BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:
You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. I wouldn't describe myself as a techie, but I am someone who likes to stay on top of technology trends. Like everybody else, I've seen the AI-generated selfies just about everyone's sharing on social media. And I've played around a bit with ChatGPT, an AI chatbot that can write blog posts and even something resembling poetry. So I get it. It's exciting stuff with a lot of potential to change how we do, well, everything. And according to contemporary art curator Marnie Benney, some creatives are already coming up with really cool ways to work with AI.
MARNIE BENNEY: Like the artist Reeps One. He's a beatboxer.
(SOUNDBITE OF REEPS ONE'S "SECOND SELF")
BENNEY: And they trained an AI on his beatboxing. And so it was, you know, just him and just his voice. And the A.I. made choices that he would have never made.
(SOUNDBITE OF REEPS ONE'S "SECOND SELF")
LUSE: And it's not just musicians, either.
BENNEY: The artist Sougwen Chung - she has taught these robotic painting units her brushstroke.
SOUGWEN CHUNG: I painstakingly collected as many of my drawings as I could find, then tagged them for the AI system.
BENNEY: She has a performance piece where she moves and paints, and these little robotic units also paint based on all her brush strokes.
CHUNG: And I got really excited because I started thinking, maybe - maybe machines don't need to be just tools, but they can function as nonhuman collaborators.
BENNEY: In a lot of instances, it's pushed them in a very positive direction of thinking about things differently, even collaborating with, like, another human because another human has their very own distinct way of doing things, working with things.
LUSE: Marnie also says that, at least for now, getting AI to produce an image or music is not the same as making art.
BENNEY: It's really the intentionality. And artists are extremely intentional, and good art is intentional. There's a reason for it.
LUSE: But although AI isn't there yet, some folks in creative industries are already anxious about the technology and how their work is being used.
KARLA ORTIZ: When these AI tools came out, I thought, oh, let's take a look at them. You know, why not? Let's check it out. When I checked what's going on under the hood, I started finding out, oh, this is a level of exploitation I've never seen.
LUSE: That's Karla Ortiz, our main guest today.
ORTIZ: To see it be like, oh, your heart, your soul, your art is being taken like this without your consent, without your permission, without anything to be utilized for profit - it's very, very, very invasive.
LUSE: Karla is a concept artist, which means her job is to take the idea for a character or costume and create an artistic rendering of it.
ORTIZ: It's almost like we're there to visually solve problems. You want to be able to deliver great visuals...
ORTIZ: ...As efficiently and as fast as you can. And we're always kind of on the - like, we're always right there as technology shifts.
LUSE: Karla has worked on major projects like "Jurassic World," the Star Wars movie "Rogue One," a bunch of Marvel films. And she's best known for bringing the superhero Doctor Strange from the comic books to the big screen.
ORTIZ: I got to design his outfit, even his, like, sweet tool, the Eye of Agamotto.
LUSE: As of this week, Karla is a part of a new class-action lawsuit against Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt. The lawsuit basically accuses these companies of copyright infringement because artists' work is used to train these AI models, and the artists themselves have no say. The whole issue is really complicated, and some critics are alleging that the lawsuit misrepresents how AI models work. But the core of the issue is still, how do we even begin to regulate this technology? And will tech companies use AI to replace artists altogether?
So OK, lay it out for me. Like, what do you see as the main problem or issue when it comes to AI generators and how they use artists' work?
ORTIZ: So AI models, in order to be able to generate anything at all, it has to be first trained on vast amounts of data.
ORTIZ: Stability AI funded or helped fund a nonprofit research arm called LAION. They gathered about 5.8 billion image and text data from all over the internet...
ORTIZ: ...And gained access to things like copyrighted imagery, medical records, Shopify, people's businesses, Pinterest and so on. And so basically, there was a lot of data gathered. The issue here is that it quickly shifted from research to commercial purposes. All of this was done so without our consent, without our knowledge. So that's one of the issues. The other issue is how these tools work is you as a user use basic descriptions called prompts. You ask the program, hey, show me a sunset...
ORTIZ: ...In the style of Karla Ortiz - like, just to use myself as an example.
