When I started working with Kristyne Fetsic I had no idea that she was a conservative Catholic, or that she had complicated feelings about LGBT people. She was just a friend from another set I had worked on that I knew was passionate about telling stories and wanted to get into producing. So I offered her a job on my gay web series, EastSiders, a dark comedy about a gay couple trying to stay together in the aftermath of infidelity in Silver Lake, CA. We shot the show independently and put it on Youtube, and at the time we had no idea it would go on to get picked up by Logo, win awards and attract the following that it has. We were just two broke filmmakers setting up lights in my living room. As we got to know each other better and have deeper conversations (usually over drinks after a long day of shooting), I came to understand just how different we were.
Part of me was horrified to discover a conservative in our midst, having moved away from Mississippi at 16 to escape the overwhelming conservatism and anti-LGBT sentiment I was immersed in growing up. She even confessed that she had voted Republican in the past. Thankfully, Kristyne and I both saw working together on the series as an opportunity to find common ground. This week, Kristyne wrote a blog post for "Ms. in the Biz" about her journey and, with her permission, I would like to share her experience with the Gay Voices community.
The radical, political queer in me has learned a great deal about accepting other people's beliefs from her. I'm still a radical, political queer and Kristyne is still a conservative, Catholic girl, and I am so happy that we were able to work together, despite our differences, to produce EastSiders. This Summer, we are coming back together to produce a second season of the show.
Below, I've included a shortened version of her post. I admire Kristyne's openness, both in relaying her experience and in being open to understanding the experiences of others. I hope everyone will read this with an open mind and see just how much we all have to learn from one another.
I write this blog with some hesitation because it feels as if I am straddling some sort of battle line and I risk upsetting my comrades on both sides. That being said, let me tell you my story.
I was born in Cleveland, OH to parents who were both wonderfully Catholic and wonderfully Ohioan. Both live no more than a 30 minute car ride away from their childhood homes. I spent 13 years attending Catholic school, four years volunteering, and at times running, the Catholic community at my college, and 24 and a half years never missing a Sunday mass. (In case you're wondering, yes, I'm 24 and a half years old and have been attending weekly mass into my adult life.) I was, and to some still am, the good little Midwestern Catholic girl. But to my parents, I lost that title when they learned of my involvement on EastSiders the Series.
We were a strict, but not suffocating, Catholic family. Whenever the church said something was one way, that's the way it was, no questions. But the seeds of a black sheep mentality were planted in me even as early as high school. A lot of my good friends, despite being at a Catholic school, came out as gay. Luckily, the teachers that knew were supportive, as was I. Secretly though, I still didn't believe they should get married and I was uncomfortable around them because I believed most of the propaganda against gays. Part of me even thought that this was just a phase they were going through. I even once got deeply offended when someone thought my best friend and I were lesbians.
In college, I befriended even more people who identified as gay, and it started to become difficult to justify my Catholic beliefs on the subject to myself. In an effort to try and understand what internal moral battle I was waging, I made a project for my Nonfiction Film Production class that discussed the Catholic view of homosexuality and how every day Catholics and every day gays felt about it. After that, I felt as if I had no reason to strongly believe anything one way or the other and I adopted an "agnostic" sensibility when it came to gay issues.
Enter EastSiders. For me, getting involved with EastSiders was never about the LGBT message. I was a new member of the film and television industry looking to get any and all kinds of work I could get my hands on. Kit Williamson was a friend of mine who wanted to collaborate with me AND give me a producer credit. Even though the story centered on a gay couple, it was a great opportunity that I couldn't turn down. I would be getting my first "producer" credit, which I thought would be the shining gem on my resume.
Despite her hesitation, Kristyne took a leap and joined the team. Unbeknownst to me, she was working through a lot of issues while maintaining her professionalism and enthusiasm about the project. And then she had a breakthrough.
Once EastSiders production started, I was surprised to be shaken that out of all my worries. All at once I was finally able to form some sort of opinion on the whole matter. During an average, ordinary shoot day, I had an epiphany. I had recently gone through a breakup when production of the show began and it all of a sudden struck me how strongly I related to the story of the show. I specifically remember shooting the conversation between Cal and Kathy in the first episode and thinking "I know exactly how Cal feels." It was through the story of EastSiders that I found how I felt about the LGBT community. If God is love, and if a person is compelled and inspired to love another person (no matter what genders are involved) then that's God working in this world and that is a beautiful thing.
I tell people that my favorite part about the message of EastSiders is that it doesn't take a stance one way or the other on LGBT rights. The relationships just exist without any grandeur or attention to the fact that it's a gay relationship. It's a loving relationship, and it just happens to be between two men.
Kristyne's journey has affirmed my belief in the power of storytelling to change hearts and minds. I think it's so important that we embrace LGBT filmmakers, writers and artists because it's through telling these stories (and sometimes, working together to tell these stories) that we relate to each other as human beings.
I'm still not 100 percent honest with everyone I know about my involvement with the Catholic Church and EastSiders. I don't discuss it with my family, because I know they don't really want to acknowledge my involvement. I know my Catholic/Christian friends would frown at me and think I'm living a life of sin. And I know my more liberal friends would tease me for believing in archaic teachings and practices. I mean in all honestly, you can call me a "pick and choose" Catholic. There are many teachings I believe in and there are many teachings that I don't based on my experiences and my will to love everyone.
What inspires me to be confident in what I've learned and how I see the world to be is Jesus' core message: Love God above all else and "love your neighbor as yourself." I know I have no right to judge my neighbor, no right to condemn my neighbor, but every right and every responsibility to love them. I think I'm very much fulfilling my dad's dream of changing Hollywood, just not in the way that he expected. I hope that my work on EastSiders is a way for me to spread a little love to those who feel like they're in the minority of this world, and I hope to continue spreading this message in my future work.
To read the full blog, visit "Ms. in the Biz."