Take the Last Bite

We take a bite out of marine conservation and documentary filmmaking with Nova West (they/them), Angel Morris (they/them), and Nicole Morris (she/they/he)– the producers and muses of “Diving for Rays: A Queer Conservationist’s Story.” We chat about how what started as an impromptu instagram DM and a conversation about childhood dreams manifested into a cinematic journey deeper than the ocean. 

Resources & References
From the episode 
From the Introduction

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Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity 

Cover art: Adrienne McCormick
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Creators & Guests

R.B. Brooks
Director of Programs, Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity
Justin Drwencke
Executive Director, Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity

What is Take the Last Bite?

Take the Last Bite is a direct counter to the Midwest Nice mentality— highlighting advocacy & activism by queer/trans communities in the Midwest region. Each episode unearths the often disregarded and unacknowledged contributions of queer & trans folks to social change through interviews, casual conversations and reflections on Midwest queer time, space, and place.

For questions, comments and feedback: lastbite@sgdinstitute.org

To support this podcast and the Institute, please visit sgdinstitute.org/giving

Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity

Cover Art: Adrienne McCormick

Heyhihello Midwestie Besties, this is R.B. freshly thawed out from 135.8 inches of record breaking snowfall in Northern Minnesota, welcoming you to Take the Last Bite, a show where we take Midwest Nice, roll it out into thin sheets, cut it into silly shapes, top it with sprinkles, and snack on them with a tall glass of dairy-free milk.

On today’s episode, I chat with three folks who, by the power of serendipity and mutual interest in marine life, have produced a stunning piece of documentary that centers identity, taking big risks, and our relationship with our non-human kin.

Before we get into that, let’s talk about what’s gone on in the last two weeks because… it’s been kinda wild. If you’re an astrology gay like me, this may not be a surprise to you as we’ve got several cosmic events happening that have major implications for us all– mercury is in retrograde, we’ve entered into a new moon, we’ve had eclipses, and we’re in Taurus season (which makes this Taurus sun quite happy) but overall those astrological shifts bring with it chaotic energy where the lessons are buried a little deeper and chaos is exactly what we’ve seen.

For starters, in the state-based legislative arena, more anti-democratic maneuvers have been at play especially in Republican-led state legislatures. You’ll recall last episode I mentioned the Tennessee Three, in which three TN state representatives were penalized for their alignment with citizens’ protests of weak gun policy action.

Well that seems to be a playbook other Republican state representatives are taking pages out of to concoct their own nonsensical penalties for queer and trans state representatives across the country. In Montana, Representative Zooey Zephyr has been censured after speaking boldly about anti-trans bills, saying the blood would be on the hands of those who push it into law. On Wednesday April 26, the state legislature moved to bar Zephyr from the house floor, meaning she can no longer participate in debates for the remainder of the 90-day legislative session. As she departed the House, Zooey pressed her speaker button, which is how representatives request airtime during debates, to remind her fellow representatives that they are silencing the voices of 11,000 Montana voters that Zooey represents.

Last month, Mauree Turner, the first nonbinary and Muslim person to be elected to the Legislature in Oklahoma, was removed from all of their committee assignments after being accused of disallowing police to question a trans protestor who was being pursued for question after things got physical during the protest. Clips of Turner speaking to their fellow representatives spoke to the mistreatment they have faced as a nonbinary person of color saying “I know that I represent a culmination of things that you all deeply hate and I know it makes it easier for you to try to silence the people of House District 88 because we continuously hold you accountable.”

These are just two of many examples where asinine, unhinged statements and decisions are being made to and about trans people. Even, and seemingly especially, the ones who hold elected office. So much for decorum, so much for points of order. So much for democracy.

In other news, we get to say toodaloo to Tucker Carlson as the gargantuan earsore he’s historically been as a Fox News pundit. Deplatforming someone who has without a doubt been the fuel to the anti-trans fire for all the moderate and conservative consumers of Fox News since 2009 is a pretty solid win.

And to really round us out with a little more queer joy, I certainly did not have the cast of the original L Word being honored at the White House during Lesbian Visibility Week on my 2023 bingo card, but watching Beth Porter strut through the hallways of our nation’s Capitol certainly made my little gay heart happy.

Our guests for today’s episode are absolutely queer joy seekers– I got a chance to chat with Nova, Angel, and Nicole– the producers and muses for Diving for Rays– a documentary that follows Nicole’s journey through getting scuba certified and overcoming barriers to being a queer woman in marine conservation.

So take a deep breath and get ready to deep sea dive into this episode of Take the Last Bite


Why can't we be in space with hundreds of other queer and trans folks and having these necessary conversations?

When it comes to dynamics around privilege and oppression, and around identity. Well intentioned isn’t actually good enough.

How far is too far to drive for a drag show? I don’t know, we’re in Duluth right now, I would straight up go to Nebraska, probably,

If you are not vibing, or something’s not right, or also like there’s an irreparable rupture, you have absolutely every right to walk away.

Definitely going to talk about Midwest Nice and if that's as real as it wants to think it is.

Midwest nice is white aggression. That's what it is.


