Two of Sundance Channel’s stars of a new queer reality show open up about girl-boy friendships — and how they hate the term ‘fag hag’
STEVEN LINDSEY | firstname.lastname@example.org
No matter what your opinion is on unscripted television, anyone opening up his or her life for a camera crew — and potentially millions of viewers — has some balls: Maybe that comment will be taken out of context, or unflattering moments will be exaggerated or distorted, or a “character” will be created in the editing room to fill any number of pre-determined role: hero, villain, diva, token gay.
Sarah Rose and Joel Derfner knew this going into Sundance Channel’s new reality series Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, which premiered this week, focusing on the lives of four couples (each consisting of one straight woman and one gay man). Luckily for them, the experience was positive, with only minor exaggerations implied in the final edits — so far.
Still, Rose insists she is not nearly as jealous of Derfner’s pending nuptials as the show makes it seem.
“They were hammering hard on how jealous I am and I’m not, for the record,” she says, having seen the first two episodes. “But I think one thing the show really does get right with us and the other three couples is the way we relate to each other. The sort of kind of friendship we have, the kind of bond there is.”
Their particular connection has certainly stood the test of time.
“We met in the dining hall at Harvard where we both shared a love for fried things and chocolate things. They supplied us amply with both and we’ve been the best of friends for the past 18 or 19 years,” Rose says.
“Oh my God, has it been 18 or 19 years?” Derfner exclaims with a laugh.
Derfner became involved when one of the producers, who knew him from musical theater writing circles, suggested he audition for the show; Rose was his natural partner in prime time. What attracted them to the premise is that for once, the relationship of gay men and straight women would be presented a little differently than is typical for Hollywood.
“The gay best friend is typically framed as a kind of sidekick. When Stanford Blanch is off-screen, he doesn’t seem to have a life on Sex and the City — he exists only in order to be Carrie’s friend. And my relationship with Joel isn’t a sidekick situation at all. He’s primary,” Rose says.
Before the show even aired, the duo were still getting used to glimpses of fame, like seeing their faces everywhere in Manhattan.
“We’re being chased by our own buses and I’m in this really unflattering wedding dress,” Rose says. “I have this idea that the entire Metro Transportation Authority is making fun of me.”
Perhaps that’s a downside of being associated with these shows, but there are plenty of positives even if the ratings aren’t huge. Both Rose and Derfner are writers and hope that any exposure from the show will widen the audience for their books. But it’s their friendship, and Derfner’s marriage, that ultimately benefited the most.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but Sarah and I have ended up spending more time together than we often do or are often unable to,” Derfner says.
“Joel works in his underwear. I’ve seen it,” adds Rose. “What I’ve discovered is the joy of collaborating with Joel. It’s a whole element to our friendship that wasn’t really present. We were sort of each other’s cheerleaders, but we weren’t each other partners in a business venture the way this feels. And it’s extraordinary. I’m falling for him all over again. It’s like being 18.”
A series of family tragedies and other obstacles had prolonged Derfner’s engagement to Michael Combs, but the reality show actually changed things for the better.
“The reality show was really the kick in the pants they needed to actually get that done,” says Rose, who was the official witness at both the legal and ceremonial weddings.
“We were on the verge of becoming the perpetually engaged couple,” Derfner says.
Instead, they now have a very detailed record of every challenging moment, every triumph, every smile and tear. Derfner hopes in some small way, his role in all of this will be to further the argument to legalize gay marriage.
They both also expect that people better understand the relationships at the focus of this show — and that the term “fag hag” be retired for good; “friend” is descriptive enough.
“From my perspective gay men and straight women often see the world the same way and we want the same things: chocolates, boys, to be thin. She wants boys and I want boys, but not the same boys,” Derfner says. “We understand each other and we recognize how we’re in sync, but there’s no competition so we can be completely 100 percent supportive of each other without worrying that somebody’s going to encroach on somebody’s territory.”
“I get all that, plus technical support,” Rose says. “I have somebody with the same plumbing and wiring and I can ask detailed technical questions [to help understand men].”
It’s a win-win for both of them — and a lot of fun to watch for us.
Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Sundance Channel.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.