ORTIZ: And the model has to know what sunset looks like. The model has to know what Karla Ortiz's work looks like. They have to know what my work looks like in order to generate something that feels like I did it. And that opens the door to so many issues. And to make matters worse, once AI model is trained on data, it cannot forget. So I can't be like, hey, Stability AI or any of these companies, remove my work. They can't stop the work from being utilized by these models. So it was really shocking to me when I found this out.
LUSE: How does it feel to be in this position as an artist, to have your work be used or referenced in this way?
ORTIZ: I can tell you the other day, I was looking through and trying to get a, you know, feel of how much of my work is in those datasets. And it was chilling to find things that I had done when I had just stopped being a student. I saw work from my first, like, actual, like, gallery show.
ORTIZ: This is, like, decades ago - not to date myself or anything. But, you know (laughter) - and it's invasive. It's really, really invasive. And a lot of people - they get hung up on the word copyright, right? Because we do. We have it. But, you know, to me, my work feels like a part of my identity. It feels like who I am. I - even the commercial work that I do - I remember exactly the time of day I did it, like, what it was - what I was feeling. What were the emotions that were going on at the time? It's very, very, very personal. There's this artist called Sam Yang, as in Sam Draws, and he had a person use Stable Diffusion as the base to create a model that has extra training on just Sam's artwork alone. And they released it to the public. And Sam was like, you know, I'm happy for you that you enjoy this, but please don't do this. I don't want to be a part of this. They not only didn't take it down. They got angry, and they made more models of his work. And then there was a company that reached out to Sam and said, hey, due to the Barbra Streisand effect, now we have more models of your work, and we're hosting a competition.
LUSE: Oh, my gosh.
ORTIZ: And it's been like that, and it's gross. I don't know how else to describe it.
LUSE: So talk to me. Like, what's the worst-case scenario? What's the eventual end or what has the potential to come about as far as these AI companies using, like, actual artists' work in this way?
ORTIZ: When you talk about worst-case scenario, my mind goes to, like, the most dystopian space possible.
LUSE: But down the line. Down the line.
ORTIZ: Yeah. Of course. Of course. If you were to ask me, you know, if this is allowed to proliferate in the way that it is, we'll go back to a time where, like, only the wealthiest of people can be artists because the entry-level jobs for artists, you know, the things that allow us to transition from student to professional, could potentially be gone. And I refuse. I cannot imagine that that's a future that anybody wants - artists, the public, anybody.
LUSE: What excites you about the possibilities of AI and using it as a tool, perhaps even in art?
ORTIZ: For me, as these models currently are, as exploitative as they are, I cannot use it. But even let's say there comes a future where these tools are ethical - right? - where they were trained on public domain only, and any expansion on that is done so with the explicit consent, knowledge and compensation of artist. I still would hesitate to use it because it's evil to kind of take the creativity away from you. I don't know how else best to say it. It's generating different, you know, possibilities. And for me as an artist, that's, like, my happy place.
LUSE: That's your jam.
ORTIZ: I - that's my jam. I love to envision - in my mind, I love to envision images. I love to start out with weird little doodles. I love to then flesh that out into a full sketch and eventually into a painting. And every step of that way is a human communicating with another human. And I don't know if I'm too keen to outsource that process to technology. Like, I'll give technology the ability to, like, you know, wash my laundry...
ORTIZ: ...Like, do my dishes, you know? Like, that's fine.
LUSE: You know, I mean, it's interesting because, like, I have two minds about it. I think that, like, regardless of how anybody feels about it, I understand that it represents an inevitable change that's coming, and so I want to be ahead of it instead of behind it.
ORTIZ: Yeah. Yeah.
LUSE: But I also, as a creator, feel nervous about, you know, some of the implications down the line. As with so much technology, I see the potential for things to go in a not-so-great way.
ORTIZ: Yeah. I mean, how technology progresses is not predetermined. We have agency to what progress looks like. A great analogy that I often give people - right? - is, like, for example, when we transitioned from horse to car (laughter) as a society...
LUSE: Right, right, right.
ORTIZ: ...Like, a car has the potential for more harm than a singular horse does. And so what happened? We built infrastructure. We had regulation. We had laws. We had waste.
LUSE: Sure. You get a license, all these things.