Audio file

4.02 Diving for Rays.m4a


All right folks, I am super excited for this in like a nerdy way because I recall when I was, you know, a cute little K through twelve grade schooler in St. Louis, MO, nearly smack dab in the middle of these United States. I was like, I'm going to be a marine biologist, right? I was. You know, like I had other friends. We're just like, we're all gonna somehow not be in the middle of nowhere. And we're gonna end up doing this thing, which is clearly. Not true for me now, doing something else, but that was a big deal for me when I was a kid, so there's just something like. Extra exciting about and envious of me of the work that you'll do. So let's go ahead and get right into it. Let's do a round of introductions. If, in your introductions, which I've been told are perfectly crafted for this occasion due to previous experiences. You wanted to polish them up, including your intro, just your relationship to the Midwest, because that's what we ask everybody.

Hey folks, my name is Nicole. I have any pronouns? I am a like outdoor educator and emerging marine conservationist. The star in diving parade and I have like, visited the Midwest, but I'm actually from Southern California. So I've only. Oh, no, you know what is is Texas a part of?

No Texas, no, it's not alright.

It's not, unfortunately. Well, fortunately for me, it's not not me.

It is in the.

That should.

Middle though like that is fair, it is in the middle.

That is just that is just the South. Straight up the South.

Yeah, yeah. All right, all right, yeah. Border lines are a social construct.

Hi, I'm Angel. My pronouns. Are they them? I'm the spouse of Nicole, who is not from the Midwest. I was actually born in Chicago, so I have a little bit of a tie to the Midwest. I only lived there for two years of my life, but most of my family's over there so I go and visit Illinois a lot, and outside of that I am a Natural History filmmaker. I am the writer and director of Diving for Rays, and that's about that.

Alright. Hey, I'm Nova West, I use they them pronouns. I'm a wildlife filmmaker specializing in underwater cinematography. I'm also a sailor on a deep sea exploration vessel and my mission is to make everything gay. So I'm originally from a small town in southern Minnesota. Went to College in Duluth, MN and and and very much connected in the Midwestern queer space, so.

And then you decided to leave for sunnier weather, cause I don't blame you. As I look out my window to so much snow.

Right. No, and I, well, I originally moved to when I first moved out of the state, I think I was 22 when I left for the first time, I moved to Washington, DC of all places. So like, and I lived there for like 5 years. But now I'm in sunny California. I've been here for about a year so.

So again, thank you so much for carving out time to chat with me. I'm super excited. To dig into some of the behind the scenes stuff. And just like some of the the concept work behind this really awesome piece that you have now put out into the world. Diving for Rays, it's approximately, I think the little time reader says it's like 23 minutes. So it's it's short and sweet, but also also packed with just like really meaningful and incredible content. So that's we're going to talk about today. I'm hoping that you can kind of help me piece together both the origin story right, because I think that's a really interesting and just queer as fuck, like way in which this kind of seed was planted and then talk us through kind of the the synopsis of the film.

Yeah, so, Diving for Rays is actually about my wife, Nicole, and it is specifically about her journey to becoming a marine conservationist after kind of being chased away from thinking that she could even do the career because of lack of queer visibility in marine sciences and I would say even science as a whole. And the film covers her first big steps such as getting dive certified and, um, lots of other fun stuff. But I don't want to give away too much. But yeah, it's definitely a film about chasing after your passions and, you know, being faced with barriers and how to how to overcome those barriers as a queer person, and also just as somebody who's in a marginalized community in general, and yeah, that's basically what it's about.

And then the the way that Diving for Rays kind of like happened is, so I was living in DC at the time I was getting ready to move to California and I happened to see Angel was posted, posted on a social media, I think is on Instagram. I saw a post about them and I was like, Oh my God, another wildlife like trans person who's like in in filming space. Because it's hard to find, especially like non-binary people who do the same things that I do. And so I reached out to them and quickly realized that they are incredible and they introduced me to Nicole as well and they're both iconic and wonderful. And so literally like a month or two later, they welcome me into their home. To like, stay with them and check out San Diego.

And I ended up moving there a few months after that. And I think one day, Angel just kind of called me up right before I was about to. Move and was. Like, hey, do you wanna make a film together? Like, we shouldn't do that. You know, like we both know. How to do? Things and like we might as well combine the forces and I, of course was like absolutely yes. Like we have to, it's required by law.

So once I moved to San Diego, we were kind of like playing around with a bunch of ideas and we, you know, were talking about some more, like Natural History focused ideas and and things that were kind of like attainable to us in our immediate space because we didn't like, have any sort of budget to make this film with, and, and we kind of I think together like ended up turning to Nicole on the couch and was like wait like? You're doing really cool things and you have a really wonderful, inspiring story. And like, how would you feel about being on camera and and Nicole very gracefully was like give it. A shot. That's kind of the origin story of it.

There's just so much. So much about that just feels like it could not come together in that way. If, like cis hets were doing it like, it just feels impossible, just like beyond, like the the ability for comprehension in that way, like, oh, I by the power of SEO's, you know, came upon this person who, like, is in this very like niche and like. Underrepresented, you know, comparable fields that you like, you're in and just like all this, just there's so much serendipity there that just makes it feel like extra like.

I wouldn't normally recommend letting strangers stay in your home for a week that you met on the Internet, but it worked very well for me this time.

Yeah, no. So quite lucrative, yes, yeah.

He's not a, but we had too many times. It's kind of just like a one off. Like uh, they seem pretty cool. So it did end up working out quite well, yeah, yeah.

