Traci Shannon is a blogger at A Star in My Own Universe and is a new author on FSM Media.
I am a sucker for the holiday rom-com. A cup of hot chocolate tuned into a certain cable station has sucked up more than one Saturday afternoon in the weeks preceding Christmas. There are limitations, however, to the storylines, most exclude LGBTQ characters, most especially those central to the romance.
The new entry to this over-saturated field, “Merry & Gay”, therefore is both tectonic in its progressiveness and yet remarkably simple and nostalgic and simple in its story. And that was the point according to Andi Rene Christensen, who plays Sam, the first non-binary actor to star in a lead role in a holiday rom-com.
Meet-Cute with a RomCom Crew
The cast and crew were filled with lovers of the genre. They wanted to make a film that fit the bill with ease and joy. From meddling mothers to an unresolved past, every beloved groan-worthy rom-com requirement is there without comment. As is the queer relationship, just as it should be.
StarTraci: Let’s discuss how this experience came to be. You shared that you enjoyed watching flicks like this. Was that part of the appeal?
Andi: Without a doubt, but also, shooting on location outside of Nashville and celebrating Christmas in March — how cool is that? So of course, once I chatted with Christin and learned more about the project and what she wanted to achieve with it, I was all in. Had a great chemistry read with Dia shortly after, and less than a week later I was off to Tennessee. We filmed the entire thing in less than two weeks, so it was definitely a whirlwind shoot.
In fact, the night before our final day, there was a legit blizzard, felt like it came out of nowhere. So that was pretty cool — it was definitely this feeling of ultimately wrapping the shoot up in a life-sized snow globe. But really that’s what it felt like every day we filmed, a magical little Christmas bubble.
StarTraci: It sounds like you guys had an ideal working environment… a very insulated environment of trust.
Andi: We did. Definitely ideal.
And yes, an “environment of trust” is a good way to put it. As someone who was still very much on their non-binary journey and continuing to understand their gender, “Merry & Gay” came along at the perfect time. Getting to dive into a non-binary character, at a time when I finally felt truly comfortable in my skin was pretty life-changing and affirming. That was also the first environment, working or otherwise, in which no one had to “re-learn” my pronouns — hearing “them” and “they” every day from every single friend on set was one of the most validating experiences I’ve ever had. I felt at home immediately.
Making a Statement without Saying a Word
StarTraci: Will you be seeking only non-binary work going forward?
Andi: No, I think that’s unnecessarily self-limiting. While I am in a really nice niche and I get a lot of opportunities for non-binary roles, I feel that part of being non-binary is the fluidity inherent within it. Gender is a dynamic thing, and I express myself all throughout and in between the binary. I currently play a non-binary character on Peacock’s “Bel-Air” named “Monica”. They express themselves much more femininely than I do, and that’s a huge part of the fun for me — because it’s still a true expression of me, just a rarer one. I feel the same way about roles that aren’t non-binary.
StarTraci: How do you think we get more of this? How do get love stories in plots rather than as plot points?
Andi: (roughly quoting Dan Levy) as I understood it, he basically said he wanted to show a peaceful, safe reality in which it didn’t matter — where homophobia didn’t really exist. Gayness or queerness wasn’t a focal point of “Schitt’s Creek”. It just was, just like anything else. So that’s essentially what we’ve got to keep doing because I think we’re past that shock value culture, we’re finally getting to a place where queerness isn’t the entire point of the story. I also feel we need to continue seeing LGBTQIA+ faces in makeup campaigns, on magazine covers, and in fashion… because those things matter to people, it’s a responsibility of the job. So I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, representation matters. So does community outreach. Much of the community is very active in that way and I think it’s important to use whatever visibility one has to further that effort.
Merry & Gay – Premieres on VOD on DIVABoxOffice.tv Dec. 1st
When Becca Winters (Dia Frampton) finishes her run starring in a popular Broadway musical, she decides to leave New York City to spend the holidays with family and friends in her charming hometown in Evergreen, Tennessee, to direct the sleepy town’s annual Christmas pageant.
Ecstatic, her well-meaning, but meddling mother, Tilly (Hayat Nesheiwat), and her best friend, Lucille Sheridan (Janet Ivey), hatch a plan to reunite Becca and Lucille’s kid Sam (Andi René Christensen), who were childhood pals and high school sweethearts.
The only one not thrilled is Sam who was hurt when Becca left them behind three years ago to pursue her career and who has since carved out a peaceful life for themself as the bartender at the family’s bar, Sheridan’s … but eventually Sam warms up to the idea and the reunion is sweet.
But when Becca’s manager, Charlotte Reese (Sarah Daddario), comes to town with an offer from Hollywood, Sam abruptly breaks off the relationship once again … Will Christmas be Merry & Gay after all?