ORTIZ: Yeah. We had all these things that helped us best mitigate the harm that driving a vehicle could give us. And - you know, and that's been the case with every major new technological, you know, innovation. There's always a period of just Wild West where people are going crazy and just be like, wow, I can do this. This is wild. And I think we're just at that wild stage of everything goes and where it's exciting, but also, there is harm being made, and there's a certain level of exploitation that is occurring here. And we have agency in that, so...
LUSE: You've made several references in this conversation to how much you love, like, getting into the muck of the creative process. What is creativity? Like, can something be art if it's generated by a computer?
ORTIZ: That's a question that we've been asking ourselves - what is art? - forever - since forever. And what is being generated - it's just - it's too exploitative for me to consider it - whether it's art or not. I personally can't get past that, you know? Like, people will say, oh, like, artists just - you know, they're all just inspired by each other. You know, it's inspired the same way as a person is inspired. But that's not accurate. People don't look at a painting from someone else and then immediately archive it into their minds. As an artist, you can look at another artist all day long, but to actually paint like that artist - that is one of the hardest things anybody could do. And depending on what they do with that - if it's profit, and if it's something that truly feels like another artist did it, that could potentially be considered forgery. I find it all very, very just irresponsible.
LUSE: You've laid out the case for why this is something that is really notable and important for artists of all sorts. But, you know, there's going to be a lot of people listening to this conversation who are thinking, like, you know - I don't draw. I don't sing. I'm not creative. I don't write. Like, what do you say to them?
ORTIZ: No. 1, it can happen to you. Even if you're not creative, like, you have data that can be utilized to train AI models. You know, for a company to say, hey, if your data is online and if your pictures are online, I should have that so that I can train my AI models to generate whatever our users want. You know, imagine, suddenly, you find a billboard and you're in there sort of. It's you, but you never gave consent to that. Like, that's a possibility right now. I remember a long time ago, I read one of those, like, articles of top 10 jobs that will never be automated, you know?
ORTIZ: And at the top of that list was artist. But yet here we are. And for people listening in, whatever job they're doing, in the very near future, the possibilities of being automated are quite high. Hence why it's really important for us to, as a society, say very clearly what's OK when developing these tools and what's not OK. Automation is on its way. It's already kind of here, so what do we do about it?
LUSE: Well, Karla, thank you so much for joining me today on the show.
ORTIZ: Of course, Brittany.
LUSE: These conversations are moving so quickly and happening so fast, so I appreciate you...
LUSE: ...Yeah, coming and sharing your perspective with us.
ORTIZ: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
LUSE: That was artist Karla Ortiz. AI isn't the only thing that we're still figuring out in real time. In some ways, we're still learning every day about very human things, like gender. My next guest spends his days doing exactly that through the lens of trans and non-binary people. That's coming up after the break.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUSE: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE FROM NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. And this next conversation is with a fellow podcaster and friend I really admire - Tuck Woodstock, host of "Gender Reveal." And the show just hit its five-year anniversary. Congratulations on five years of "Gender Reveal" this month.
TUCK WOODSTOCK: Thank you so much. I thought you were going to say congratulations on being Grindr's No. 5 most favorite podcast of 2022...
WOODSTOCK: ...Which is my big landmark that I am celebrating.
LUSE: At its heart, "Gender Reveal" is an interview show that's by and for the trans community. And it features some of the most thought-provoking and fun conversations out there about gender but also Neopets and even wrestling. Tuck Woodstock, welcome to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE.
WOODSTOCK: Thank you so much for having me. It's such a thrill and a joy.
LUSE: (Laughter) I'm so happy to have you here. I mean, congratulations also on, like, the name for the podcast. Best name for a podcast.
WOODSTOCK: Thank you. The SEO is so bad. "Gender Reveal" podcast works. You can't just Google "Gender Reveal."
WOODSTOCK: We have a live show coming up in a couple of weeks at The Bell House, and I didn't call it a gender reveal party, and I'm just now realizing that I should have. I have so many regrets.
WOODSTOCK: I'll have to rebrand. I'll have to rebrand very quickly.
LUSE: Just don't, like, set anything on fire.
LUSE: That's, like, my one request.