Cannot help but laugh at like the, the visual image of y'all just sitting around and like in whatever respective poses, because queer folks can't sit and chairs properly, just like all the dangling of the limbs and places. And just like coming to this collective agreement that, like, oh, everything that like we need is literally right here like that's. That's incredible. Incredible.

It also just reminds me like there's something that I talk about with my conference planning team. This feels tangential, but I, I promise. It will work. It's like back around we just kind. Of talk about like queer spaces in like, queer, liminal spaces that are just like unstructured, and how things like come together in those spaces. Cuz we talk about. You know, you know, we go to this conference every year and we usually like come into the hotel lobby and suddenly there's all this, like, queer magic making suddenly happening. And like the lobby of like a quality inn. And it's like that that's very specific and can only happen by nature of how queer folks communicate. Like, suddenly the snowball is avalanching and then suddenly. You have a documentary on like a major streaming platform for documentaries like and here we go.

Which kind of like. So it started with this. Hey, let's do this idea right based on all the the skills and like the the story is like in the room at the same time. What kind of, like, headspace do you kind of have to get in to be able to approach telling a story like this right? Because the you know, angels like synopsis, stellar, awesome. 10 out of. 10 and right, like the you know, there's all these, like, thematic pieces to it about, like, the lack of queer representation. You know that it's very specific. The three of you, based on the, the, you know, fields and careers and life aspirations you have, you know, what does it take to kind of get into that headspace to be able to tell this kind of story, which I'm sure is different for the? Three of you respectively, but just like what? What does that headspace have to look like?

I realized in my intro I didn't mention that I was the Co director and underwater cinematographer for Diving for Rays. Basically mid lockdown, I had been working in wildlife filmmaking for several years and I was like ready to kind of like take my next step into actually doing more field work. So I I had an internship at Nat Geo headquarters and forever thankful for that experience, but it was. Mostly in like post productions like editing and things like that and I was just like, so ready to like, start these adventures of my own and, like, start telling my own stories, cause I didn't see myself in film. And I'm sure everyone here can also relate to that, but. Uhm, so I was like, OK, what do I want to do? And I knew that like, I love water so much, and especially as a trans person. Like I have a complicated relationship with water like there's a long time where water was something that was really awful and terrifying, and it didn't feel great because of dysphoria and things like that. And now I find it such a healing thing. And so I knew that I wanted to go into underwater cinematography and just like, experience the wildlife in the ocean.

So mid lockdown, I was like, you know, I'm going to do, I'm going to buy my own camera rig for underwater stuff. So I got my own like professional camera rig. And and I was in DC, middle of winter, middle of lockdown. So I like had to try out my new camera. So I just hopped in my bathtub and started taking pictures of this like tiny plastic whale that I had. And and after that I was like, OK, I can't. I can't stop here. Like I have the itch. And so I ended up going to a hotel and. And like renting a room and then just like spending all my time in their pool, it's like, whatever you, whatever you can access, you know, and from there it kind of just like kept building. Then I went on a road trip to Florida so that I could film because flying wasn't safe. That was it was pre vaccination and, and it kept building from there. And I, I just had this, like, really deep desire to. Well, my story and my community stories within this aquatic space, which is kind of like what fuels my headspace of like, I'm just so excited and so passionate and like, so thankful that I finally have the resources to tell my own story and to tell stories like mine. So that's kind of where my headspace came from.

My headspace was OK, so like we have to go back a little bit. So I originally saw this like beautiful documentary about specifically like women in like conservation and and biology. And it was like this really, really beautiful. Little documentary from for folks like for, for women of all different backgrounds like truly like they covered so many different people that came from like different races and different ethnicities and different ages and different backgrounds and folks from all different parts of the.

It was like in the middle of, like lockdown for me. As well, and it was this really, really beautiful documentary. And I was like, kind of felt myself like holding my breath at the end, sort of waiting for them to mention someone who was, like, outwardly queer and that moment just never came for me. So then immediately I was like, this is not true. I will stalk them on the internet, Still holding my breath, and I looked up like a a lot of the folks that were in that film, and to my knowledge, none of them were queer. And so then my, like bated breath, became rage, and I ran to the Angel, my wonderful wife, about how mad I was that here is this beautiful documentary showcasing all these different people, and I don't see anyone in there that represents my community. And I was livid. And in my rage, Angel and I worked together to sort of, like, draft up my first application for grad school for biology.

She rage applied to grad school, is essentially what happened.

Yeah, yeah, I rage applied to grad school.

But, that was the one and only school that you applied for, and you got in and that so long story short, rage apply to your colleges.

It's OK.

Give you extra extra motivation and.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It'll give you the extra. Just the the push that you needed.

And I had already sort of been thinking about going into this space and had been realizing that, like, this was something that I was really passionate about and that I really loved. To do and and so it just it just kind of made sense for me to do this. And then, you know, kind of in the waiting of it all, I was waiting to hear back and I was like, well, there's something that I can, there must be something that I can do right now. And Nova was like, well, you know, I'm scuba certified. And I was like, really does that, how does that work? And they told me all about it and. Yeah, we're there. Whenever I got to take my first breaths underwater. So yeah, really.

Means the world literally it's it's so good. I love it.

