Faith Fundal on growing up, coming out, and tuning in

Over the sound of footfalls and hushed voices, Faith Fundal narrates how it felt to visit their father—one of B.C.’s first residents to fall ill with COVID-19—in the hospital, only to be misgendered by a nurse.

“I hear, ‘So, you’re the son?’ My stomach wrenches. My mind races. No, I’m not the son. I don’t identify as male,” Fundal narrates. “But does it really matter? […] Who cares if hospital staff misgender me? People here are suffering. My dad could die. I simply say, ‘Yes.’”

These lines, the first you hear in the CBC podcast “They & Us,” drops listeners directly into host Faith Fundal’s life as a non-binary person in 2020.

The podcast—part of a series launched by CBC in June, months into the pandemic—aims to explore “gender identity, gender expression, and what it means to be non-binary.” Listeners learn about living as a non-binary person through Fundal’s eyes.

But it wasn’t always supposed to be that way.

“I was so uncomfortable with the idea of talking about my experiences as part of the story,” Fundal tells me over Zoom. They’re sitting in the CBC office in Prince George, B.C. with the door to the broadcasting studio behind them.

It’s a quiet office from where Fundal’s webcam is facing. Colleagues pass behind where Fundal sits occasionally, but for the most part we’re chatting without interruption. Affixed on the wall is the CBC logo with the words “Welcome” and, of course, a bilingual-friendly “Bonjour.”

Fundal explains that “They & Us” was originally intended to be a two-part radio series focused on Harper Perrin, a medical student in B.C. and conversion therapy survivor who is non-binary. Although Perrin ended up being a guest of Fundal’s, the audio project quickly blossomed into a six-part podcast.

When a colleague suggested that Fundal present themself as an “expert host,” they remember feeling out of their depth.

“[That] made me […] uncomfortable because I don’t speak for anyone else but myself,” they tell me. “I only know about my experiences, and I actually am still figuring [my identity] out.”

A few weeks later, after being misgendered at their father’s hospital bedside, Fundal realized their experiences as a non-binary Canadian could help listeners.

“My dad got sick, [but] fortunately he was okay,” Fundal recalls. “When I came back to Prince George, I thought that scene that I described in episode one might be a good way to frame all of this, to frame the stories that [non-binary people] have.”

Fundal was born in the Philippines and spent some time growing up in the Middle East before their family settled down in Richmond, B.C.

Consuming community-produced Filipino TV and news was one of their earliest forays into journalism. As a kid, Fundal recalls finding a TV cooking show host—Gerry Saguin on the Shaw Multicultural Channel show Mr. Batchoy & Friends—so hard to watch that they reached out to the producers with a complaint.

“[I said] ‘I hate your host. He is terrible—I can do better,’” Fundal tells me, chuckling. “They invited me to come on the show and called my bluff. I did one of the episodes with the host.”

Fundal’s confidence caught the attention of the show’s producers, who were also the publishers of a small Filipino newspaper in Metro Vancouver called the Philippine Journal. The next thing Fundal knew, they were working there as an assistant.

Another lucky break came Fundal’s way in a high school broadcasting class when a visiting CTV Vancouver reporter gave a presentation to students.

“Somehow, I convinced her to let me visit her at CTV in Downtown Vancouver,” Fundal recalls. “When I went there, it was just so fascinating.”

Fundal worked at CTV Vancouver as an intern throughout high school, and then attended the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) to earn their Broadcast and Online Journalism diploma. Although they loved working in Downtown Vancouver, Fundal wanted to be a broadcast journalist and competition was stiff.

“My mentor at CTV said, ‘Well, if you want to be a writer for the next 10 years, you can stay here,’” Fundal says. “‘But if you want to be a reporter, you need to leave and go somewhere like Kamloops or Prince George.’”

Fundal packed up their life and started a new one in Prince George that same year.

They’ve been a community reporter there ever since.

Faith Fundal pictured at CBC Vancouver. Photo courtesy of: Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Fundal’s reporting has been a staple of the Prince George media scene since Aug. 2006, when they got a job with the CBC covering Northern B.C.

“If I went back in time and asked myself if I ever thought that I would work for the CBC, I probably would have said, ‘Hell no,’” Fundal says.

Today, they’ve worked with the media company for 12 years and wouldn’t have it any other way. On top of producing broadcast and written content for communities in Northern B.C., Fundal now has a national project to focus on.

Over Zoom, Fundal continues to tell me about developing “They & Us.” Once it was decided that Fundal would inject more of their own experiences into the podcast, the host grappled with how this format would challenge their idea of what it means to be a journalist.

Fundal had originally seen themself as an impartial narrator. Would “They & Us” become less objective if the host had a stake in the story?

“This wasn’t how I was taught,” Fundal says. “But as we saw with Black Lives Matter, it’s [become] very clear that there are systemic issues [in news]. And part of that includes how you’re taught as a journalist.”

Fundal watched “They & Us” begin to take shape with these worries still at the back of their mind. With six episodes to fill, Fundal knew they wanted to find guests that would represent the scope of Canada’s trans and gender non-binary communities.