WOODSTOCK: Well, you know, about, like, the whole story about that - right? - where the woman who invented gender reveal parties - she was just celebrating because she had had a bunch of miscarriages, and she finally got to the part in her pregnancy where she could find out the sex. And it felt really exciting to her after all these miscarriages, so she had a little party. But since then, that child actually is, if not trans, at least very gender-nonconforming. And so that woman has, like, made public statements where she was like, one, this was misguided in the gender of it all, and two, to stop burning down forests and, like, poisoning wells and getting eaten by alligators...
WOODSTOCK: ...For the purpose of these parties. I was really just trying to do a small thing that I now regret. So for the record, the person who invented gender reveal parties...
LUSE: Was like, please stop.
WOODSTOCK: ...Found out about trans people and also learned of all the wacky things people are doing and was like, please, you guys are taking it too far. I need you to stop.
LUSE: Wow. I literally did not know that. But yeah, I mean, yet another reason. (Laughter) Yet another reason. For those who don't know about "Gender Reveal," can you give our listeners a little description of what your show is?
WOODSTOCK: Yes. So the official tagline of "Gender Reveal" is that every week, we get a little bit closer to hopefully understanding what the hell gender is. And it started early in my transition years ago where I was coming into my identity as a trans person, but there's so much about trans culture and history that I didn't know and just trans experiences that weren't mine. And I really wanted to learn more about it, and so on a personal level, I was reaching out to different trans people in my community and asking them questions. And a great excuse to ask a lot of people a lot of intrusive personal questions is to start a podcast, as you know.
LUSE: I'm aware (laughter).
WOODSTOCK: Like, it's a great scheme.
But I also explicitly had the goal to bring that to people who didn't feel safe coming out as trans, people living in rural areas, disabled trans folks, anyone who felt like they couldn't access those conversations. And so I wanted to make sure that we were talking to, you know, Black folks, Indigenous folks, people from other countries, people from all sorts of different backgrounds, fat folks, disabled folks, you know, neurodivergent folks, people with different careers, people of different ages, parents, all sorts of stuff so that people could look and say, oh, that experience sounds like my experience.
LUSE: Obviously, you know, you shared that you started this show out of general nosiness (laughter). But also, I wonder, was there a sense that there were conversations maybe that you were having with your friends about gender that you felt like you weren't hearing in the places where you wanted to hear them?
WOODSTOCK: Yeah, absolutely. I think that when we hear media or see media, watch media, read media about trans people, more often than not, the most mainstream depictions of trans people were created by cis people or written by cis people or funded by cis people. And so the stories can be about trans people, but very rarely are they actually told for trans people. And we'll even see a trend of trans people making media for nontrans audiences just because that's the majority of the population, and those are the people with money. And so if they want to sell a book, it's easier to sell a book that a trans person wrote for cis people than a trans person wrote for other trans people. That's not to say it doesn't happen, but it's just easier, and you'll get more money if you do that.
And so because of that, a lot of the narratives that we hear about trans people are either not 100% correct because they were created by people who don't actually know trans people in real life, or they're created with the intention of educating nontrans people about what it is like to be trans. And when we do that, when we create media for nontrans people, we tend to give a sanitized version or an oversimplistic version. I think the gift of my podcast is it's trans people talking to other trans people without cis people in the room. And it's trans people having a safe space to discuss ideas and dive into experiences that we don't necessarily see reflected in media or that we frankly don't feel safe having in public.
Like, the conversations that I have with people on my show are not conversations that I would have if my show had 5 million listeners. It just wouldn't feel safe to broadcast those conversations that widely all of the time, and the reason is just because trans people are in such a fraught political place right now. We have to think really hard about everything that we're saying publicly at all times because anything that we say can and will be used against us in a literal court of law when we're thinking about the ways that, for example, New York Times articles are being used as fodder to pass anti-trans bills in various states.
So all that is to say the podcast gets to have these conversations by, for, about trans people about things that we actually want to talk about instead of what cis people think we want to talk about. And I really do try to have a lot of fun with it because there's so much fear, and there's so - there's just so many scary things in the world for trans people, right now and always. And I just try to have a space to remind us all of that being trans is hard at times, but it's also this huge gift and that trans people are smart and fun and hot and funny. And it's just to try to remind ourselves that we're also having a good time among all the bad times.
