When my friend, Letty, and I were fifteen, we cut our fingers, touched them together, and became blood sisters. As adults, we can go months without communicating, but when we get together again, we are still those sisters, mixing blood and staying up all night to talk smart and laugh ourselves silly. We wanted to do something special and different to celebrate her fiftieth birthday, so Letty and I went on a girlfriend adventure to Toronto for a Queer as Folk Fan Convention.
Queer as Folk was a television show airing from 2000-2005 that was hailed as groundbreaking at the time, because all the main characters were young and gay. Letty and I were both fascinated with the show and its characters. As a lesbian, I loved seeing gay men and women portrayed on the screen in a mainstream television production. Letty loved the show because she always had a weakness for the “pretty” boys, the guys with the delicate features and fine bone structures. This show had plenty of them. She fell in love with Brian and Justin and the whole group when she had surgery on her shoulder and binge-watched the first season on DVDs. When her shoulder healed and she went back to work, the obsession dissipated, but she called me right away when she saw the ad for the convention. We weren’t sure what to expect, and we really didn’t care. We just wanted an excuse for a girlfriend adventure.
The event was organized by fans and didn’t have the formal blessing of the television show; however, several actors, including three of the main characters, did put in an appearance. Unfortunately, the two most popular characters, Brian and Justin, did not. Still, it was fun, and the convention organizers put together a variety of activities designed to satisfy the hardcore fans among us. We took a bus tour of Toronto where the series was filmed and went to a couple bars that were used as backdrops for some of the scenes. We had photo ops with the actors, who were patient and sweet. And there were lots of opportunities to mingle with other fans.
The mingling was an especially interesting experience. Some of those fans were obsessed. Not normal obsessed, but super duper fixated to the exclusion of all rational thought. Several of the people struck me as borderline stalkers. Two of the women talked about following the man who played Brian to all his personal appearances, monitoring his activities as much as they could. They were disappointed he wasn’t at this convention, but they made do with some of the lesser characters. Other conventioneers described replaying all the episodes, reading every fan site they could find, following the actors online, spending hours chatting with others on the message boards, and never missing a personal appearance. I wondered how they managed. Were they independently wealthy? Didn’t they have to work?
I felt superior to all of them. I was here on a lark, and they were deadly serious, trying to find meaning for their lives through television characters.
During cocktail hour the second evening, Letty, who loves to mingle, was working her way through the room while I sat at a table, people-watching. A soft, doughy woman sat next to me and introduced herself as Lavonne. She was fiftyish, with the beginnings of a mustache and basic brown flyaway hair, pushed behind her ears. She wore a light blue pantsuit with a white shirt and a butterfly brooch and looked a bit like an out of place Sunday School teacher.
“Did you see the last episode of the season? I was in tears, watching Brian and Justin dance.”
“That was a good one,” I responded.
“Brian is so misunderstood, don’t you think? He really loves Justin, it’s clear, but people always think the worst of him. They think Michael’s a good guy, but really, he’s just a whiny little twerp.” Lavonne sipped white wine.
She continued talking about Brian and Justin as if they lived next door and she was going to hang out with them after dinner.
“Brian’s so gorgeous.” There was no mistaking the longing and outright lust in Lavonne’s voice.
But I couldn’t disagree. “Absolutely.”
Lavonne shifted in her seat and reached down to tug her knee highs. “When I saw him, I couldn’t believe how amazing he was. Did you see that first show? When he met Justin? That look they shared?” She drank more wine.
“That was a powerful scene.” I noticed her wedding ring. “Does your husband like the show too?”
Tears welled in her eyes and she blinked a few times. “I started watching last year, after my husband left. We were married for thirty years. He was a minister. He went on a retreat, met someone, came home, divorced me, and married her.”
Holy shit. Her whole life ruined in the space of a few days. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. That’s awful.”
Lavonne nodded at my sympathy, but immediately jogged back to safer ground. “Brian’s job is stressful, but he’s really good at it, isn’t he?”
“Mm-hm.” I was drinking a martini, and it was having an impact. I decided to share. “When my husband left me twenty years ago, I had three kids and ten dollars. It was a horrible time. I used William Hurt to help me through. I watched Body Heat and The Big Chill dozens of times. It was hard, more than hard, but eventually, it all got easier.”
Lavonne nodded again, but clearly didn’t want to go there. “Weren’t you shocked when Brian had sex in the bathroom with the guy from work?”
I gave up trying to engage on a human, reality-based level and excused myself, feeling sad. She really was pitiful. I thought she probably would rather have her husband back than Brian, but unfortunately, Brian was all she had.
In the bathroom, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and stared at a middle-aged, overweight woman wearing pants that were seriously out of style (something I didn’t even realize until Letty pointed it out to me that morning). I remembered, all too well, the pain of betrayal and abandonment, the utter hurt and loneliness that permeates each cell. And I felt every drop of superiority and condescension leave my body.
People manage their pain in their own ways. People cope however they can. Who was I to judge others’ struggles? At least when my husband left, I was still young enough to know I could still find romance. It helped to be younger, to believe I had lots of years left to be happy, once I lived through the pain. Lavonne didn’t have that; she had only the hurt and humiliation, and for just a moment, I was grateful to my husband for leaving me when I was young enough to believe I had a chance to start over.
I sat on the toilet and cried a bit, for me, for Lavonne, for the crazy obsessed fans, for everyone, just doing the best they can. After a few minutes, I stood, wiped my eyes, and washed my face. I left the bathroom and found Lavonne, still sitting alone. I bought us both another drink and listened to her talk about Brian until the evening ended.
Alice Benson lives in Wisconsin with her partner and their two dogs. Alice recently retired from a job in the human service field; previously she spent over thirteen years working with a domestic violence program. Her published works have appeared in a 2016 Main Street Rag Anthology, Epiphany, Molotov Cocktail, Cliterature, English Kills Review, Scrutiny Literary Journal, Shooter Literary Magazine, and Diverse Voices Quarterly. Alice’s first novel, Her Life is Showing, is set in a domestic violence shelter and was published in January 2014, by Black Rose Writing. Visit Alice’s website. Connect with her on Twitter: @ABensonAuthor