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Stacey Copeland uncovers the historical voices of Canada’s queer media soundscape
Equitable diverse representation of LGBTQ+ people will not come from legislation or political decisions alone, but from a deeper understanding of how LGBTQ+ lives and experiences are communicated.
A queer feminist media producer and PhD Communication student, Stacey Copeland started pursuing her interest in media & radio production and LGBTQ2+ representation early on in her career path. She completed an undergraduate program in Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson University and co-founded FemRadio, a Toronto- based feminist community radio collective while completing her Master’s degree. Stacey’s interests eventually led her to pursue doctoral research at SFU School of Communication. She is a member of the Sonic Research Studio and podcast project manager for Spokenweb.
Her current research concerns aural identity and sonic spaces for queer women and lesbians in the Canadian media context. The SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship is the most recent award that recognizes Stacey’s achievements and the impact of her research.
We’ve contacted Stacey to discuss her work, sources of inspiration, and the importance of media representation when it comes to LGBTQ2+ experiences.
What inspired you to researching your current topic?
I have a deep love for radio and podcasts and like many queer millennials who grew up outside the city, I established a particularly close connection and affection for media representations of LGBTQ2+ identity early on. These two afflictions are the underpinning of how I’ve found myself on a lifelong path of studying media and communication.
During my teen years, LGBTQ2+ characters and celebrities in pop media were my only real exposure to what it meant to be 'Queer'. Whether it was watching the guilty pleasure femme spy film D.E.B.S for the first time or secretly listening to Tegan and Sara when everyone else went to sleep, these pieces of queer media gave me a sense of community, of belonging, and identification.
It wasn’t until I started university that I began to question what sort of representations we were actually hearing across race, class, gender, sexuality and ability. Moving into my undergraduate years in the Radio and Television Arts Program (RTA School of Media) at Ryerson University in Toronto, this passion for and connection to media representation helped to shape my interest in media production, particularly the role of sound in shaping subjective, affective and intimate storytelling in radio documentary and podcasting.
I followed this fascination for sound into my Master's where I studied the gendered experience of voice in Toronto's radio industry and now here at Simon Fraser University, home of the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT) and a long history of sound studies from the World Soundscape Project to contemporary research being conducted under Dr. Milena Droumeva. When I first listened to ALOT's collection of Vancouver's co-op radio show The Lesbian Show, I knew there was something special here that needed to be brought into current conversations of LGBTQ+ media representation. Listening to these archives in the context of growth in both podcast industry and queer media representation inspired me to further investigate how gender and sexuality are communicated through queer audio media across shifting trends in platforms and history. I’m particularly interested in examining the creation of sonic space and aural identity for queer women and lesbians in the Canadian media context.
Why do you think this topic is important?
Media representation plays a crucial role in how we communicate and understand human experience. From Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 American broadcast of Howl on KPFA to the establishment of Canada’s first commercial LGBTQ station 103.9 Proud FM, ‘radio’ has played a key role in the communication and construction of LGBTQ+ culture and sexual identity within a historically heteronormative media soundscape.
Today, as ‘diversity’ becomes an increasingly valued part of Canada’s culture industries, online searches for lesbian and queer podcasts return a rich listing of shows from across Europe and the Americas for your consumption. But how did we arrive at this particular moment? And what makes a radio show or podcast ‘queer’ anyway? Despite increased LGBTQ2+ representation in media over the past few decades, 46% of LGBT Canadians surveyed in 2017 still feel poorly represented. Equitable diverse representation of LGBTQ+ people will not come from legislation or political decisions alone, but from a deeper understanding of how LGBTQ+ lives and experiences are communicated.
Scholars such as Jennifer Lynn Stoever, Phylis A. Johnson, and Michele Hilmes have critically explored the importance of radio research in relation to marginalized communities, but there has yet to be a cultural media study on queer women’s radio and podcasting in Canada. The absence of sound-forward feminist research into queer media in Canada demonstrates a need for new researchers to uncover voices and histories both lost in archives and left unrecorded in our contemporary world. I’m excited to be even a small part of bringing these sounds, experiences, and critical questions into the public consciousness.
In which ways will SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship help you achieve your research goals?
In addition to the funding for travel, research and Vancouver living expenses, the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship also stands as a marker of validation to the importance of queer representation and gender equity in Canadian research. Research done from within and speaking back to the community itself. Research that values the multiplicity of experiences and diverse perspectives that form our cultural industries.
This scholarship opens the opportunity for me to travel to specific archives and communities across North America to access the recordings and community members involved in shaping Canada’s queer radio and podcasting histories both past and present. I’m also hoping to make a radio documentary and interactive exhibit based on my doctoral work. Two feats that become much more attainable with multiple years of funding. The academic job market continues to be a place of increased employment precarity, so I plan to take full advantage of the peace of mind this scholarship will provide over the next few years.
Books Recommendations from Stacey
For those interested in the study of audio media, I’d highly recommend Jonathan Sterne’s The Audible Past. It’s a thicker read but provides a robust, well written and accessible history of audio recording technologies with notable consideration of the cultural contexts in which they were developed. It’s a book I go back to again and again for inspiration.
On a non-academic note, a favorite book of mine is Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. I was assigned Carson’s work in undergrad and fell deeply in love with this poetically profound coming of age story that weaves in rich layers of ancient Greek mythology. An ode to my nerdy high school years in ‘Classics Club’ I guess. If you haven’t read Anne Carson, start here.