A day after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, actress, and writer Gretchen Wylder, in her very own act of resistance, sat down to write a comedy sketch. Four years later, These Thems debuted as a seven-episode comedy web series that looked at underrepresented LGBTQI lives.
These Thems has been lauded as much for queer representation as for its comedy. The series focuses on Gretchen (played by Gretchen herself), a queer femme, Vero (Vico Ortiz), “your friendly neighborhood Latinx FemBoi”, Asher (Shaan Dasani), a transgender man in the closet and Kevin (Nick Park), as Gretchen’s gay roommate who falls for Asher.
Since the series went online on February 27, Wylder’s inbox has been filling up with messages. For a world under lockdown, the series, with genderqueer, non-binary and trans-masculine characters, has provided much-needed cheer.
“We’ve had a myriad of responses from fans — old school lesbians who had no idea how to use they/them pronouns are now enthusiastically feeling confident about it, trans youth are exceedingly grateful for the nonbinary and transmasculine representation, and even straight audience members are really enjoying the show and have learned a lot from it,” Gretchen told Star Observer.
Living in New York City, and having a diverse group of friends, Gretchen found that her experiences were not reflected in mainstream media. One thing that she and her team decided they would not back down from was how they ensured diversity. Interestingly, the only actor that was written originally as a person of colour was Vero, said Gretchen, adding that every person of colour “was chosen because they were absolutely the best person to play the role”.
“It was extremely important to me to make this show very diverse in order to accurately reflect the community that the show caters to. The queer community is the most diverse community of people in the world. Queerness knows no ethnicity and is found throughout all regions, races, and creeds. That’s what makes the LGBTIQI community so fascinating. People from all walks of life, with different life experiences and backgrounds, are able to share something as complex as queerness,” said Gretchen. The cast and crew represent the queer spectrum helmed by director Jett Garrison, who identifies as transmasculine.
The Trump connection, actually motivated the series to be as diverse as possible, not just in terms of identities but also ethnicities and other markers. “I felt powerless and really angry that day (after Trump’s 2016 win). I remember thinking to myself that the only weapon I have for resistance is my art and so I decided to create something full of love and light, that would directly benefit the queer community. The show has been evolving pretty much every day since and I’m proud to say that this bright light of a show truly is a direct result of some very dark times,” revealed Gretchen.
There is always a danger when creative works use humour only as a means to inform and educate, they can turn didactic. These Thems avoids the trap, as it turns non-binary lives into comedy gold. Getting the balance right was hard work and Gretchen used four table readings to gauge the impact of the script and its potential to generate laughs, even before she started filming. “I believe humor is the greatest tool we have to educate with. Everyone feels safe when laughing – it’s an experience that allows us to let down our guards and bring joy in,” Gretchen said.
As Grethen, who is now based in Los Angeles, and her cast and crew savour the success of Season 1 over Whatsapp group video chats, plans are in place for a second season.
“Season 2 is all outlined and ready to go into development! I have not written the scenes out word for word because it’s really important to me that I have a writer’s room moving forward. There’s only so much story I can accurately tell as a cisgender white lesbian. The most beautiful thing about the These Thems world is that the characters develop so much and there’s so much room for different types of representation,” said Gretchen.
The second season will continue the stories of Gretchen, Vero, Asher and Kevin, and is likely to see the addition of new characters and yes, identities, including transfeminine, intersex and asexual stories. Gretchen hopes the success of the series would be noticed by the bigger networks and bring in much needed funding to keep the series alive. Meanwhile, the show continues in its mission to inspire and provide laughs.
“We really are so glad to give this gift of a show to the world when so many people need hope and laughter,” said Gretchen.
Keep track of the show on their social media handles on Instagram and Twitter: @these_thems.