After five years of telling the multi-faceted stories on Eastsiders, you would think that creator and writer Kit Williamson would want take a break from telling the stories of so many different people, but it looks like in a post Eastsiders world, Williamson is just getting started. As one of leading storytellers for the LGBT community, much of the content that is offered to the LGBT community can be credited to Williamson, who has helped craft the template for how LGBT stories are truly told everywhere. With the final season of Eastsiders premiering on Netflix late last year, Williamson is looking back on the stories his characters told, as well as how these same characters have changed in the past five years. I sat down for a chat with Williamson to talk about where we will see our favorite Eastsiders characters land in their final season together, how queer content has changed in the past few years, and what one of the leading creators of LGBT content may have coming up post Eastsiders.
Michael Cook: You’re concluding Eastsiders with the fifth season (which premiered on Netflix in December) and it must be bittersweet to say the least. In a way, it must almost be like putting long time familial relationships away for a little while.
Kit Williamson: That is definitely the word for it for, sure. Having everyone come together at the premiere, it was definitely such a great moment but it also really underscored how sad it is that this is coming to a close. From the responses that we have been getting from the fans of the show online I really feel good about how it is being received. I feel like we hopefully did the characters justice.
MC: What can you tell the fans about the final season of Eastsiders, both about everyone’s individual stories, as well as their collective ones?
KW: This season is really a dialectic on love. There are all kinds of relationships, from gay to straight, from open to monogamous to those just starting out to those just going after seven years. It is really important to me to honor the complexity of those relationships and how no two relationships are alike. Every character and every partnership in the show has their own ending. Some of them are happy and some aren’t. They all are informed by the years that we have spent with these characters though. A lot of things from Season One come full circle in the final episode of the show. That is one of the things that in the world of binge watching, I think is really important. To remember all of the narrative threads and to pull from all of the seasons prior to this one. Also, to be sure that you are closing the book on everything in a way that feels satisfying.
MC: These characters are probably the kind characters that while you don’t want to totally put them away forever, you did want to find different challenges and ways to tell their stories.
KW: I didn’t want to just constantly imperil these characters relationships for the sake of keeping the story going. I don’t now how many times I personally want to see a couple in a television show break up and make up; at a certain time, maybe you should stay broken up if your relationship is really that volatile. God knows, Cal and Thom have a volatile, and bordering on toxic relationship at times. Underneath that, it just a profound love for one another and a profound understanding of each other’s complexities and flaws.
MC: I think whenever the show would premiere every year, the stories would change with the involvement of so many people wanting to be involved in such amazing storytelling. What is it like with so many people wanting to be involved in wrapping up this story and telling your stories?
KW: It has been such an honor having so many prominent and openly LGBT people come together to tell this story. From Katya To Manila Luzon to Jake Choi to Daniel Newman, the list goes on and on of people who’s work that I really admire. Also, people who’s candidness and openness about their own identity speaks to a kind of activism. It’s still a brave thing to do to enter this industry being unapologetic and openly LGBT. There are still limitations that you may face as a result of that. I think that this show and this season in particular, is a great example of queer people limiting each other up. “A rising tide raises all ships” as they say.
MC: Cal and Thom’s relationships can be very exhausting and toxic, but can it get exhausting as a writer to be the person behind these stories at times?
KW: Oh I live for it, it’s cathartic! Putting all of your deepest fears and insecurities into a script and it’s really like exorcising the demons from your body. Once you can step outside of it you can look at it for what it is, which is fear.
MC: You have told so many different stories of different kinds of people, and when you look at the entire Eastsiders experience, what surprises you the most about the stories?
KW: I will say, that the stories this season, specifically John Hallbach’s character Ian goes on one of the most exciting journeys that the show has presented. Without giving too much away. the character explores a very different side of his dating and sex life. I worked very hard to get that right. I worked with a lot of friends who are more on the spectrum and less on a binary in terms their sexuality to try to represent three experience authentically. Spoiler Alert: It was very important that it was not a coming out for the coming out of the character as sexually fluid. It was really just a revelation for the audience. The entire time that we have known the character of Ian he has been in relationships with girls; that does not mean that he is only attracted to girls. That is something that we jokingly play with in early seasons, as kind of like a retcon. It kind of laid the framework for which is one of my favorite storylines in the new season. The character is faced with a number of people who don’t quite understand him. Some of them, like Cal and Thom and Quincy, his friends, react with openness and love. He has a hook up with a guy and a hook up with a girl that is kind of peppered with little microagressions. Kind of like trying to face someone into a box that does not identify that way is kind of a micgroagression. It is kind of asserting ownership over their identity and not giving them the latitude to identify themselves however the fuck they want. On the flip side of that, the character of Lindsey says, I think fairly, “ the labels are useful for some people”.
