by Trish Bendix, published on February 26, 2016 - 12:26 PM|
Ellen Page has been friends with Ian Daniel for years.
“His hair used to be down to here,” she says, signaling past her shoulders. “One time we did a duet—I was dressed as Kurt Cobain, and he was Courtney, and we did ‘Doll Parts’ together,” Ellen says at the beginning of our interview.
Together, Ellen and Ian are traveling different parts of the world in their new series Gaycation, discovering what life is like for LGBT people all over the globe. Premiering on Viceland on March 2nd (though it premiered early online so you can watch now), the docuseries takes the co-hosts to Japan, Jamaica and Brazil to meet the people who make up their country’s queer populations. From visiting an underground lesbian bar or celebrating an unofficial Pride to more dangerous situations where their safety is in question, Ellen and Ian are the kind of travel guides who want to experience it all, and through them, viewers are privy to realities that aren’t as prevalent for us in regular depictions of gay life and culture.
But there’s an American episode, too, one that includes Ellen’s infamous run-in with Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz during an Iowa BBQ when he didn’t take so kindly to her questions about protections for LGBT people in the States. But what he didn’t realize is that Ellen and Ian have seen firsthand what it’s like when world leaders and local government keep basic rights from our community and remind us, in true VICE fashion, that the same kind of persecution is not so far from our own history.
We talked with Ellen and Ian at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in January.
AfterEllen.com: What did you find in terms of how things were different for gay women vs. gay men? Was it different in every country?
Ellen Page: It depends on the country, absolutely. So we were in one country where I would say the consensus was if you were a man and you were gay, and you were slightly effeminate and middle class or lower, your life is going to be incredibly, incredibly difficult. Is it still difficult for a woman, particularly a butch woman? Absolutely. Maybe not to necessarily the degree—but that seemed to be the consensus for men and women, whereas other places it was harder for women because it’s a certain culture that might be a bit more difficult to be women to begin with, so if you add the lesbian or the bi component on top of that, it’s gonna be even more difficult for you.It definitely depended on the country but typically the consensus was it’s interesting; it was always—I never found, whether male or female, I never found someone who seemed to separate—do you know what I mean?
ID: I think in the newer cut of Japan episode, they added more. So I was learning from your experience—
EP: Because you weren’t there. [Note: Men were not allowed into the all women’s bar in Japan]
ID: Because I wasn’t there, so I wasn’t thinking, “Oh there are hundreds of bars for gay men—
EP: And there’s like five for women.
ID: —and there’s like a few for women. And that really hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know. I was just reflecting on that notion even happening in America. I think we have a lot of gay bars—
EP: All of the lesbian bars are shutting down.
AE: We’re losing them!
ID: Right, they’re getting shut down. So what is that about?
AE: What is that about? Do you have any theories?
ID: Ellen especially asks those questions, right? And I’m learning as a gay man and through her experience, like what it’s about. I can’t say—I have to think on it more.
EP: I think it’s just patriarchy. That’s me simplifying it.
ID: That’s true. That’s the main reason.
EP: Our society caters to a cisgender male experience.
AE: Right. I’ve only seen the first episode, but I’m curious what you show in terms of the bisexual experience.
EP: No that’s a really good question.
ID: Totally good
EP: It’s something we’ve talked about. And we’ve talked about it because there’s not a lot of—it’s not something that comes up often. And I think it’s—and I could understand why that would be hard for people to hear; why they would be frustrated with that answer. Obviously, we’ve made four episodes; we have plenty of time to do a lot more. I think what’s happened—a lot of the countries we’ve gone to—I don’t know how to say it better than. Can you help me explain this?
ID: Here’s the thing: I’ve had to learn a lot about the bisexual experience just being on the show and trying to understand my thoughts about it before, and maybe not understanding it fully, and then talking to people about it just in my own private time, and understanding the stigmas and the complexity of it.
EP: And the difficulties. A lot of serious difficulties.
ID: And the emotional issues. It’s a real thing. And I think we’re learning that as we’re evolving on the show, and I think it’ll be more a part of the show—I mean, I don’t know, but I’m hoping that if show continues, we’ll really make it a point to kind of dig into that a little deeper.
