said through the reaction to this, but this content is important. And I want it to be taken seriously. As seriously as children’s content is taken. I found that me as a talking head was not interesting, and I needed a foil. And I just thought I’d use Teddy. And we just puppeteered them a little and animated them. [She brings Teddy onto Skype to say “hi”]
R: Oh, hey Teddy!
L: And I’ve had them since I was a tiny bitty baby one, so it kinda made sense. And I find that the ideas that are right in front of your nose are the ones that have the most impact. And people have been really liking Teddy, it’s kinda cute.
R: Yeah, cause they’re adorable. Don’t let it get to their head...Shifting gears a little bit, Bluelaces is having their show right now! So, what is Bluelaces, what are you doing right now?
L: So we’re in the middle of shows. We had 7 shows last weekend and we’re doing 7 shows this weekend. It’s our interactive show about space exploration!
R: Is it devised or improvised?
L: It’s devised, but it is not improvised. There’s a lot of flexibility in it, depending on the audience. We’ll have some shows where it looks like complete chaos and people are running around and experiencing it the way they want to experience it. And we have shows with slightly more cognitive audiences and they’ll just sit back and chill and watch and experience it from there. So it really runs the gamut of what shows can look like. In some shows the script and characters are just a backdrop to the kids just running around and having fun and experiencing it sensorily. And other times it actually is the show [that we’ve written].
R: So for the kids, what’s the experience like?
L: I don’t know, I’m not in their heads. But I think for every person it’s pretty different. You get your own Adventure Guide, so it’s pretty custom –
R: An Adventure Guide is just one of your actors?
L: So, they’re kind of our version of Teaching Artists. We pair each audience member up with an Adventure Guide, or the highest ratio we have is 1:2. That Adventure Guide has looked at our audience information form, has looked into any triggers they might have, any likes and dislikes, things like that, and so they’re kind of schooled on the person before they come. The Adventure Guide’s job is to make sure the individual has the best experience they can of that performance. And if that means they sit in the quiet space the whole time with bubbles, that’s fine. If they’re at the show the whole time running around, we’ll run with them. Every experience is different because you’re experiencing it the way you want. Haven’t you ever gone to a Broadway show and wanted to just get up on stage and touch someone’s costume?
R: Sure, yeah.
L: That’s exactly what Bluelaces is trying to do.
R: You just let that happen.
L: Yeah, if you want to do that, you can do that.
R: So the physical space of what you’ve built is important for the reason that each person has their own needs.
L: The show’s based on these sensory moments. And the space is at University Settlement, which is a community center on the Lower East Side, in an open hall that we’ve taken over. We’ve put up these big walls that are covered in tin foil, so there’s a nice reflection off the lighting design. We really try and make the experience immersive. It looks like a pretty typical theatrical experience if you’re just walking into the room and looking at the set.
R: So, in general, when you’re making content for kids, how do you...I think a lot of content that’s out there for kids can frequently be, for lack of a better phrase, dumbed down. So what is your experience of trying to understand how to think like a kid? Do you just assume they’ll understand?
L: Did you ever meet Philip Dawkins, one of my professors?
R: Yeah, with the mustache?
L: Mustache guy. Doesn’t have a mustache anymore though. One of my favorite professors, he taught my TYA [Theater for Young Audiences] playwriting class. He always told us to write from under the doorknob. It’s not about talking down to a kid, it’s about lowering yourself to their level to see their perspective on the world. So kids have lots of art supplies around them all the time because they’re working on their fine motor skills. They have lots of stuffed animals, they play with tea sets, they play with paper dolls – well I don’t know if kids play with those anymore. That’s the vocabulary of the objects of their world, so create content with those objects. When you’re talking about language, not using huge words. I think it’s good to use big words to a certain extent, but you don’t want a kid necessarily having to ask about every sentence.
R: Like, “queer” is a big word -
L: Yeah, but we’re explaining it. Like when I do the “what does LGBTQ mean” episode, I’m going to have to explain the word “acronym.” That’s gonna be a section of that video. It’s something that affects the language they hear every day and it affects how they’re going to understand that video...It doesn’t have to do with my greater mission, but it’s something I have to explain in order for them to get what I’m talking about. I don’t think you should be scared to use a word like “acronym,” because it’s not hard to explain. Using examples is important –
R: FBI! CIA!