MC: Labels nowadays are absolutely crucial to identify people, as well as to be sure to help others live authentically.
KW: Labels for me as a gay man, are very useful. I enjoy being labeled as gay. I enjoy being labeled as queer. But we need to allow space in stories like this for a full range of experiences for people for whom labels can feel confining and limiting. That is something that was really important to me in the show. The show doesn’t have a point of view on how anyone should be. The show’s only point of view in terms of a “message” is something that Lin Shaye says, in a line written by Brea Grant in Episode 4 actually. Brea perfectly nailed the themes of the show, when she had Lin Shaye’s character, who plays Quincy’s mom say to him, about him trying to control Douglas’ approach to this crazy drag wedding that he is trying to put on- “you need to let people be who they are and then they will do you the same favor”. It’s a good mantra to keep in the back of your head whenever you don’t understand somebody. They don’t approach things the same way that you do because they’re a different person. This season is really a dialectic on love, which is why it is so important to me to show so many different kinds of relationships. The show is not advocating for open relationships or for monogamy; it’s not advocating for anything other than the two people, or more than two people in a relationship together.
MC: What kind of stories do you want to keep telling post-Eastsiders?
KW: I have a bunch of different projects in development that I don’t want to namecheck specifically. The nature of development in Hollywood is that the vast majority of things that get written for studios and networks don’t get made (laughs). I just wrote a project for a studio, and I have another project set up at a studio also. I have a project that was in the Sundance lab last year also. It’s a queer story about a brother and a sister in New Orleans that I am really passionate about. I have a lot of irons in the fire and hopefully one of them is going to come through and get set up.
MC: As you look back on the Eastsiders experience as a whole, surreal probably does not even begin to cover it as a descriptive.
KW: To see the way that the show has grown has been wild. To go from YouTube to Logo to Amazon and Hulu to full screen to view on demand and then to Netflix translated into thirty languages worldwide is insane! I can’t think of another trajectory like that and I am so grateful for the opportunity to reach a global audience with what I think is the queerest show on tv! I just tried to tell a story that was authentic to my life and the life of my friends in my neighborhood. I think that it’s challenging to pitch shows like Eastsiders because there is not much of a hook in terms of going into a room and talking to an executive for twenty or thirty minutes and selling them on the idea. What sells the show is the characters and the authenticity. That is very hard to communicate in a pitch; I honestly pitched the show to anybody who would listen to it. I got the same response over and over, that the market is over saturated with queer content because of HBO’s Looking, because there was one show on television. That is something that I really want to see us break through and break past.
MC: It must be amazing to see that shows like Eastsiders and also Looking have helped completely change the landscape for what kind of content is offered that is exclusive to the LGBTQ community. I mean, there are entire streaming services now dedicated to that now.
KW: For the record, the first season of my show came out before Looking, so that was an added frustration, that I got “scooped” by HBO. Everything has changed, but everything has stayed the same. The HRC report came out and we have more LGBT representation on television than ever before. In terms of shows that center on the LGBT perspective, shows that really truly speak to that experience in that ultra specific way and not just on the sidelines of straight stories, is still pretty rare. It used to be one every five years and now we are seeing a few going to be happening at the same time, speaking to different letters in the LGBT acronym. We have a lot of different stories to tell and we cannot put the pressure on the shows out there to represent the entire communities existence. Our community is so diverse and it is too high of an order to have one story represent every kind of gay person. you can see the frustration on line, everyone wants their story to be told. I hope we get to a place where we have enough queer stories out there where everyone feels represented, because I don’t think we are there yet. I for one, identify so much with Pose. I relate to those characters. They have radically different experiences and backgrounds from me, but when I watch that show I connect with them on a human level. In a way that expands my horizons and makes me a more empathetic and understanding person. That show really captures the humanity of the characters in such a full three hundred and sixty way. It captures the entirety of their existence in such a beautiful way.
MC: If the Kit Williamson now could tell the Kit Williamson that sat down on that first day to write Eastsiders, what would you tell that man?
KW: I think I would tell that Kit, the same thing I say to this Kit on a daily basis; Be patient. Be persistent. And keep pushing.
“Eastsiders” is streaming on Netflix now
All Art Courtesy of “Eastsiders” (Facebook)