So amazing. And I think as far as like the headspace to be in when it comes to like telling this type of a story like for me obviously like the the absolute like livity rage that I experienced was like ever and like continuing to push forward on like the moments whenever I was like, oh, I don't want to. I don't want to. Be on camera right now and and realizing that like, OK, you're doing this for the impact and also because like you're doing it, you might as well do it to show like visibility in this space. But also like to to be completely honest, like I was really terrified. Like I remember thinking about this and being like Oh my God, like, what if it's taken the wrong way? What if it gets into the wrong group of people? You know, what if people misinterpret it. You know, there's a lot that can go wrong in being so vulnerable and. So that was.

Especially with such a touchy subject too, you know.

Right. And something that's like maybe still legal in some countries, you know, it's like, yeah.

But WaterBear is. Available in every single country in the world. So everyone. Everyone's able to watch.

It yes, yes, yes, people illegally.

We're actually like. Yeah, I'm waiting for it to get banned, actually.


Because, like homosexuality is illegal in certain countries.

That's OK. That's fair. Sorry, that clicked late, but it clicked, yeah.

OK. Yeah. Damn.

Yeah, but yes, like I would say, like a lot of the same things that Nicole was saying. You know, I would say like. The reason for the rage, I think, was because when we both were watching that documentary and and prior to watching that documentary, we had had a lot of conversations, especially in this the middle of the pandemic, when everyone was kind of like. Had too much time on their hands to think about like what they were. Doing with their lives. Which is exactly what we were doing. And we had conversations like we were in like a really transitional period of our life. And we were like. Kind of. Like, what do we wanna do like? Because we were coming out of, we actually used to have a YouTube channel where we talked about being queer Christians and. We are not Christians anymore, but.

We were transitioning out of that.

At the time out of that, yes.

Love that.

And just talking about, you know, having this like this, like feeling of like, wow, we really thought that our lives were going in, like, one direction and now they're not like what we. To do and we gotta. Talk like talking about the topic of childhood dreams and you know how I've always wanted to be a wildlife filmmaker. And Nicole has always wanted to be a marine conservationist, and the, the conversation started off being like. Oh, that's that's silly. Like he, he, hah, like, that that will never happen. But then like as we started like kind of talking. About it more, we were like, well, what if? I don't know. What if we tried and then watching that documentary, I think was the click moment when we were like, oh, that's why we didn't do it because we didn't know that we could. And there were no role models to tell us that we could or there were no people in our lives that encouraged us to say yes, you could or. Like, you know, gave us the tools or the access or the opportunities for it, like I was literally enrolled at a different university that I went to for zoology for a hot minute and my parents were even like, no, I don't think that'd be a good career for you. Like you know, you should try something different like and so I chickened out and I ended up going to a completely different university. Different major. And yeah, I think I think. That that's like what fueled this. Partially fueled the rage that that partially fueled the film is just this, like realization of like, oh wow, there is this mega lack of visibility for queer people in marine science, but also just like across stem as a whole. And so I think that especially after meeting Nova, who had kind of like a similar. Journey and slowly meeting others who had similar journeys, like realizing like. How big of a of? A thing this was and a shared experience. This was and we. Were like maybe. This would be a good topic to. Cover and and hopefully maybe inspire some people and.

There's something. Very like. Very awesome is the, is the best I've got, about, like, hearing hearing the emphasis on the rage, right? Just that like, cause you wouldn't necessarily glean that from the movie in like a in like a in like a really tactful way, right? Like in this way cause the movie is so. It is gentle like it is like the imagery, right? Like it's very pleasing. It's very soft like like the the storyline right like is very. Heavy, right? But there's something like about how you've built the story into, like, something as you know, mystifying as, like a giant school of rays, like swimming in the water like that doesn't necessarily speak rage, but like hearing from y'all in this moment that like that was such a like motivator for, well, if everybody else, you know, isn't going to do the story, we will.

Yeah, I think that's one of the reasons that like we really love, like talking about it and like doing like the kind of like podcasts and the like, the premiere things and and things like that is because, like, I don't know, I feel like it's really important to feel that like, we talk about queer joy, and we talk about queer love, and we talk about queer tragedy. And I feel like in the mix there, too. Is like when you want to make a change for something. At least I'll speak for myself whenever I want to change something. Usually one of my red flags for it is like oh, I'm really mad about this and something needs to change and I don't see anyone else doing it, so I'm gonna. Be the change that I want to see in the world. Be what I can't see. You know, it's in. It's in the film. It's in the film.

But I also know like like in addition to like the the queer rage that's, you know, kind of. And the. In Inspirator inspiring inspiration behind the wanting to do it, Nova usually has really beautiful things to say about queer joy and their inspiration for that too.

Oh yes, I could talk forever about queer joy. So something that brings me rage is a lot of the queer media that. See that focuses especially like mainstream media focuses on queer despair and queer suffering, and we're getting more queer visibility. But we're only talking about how hard it is to. Be a queer. Person and that is such a small fraction of what it's like to be. Queer. And that's because of. Other people, that's not even at the root of queer. And so I'm really excited to be able to start making queer content queer films, telling queer stories that focus around queer joy and queer love, and showing my community that, like, we deserve to be loved for our full selves, and we deserve to find. Infinite joy in whatever it is that sets our souls on fire. And so that's just something that I'm I'm really. So proud of us, honestly, for and really really thankful for Angela's tactful editing as well creating this film and being able to kind of toe the line like acknowledging the struggle that it is to be queer because of other people. But the beautiful intricacy of the joy that we feel being our full selves.

