Monday, June 27, 2005

It's Long. It's Windy. Stand Warned.

One of my favorite television shows, Queer As Folk, is currently running it's fifth and final season. Because the writers knew a good while back that this is going to be the last season, they’ve had plenty of time to plan to tie up loose ends and leave us faithful viewers with some rewards for our devotion to the characters before the final episode airs.

In other words, they can give all of the characters perfect happily ever afters to make me smile.

But as I watched the seventh episode last night, knowing that there are only six more to go until it's all over, I got to thinking exactly what a happily ever after will be in this particular case. Because this show deals with a different type of love than the one normally depicted in romance novels - the characters on QaF are all homosexuals - what constitutes an HEA for them is not necessarily what constitutes an HEA for the standard heterosexual couple. An engagement or – gasp – a wedding is not necessarily the Holy Grail for these people.

Not that some, even many, gay couples don’t want the same things as heterosexual couples do in terms of the future of their relationships. Many do want marriage and children. Permanence and a chance to grow old together. It’s more that because of our society’s reluctance to treat gay couples the same way we treat man/woman pairings and give them those very things legitimately, they find happily ever afters that I don’t think many heteros would begin to accept.

For those of you incapable of imagining a sweeping love story between two men - complete with sex - you might want to stop reading because I don't know if you'd be able to understand the rest of this entry.

Before I explain what I mean, or in other words, get to the point, I have to give the uninitiated a bit of the history between Brian and Justin, one of if not the most romantic couples I’ve ever encountered on the small or large screen, and why their situation is so unique. Because it's not even so much that they are gay but more because of the nature of their relationship.

Brian and Justin met during Season 1, when Justin was a senior in high school. Brian was Justin's first sexual experience, and before you go thinking that this whole thing is gross, a grown man and a high school kid, you have to know that Justin was looking for this particular experience the night that Brian found him. Their attraction and involvement in what occurred was entirely consensual and mutual.

Anyway, Justin fell in love hard and fast with Brian, but Brian, due to a very painful past, was very honest and upfront in explaining to Justin that he didn't do love. Brian is a hedonist of the highest order, the kind of guy who unapologetically spends his nights drinking, drugging, and having sex with as many men as he can manage. His reputation as the Stud of Liberty Avenue is something he values and intends to keep. He feels no shame in what he views himself to be. He’s a gay man who enjoys being promiscuous. Justin never carried any delusions about Brian because Brian never tried to hide what he is; an irredeemable rake.

(Before anyone can get all judgmental, please recall exactly how many rakes are featured as heroes in romance novel land. If a heterosexual rake can become an acceptable hero, so can a homosexual one.)

However, over the course of the season, Justin managed to work his way into Brian's cold heart despite Brian’s vow to never settle down. Brian couldn't help himself, and even though he never said it in words, he started to really love Justin in a mature, adult way. By mid-Season 2, Justin and Brian were living together and even had a commitment of sorts. Granted, this commitment is a far cry from the traditional wedding vows requiring partners to forsake all others. Brian and Justin's covenant insisted only that neither of them could sleep with another person more than once, could not kiss another person on the mouth, and had to come home no later than 3 am every night.

This seems pretty shitty as far as true love goes, especially when viewed from the traditional hetero point of view of how relationships should evolve. But for Brian, coming home every night to Justin – and actually wanting to do that – was a huge step. In agreeing to these things, he was making an honest commitment to another man, the biggest commitment as he was capable of making. And Justin was willing to accept this. He understood that he would never be able to have Brian the way he wanted him but loved him enough to bend his strict idea of what being in a committed relationship meant.

By the end of Season 2, though, Justin had decided it wasn't enough. He met someone else, someone who promised monogamy and faithfulness and romance and everything Justin thought he wanted. Brian let Justin leave because he knew he couldn't give Justin those things, even though it was clear that it killed Brian to lose Justin. Soon enough Justin discovered that words and promises not backed by action were meaningless - his new love cheated on him. His faithfulness had been false from the start. Brian might not have been faithful, but Brian had never promised to be faithful.

In Season 3, Brian took Justin back without batting an eye. He didn't hold a grudge against Justin for leaving because he knew he'd have done the exact same thing himself. They resumed their old relationship, and all through Season 4 their love grew stronger even though Brian refused to admit that's what he felt. When Brian was diagnosed with testicular cancer, Justin ignored Brian's attempts to push him away and was there for him. Time and again the two men stood by each other literally through good and bad, for richer and poorer, and in sickness and health. All of this without speaking a single wedding vow.

