HJ Farr and Deity Blair in A Very Queer Holiday. (YouTube)
Christmas can be a tough time of year for LGBT+ people, and the lack of representation in films traditionally watched over the festive period is only one of the reasons.
Family rejection, having to go back into the closet, having mental health issues exacerbated by Christmas stress, being around alcohol or spending the time alone can all be difficult, and that’s before you throw in the small matter of a pandemic.
For those going to see their biological families, Christmas films can be an awkward watch – the sprinkling of anti-LGBT+ “jokes”, the relentlessly heteronormative portrayals of family and romance, the insidious sexism of the socially accepted drunk uncles on-screen. But a better world is coming: Lifetime’s first ever gay Christmas film, The Christmas Setup, has aired, as has Hallmark’s first gay Christmas movie, The Christmas House.
Kristen Stewart also did some community service this year with lesbian rom-com Happiest Season, and Dolly Parton, in her spare time from funding the coronavirus vaccine, is bringing us Christmas musical Christmas on the Square.
So far, that’s mostly a lot of white gays – and where is the trans representation?
Stepping up to the plate to address this is A Very Queer Holiday, a musical LGBT+ web series that riffs on Hallmark’s signature holiday-themed romantic comedies – and stars HJ Farr as Pax, the first non-binary lead in a romantic comedy on Amazon Prime.
Asked what they think of playing the lead in a Christmas series, Farr, sporting a flop of rainbow-coloured hair and an undercut, says over Zoom that “Christmas kind of sucks” for them.
“Christmas is not my time of year,” they say. “Holidays in general are… I have a really close relationship with my family, but my mom died when I was really young. So, I have all of the memories of how good Christmas used to be and then all of the like, post-that stuff of still being a child, but now it sucks.”
With their spouse, Farr has made new Christmas traditions – travel, usually, with trips to London and Costa Rica – that are “less about the presents and the old traditions”. This year, they plan on writing letters to friends over the festive break. When the people behind A Very Queer Holiday began putting out feelers, Farr says they were “definitely apprehensive because I don’t like Christmas”.
“But as I read the script, it kind of, put me in a Christmassy mood? I didn’t expect it, at all,” they say, laughing. “And just the fact that it’s representing trans and non-binary characters without the story being about that, or about coming out… shouldn’t be as refreshing as it is.
“I read the script. And it was like when you put on a really cosy sweater, and it fits you perfectly, and you’re like, this feels amazing. This feels like it was made for me.”
Farr, who came out as non-binary after playing a character who was genderless, says that understanding their own gender better has made them a better actor. “There was so much that made more sense when I discovered my own transness,” they say. They play all genders now, reminiscing about playing a teenage boy in a recent production – the dream gig in many ways.
A Very Queer Holiday also features Deity Blair, Adam B. Shapiro (The Normal Heart, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish), Lateefah Holder (Modern Family, Transparent, Disjointed), Sean Thompson (Sunset Boulevard on Broadway), and John Lehr (Geico Caveman, Friends, Quickdraw, Ten Items or Less, Jailbait).
The series is led by an all-queer female creative team and was, because 2020, filmed entirely on Zoom. But the Christmas message of the series – which goes into queer chosen family, dating and navigating the holidays – is perennial.
As Farr says: “I think the message of the series is that the holidays can be a magical time. Even, or especially, for queer people. Because when we find that chosen family, and if you have your biological family and your chosen family, you can have so much support.
“There’s magic to be found in the holidays. For me personally, I was so anti-holidays for so long. And then my spouse and I found each other right before the holidays. There are a lot of things working against you, but sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and put yourself out there. There is magic to be found in the holidays.”