LUSE: I feel like there's so much media surrounding transness that's framed with, like, importance, like, capital-I importance being its chief identifier. And I love that about your show, that it obviously does have huge importance in all the ways that you've pointed out, but it's also really fun. And the conversations are about all kinds of things. Like, when I listen to "Gender Reveal," I can hear a really great conversation about organizing or about prepping and living off the grid. There are just so many other things that you get into on the show because, like, trans people are just living their lives, and you're talking about it on the show.
WOODSTOCK: Yeah. When I bring someone into "Gender Reveal," it's either they are a person like, let's say, Edith Surreal, who is a wrestler who is constantly asked about being trans. And our podcast is like, we know you're trans, but can you tell us what wrestling is, because we don't understand wrestling on a fundamental level? And she's used to going to wrestling podcasts and explaining what being trans is, so that's, like, a...
WOODSTOCK: ...Fun mixing it up for her. Or, on the other hand, we'll talk to people like Alynda Segarra, who is pretty new to talking about their transness. They're the lead singer of Hurray for the Riff Raff, and they haven't talked about it much in interviews, and part of that is because they don't want to be seen as a spokesperson for trans people. So we could bring them in to the conversation and say, look, you don't have to be a spokesperson for trans people here because everyone is trans. But do you want to try to talk about gender in a way that maybe hasn't felt safe when you were talking to, like, a random cis bro in the music industry? And so trying to give people the opportunity to either stop talking about gender for once and just talk about their work or talk about gender in a way that didn't feel scary because there was going to be a lot of nuance and understanding in it, that is really my two main goals, depending on who the guest is.
LUSE: You know, you talk about, like, having these moments of revelation on the show, and you've done five years of this podcast. You said in your anniversary episode that you now consider your past self who started "Gender Reveal" to be, quote, unquote, "a little baby who didn't know anything." Are there any moments from the show that just, like, really changed your entire deal around?
WOODSTOCK: I mean, all the time, to the point that it's really hard to point to one, because this podcast is just my step-by-step journey of learning not just about gender, but about all sorts of different issues, like you said, like, abolition and organizing and decolonization. I learned specifically from this show a lot of concepts about mutual aid. But if you think about anything in my life, whether that's making the choice to go on hormones, whether that's the way I think about the word transsexual and identifying as a transsexual, these are all things that you can hear my opinion change on the show in real time.
I have a good friend named McKenzie, who's also been on the show since day one, and I've known McKenzie for 13 years. And when we met, we had the opposite genders that we do now, and you can see over the course of the last five years our genders move towards each other and then move past and away from each other. And it's really vulnerable for both of us to have that out in the world. I don't like having episodes out from five years ago, and I know that she doesn't either. But, also, people write in and say, I really appreciate having that archive because I got to learn with you, and I got to watch you learn, and so much about transness focuses on the destination and focuses on having all the right answers from day one. And because of that, McKenzie and I and a lot of our other guests, we kind of white-knuckle through having those archives out on - you know, from our five-years-ago thoughts
WOODSTOCK: ...When we were tiny babies who didn't know anything because, you know, we're all tiny babies until we're not. And it's important to be honest that when you transition, you don't just wake up one day and know everything. It's a lot about community and about learning from community.
LUSE: In addition to this show occupying this really particular cultural space in terms of, like, community, you also adopted a business model that feels pretty unique and that is also very community-involved, very community-focused. Built into its structure, "Gender Reveal" has grant programs for trans artists and activists, as well as a mutual aid program for different needs in the trans community. Talk to me about how you integrated that and why it was so important.
WOODSTOCK: Yeah. I don't want it to be a unique or unusual structure, and the reason that I talk about it is not to be like, haha, look at me, I'm doing an amazing thing, but because I actually want so many more people to do this. So I challenge anyone who's listening who is doing this kind of work or doing different work that this could apply to to think about integrating this.
