The Sound of Authenticity

By Liz Massey, July 2018 Issue.

Sometimes, the most surprising successes in the media world come when their creators take the expectations about a topic and turn them on their heads. Such is the case with “Transform: Beyond the Transition,” a new podcast on issues related to gender identity created by local trans men Sam Garman and Michael Soto.

“We both believe that [our physical] transition is the least interesting part about ourselves,” Garman said. “Also, we’re not doctors, so we’re not experts.”

Rather than focus on the physical or psychological process of gender transition, the podcast, currently in its first season, focuses on everything that follows – from navigating acceptance or rejection by family and answering the many questions posed by potential allies to the many layers of masculine or feminine identity and issues around intersectionality. Fueled by a desire to create the show that neither man could find already in existence, the podcast aims to connect with a wide audience and assist many in better understanding trans people and their gifts to the world.

Michael Soto, co-host of “Transform: Beyond the Transition.”

Transitioning from fans to a brand

Transform Pod was birthed from a deep love and appreciation of the power of podcasting to change lives. Garman, who was raised in a religious family and attended private schools that prioritized indoctrination over education, said it was such podcasts such as “Stuff You Missed In History Class” and “Sawbones” that helped him fill in gaps in his education.

“Podcasts gave me access to the history I hadn’t been exposed to,” he asserted, adding that he’s also sought out podcasts that helped him better appreciate his identity as a trans man, but couldn’t seem to find them.

“As I was coming out, I thought that there must be a transgender podcast, but I couldn’t find any that navigated the complexities of gender,” he said. “Friends would tell me, ‘you need to do that podcast.’”

His aspirations to find a podcast on trans topics received a shot in the arm when he met Michael Soto, a media consultant for nonprofits, businesses and individuals, at a holiday party hosted by mutual friends. The two quickly realized they shared a passion for podcasts and the power of independent media.

“It started as a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if …’ conversation, not a plan,” Garman said. “But we realized it was cool, and talked about it again at a dinner later. It was not long after that that we had a plan.”

For Soto, the podcast reflected the lessons learned in his work about the power of podcasts, independent video, blogs and other types of media produced outside of a corporate/professional environment to change lives.

“We’ve had publications since the movement started,” Soto said, “and that’s been a great resource, although there was the introduction of professional pressures as the movement matured. Podcasts are so approachable. You can do a lo-fidelity version with your smartphone. It’s a truly democratic medium.”

Sam Garman, co-host of “Transform: Beyond the Transition.”

Building a show for everyone

Democracy, and the idea of benefits for a broad range of listeners, permeates the production of Transform Pod. According to Soto and Garman, the show provides information for trans persons just beginning their journey, who often cannot be out, answers the many questions that family and friends have as a trans person comes out and begins the actual transition process, and helps would-be allies with practical tools that will provide real support to the trans persons in their lives.

The show offers recurring segments, including one called “Ask The Trans Guys,” in which the duo fields questions submitted via the show’s social media challenges.

A heavy emphasis of the podcast is ally-focused outreach and taking the burden off of trans people to educate and encourage insight among cisgender allies about their privilege in the area of gender identity.

Garman noted that he had gained a similar wisdom when he listened to Buzzfeed’s podcast “Another Round.” He said that, as a white parent of black children, he had learned much from the show’s hosts, African American women Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, about race, culture and gender. The podcast helped him size up his own biases and privilege and take action without asking black people for help.

“[The show] gives me an opportunity to sit down on conversations that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to as a white person, which allows me to take the initiative on learning about the impacts of racism for myself,” Garman said, adding that it inspired him to use this model for a trans-focused platform. “Transform Pod gives folks some of the same opportunity to hear the stories and experiences and learn about issues happening for the trans community.”

Garman and Soto have released more than half of the 11 episodes they have planned for their first season. Guests have included Kendahl Lyn and Elle Murtagh speaking on the non-binary experience; transwomen Catherine and Samantha speaking on feminism and femininity; and trans man Shane Maxwell on masculinity. They have also produced several episodes where the two of them discuss issues including their own coming out stories and what it means to “out” a trans person.

According to Soto, the episodes are crafted to run 30 to 45 minutes in length, because it allows listeners to consume the show in a single sitting.

“After that [limit of 45 minutes], something always interrupts,” he said.

“Stories are what make an identity less scary”

Episodes currently available for Transform Pod contain a heavy educational component, but its creators note that the ultimate aim of the show is to advance social justice for trans people.

“Stories are what make an identity less scary,” Soto asserted. “People can get past labels and biases and see people as human beings.”

The show has drawn listeners from as far away as Ukraine, but Garman and Soto are also pleased with the impact with local listeners and those close to them personally. Soto’s father posed the first question on the show and has become active in promoting new episodes. Garman noted that a friend who said they listened to the show has begun showing up in some new ways as a trans ally, something he attributes to the friend’s listening to the show.

Another benefit the two say the show has provided is that it is an efficient way to pull the Valley’s disparate queer community closer to one another.

“Phoenix has a higher per-capita LGBTQ community than Washington, D.C., Los Angeles or New York City, but we’re so spread out, the community feels small,” Soto asserted. “But that’s the value of our podcast. We live in this community, and we interview people from this community. So, we are able to connect people to the Valley’s trans community, as well as the larger LGBTQ community.”

Transform: Beyond the Transition” podcast is available on all podcast platforms and players.

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