About a year after my mom came out, I sold the idea as a TV show to FX. They were the only network that would listen to the pitch. The others had said they weren’t looking for “another gay show.” It wasn’t long after Ellen had been cancelled.
Anyway, my agents had paired me up with another writer who’d won an Emmy. It helped us get past the initial pitch and paid to write the script.
The show never made it to air.
I’d like to blame the other guy, but the truth is, I was the one who fucked it up. I fucked it so hard I should be forced to introduce myself to neighbors every time I move.
We called the show “A Suburban Story,” pitched it as the idea that no one knows what’s going on behind closed doors, especially in the suburbs.
My parents, after all, had been living in the same house pretending to be together, even after my mom had come out. They were waiting until my sister finished high school.
Once she graduated, my mom got her own place, and I started getting paid to write about what was happening with our family.
Every night, I’d call my parents and ask them questions. Then I’d show up to the office and write everything we’d discussed. It was disgusting. I felt like an exploitive asshole, but I needed the money.
We beat out the story on note cards and taped them to the wall. The pilot, we decided, was going to be about my character coming home for Thanksgiving and discovering his mom is gay. It was exactly the way it had happened.
That was our first mistake.
It blurred reality, made me think this wasn’t just TV; this was my actual life.
I couldn’t tell what was fiction.
My writing partner wasn’t happy with the structure, but I argued that this was the way it happened.
I said that phrase a lot, used it to veto anything I didn’t like, like when he wanted to open with my mom having an affair. I said it when he tried to insert jokes into “serious” scenes, like my father crying in the car, telling my character that thought once he and my mom reached their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary that they were going to make it.
My dad had actually said that to me when he was crying. He was doing that a lot, and it was fucking me up.
I’d make my writing partner leave the office so I could write these sappy monologues.
Back home, my parents were going through a divorce, but in the script, they were still together.
I was trying to save our family on the page.
I was ruining the show.
At one point, my mom flew out to California so we could get her perspective. I started with the basics: “How long have you known you were gay?” “What made you come out this late in life?” “What’s it like to be a lesbian in Kansas City?”
She was nervous, but she answered everything and smiled and made a few jokes. I asked whether she thought this would hurt our family, if she even considered her kids in her decision. My mom was clearly uncomfortable, but I kept pressing and pressing until she started crying.
My writing partner looked at me like I was a monster, and I was. I was just angry, not at her being gay, but for our family falling apart and realizing there was nothing I could do.
I should’ve quit the show. Clearly, I wasn’t ready to write about it, but I was so broke and I’d already spent the first check.
So I kept showing up to the office, kept typing garbage until they forced us to turn it in.
It was for the best.
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