Like, like I said, just the way that like that that comes through so, so, so strongly, right, like, there there's an urgent message like the message is urgent, but it's not. The pace is one in which, like the joy and like this, it's a saver, right? It's like it's a it's a piece of hard candy that you're going to suck on for 23 minutes, not necessarily something you're gonna consume really quickly, right. Like you're going to savor it. Going to enjoy it, but then you're also going to feel like the call to like address. The problem right, the problem being lack of representation that like even though you two coming into each other's lives and then the three of you coming to each other's lives like created this, right? Like was the serendipity and seed plant to create this right, like, technically, you know the undergirding there is that, like it took the power of, like the Internet. You know, and like traveling a lot of miles to, like, make, make it happen, you know? And it makes me, you know, think about kind of a Midwest-ism that we may collectively all be familiar with is that there's a lot of pressure I think, for like Midwest queers, especially like rural, really rural queers, anyway, anywhere to like have to move to like a coast or like a major like Metro area to necessarily find space, especially creator spaces. Based on resources or money or like community. And so just seeing how like COVID was the impetus for a asking the open question about like, what are the things that you wanted to pursue as children that like didn't manifest and then being able to so quickly answer the why is also just really stellar, just like the sign, just the sign and Nova, just like plopped in your living room at the same. Time and it was just. Angel and Nicole, like just it could not have been laid out more red carpet. I feel like. So Congrats to your cosmic alining because the stars said here you go.

I am named Nova for a reason, so...

Oh wow. It's like you've been waiting somehow sitting on that, to deliver that.

For like 7 years.

One of the questions I did pose that definitely you've touched on already, but maybe we could take into a little bit more depth. Pun intended, question mark. Is the is the the theme here of just the the rage came from a place of lack, right? And you're it's seemingly y'all's collective mission to, like, build abundance with this being what I can only imagine is a start, you know, and a milestone for all of you is just. That rage came from. A lack of representation. It came from a lack of, you know, support in that, you were not believed to be someone who could go to school for, you know, major A and detour to Major B, you know, just upbringings, just kind of deterring you every which way, right. So. Can we talk a bit more about kind of the shared experience of just like not seeing oneself in this work?

Because I also think it relates so heavily to. I remember. Where were we? Nova, you did a whole presentation on, like, access to the outdoors. And so this kind of feels like the next level of just like, how queer and trans folks, marginalized folks generally are not given easy, accessible, available pathways to the outdoors. So then who gets to tell the story of the outdoors? It's the folks who get to be outdoors in these spaces to be able to look up close with that view to then tell the stories so that all feels connected. And so I don't really know where what tendril of that you wanna pick up, but that all feels like this big, applicable thing to. Y'all kind of breaking through that and saying we're going to tell this story and we're gonna get ourselves as close as possible to this by making it, making it happen yourself.

I can give my like just like. My immediate thoughts…

I actually I something.

Go for it.

I am an outdoor, currently an outdoor educator.

Oh yes you are.

I actually have like three thoughts, just three.

So that is.

OK, one of them there is literally a book that I started reading this morning. It is written by a trans women and it talks about, this book. I'm totally blanking on the name of it, but it's. Ohh, I'm thinking of the wrong title.

It it's a beautiful book and it talks it deliberately about this and it talks about how. Uhm. Or she talks about how like there is, uh, this like patriarchal lens, that inherently we have all been looking through whenever we look at nature because of the people that have been writing the like leading articles and essays and published science on ecology and outdoors and nature and biology and A, B, C, and D. Right. And it talks about how like the like, if we started to allow for more access and more diversity in these sciences, then we would actually start to see nature as more queer because we would have these perspectives that allow for us to look outside of this lens.

The book is called. Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, and is by Doctor Joan Roughgarden. It's really cool if you want to learn about. Gay animals, it's all about animals, gay animals and plants.

It's really great, I would recommend. It it's an easy read. So far at least I'm reading it. And yeah, and and also I think like when we when we talk about like accessibility and we talk about like equity and like diversity and and all of these things that go into like our outdoor spaces, I think it's really really important to also highlight kind of like the environmental justice issues that our marginalized communities are are more likely to experience, right. And so I think, you know, when we, when we talk about, you know, all of these things and the outdoors, so much of this also is like. Like making sure that not only are our natural spaces healthy and taking care of, but then also our people are, are healthy and taking care of them. And I don't see a world in which we have more diversity and more equity without also addressing sort of like the conditions that our, our, like marginalized communities are living in the inequities. Of like pay and like the expectancy of free labor within the, like, naturalist industry and like science industry even. And so I think you know, whenever we talk about these things, I think it's important to say hey, like it's one thing to provide visibility and it's a whole other thing to address the barriers that are keeping people from being visible. And we can do some of that like we can address some of that and say hey like. It is up to you to do the thing that you want to do most in the world, and that does not mean you're not going to come up against barriers that are have been in place for, you know so many years.