L: Yeah, things that are like around them in their lives. Using examples that they see and that they know so that things can click in. It’s not about dumbing things down, it’s about not being afraid to explain things. The thing about all of these topics is that I’ve needed to really separate them out from each other. When I explain gender, that’s so tied up in other things. Gayness, that’s so tied up in other things. So it’s about distilling the simple, core truth of that word or topic and really trying to explain, all-encompassing, something simple and direct about it. Being blunt in your explanations is important with kids, you don’t want to skirt around it. I’ve just been doing work for kids long enough and around that content long enough that I’ve...
R: Gotten the hang of it?
R: Do you think that media representation, as much as we talk about it and still need to work on it, do you think that it has largely ignored kids and kids’ content?
L: I think it’s getting better. To an extent. But, like, Sesame Street is quality content and that’s been around for eons. And that’s good, artistic, storytelling work, and they’ve had so much respect because every person watches that show. I think Mister Rogers had huge respect. There are those things that have been cornerstones of our culture and there’s a nostalgic quality to that. And then there’s like your Barney and your Blues Clues - and I love Blues Clues as much as the next person, but I don’t think it was particularly helpful. It was just kinda fun. I think if parents wanted to watch stuff with their kids, there would be better content for them. And kids can watch the “stupid” content too, like that’s fun and fart jokes are great. But that’s not the kind of content that I want to make.
R: Why are you doing both Bluelaces and QKS? What’s similar or different about them?
L: I think that they’re intrinsically very related, at least for me in my brain.
R: How so?
L: They’re very much aligned with the queer work that I do, that being my overall personal mission to create queer content for marginalized populations and inclusive content. What I love about Bluelaces is it’s kind of a queer space, where these people can just be themselves no matter what. I don’t want to equate being LGBTQ to having cognitive differences because they’re completely different things. But it’s still about creating a queer space that doesn’t have normative behavioral structures on it. Normative meaning cognitively normative, and meaning heteronormative. They’re not the same thing, but I find that I’m creating the same community. It’s the same kind of work for different populations. It’s why I like doing both of them. And it’s cool to create these...I want to call them Queer Utopias. That’s what it feels like when I’m in the room at Bluelaces, and I think it’ll become more apparent once the community of QKS starts to grow. And especially if I can start creating fictional storytelling episodes and series. That’s the kind of space I want to create, this anti-normative queer freedom through art and content.
R: What would you say to our contributors, people who are college age? People who are interested in making content, or doing work that doesn’t already exist? How do you convince someone that your idea is a good idea if there’s no precedent for it?
L: Get fucking good at it. That’s the only advice I can give for people who want to do this kind of stuff...Find your niche, find where the need is, and find what you love. You gotta really love it. For me, it was important that was social good-type work. Even with Doodle [NB – The Transition of Doodle Pequeño, a TYA production performed at NU in 2014 which Lindsay directed], not a lot of people in my class came to see it. Which was really kinda disappointing. I was so proud of that show and it was like, why wouldn’t you come see something that’s good because it’s “less than” the art that you make? Because yours is “artsy” and for adults and you’re like StuCo Celeb Whoever. Just like, that doesn’t matter in the real world. I don’t want to brag, but I’m getting some good press over this! And the work that I want to do is important and other people think so, too. But in that time that people didn’t respect what I did, I got fucking good at it. And that’s why this has been successful. Because I put the time and the effort into it even if people didn’t necessarily get behind me at first. You gotta believe in the work and you have to believe in yourself.
R: It takes a lot of work.
L: Yeah, I got a masters degree!
R: Yeah, you did and obviously you had the privilege to do that. But, like, in the time that you’re waiting for recognition or waiting for people to hop on board, you also need to make money and it’s tiring and exhausting. But I think, also, part of my job as a person who makes things and a person who wants to continue to make things is to just support other people who do the same, even if their work isn’t the same kind of work.