EP: We definitely talk to people who identify as bi. It hasn’t necessarily been a core part of the show yet, and certain countries and certain experiences in certain countries haven’t necessarily created a platform for it in regards to what we’ve done so far.
ID: Also certain countries—transgender or trans the word is not—it’s not even in the language almost.
EP: So there’s a different—I kind of want to be like, “Bear with me.” I know there’s going to be people who are wanting certain things and obviously we do our absolute best to include everybody—but honestly, it can depend on the different countries—the climate, the culture, the language surrounding LGBT people. And that’s where I say it’s a little—it’s a complicated question to answer. But you know there’s a lot more time to do a lot more.
ID: We should make it known we are talking about it a lot and trying to figure out what that story is, what it looks like, how to represent it. I think it is something we definitely want to include, and I’m glad we’re talking about it in the press because maybe we don’t talk about it enough in the show, but we’re definitely concerned about it.
EP: It’s something we’ve talked about in every episode we’ve done where it’s just been a bit of a challenge.
AE: One thing I liked about the Japan episode is when you help the young guy come out to his mom. I think in America we have a tendency to say “Oh, who cares! Coming out isn’t that hard anymore; I knew that person was gay.” I think we forget about the people that live in the South, like Missouri—
EP: Or anywhere. Anywhere. I think you really never have any idea. You have no idea someone’s experience. You have no idea what their family is, what their beliefs are, what have you and I think sometimes we can underestimate the difficulties for a lot of people.
AE: You mentioned it earlier, briefly, but class can make a difference as well. Was that a deciding factor in where you would go in each country?
EP: Sure. Well, I think in the show we are really trying to reflect on what it means to be a privileged person and gay or a member of the community even if you are in a country where it’s very difficult versus what it means to be low income, and it’s an extremely different experience. And I think that’s something important for people to see and the same is for America often. That’s not going to be the same in every household or every community—of course not. But we did really want to reflect what privileged means as a member of the community and how important it is to focus on the ones that are most vulnerable because they tend to be the ones that nobody’s listening to.
AE: Was there anything you learned about yourselves doing this?
EP: Oh my Lord.
ID: My Lord, yes.
EP: I don’t think there’s anything I can necessarily say I learned about myself but I’ve learned so much; I’ve learned so much. I feel so humbled and so inspired by the experience. I feel so much closer to Ian, who I couldn’t have imagined that would even be possible. So mostly I think for me, I’m kind of like “Oh screw myself.” It’s that I’ve had the benefit of an experience that has just taught me so much and met so many incredible, incredible people.
ID: I think you also learn that there’s a lot to learn still, right? I feel like I could be reading every day and expanding my mind on the issues and what people need to be thinking about. And I think on some level you feel such a responsibility after talking to all these people. It’s like, oh I’m understanding now my responsibility to know things and to try to represent people of all various experiences. That’s what you learn and you hope—you just hope that you’re bringing light to the right issues. But I think also you learn that—it’s just about you learn that your grateful for things you didn’t expect and grateful for your freedom and I think on some level I’m grateful I can be—I can get more radical with what I’m talking about in this country, and there might be repercussions, but I have kind of a safe space where I can do that, and you feel an obligation to start doing that on some level. I personally do.
EP: And I feel like that’s something we talk about all the time, and you know hope to do with the show. And I think one of the things it’s made me feel is why are we not learning about LGBTQ history? And that’s something I find really frustrating. I find it frustrating for myself, all the catch-up you feel like you’re doing and I feel like so much hate, and fear and all of these issues we’re facing, or people are facing who don’t like us, who I have empathy for. I think they’re a symptom of a core problem. A huge part of that problem—a huge chunk would be taken out—if we learned the history of our community because it’s an extraordinary history. Of course it’s filled with a lot of pain and struggle, but it’s awesome. And I love reading about it, and I just devour it. Why aren’t we all learning about that?
The rest of this interview will be available via audio in next week’s new episode of our podcast, Hollywood Qcast.