Also, just to speak like specifically to like the visibility aspect, you know one of the reasons why I got into. I really just wanted to get into conservation filmmaking is because I genuinely believe that like people will, will be more inclined to do something about something if they experience it themselves. And so that's why people make conservation films in the first place. Is that, like, people don't always get to see lions in Africa? They don't get to see tigers in India, you know, like and and all these places. And so we we make these films about these threatened animals in order to get people to, like, care and be inspired and stuff like that because otherwise you just kind of don't care a little bit or you're just not aware of the of the issues and it's the same thing I think with like queer stories and queer films as well, and specifically in queer media, both on screen and off screen applications. If you're not seeing yourself, or if you're like an ally and you're not seeing the lives of queer people and the struggles that queer people go through, you're not going to be aware and you're not. You know, if you're a queer person, you're not going to, like, have the inspiration or the motivation to, like, do the things that you want to do. And if you're an ally, you're not gonna have the knowledge of, like the problems that like queer people face or like what to do about it or anything like that. And I just remember, like, little me watching like Steve Irwin and Zaboomafoo and like all of these like wildlife shows and like. I so badly wanted to be Steve Irwin and I couldn't and I didn't really put those words together when I was younger. I just remember, like wanting to do that, like wanting to go out into the wild and like, find animals and tell people about animals, and then suddenly I'm hitting an age where I'm like in the back of. My head like that. That's, you know, that's not me up there. So like, I don't think that I can do that like that's for. Really older white men who come from a completely different background than me, and it's not like a conscious thing. It's like a definite, like subconscious thing of just like, just, feeling that those paths are completely divergent from each other. And so the more visibility and the more like showing people that like, hey, actually queer people can do whatever the hell they want. And succeed at it and be great at it. I think that. That would be very helpful, but I don’t know. But what do you think?

Yeah, I definitely. Just lost my train of thought

Ohh no.

Oh, it's back, OK. OK. So we also are currently in a climate crisis, right? Like we have so many different things changing about our planet. We have so many different issues that have been here for a long time, but we haven't either done much about it or we didn't know what to do about it. And and there's so many other things, this is just one example. That humans haven't solved yet. We have so many questions, and for pretty much our entire history, we've been listening to a very small selective perspective of a small group of people, right, cis het white men, to call it out.

Just imagine having access to the entire rainbow of ideas and knowledge and brilliance that people have. But they don't have the platform and elevation to be able to take that further to actually make impact. And so part of the entire like chicken and egg of of equity is also like solving our big questions. Our big problems, you know, like so many people growing up, I feel like everyone was talking about, like becoming a doctor. And like becoming a researcher to solve, like curing cancer. And it's like, yes, that is. Very important, but we're also there's only a select few people that get to do that kind of work. And so I don't know, there's access and everything that queer people and other marginalized groups need more of. But wildlife spaces is definitely a big one.

I mean, it's not lost on anyone who's even like minimally aware of queer history that, like queer folks are always part of everything anyway, it's just a matter of like what you know, the platform that you're talking about, Nova, right? Like you know, I think about foraging in relation to this conversation too, right. And how folks like Alexis Nicole Nelson are just kind of this very, you know, prominent figure and kind of demystifying the complexities of foraging and like being mindful of like localized food sources rate and you know, I think about adrienne maree brown's emergent strategy and looking to like nature as this replication of like what our communities are capable of and how we're not tapping into. You know our fullest potential as like a species and just letting things you know, fall away recklessly for, I don't know why. Or, and if you haven't read this one, this is one that I was just like when I'm getting screen time with these folks, I am definitely telling them about it. There's this book by Alexis Pauline Gumbs that you've maybe heard of. It's called. Lessons from Marine Mammals.


Yes, Undrowned, I was like I'm missing a big word in there and I did a whole book review on it, but it is splendid. But the point there too is just like looking to these like, you know, marine mammals, to make, you know, really deep connections, not in a way that says like, well, how do we personify these creatures to kind of then project? Our thoughts on to that, but it's to truly say like look at what these sea creatures are capable of doing that like we can't even fathom because we're not at a place of. Human decency, where we can even think to, to offer what, you know, the models of sea creatures as offering. So I don't think there was a question in there, but I was just like all of this feels so, so custom of queer folks to kind of have to look at what is happening, know that if you turn away from it then, like, you're complicit. But that to participate also has its own, like, ick, because then, you know, you're opening yourself up to critique from like, this asset normative world. That's just like who do you think you are?

By the time this episodes come comes out, it'll be probably. About two months since the virtual premiere, and I know that that's not the first time it was in front of people either. Let's actually talk about that. This wasn't the first time it got put in front of people. It just happens to be the first time it was readily available to lots of people because I did some, you know, Instagram sleuthing. And this is. My understanding that was it back in November during the Film Festival that it was the first time it got put in front of people. Or was there another time?

I think it was, was it the nautilus premiere that was the first time?

So Angel was editing away while I was at sea for a 70 day stint, and they were very kindly setting me, sending me cuts of the film because I wasn't there to actually help edit. And I was on, on board with Bob Ballard and for those who don't know who Bob Ballard is, he is the man who found the Titanic among many other sunken crafts, and I work on his ship as a video engineer.

So casual, right, like. Just drop that in there.

Literally sipping water. While you're saying this and it did not register until then, like, oh, you you fancy, huh?

We do. We do cool things. Just being gay in the middle of the ocean. But so it's on this expedition with a lot of Nat Geo Explorers including Bob Ballard. And Angel just finished like the– I think it was either the fine cut or the the final cut of the film and we I think we both collectively have the wonderful idea to screen it on Nautilus. So the first time it was ever screened for like, not our three sets of eyeballs was uh, in the middle of the ocean off of one of the Hawaiian islands with a bunch of natural explorers. In our control van, so.