So as we began Season 5, Justin and Brian are lovers with an open relationship. They aren't faithful in body but they are faithful in spirit and soul. All seems to be alright, but it's not. Because Justin has grown up and he realizes that it's not enough. He wants a family. He wants a commitment that includes monogamy. He wants the white picket fence.

Problem is, Brian doesn't believe in any of these things. He feels that marriage and all of its trappings are the invention of the heterosexual world. Not only does he view it as hypocritical for homosexuals to mimic the hetero way of life, but his parents' dismal tragedy of a marriage served as a very poor example, and he's not in any hurry to put himself into the same situation. He loves Justin, but he’s not willing to say it and he’s not willing to move their relationship in a direction he doesn’t believe in.

Last night, Justin decided that since he and Brian don't want the same things, there was no point in continuing their relationship. There were no histrionics or blame thrown about. Justin understands why Brian is the way he is and accepts him. But he's also come to respect himself enough to know that he no longer wants to compromise on something so important to him. He packed up, hugged a slightly bewildered Brian good-bye, and left.

And here we are now, wondering how Brian and Justin will reach their happy ending.

If Justin returns to Brian and continues to live with Brian's rules, then he will be unhappy. He’ll never have a marriage and a family.

If Brian capitulates to what Justin wants, he, too, will be sacrificing. He’d be entering into an institution in which he does not believe and has no faith. Even if Brian agreed to get married, I would imagine that Justin would have a hard time trusting Brian or any relationship knowing that Brian is trying to be something he's not and do something he doesn't believe in.

I don't think Brian's a jerk, which is what he comes off as when I look back and reread what I've just written. He's honest about what he wants and what he's willing to give, and he doesn't expect people to just accept him. He understands that Justin wants more and that he's losing the best thing in his life - the first person he has ever truly loved - because he's unable to change.

Neither of these men are victims, and neither one is a villain.

And my idea of a happily ever after - the one that includes the white picket fence and a lifelong, committed monogamous relationship - is rocked to the core.

I want these to men to be together. I'm willing to accept Brian's rules, even if Justin isn't, because I know that Brian really does love Justin completely. His every action - every action except his sleeping around, that is - proves this. And even his sleeping around does not negate his feelings because of the way Brian views sex as simply another recreational pastime. He's not sleeping around because he's not getting what he needs at home. For Brian, going out to pick up a guy is the equivalent of having a few beers with is buddies. It feels really great and hurts no one as his encounters are all one-time-stands with no pretense of being anything more.

This is important because what he does is not the same as adultery. Adultery isn’t just cheating on a spouse by having sexual relations with another person. Adultery is breaking a promise, destroying a sacred trust. It goes deeper than merely sex, into the very foundation on which a couple’s relationship was based.

Brian has made no promises. He knows he cannot hold to them, therefore he will not speak them. He can be trusted completely because he hides nothing, and anyone willing to enter into a relationship with him knows up front what he’s getting.

I suppose Justin has a legitimate concern in worrying that if he continues to live with a man who has a lot of extracurricular sex, some day Brian might find someone better. But doesn't everyone who settles with one person risk that? You don't have to have sex with someone to think they might be better than what you have at home.

I’m not sure what the QaF Powers That Be have in store for Brian and Justin. The couple has a very strong and vocal fanbase who would be outraged if they are left as they stand – separate and forever pining for each other. But I’m just not sure that I’ll be able to buy anything else.

I don’t know how these guys can have a Happily Ever After because I don't know how to define what that would be for them as a couple. The writers have a hard road to tread, I think.

Whatever happens, I’ll be sad to see them go. I’ve enjoyed watching them fall in love over the past five years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a fantastic piece about Brian and Justin, i really don't think anyone could have explained them better than you just did. My friends all instantly hate Brian but like you i looked deeper into who he is..and in fact the beauty of who he is..he may not be perfect, but then again who is?...but he is honest and that is a rare and beautiful trait in anyone. So thank you for finally putting down in word's the true Brian Kinney maybe now it will be easier for people to understand the deepths of his charecter and the realtionship between Justin and Brian. Well done on a wonderful piece.