But, yeah. So the way that we run our grant program specifically is that it's a percentage model out of our Patreon. And so when it started, it was $500 because that was one-twelfth of our Patreon. And then it grows up to now $8,000 because that's one-twelfth of our Patreon. And because of that, there's never a moment where we can say, oh, we don't have the budget for the grant program this season, or, oh, you know, we need to use this money for something else because it's just money that has been set aside that grows with us. Our mutual aid program is different in that it's this entirely separate budget where we just take donations, and then we give those donations out.
And all of the reasons that we do that are, one, because I have brain worms. I have worms in my brain that make me - make my life very hard, but also just because we know that trans people have such higher rates of, you know, homelessness, of poverty, of just not being able to meet their basic needs. And so as someone who has a job, has an apartment, has food on the table, has a disposable income, it just felt uncomfortable for me to take money from community and not put it back in community. It did not feel like a symbiotic relationship to me to say, OK, I'm going to make my little podcast, and then you give me money, and then we'll just be done here. And so for me, "Gender Reveal" is a community-building exercise, and it has built so much community, and it wouldn't feel right to just have it be this sort of transactional podcast situation and really building something for trans people, by trans people, about trans people.
LUSE: Do you have rules about how you approach trans life and talking about it on "Gender Reveal"?
WOODSTOCK: Yeah, well, our biggest rule is just that, unless I am personally deciding to make a very specific exception, we only talk to trans people. I almost never talk to anyone about their transition directly. I can't think of an example of that happening because, again, cis media tends to focus on trans people exclusively about their transition. And there might be a really specific question I have. Like, for a musician, I might say, oh, when your voice was changing on testosterone, how did your band modify the way that you were performing...
WOODSTOCK: ...During the time of your voice changing? But that's really different.
LUSE: But that's, like, also a craft question.
WOODSTOCK: That's a really different question than saying, so tell me about your transition. Another question that trans people get constantly is, what did your parents say when you came out? - even in a non-interview context. So I'm also an educator. And I will go into newsrooms and organizations and be talking about concepts about, like, what gender is. And how is this different from sex? And how can you have a trans-affirming workplace? And then I'll get to the FAQ - or the Q&A part, and literally someone will raise their hand and say, what did your parents say when you transitioned? And I'm like, sir, I am here in...
WOODSTOCK: ...An educational capacity. I'm not here to tell you about my life.
WOODSTOCK: And I'm used to it now. And I just kind of laugh and say, like, that's an inappropriate question. But yeah, it's really wild. So we don't typically ask, what did your family think? I don't - I feel like I never ask that. We don't ask, what was your transition like? We don't ask, when did you know you were trans? Because that's also often asked and not interesting. We're really trying to, like, make this a very specific conversation with this specific person's, like, interests and specialties.
LUSE: You know, having been the host of identity-based podcasts myself, I'll never get tired of talking to and about Black people. But there are times I wish that I could discuss my story notes for "Emily In Paris..."
LUSE: ...A show that I (laughter) hate to admit I've seen every episode of. I have felt pigeonholed. Like, so much of my work - pretty much all of my work in media before I started on this show - being centered around Black people. Like, I - almost like other people viewed that as a disqualifier from talking about or writing about or thinking about - publicly about other things. Have you felt that?
WOODSTOCK: So when I first started "Gender Reveal," I made up a rule for myself that all of my questions had to tie to gender in some way. And as the seasons went on, I was like, actually, as long as I'm talking to a trans person, we can talk about literally anything. So if I wanted to talk to them about "Emily In Paris," I would just bring someone on who watches "Emily In Paris." And we, two trans people, would talk about "Emily In Paris." And it wouldn't have to be trans at all if we didn't want to. Although, we would probably make it trans because, you know, trans people are really good at being like, that person's trans - I've decided - on this television show. You know, like, "Bob's Burgers?" They're all trans. So
yeah, I mean, I gave myself that space because I got bored about talking about just gender. And I was like, I'm actually going to talk to trans people about all sorts of things. It's so funny, though, because I used to have this feeling like, well, once we run out of trans people to talk to or once society doesn't care about trans people anymore, I'll just do something else. And it turns out that more people are coming out as trans every day. And also, everyone's obsessed with trans people.
