Hear My Story: A GLAAD x Audible Interview Series – Part III: Kacen Callender

By Mark Olson, Events Manager By GLAAD.org | July 21, 2021

Check out GLAAD’s interview with Callender below:

GLAAD has teamed up with audio entertainment leader Audible to co-curate and produce a five-episode written interview series featuring LGBTQIA+ talent from the Audible family.

Our third interview features Kacen Callender, the best-selling and award-winning author of Sunset Springs, an audio novella about finding courage to allow unexpected change, even at the risk of a broken heart.

For many LGBTQ people, inspiration is often drawn from the role models and idols within our community who have changed the way we are seen, heard, and represented in society. Is there someone in the community who has inspired you or your work?

Um, honestly, no. I haven’t had any specific Black, queer, or transmasculine role models as a writer who have all those intersecting identities. That’s been the main part of my motivation, realizing that I really needed to be my own role model to tell the stories I really want to see myself so desperately.

But that said, there has been of course different authors of some of those identities that have paved the way for me to be able to come here as a Black person, and as a queer person, and as a trans person. And it wouldn’t have been without people in their work who came before to have me come even this far. So in terms of history pavers, people who’ve been here before, of course, but now, no – not looking at anyone but myself.

Thanks to services like Audible, access to LGBTQ stories & content is now easier than ever. What kind of LGBTQ story still needs to be told / heard?

Because of the internet and the ability to self-publish, many people have taken matters to their own hands by telling stories that needed to be told and have needed to be told in a long while, so there are so many more queer/trans stories by people of color out there that have not been available before. But I think what actually needs to shift now is that there needs to be more of a level of support for the writers that mainstream still has not caught up with except for thankfully publishers like Audible who are able to publish me now.

So those writers still need to get the same level of support as those who are white / cis / straight. But I do think those stories are out there. At the same time, I think we do tend to make the mistake of saying, “There need to be more trans stories” but there are trans authors who have been doing the work, but they’re being ignored in comparison.

Speaking of LGBTQ content, Sunset Springs was just released – congratulations! Would you mind sharing more about that project?

Yeah, so I’ll say that Sunset Springs is about 27-year-old Charlie who has lost his job as an editor in New York City and has to move back home to live with his mom in upstate New York in this imaginary town I created called Sunset Springs. If that’s not bad enough, he’s Black in a town that is mostly White and he has to deal with micro-aggressions. Plus he’s trans and he hasn’t been back since he transitioned so he’s afraid that he’s gonna have to deal with transphobia as well. He’s afraid that people are going to recognize him for who he’s been before and who he identified as before. So he’s basically resolved to live in this isolating, depressing hometown that he thought that he’d escaped. And he is reintroduced to Jackson Ford who he’d known back in school when they were neighbors and who has recently come out as gay and is also dealing with the town’s bigotry. So the two become close and a romance blooms and Charlie has to decide what true happiness means for him.

It’s actually ironic because I’m in the exact same position as Charlie. At this moment, I’m about to move back home to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. And kind of similarly, I’m afraid to go back because there’s so much queerphobia and so much transphobia as a part of the culture there.

So I think this is a well-known story for I’m sure millennials across the board who are struggling to not want to go back to their hometowns and escape the big city but can’t afford to be in the big city anymore. Particularly queer and trans people of color who had to escape their small hometowns for the big city but can’t afford to stay there have to return home to places that don’t feel safe and welcoming.

In the same vein, when you set out to write Sunset Springs, was there a particular story you wanted to tell? And who do you hope listens to it?

For a particular audience, I definitely wrote this with queer and trans millennials in mind knowing that many of us would probably relate to Charlie. But definitely any listener who loves a good romance because Jack and Charlie are the main plot of the book. Jack and Charlie really fall hard for each other. I feel like it became a bit of an escape fantasy for myself as what I kinda wish would happen (at the time when I was making it) if I had to return to St. Thomas. This is what I wish would have happened to find someone who is also queer and we would have this really great connection. So interesting that I have to picture it now.

What do you hope listeners take away from Sunset Springs?

I hope that listeners will consider what truly brings them joy and happiness. That’s something that Charlie really has to grapple with as he tries to figure out whether it’s his job, whether it’s his family, whether it’s his connection with Jack – what is it that really brings him true joy.

Sunset Springs won’t be the first piece of yours focused on an LGBTQ protagonist/story. Why is it so important to you to continue to share and tell LGBTQ-specific stories?

I feel like I’ve basically dedicated my life to making and telling more of the stories that makes me seen and heard. Not for other people but for myself. Not a single story but just as many stories as possible across age groups and genres to make up for the lack of queer stories I needed throughout my life.

Audio storytelling is a strong platform for elevating diverse voices, especially within the LGBTQ community. What about Sunset Springs lends itself to an audio production?

As a writer, I didn’t have as much of a hand in the audio production. I was able to help choose the narrator. I met Commarrah Yochahan. As soon as I heard their voice, the sample, Charlie had come to life. I also was able to meet the Director, Shaan Dasani. So it was great to see a team of incredible people creating this book and putting Charlie’s story out into the world.

What’s important for you to do during Pride month?

I know that there have been so many conversations recently about how Pride has shifted into this commercial, capitalistic event and it really needs to continue being about pushing our rights, and fighting for our rights, and it was originally a riot. For me it’s a mix of both – where it is a revolution to have a lot of celebration of who I am. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a public celebration but to kinda sit with self-love and celebrate who I am individually for my identities feels what’s most important to me about Pride month. Especially in a world that just kinda wants us to hate each other, hate ourselves for our identities – it’s a bit of a revolution for me to focus on my own, the love that I have for myself.