Which, like I still like, think like what a what? A perfect place to premiere a film about the ocean. Like in the middle of the ocean.

Like the least accessible place in the ocean, like on, off Ballard’s ship. You know like. The middle of the ocean. So that's kind of where it it first premiered. And then Angel, I don't know if you want to talk about the other premieres.

We had a couple of other premieres after that. The next one, I think was our like little friends and family premiere that we did, which was really cute. And then, yeah, the, the, I would say the first. Like, really big. Like one was at the San Diego Environmental Film Festival and that one was really cool because it was actually the first year of the Film Festival itself. And they sold out the festivals, so lots of people were there. We were very, very excited about it. And that is where we won our first award. We won the audience choice award, so that was really cool. And then yeah, finally the the, you know, big, the big premiere was the worldwide premiere when it went up on WaterBear in January, so.

So in the time this podcast will come out, it will be probably just a handful of months since it got put in front of any people, whether it was on a ship, in the middle of nowhere, the San Diego Pimento Film Festival, or the very quaint and amazing virtual premiere that y’all did in January to announce that it was then available for free streaming on Water Bear. It’ll be a handful of months, but. In this time, since any of those premieres, what has been? Some of the responses, kind of beyond praise, right? What is? What is opened up? I guess I should ask, what has opened up in the time since you have put this in front of other people? Opportunities, conversations, new ideas? I would say that like in just hearing, you'll talk about it. There's one little nugget of reference. I feel like in the actual film, but you talked about it here, so I want to like pick at it again. Is the like ex Christian piece like it it has a little little sliver of reference in the in the in the film but, you know, we don't go too too far into it, but it's there, right? There's a whole other. Story there. You know what? Has opened up, right? Or what are you thinking about? Now, what is, what is next? What you got?

So we actually to kind of like promote our virtual screening in January, we had like I made this like sign up form for the screening. And then I also was like, what does seeing this film mean to you? Like an optional questionnaire kind of attached to the sign up. And we ended up doing this, like, kind of promotional post of, just like, these people's quotes of. What it means to see this film, whether they already had seen the trailer if they've already seen it like family and friends showing, or like they're completely new to it. And we had such a wide breadth of responses that was so absolutely just heartwarming and encouraging. And since the the film has been completely public and accessible. I've personally had lots of different people reach out to me, especially young queer professionals and students being like, hey, like, I just have never met. Like I'm like. Any sort of like queer role model, but also like queer person who's making it and is OK and like is happy and you know, successful and living their best queer life. I know and and yeah, it's just like full circle. I'm becoming the person I needed when I was younger and like, it's just so, life giving to be able to talk to this younger queer generation because of our film and be able to connect and be like, yo, like, I don't believe in the capitalist system that we're under. Like, if there's any way I can help you in your career, like, please let me let me know like I, I want to be able to support people as much as possible because we can only do this in community, so that's that's been a big takeaway for me as far as like what's come out of it is just like seeing my community show up and say this means something and we need this and we need more of this.

Yeah, and I think. Did I also just lose? My train of thought.

Passing it around, the bug going around.

I have some things. So some of my things are the the relief of receiving like the Audience Choice Award was like pretty hefty for me. Um, like it's one thing to do like a friends and family premiere which was like pretty good. You know, I was a little bit nervous for it, but I'm like, OK, these people all know me outside of this screen. Like no matter what happens like it's OK and there's just been overwhelming amounts of support, which has been really, really great to see.

And then it's another thing to have it shown to like a room of strangers. And I remember, like, kind of like sitting in, in, like, the very back of the audience, like, kind of, like, not really like I've seen it. I lived it. I don't need to see it. Again, kind of a vibe, you know. And just kind of like waiting until the very end and then, you know, at the very end of the movie, I I like held the door open for some folks because it was like at. The end of the Film Festival and a couple of people like kind of came up to me and I was like, oh. This is like. A real thing. I'm like, I'm really doing it yeah. Hair flip. Exactly. And um, it's uh, it, it was kind of mind-blowing to have someone else come up to me and be like, Oh my God, that's you. And I was like, yeah, that's me. And I was like, So what did you think? And. Like oh, I thought it was amazing. And I was like, oh, really? And they were like, yeah, like, it was so good. This was it's just like exactly what you said and it was exactly what I needed to hear and I work. And they I think they ended up working for or like with some like senator and they were like really accomplished and they were also from a marginalized community and just to to see someone that's maybe not queer, but from that has experienced similar, you know, struggles in their life was like it was like this really beautiful moment. And then just like since then, there's like an increased confidence, I think in myself of like, oh, yeah, I'm, I'm really doing the thing. And I'm like applying for grants now to do, like, a a fun little research project for school.

And are you rage applying to the grants, or just like casually applying to the grants?

I haven't actually applied to them yet. To be determined. I may rage apply.

Wait for that moment, I'm going to apply for the grant.

Very successful the first time.

We're listening to our rage, yes.