“I take my job as a public broadcaster seriously,” they say. “Our mandate is to reflect Canada, and when I pitched this […] I [asked], ‘When do we ever hear from people who are non-binary or trans […] outside of Pride?’”

Fundal’s goal became to make sure CBC listeners across Canada could tune in to “They & Us”—no matter their knowledge of LGBTQ2S+ topics—and learn something new about what it means to be non-binary.

“What I wanted to accomplish was taking you with me as I try to figure it out. And it’s not, ‘Hey, you straight cis woman or cis man, how dare you not know what non-binary means?’” 

“The podcast sort of straddles the line between people who know a little bit about queer folks and people who might have a co-worker whose child is non-binary, […] or people who haven’t had time to look into it,” they explain.

This line is reflected in the first episode of “They & Us” as Fundal takes the time between sound bites of stories and interviews to explain terms to listeners. At the same time, they make it clear that up until a year ago, Fundal wasn’t quite sure about these terms, either.

That’s where guests like Rachael Sullivan, an equity facilitator at the University of British Columbia, come in. Interviewing academic sources allows Fundal to flesh out the meaning of relevant terms without weighing down emotional or casual segments.

“I identify as a cisgender woman,” Sullivan clarifies at one point. “I was identified as female at birth, and then as I grew up, it fit with my gender identity.”

In another a segment about gender, Fundal pauses for a moment to reassure listeners.

“Sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression, and attractions can all be different,” Fundal narrates in the episode. “When I first heard [about those terms], I couldn’t quite comprehend it.”

“Someone can have a penis but identify as a woman. They can wear masculine clothes, be attracted to men, without being gay. My body parts, my identity, how I express myself, and who I’m attracted to—can all be different things.”

Apart from academics like Sullivan, Fundal primarily speaks to people with everyday stories about inclusion, belonging, and family ties. Gender identity is just a facet of those experiences.

“The way that [my guests] illustrate issues through their stories are so universal,” Fundal explains. “A lot of the stuff that we hear about through [non-binary] people’s lived experiences illustrate the same issues that we all go through.”

Since “They & Us” was released in June, Fundal has been in the spotlight. Other journalists and listeners have congratulated them for bringing this topic to a national publication like the CBC and for spreading accessible information about trans and non-binary experiences.

Fundal isn’t quite used to the attention yet.

“I was talking to someone about the podcast and they said, ‘Have you thought about how this actually can change people’s perspective and could actually have a big effect on their life trajectory?’” they recall.

They chuckle uneasily and look off to the side.

“That’s something that I am uncomfortable with and have actively tried to not think about.”

Fundal tells me they were worried at first that, despite having come out as non-binary only a year ago, they’d be seen as the new Canadian authority on non-binary education, or—even worse—as a token non-binary journalist.

“My fear in doing the project is [that] I don’t want to be ‘that’ non-binary journalist.”

To their relief, Fundal received an outpouring of support from other non-binary journalists in Canada after “They & Us” launched.

“Suddenly, I was watching Twitter and seeing other journalists talk about being non-binary. And I thought, thank goodness,” they say. “At the time, I didn’t know other non-binary journalists in Canada.”

Fundal has some plans for the future of “They & Us,” including a new season.

They also hope they get the chance to re-introduce themself to their listeners.

If you tune in to any of the six podcast episodes Fundal has hosted so far, you’ll hear them refer to themself as Wil Fundal. On Aug. 10, Fundal announced they would be going by Faith from now on, their birth name.

“For a long time, people have known me as Wil Fundal, and I went back to sort of reclaim my name, Faith,” they explain over Zoom.

But the name change presented a hurdle for Fundal, who had just launched the podcast with their previous first name being mentioned multiple times per episode. Although Fundal could have gone back and edited the audio, they decided to keep it as a marker of their past.

“I’m not going to change it because when I produced [‘They & Us’] that was true,” they say. “And I think it would take away from how genuine it is if I changed any of the introductions.”

“My hope is that, in episode seven, we’ll talk about name changes and what that means. It’s important to me and I know it’s important to a lot of people as well.”

The details that “They & Us” highlight as important for non-binary people—like having your correct pronouns or name used—have become commonplace in the CBC Prince George’s small office.

“If I see you have pronouns in your email, I might assume that you understand what gender identities are and I might feel comfortable talking to you about my pronouns,” Fundal continues. “All of my co-workers have now adopted that, which is really nice.”

Until they get the chance to record more episodes, Fundal tells me they plan to continue reporting on Prince George news, singing the national anthem at local hockey games, and wearing their badass high-heeled boots to the office.

They’re happy, not only that the CBC has supported their project, but that their workplace continues to be a place of acceptance and positivity.

“I’m really, really grateful that I have co-workers, friends, and community people who have accepted me for who I am,” they say with a smile.

Those small markers of progress give Fundal faith. While “They & Us” is a great educational tool for Canadians right now, they look forward to a day where everyone knows the basics of gender identity and what it means to be trans or non-binary.

“Right now, the podcast is quite relevant—it makes sense,” they say. “I hope that it won’t be relevant a year from now.”

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