WOODSTOCK: So, like - in a terrible way but also in a good way. So until trans people just get to live in society normally - which is to say, not in my lifetime - I can just keep talking about trans people. Why not?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUSE: We are going to take a quick break, but when we get back, Tuck and I will get into a good, old game of Sounds Fake, But OK. I'm Brittany Luse. And you're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUSE: We are back and ready to play a little game of Sounds Fake, But OK. I'm going to tell you two stories. And you have to guess whether each story is real or not. You can ask me two follow-up questions per story...
LUSE: ...To suss out whether or not I'm lying. Are you ready?
WOODSTOCK: I'm ready.
LUSE: OK, OK, OK, OK, OK. All right. So first story. So I used to live in Washington, D.C. And...
WOODSTOCK: That's true. This one's true. OK, so go ahead.
WOODSTOCK: Go ahead.
LUSE: I lived in Washington, D.C., and I survived. You're right about that. That part is true. I'm from the Detroit area. So if I was going to fly home to see my family, then I would fly out of the Baltimore airport. It was just, like, cheaper. And so it's December 2009. I'm supposed to go home for Christmas to see my family. I had another friend from D.C. who was flying out of Baltimore to Detroit also the next day to go see her family. So I was just like, why don't we just, like, go to Baltimore, go party with our other friends, hang out and then just get up early the next day and go to the airport? Anyway, I had a great night. We partied all night. And so I only slept, like, an hour. I slept through my alarm. I rushed. I had to get to the airport. But I realized I don't have my wallet. And I don't know if you remember this period of time in the mid- to late aughts - in the aughts overall - there was a specific type of COACH wallet, a COACH wristlet. It looks like a giant - the size of an envelope that had a big, old, leather bracelet attached to it.
LUSE: This was, like, the going out clutch. This was the wallet. This was the look. I didn't have mine. All I had in my coat pocket was just my ID from Howard, which is - I wasn't even in college anymore at that point. I was freaking out, though, because, like, this is post-9/11. Like, I didn't know what I was going to do. If I didn't get this flight home, I was going to be screwed. So I had to go up to the counter and be like, oh, my gosh, I don't have my wallet. All I have is a student ID. How can I get on the plane? And they're like, look. You just have to see. So they printed my ticket. I go through TSA. And I'm feeling terrible because, like, I didn't change the night before. This was also, like, peek indie sleaze. I'm wearing, like, an American Apparel tube turtleneck dress, like, hiked up very small. I have, like, runs through my tights. I was wearing, like, Frye cowboy boots. But somehow - I don't know if I looked pitiful. Also, everybody who was working at TSA was Black - they looked at my college ID. I told them my sad little story. I guess I looked sorry enough. And they let me pass through. I made my flight.
WOODSTOCK: It was the American Apparel tube turtleneck.
LUSE: Yeah. Later, one of my friends actually found my beloved COACH wristlet (laughter) at her apartment. And she flew home with it that day and dropped off at my house.
WOODSTOCK: I feel like this is true because this is a thing that happens often. Like, you got to have a way for people to get home. They don't want people living in the airport like that one man from the movie. Like, you got to get home somehow. So I think that this is true. And if any of it was false, I would be like, it's true except that, actually, she didn't fly your wallet home the next day.
LUSE: This story's all true.
(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)
LUSE: So right now, the game 0, Tuck 1.
WOODSTOCK: Tuck 1.
LUSE: OK, so are you ready for story number two? OK. So the first thing that you need to know is that I was a child opera singer.
LUSE: There's children's parts in a lot of operas. And so...
WOODSTOCK: I have so many questions. Do we have another hour for this podcast?
WOODSTOCK: I have a lot of questions about childhood opera singer. Anyway, go ahead.
LUSE: (Laughter). They have a lot of children's parts because they need kids - whatever - in operas. And so I used to do that when I was in middle school. And I loved it. And it was one of the highlights of my life. So one year they were doing "La Boheme" at the Detroit Opera House. And there's this character in the show who's, like, this old guy who gives children toys. His name is Parpignol. And there's this one solo in this show. It's, like, a solo for a child that's, like, six words. But this solo rocked the children's chorus of "La Boheme" that year. It felt like a live episode of "Glee." Like, that's, like, the tension that was around. Like, who's going to get the solo? Who's going to get the solo? Who's going to get the solo?
