Screenshot of Ritchie from It's a Sin with the text "I just want to be happy."

Happily Ever After & It’s A Sin

I mentioned in a past post that I tended to shy away from storylines I knew were painful. This was especially true if there were queer characters but it was pretty true across the board. If a movie, TV show, or book promised pain, I was hesitant. Where are my happily ever after stories? Mind you I still think proportionately we could use some more queer stories that don’t revolve around the pain of coming out or deaths from AIDS or homophobic attacks. It’s kind of like doing Spider-Man or Batman’s origin story for the hundredth time. It’s not impossible but it is hard to add anything original to the mix.


That said, in the past year or so I’ve found room in my heart for sad stories. I mean, see my recent post about All Of Us Strangers which was beautiful and crushing. The most recent was Russell T Davies miniseries It’s A Sin. It’s ironic that when I went to share a social media post after watching it, this animated gif of Ritchie (played by Olly Alexander) was the one that popped up first. Ritchie saying I just want to be happy so echoed my feelings of not wanting to watch anything that had an air of trauma to it. Mind you It’s a Sin was full on trauma. It’s hard to address queer life in the 80’s without addressing AIDS. I knew going in this was going to be rough but I heard so much about how well it was done. Both things were true. I’m purposefully not going to say more about it. If you haven’t watched it, go watch it. Although I will add the caveat that if you LIVED through this era and lost loved ones to AIDS, maybe not. I’ve heard a mixture from people in that camp who said it was well done but hard to watch and others who said it was just too difficult for them. You know your mental headspace best.

The characters in this show were so well depicted. In some cases I identified with them. In others I could imagine being their friend. They were really so realistically written and portrayed that it could only be painful to lose them or watch them suffer. And it’s worse from a place decades later when you know what’s coming. It wasn’t just about AIDS though, there was also a sad dose of the homophobia that helped AIDS along and made the suffering worse. A year or more ago if you had told me even a little of this I would have vowed not to watch it. And I’m not blaming anyone who still can’t.

But for me, I feel like watching movies and shows like this has been similar to exposure therapy for me. And I’ve reached a place where I’m more willing and interested in watching or reading content that may not fall into the “happily ever after” camp. Another in that category I don’t think I mentioned watching was Fellow Travelers. I cried through most of the last episode of that miniseries. Still it didn’t affect me quite the same as It’s A sin did. I’m not sure why. It was absolutely sad but maybe it was because the characters were so much older than I am? I’m honestly not sure right now why it hit different but it did for me. In the case though of the characters from It’s a Sin, they were I think about a decade my senior but still people in another world who could have been in my circle of friends.

And that brings me to the topic of AIDS again. More specifically AIDS and not being out when it was killing the community that I was really part of. When I posted on socials about watching It’s A Sin, there were people only a smidge older than I am talking about how difficult it was for them to watch. It felt difficult to explain I was living in a straight world then… Partly due to age – when AIDS was first reported I was 9 years old. Mostly it was a tragedy unfolding on the news that was akin to watching the news of people starving in Africa. It felt like a horrible but faraway thing. There were moments when I was older like Pedro Zamora and Ryan White where there were names and faces but mostly it was people I didn’t know. Somewhere in there, I feel guilty for not having experienced the same trauma. Is that weird? I don’t think it’s survivor’s guilt as such. It’s more like the feeling of having survived a war by living in the shadows. Not that I wish that I shared the trauma really… I don’t remotely envy losing dear friends and lovers like that. It’s clearly difficult to explain exactly how it makes me feel, but there are complex feelings.

But overall I think it’s a positive thing that I can branch out a little and consume media that isn’t of the happily ever after variety. I still like some balance. I want some fairytale romance and some romantic comedy and all of that stuff, too. For instance for the first time I recently watched the 1999 film Trick which is practically ancient now but I would argue ahead of it’s time. Imagine a gay film in 1999 in which no one came out and no one was dying of AIDS?

Finding some comfort with watching movies, etc. that might dredge up sad feelings was not something I planned but I think a positive sign. I’ve come to really appreciate the cathartic nature of a good cry. It can be a cry because a character died or because something terribly romantic happened but it’s definitely cleansing. And in the bigger picture, I also think embracing those previously unwanted emotions is symbolic of finding it in myself not to live in the margins.

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