Belén Cahill: Let's Get This Head

Belén Cahill: Let's Get This Head

Belén Cahill’s radio show Let’s Get This Head explores the sexuality of those with a wide range of backgrounds and preferences. Read below to find out more about Belén, her views on women artists in country music (in short: we need far more of them), and why diverse perspectives regarding sexuality are so important.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your life! What led you to Barnard?

My name is Belén Cahill. I’m a sophomore at Barnard majoring in English with a concentration in Film and Media Studies, and I’m originally from the great state of California. I ended up at Barnard because of some blip in the universe, but so far no one has kicked me out—and although New York has truly pushed me to the brink of my own sanity, I feel really grateful to be here.

What first compelled you to create your podcast? What did it mean to you at the time; how did your identity fuel the creation of your podcast?

Last semester, I had a radio show with my friend Phoebe called No Country for Old Men, during which we played country music written and/or performed by female artists. It played from 2:00-4:00 A.M. Monday mornings (which was even more brutal than it sounds), but we had so much fun: one week we did sad-girl country; another we did songs written by women but performed by men; for domestic violence awareness week we did songs about women getting revenge on their abusive husbands (my favorite song is about a woman killing her man with a frying pan. A legend). And while I loved cranking Dolly Parton in the studio at 3:30 in the morning, my favorite part of every week was getting to chat with Phoebe.

Unfortunately, the pool of women in country was truly too small to continue the show this semester without repetition (a brief plug: Support! Women! In! Country! They are so grossly underplayed on the radio, and were symbolically referred to a few years back by a prominent country music producer as a SALAD-TOPPER for the genre as a whole). While I knew I definitely wanted to do another show, I wanted this one to have more room for some good banter. I really believe in the kind of wordless ease with which music connects people, but I also in the power of taking two hours out of our crazy, touch-and-go lives to sit down and talk to someone about what makes your world go round.

Right before break, I was put in charge of cultivating a playlist for a sexy Christmas party our suite was throwing, and I suddenly found myself diving deep into a wide array of friends’ and strangers’ sex playlists on Spotify. A sex playlist is highly personal—some people are traditionalists (Marvin Gaye, Madonna), some look no further than Omarion and Jeremih, some prefer the world of lo-fi jazz, some are all over the board. And people tend to be fiercely passionate about them.

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While binge-watching Netflix’s Sex Education at the beginning of this semester, I realized that this could make a really fun radio show—I could have a new guest come on every week with their sex playlist; we could play it, bop to it, talk through it (i.e. when did you first make it? Does it have a title? How did you decide which songs you would include? Do you play it in order or just shuffle it?), and explore: how, if at all, has your relationship with sex changed over time? How, if at all, has your background informed your relationship with sex? What’s your most crazy sex story? How/where/when was your first time? These are just guiding questions, and I always make sure to emphasize that boundaries are key; if someone doesn’t want to talk about certain experiences or parts of their sex lives, I obviously so respect that. I just want to talk about sex in a way that feels more meaningful than a casual conversational exchange of late-night conquests.

I wrote an op-ed for the Columbia Spectator last year called “Sex and Scalpels: Demilitarizing a Body” about the very specific way my intrusive medical history stopped me (my body) from having sex initially. I received so much wonderful feedback from people who had experienced similar issues and from people who just wanted to share their own wild stories about when sex didn’t go as expected. I loved it. Those are the kinds of conversations I am trying to continue to have on this show. We listen to some mid-2000’s Usher, maybe dance a little, and talk about that time your ex-boyfriend fingered you—standing up—in line for a roller-coaster at Six Flags.

Has creating this podcast changed you? If so, how, and how has it changed over time?

I have only had three episodes so far, but the show has already been one of the most rewarding projects on which I’ve ever worked. I have become closer than I could’ve anticipated with all three of my smart, beautiful, cheeky guests. I’m writing this on a plane, and literally just a second ago I was forwarded an email from an anonymous listener whom I’ve never met about the episode in which I talked to my best friend Emily about her coming out story. She wrote, “I have a child attending a private high school in Pasadena. Please tell your friend Emily that I appreciated hearing her story. A lot of what she described sounded very familiar to me. Sometimes when you record things you don't realize the impact they can have. I wanted you and Emily to know that sharing your experiences means a lot to me.” Are you kidding me? That is so, so cool.

How does the world affect the goals of Let’s Get This Head?

I guess I would say that a show predicated on a rotating guest roster is only as interesting as those guests. I am trying to prioritize diversity—especially in terms of sexuality—not just because I want to hear from as many different people as possible, but because sex itself is such a widely diverse experience. As a serial monogamist, cis-straight, missionary-preferring woman, I am pretty much as vanilla as you can get. I want to hear about the unique struggles and pleasures of as inclusive a pool of people as possible—a variation of religious, geographical, and ethnic backgrounds, of gender, sexual and racial identities, and of physical ability. The single most important aspect of this show to me is that people walk out of the studio feeling empowered.

To you, what is awareness, activism, and social justice? What promotes diversity?

I don’t think I’m necessarily the best person to ask, but I would say that the most productive conversations I’ve initiated since coming to Barnard have all started with asking a question and then, for the most part, taking a seat. With my background and identity, I know that it’s my responsibility to learn about the lived experiences of people who don’t share that background/identity. Barnard can be intimidating, but only as much as you let it, and I’ve found that most people on campus are more than willing to talk through all of this stuff, as long as you approach those conversations with humility, respect, and compassion.

Those are the discussions that have been most important to me; I not at all interested in the performativity of activism and social justice that is inflated by social media and woke-flexing. Your women’s march sign about smashing the patriarchy is not nearly enough. As a dear friend once told me, “donate your time, donate your money, go to organizations, volunteer at clinics, try to analyze how your identities interact with the spaces you occupy, be respectful, be open to criticisms, and just be humble. We’re all growing and learning, we just gotta keep active with it.”

You can listen to Let’s Get This Head on Saturdays at 6 am, or check out the episodes online.

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