So there was this one kid who was also in children's course with me. And let's say that his name was Danny. And Danny was bad. Even though like, we were children, like, it was definitely an adult space. It was just - it was some really serious stuff. We had real rehearsals. It was really intense. And like, you kind of had to have a little bit of maturity and kind of take it seriously. But Danny was bad. Danny would run. Danny would be screaming. Danny would be, like, making noise when we weren't supposed to be making noise and laughing and knocking stuff over. And he also used to do this thing where he would just be laughing like (imitating laughter) like, all the time.
LUSE: All the time. And he used to drive me nuts. I used to gossip with my dad about him on the drive home.
LUSE: Just, like, do you know what Danny did today? Anyway, the time for the solo auditions comes up. In this solo, the child who's singing these six words is supposed to be sad, crying, begging for this toy. And I decided that I was going to kind of Rachel Berry it up. I was going to pull a fast one on Danny because I was, like, I need to have this solo. I don't want Danny to get it. And so what I did is I sabotaged him (laughter). And so - my audition, I got called in before Danny. I thought I did a good job. But I came out, and Danny was supposed to go in. And I was just like, oh, they actually gave me the note to sing it happier.
LUSE: It's actually supposed to be really bright. And like, you should, like - give it some flair. Like, I think bring a lot of energy. Like, I don't know. It wasn't looking good for me in there. And so (laughter), I just knew he was going to go in there and do his little giggle. And he went in there. And he sang it all bright and happy. And he did his little giggle. But when the solo was posted, I didn't get it, either. Like, (laughter) neither one of us got it. The other little goody two-shoes, Kevin, got it. So, you know, that's probably the most sabotage that I've done on someone - in middle school.
WOODSTOCK: Incredible. What a tale. Here's the thing. Maybe you're just very good at acting because you were in the child opera. But I feel like you're, like, so pleased by this story. And it just is hard for me to imagine you being this pleased about a thing that you also just made up. So I'm going to say that this is also true but also because I think that it is an incredible twist for what I have known about you previously, that you're also a child saboteur of childhood operas.
LUSE: (Laughter) Well, this story is not true.
(SOUNDBITE OF SAD TRUMPET EFFECT)
LUSE: But I actually was a child opera singer. I just - I didn't sabotage anybody.
WOODSTOCK: I mean, it really seemed so out of character for you. But you just, like, played it off so convincingly. It wouldn't match anything that I knew about you as a person. But then I was, like, well, you know, people grow and change. If it was true, we were going to have to make you give Danny a formal apology on this platform. But since it's not true, it's fine. It's OK.
LUSE: There actually was a solo. And I didn't get it.
LUSE: And I really still believe that I deserved it.
WOODSTOCK: Thank you so much for having me. It is truly such a treat to talk with you. And yeah, next time when I come back, I'll practice lying to you. It'll be great.
LUSE: Thanks again to Tuck Woodstock, host of the "Gender Reveal" podcast. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts or at genderpodcast.com. This episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by...
BARTON GIRDWOOD, BYLINE: Barton Girdwood.
ALEXIS WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Alexis Williams.
LIAM MCBAIN, BYLINE: Liam McBain.
COREY ANTONIO ROSE, BYLINE: Corey Antonio Rose.
LUSE: It was produced and edited by...
JESSICA MENDOZA, BYLINE: Jessica Mendoza.
LUSE: Our intern is...
JAMAL MICHEL, BYLINE: Jamal Michel.
LUSE: It was edited by...
JESSICA PLACZEK, BYLINE: Jessica Placzek.
LUSE: Engineering support came from...
GILLY MOON, BYLINE: Gilly Moon.
LUSE: We had fact checking help from...
BARCLAY WALSH, BYLINE: Barclay Walsh.
JULIA WOHL, BYLINE: Julia Wohl.
LUSE: Our executive producer is...
VERALYN WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Veralyn Williams.
LUSE: Our VP of programming is...
YOLANDA SANGWENI, BYLINE: Yolanda Sangweni.
LUSE: Our senior VP of programming is...
ANYA GRUNDMANN, BYLINE: Anya Grundmann.
LUSE: All right. That's our show for today. I'm Brittany Luse. See you next week for another episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.
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