I think like, As for, like, a almost like a what's next? The thing. When we first like started this, we did not expect it to go as far as it did. Like I just remember, I remember like this, like really particular car ride conversation that I was having with like, Nova and Nicole, and I was like. Uh, I. You know, it'd be so cool if we could actually, like, go to Baja and like, film the rays there. But like, that'll never happen like you know. And then it did, and then, you know, we were. We set similar conversations like, oh, I wish we could get this film on a streaming platform, but that'll never happen and then we did. And so, I think, like this film has surprised, you know, I just speak for myself. It surprised me in a lot of ways like this is my first film. And something that I forgot to mention in the intro is that I, I do my. Full time job. We're almost there. Give us one more podcast. My full time job. I'm an editor at a production company that does like Natural History, documentary movies and TV shows and things like that, but I'm very new to that job. Prior to this, I was working in like marketing and ads and branding and things like that. And so, uhm, all of this is very new to me. And this was my first film, my first time ever producing writing, you know, doing the whole shebang and not a lot of people get to see their film go this far. And so I think it's been really just inspiring to me personally, like oh. I can't actually do this. This is. This is nice. So I think that like I, I'll, I think I can probably speak for all of us when I say that like most of us have really bad blank canvas syndrome right now where we're. Just like we did the thing, let's do it again, you know, and and I think, you know, we've been tossing around like a lot of different ideas for the next big project and some things we could maybe talk about, but a lot, most of the things we can't talk about unfortunately. But yeah, I think. Like the just the shocking success of the film was definitely very inspiring and motivating for for us as film makers and as a scientist.

Of the many things, I hope that that like offers to you. All right? Like the affirmation and the motivation and just blank canvas syndrome, I love that. I I hope that also, at least from like a bystander perspective, I feel like that makes it clear that it was. It's satiating a need like a like a like an appetite for this kind of story, right? And like you gave you know what is hopefully just the tip of the, the iceberg of what is then possible from the three of y'all, respectively, and then just any anyone else who's going to be graced by your like influence through this ecosystem of watching this piece, I wanted to give space just kind of like as we're, you know, making you know time here you know any final thoughts that you want to share about? The process, or to folks listening or just anything you forgot in your intro that seems to be the pattern. Love that, love that, JK, any final parting thoughts before we wrap it up. I just gave you a blank canvas that. Was very.

I can do my like usual plugs of like, we had some really incredible partners on on this film and, and it really just would not be possible without the assistance of all these partners and specifically Jackson Wild. They're an organization that. Is, uh, primarily like a media awards, like almost kind of like the, I don't know, like the Oscars of, of wildlife and documentary filmmaking, but they're also a nonprofit that does a lot of, like initiatives and conservation things. And and we teamed up with them recently to launch, like, an LGBTQ US initiative to kind of make a space in a community for for people who are in this really niche like science and filmmaking. Like world and if you know anyone's out there listening right now and they want to get into conservation or science or even filmmaking if you go to the jacksonwild.org, it is first of all, it's just like a great networking resource, but also this queer initiative that we've started. There's we're doing meetups we're doing, like resource guides and and and it's been a really fantastic little baby thing that we've started this year and it's been great to see how many people are in our little niche community that are part of the LGBTQ plus. So that's one place that is really great to go to. And then also another partner that we have is a website called 500 queer scientists. And that is a place where if you are a scientist, you can kind of upload your profile on there and people can find you. And it's like this hub for people who are in the LGBTQ. This community and are also in, like all areas of STEM, and that was really cool and there were so many, so many other partners, and we'd be here for hours if I sat down and explained them all. But those are two places where, if you're like looking to get involved and looking for community, those are really great places to start.

Yeah, and I'll, I'll add for like 500 queer scientists. You can also be relatively science adjacent. I'm on 500 queer scientists and I'm not personally a scientist, but I am a science communicator. So don't count yourself out if you're not a not quite a scientist. You're not, like, fitting precisely in in between the lines of things. I think it's also worth adding as far as like future things and kind of keeping tabs on what the three of us are are up to you and cooking up. You're welcome to check us out on social media. You know, plugs for for that kind of stuff. My handle on Instagram is NovaWest_Creative and you can find me also on my website which is novawestcreative.com.

You can definitely find me at my website which is angelmorrisvisuals.com and you can also probably find me on Nova's Instagram at some point.

My Instagram handle is @ColiJean and I don't really have a website right now, but that might be in the works. Yeah. In progress. Yeah.

Yeah. So, like, maybe just go to your. Instagram and go to my website? And then you'll get the full package, the Morrises.

Love that. This has been absolutely amazing. Y'all are so good. Like I said, just like the joy of this film, like has like screams through on it. So then just to like been to be in synchronous space with y'all now twice technically after the virtual premiere like it's just so clear that you all get so giddy about this piece. And I remember like writing down a note about us seeing y'all were working on where you all just like, broke the surface of the water. Like, busted out laughing at the same time, like just. You can't script that and I think like that's the point of documentary, right. Like you are telling stories that can't be scripted and just like, that's that's incredible. So I'm just really pleased to have had time to ask you more in depth which could go on for hours, but that is not an option and a podcast format, so folks will just have to watch it themselves and get, get the gist of what we're talking about. So thank you so so much.

Thank you for having us. It's been great.


Our inbox is open for all of your insight, feedback, questions, boycotts, memes and other forms of written correspondence. You can contact us at lastbite@sgdinstitute.org. This podcast is made possible by the labor and commitment of the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity staff. Particular shout out to Justin, Andy and Nick for all of your support with editing, promotion and production. Our amazing and queer as fuck cover art was designed by Adrienne McCormick.