When was the last time you were unfairly scrutinized by someone (or a group of someones) without even being given the benefit of the doubt?
And how did that make you feel?
With the debut of Logo’s Fire Island on the horizon tonight, that very question has been much on my mind. Which is why I figured there would be no better time than the present to weigh in on both the destination and the Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos-produced docuseries that it has inspired.
Purporting to “follow a group of young professionals living together in a beachfront share house for the summer as they search for romance, temptation and thrills,” Fire Island the series has already generated more than its fair share of eye-rolling and venomous assessments among the chattering classes well ahead of the airing of the show’s debut episode. In fact, if buzz alone was a defining early benchmark of success, one might already single out Fire Island as a hit.
Up until a year ago, when I made my first visit to Fire Island, I would probably have joined the chorus of critics prematurely lambasting the reality series. But today, armed with knowledge and personal experience, I am prepared to defend it. Or to, at the very least, give it a long lead.
Before I go any further, a little perspective. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that for years I carried a negative perception of Fire Island (the destination) close to my heart. As to the genesis of this perception, I cannot be certain, but it was so very real that I notoriously rejected offhand not only invitations but even the mere suggestion that I visit the gay enclave.
Connecticut? Sure. The Hamptons? Absolutely. Laguna Beach? Unabashedly yes. But Fire Island? “No” would spring to my lips before the word “Fire” could pass the lips of the person unfortunate enough to make the suggestion to me. “Not my thing,” was my constant refrain where Fire Island was concerned and I sang it proudly over and over again.
But thankfully there is this little thing called evolution.
Over the last decade, I have practiced the art of saying ‘yes’ to life’s opportunities which directly influenced my decision to finally accept an invite to spend a few days on Fire Island last summer.
And you know what?
After years of cynicism, I found myself charmed by the place from the moment I stepped off the ferry that deposited me on the shores of what I came to think of as a slice of paradise just off the south shore of Long Island. Granted I arrived the week after the Pines Party, the premiere event of summer on the island, so it was unusually quiet, but that does not signify as far as my rationale for sharing this anecdote. The point is that my judgment of Fire Island, based not on fact, but instead on a perception not anchored in anything more than projection, turned out to be the farthest thing from the truth.
Rather than being dismayed by the experience I had anticipated with varying degrees of loathing for most of my adult life, I spent hours touring around the island admiring the striking architecture and gardens of the homes, walking Instagram-perfect sandy beaches, watching spectacular sunsets from the docks, admiring pretty people and, if I’m honest, taking pride in the fact that decades of nurturing by the LGBTQ community had produced an oasis of such superlative magnificence. Truth be told, in all my travels, rarely has my preconception of a destination been so pleasantly off the mark. Which brings me back to Fire Island the series.
I don’t know the six guys at the center of this new Fire Island series, but I did get the chance to become briefly acquainted with one of the show’s stars during my sojourn on Fire Island last summer. As fate would have it, Patrick, the show’s southern gent, was my host at the Sharegurl property, Pines Club, where I spent those memorable few days in the Long Island sun last year. [ For the record, I highly recommend Sharegurl properties for newbies to Fire Island because they are beautifully situated and perfect for short-term stays, but I digress]. Handsome, professional, charming, polite and preternaturally friendly (and not necessarily in that order) are the words that come to mind to describe this Georgia peach who welcomed me to the island. Based upon my encounter with Patrick alone, I am inclined to believe the boys of Fire Island are not, on the whole, due the premature demonization they have received.
Moreover, despite suggestions to the contrary, just as the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are not representative of everyday housewives in Beverly Hills and as such are not subjected to the weight of that burden, and just as The Real Housewives of Atlanta are not representative of Atlanta’s more well-provided for spouses, so should the cast of Fire Island not be expected to be emblematic of every Fire Island patron, let alone the entire LGBTQ community. The six guys who form the nucleus of Fire Island the series are six individuals starring in their own life dramas. Their dramas are not mine just as they are not yours. They are theirs and theirs alone. And perhaps most important of all, let’s not forget the little fact that drama and entertainment are soulmates, forever intertwined with one feeding off the other and vice versa.
Just as LGBTQ pioneers of yesteryear vociferously raised their voices and fought the battles that laid the foundation for our community to now enjoy the privileges of marriage, adoption, public service and so many other pertinent human rights, I’d also like to think they fought for our right to have a little carefree fun by our own standards rather than by the world’s…that they also fought for our right to celebrate our individuality and to enjoy our lives on par with our counterparts in the world. After all, bad behavior, if it can be called as much, is not the sole province of the heterosexual world.
Think about that tonight if you find yourself watching Fire Island and inching toward judgment. Then recall the words of the late Oscar Wilde, who always knew how to take the sting out of overzealous preoccupation with so called propriety, when he wrote, “Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the cave-man had known how to laugh, history would have been different.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Fire Island airs on Logo tonight at 8pm. For more details, click here.