As summer soon turns to fall, it’s hard to believe it has been over five months since we first heard the two words that would come to define 2020: social distancing. Way back when, as we abruptly hit pause on “normal,” our hearts grew heavy as we physically extracted ourselves from each others’ lives. Our minds looked for ways to connect while focusing on being vigilant about our health and safety.
But here we are — our wiser selves — and we’ve all learned new, more creative ways to connect. In fact, earlier this summer, the search term “social distancing get together ideas” spiked 600% in popularity, according to a tweet from Google Trends.
And these days, we thrive on the inspirational stories of communities coming together to spread joy. These moments of hope, love and generosity are certainly a welcome distraction from the reality of these complicated times.
Staying tuned in
Luckily for fans of the pop culture podcast Binge Mode, the show went on. Since its inception in June 2017, Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion have developed a tight-knit community of fantasy-loving listeners who hang on every word of their lively discussions and deep dives into all things Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Star Wars. Thousands of eager listeners tune in to the podcast as each season is released — a full season at a time — allowing for Netflix-like listening. Bring on the binge!
Here’s how Time described Binge Mode as it took spot #4 on its list of Top 10 Podcasts of 2018:
If “Harry Potter” spin-offs like “Cursed Child” and “Fantastic Beasts” haven’t sated your longing for more stories about J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, this exhaustively researched, ridiculously fun show should do the trick. Hosts Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion meticulously recap every single Harry Potter book, chapter by chapter. They highlight Rowling’s careful plotting and discuss how her themes of tolerance and resistance feel more relevant than ever.
And in this year of uncertainty, staying connected is more important than ever. Especially to support those who may be struggling in ways those in their “real world” may not understand.
“It’s such a challenging time to stay positive and connected during the pandemic,” says Jazmine Rodriguez of Washington, DC, who is a member of the Binge Mode fandom.
“Binge Mode is a very popular podcast and covers a lot of pop culture including Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Star Wars, so we are all fans of one or more of those properties and found the main Binge Mode Facebook group (over 30,000 members) in one way or another to fangirl over the podcast, the covered shows/movies/books and general pop culture,” Jazmine explains. “I discovered Binge Mode during the last season of Game of Thrones and became a huge fan of the hosts, Jason and Mallory, and went back and listened to the Harry Potter episodes and joined the Facebook group to connect with other fans.”
“The main Binge Mode Facebook group is huge and LGBTQ+ members wanted a space where we could have discussions that don’t always happen in the main group so a few people formed an offshoot Facebook group around the beginning of the quarantine,” Jazmine says.
“Since then the LGBTQ+ group has grown to over 600 members. We discuss many of the same shows/topics as the larger group but with more of a focus on queer characters and shows and we can have deeper discussions on things like JK Rowlings transphobic comments in a safe space. Some people live in towns without a big queer community so it’s also been a good way for people to connect with others LGBTQ+ people in general online,” she adds.
This Facebook community embraces equality, inclusivity and serves as a safe space for all:
Welcome to Binge Mode: LGBTQIA. This is a group for us fellow Binge Heads to have a safe space to openly discuss queer literature, TV shows, and movies.
This group is open to any who identifies as queer in any way or is an ally.
- Do you want to deep dive into queer themes and characters of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars? You can feel safe to do that here.
- Do you want to discuss your own personal story with coming out? You can feel safe to do that here.
- Do you want to learn more about other queer humans and their experiences? You can feel safe to do that here.
LGBTQIA+ Podcast Fans Celebrate Pride
Every year, during the month of June, the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual) community celebrates in a number of different ways. Pride month is also an opportunity to peacefully protest and raise political awareness of current issues facing the community. Parades are a prominent feature of Pride month, and there are many street parties, community events, poetry readings, public speaking, street festivals and educational sessions all of which are covered by mainstream media and attracting millions of participants.
But all that changed in 2020. Parades, parties and festivals were not to be. So Jazmine took it upon herself to find another way to connect with her community, turning to Elfster’s online Secret Santa Gift Exchange platform.
“We used Elfster for people to sign up and get their matches and in the Facebook group we also had a thread where participants were asked to share something about themselves to give their gifter an idea of what to get them and they could also share their coming out story if they wished,” she explains.
“It was pretty open in terms of the gifts people could give and what they asked for, but it was generally a mix of Pride gear and fandom stuff associated with Harry Potter and other fandoms! My gifter sent me a Star Wars BB-8 keychain and a Pride themed mug and others received books, mugs, stickers, and flags,” she adds.
What is a ‘Coming Out Box’?
“I’m grateful to the Binge Mode community for bringing some lightness and fun to this difficult time and Elfster for helping to make this gift exchange easier. I think it’s important to remember we can celebrate and connect with each other anytime, it just takes some creativity!”
“The idea originally came from a TikTok video that was posted in the group,” Jazmine explains. “The video was a joke about queer people receiving a ‘Coming Out Box’ when they come out. It was a fun video and in my opinion coming out is so challenging and it is something to be celebrated so I thought that it should definitely be a real concept. I commented on the post that it would be a great idea for a gift exchange like Secret Santa (which they do in the larger group and some of the other offshoot groups) except for Pride month.”
“Several people responded that they would be interested in participating! It was also the end of June in quarantine and all of the Pride parades and celebrations had been cancelled due to COVID, so I organized the exchange to also celebrate Pride month and help connect people who were isolated during lock down,” she says.
The concept of the ‘Coming Out Box’ became a viral trend during Pride Month on the video-sharing app TikTok by the uber popular LGBTQIA+ influencer Marc Sebastian (@marcsebastianf), who has the distinction of having nearly 494K followers on the platform. His creation of #mycomingoutbox had the LGBTQIA+ community responding to his call to action — “What’s in your box?” — by sharing videos of what they received in their fictitious ‘Coming Out Box,’ as if it is a “gay starter pack” you automatically receive when you come out, designed to confuse “the straights.”
In the video that garnered the most views on the subject, Marc sets the tongue-in-cheek tone for other TikTokkers: “As all LGBTQ people know, getting their ‘Coming Out Box’ is a big moment. Everyone remembers getting theirs.”
Though times may be different as we adjust and get creative with connecting with those who matter most, we realize there is still plenty of goodness in the world. We look forward to sharing more stories of ordinary folks doing the extraordinary to help us focus on the positive. We can get through these challenging times… together.
Looking for an easy way to spread joy in your community? Try a Secret Santa generator that simplifies the process. Elfster makes it easy to pair people up, shop for gifts, and start a Wish List. Plus, you can access it all from an iPhone app or Android app.