Coming out - as a Hallmark Christmas movie lover
Some LGBTQ viewers love the Hallmark's months-long marathon of festive films - even though openly gay characters and storylines are absent. Also largely absent: Stories that focus on people of color.
Christmas won the "war on Christmas."
This news, unlike that trumped-up "war," is not fake.
But don't take my word for it.
Check out the Hallmark Channel's Christmas movie marathon, a triumphant annual celebration that's captivating record numbers of viewers this year. Including me.
I do love Hallmark's Christmas movies. As do my friends Paul and Jimmy, Carl and Karl, and plenty of other gay men.
If only they could at last acknowledge their secret love and come out.
Our marathon love is as chaste as the love depicted in the channel's movies, in their unabashedly old-fashioned and cheerfully corny stories that can occasionally strike just the right note we didn't know we needed to hear.
Even though we know many other notes are missing.
The Hallmark Channel's version of Christmas is merry, bright, and very white — except for the occasional actor of color playing a best friend or office mate, and the diverse handful of extras who decorate the obligatory scenes of shopping, sleigh rides, caroling, and ice-skating.
Aside from an adorable Latino couple, the PenaVegas ("their last names were Pena and Vega, and they combined them after they got married," explains Paul, who seems to know everything about them), the marquee falling-in-lovers in these movies are almost exclusively white.
Don't black or Asian or Hispanic people other than the PenaVegas fall in love and love Christmas, too? Don't they watch TV?
Come to think of it, after enjoying the marathon for several years now, my friends and I have yet to encounter an out LGBTQ character — much less an LGBTQ story line.
As Ruth Schneider wrote in a recent column in the Eureka Times-Standard in California, this seems at odds with Hallmark's LGBTQ greeting card line, as well as a company commercial featuring a same-sex couple, and an affecting short film about coming out that is viewable on the channel's app and on YouTube.
Schneider quotes Hallmark spokespeople who make no comment and dance around questions about why there are no gay Christmas characters or story lines. They do, however, seem eager to acknowledge hiring openly gay actors, whom my friends and I love to spot on the screen.
Oh, look, there's that dashing Luke Macfarlane, playing a lawyer whose love interest occasionally and alarmingly resembles Miley Cyrus.
And there's the formerly LGBTQ Anne Heche as a PTA mom nicknamed "Christmas Carol" due to her fanatical fascination with tinsel.
No wonder we secretly love these Hallmark movies, even if they are not about us or people who look like us. The latter is no surprise, because we do not look like vaguely familiar, semi-glamorous, neither-old-nor-young Canadian actors reciting lines such as, "Christmas is a time for miracles!"
Nevertheless, our LGBTQ Christmas in South Jersey isn't Christmas without an evening or two of Hallmark watching — and dishing.
"That hairdo is just so wrong."
"OMG: Danica McKellar really does look like Sarah Huckabee Sanders!"
"How many perfectly decorated Christmas trees does that eligible bachelor have in his stylish studio apartment, anyway?"
The faces embalmed in HDTV makeup and the promiscuous use of smartphones as props aside, these movies might well have been made back when we were boomer kids, and Christmas was Christmas, and Christmas trees were made of aluminum.
"Look, there's another black actor. No, not him. The other guy, behind the Christmas tree."
"Cue the fake snow again!"
"Oh, come on. That doesn't look anything like Philadelphia."
Phony street scenes and pretend snowflakes are marathon highlights, because Hallmark manufactures these movies during the summer in Vancouver. A city with little, if any, resemblance to Philadelphia.
But hilly vistas in what's supposed to be Center City don't stop us from loving "A Gift to Remember," a story the promotional synopsis accurately promises will reveal how a woman named Darcy "finds romance with a handsome stranger with amnesia."
Ah yes, amnesia, along with mistaken identities, cute coincidences, inane contrivances, and heartwarming kiddies, kitties, and puppies. Plus mistletoe hanging all over the place. Who could resist?
This being 2017 rather than, say, 1817, there is much resistance and controversy and soul-searching.
What might be described as a progressive anti-Hallmark Channel tantrum disguised as a review on Slate inspired an even more unhinged response on Fox News.
And in a recent column, my colleague Ellen Gray wondered whether the dispiriting tsunami of revelations about sexual assault and harassment by powerful men could account for the seductive mass appeal of G-rated, carefully curated marathon movies such as "Marry Me at Christmas."
As my friend Carl points out, we want our pop culture Christmas to be a safe place where no trigger warnings are necessary and "everything is peaceful and perfect. Or at least ends up that way by the end of the movie."
And given how far we still are from the idyllic 'post-racial' America the election of Barack Obama seemed to promise — and Donald Trump seems determined to obliterate — why can't Hallmark, a company that knows a thing or two about marketing, make its Christmas fantasies even more fantastic, more inclusive, more welcoming?
Why not make the marathon an even roomier sanctuary from reality, a cozier respite from the culture wars, a decked-with-holly retreat where there are no more disheartening arguments about whose stories are worth showing and telling, and whose are not?
Now that would be a Merry Christmas.