The Advocate interview with Andra
Girl meets Boy
While gorgeous James was turning heads, best friend Andra was the mother figure who drew the heat. Here’s her side of the story
By Stacey Percan
Expanded from The Advocate, January 20, 2004
It was easy to get the wrong impression, watching her lounge by the pool sipping cocktails with the mates or conspiratorially conferring with leading man James. But the girl who wears pigtails is a married soccer mom who not only holds down an executive-level job at a multibillion-dollar international advertising firm but is raising two small children, ages “almost 7” and 8. Between the nightly ritual of rushing home to make dinner for the family, homework, reading, and “cuddle time”—and the Saturday soccer game followed by Sunday school inauguration—not to mention favors for friends, like her attendance at the Gay Film Festival in Fresno, Calif., and an AIDS benefit in Los Angeles, making time for this interview was nearly impossible. So much for the theory that “it’s all about her.”
By the time we met up, Boy Meets Boy’s leisurely pace set in party-placid Palm Springs, seemed as distant a landscape from Andra’s real life as the Sea of Tranquility from the Boom-Boom Room. Getting away was no small sacrifice for this hands-on mom, involving not just her but also her family; with such potential downsides, I had to ask why she’d thrown her hat into the ring. Here’s her answer to that and much more.
You have a family and a career, and good friends who care about you. You weren’t out for the Hollywood exposure, and there was no money or vacation package waiting. What did you have to gain by your choice to champion a gay friend so publicly?
James had been talking about this as something he was thinking about doing before we knew I’d be involved, and we’d discussed it at length. We were both aware there were certain risks to him coming out on national television as opposed to being out in his private life, but I was very supportive of him participating because I think James is a great role model. Then he found out they were considering him for the lead role and in order for him to go he had to bring his best female friend. So the producers talked to both of us and they told me, “If he goes, then you go.” At that point I think it would be hypocritical if I think he’s going to do something really good to further a cause but I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Like, “Hey, I believed in this project before but if I have to be a part of it then forget it.”
What surprised you most about the public’s reaction to Boy Meets Boy?
The beginning and then after the series was over are two totally different stories. Initially the reaction was a little catty [with people] talking about hairstyles and who’s boring and all that. But you have a tendency to focus in on the attention that’s being directed towards you, so for me the biggest surprise was how, after just one or two episodes, some people were so quick to say that I needed to “get a life” or that I was controlling. Not only do I have a life and many responsibilities, but I’d never been involved in matchmaking for James before, so this point of view seemed so strange to me. Then people came to my defense [online] as well, and that really touched me.
But later I was really moved by the e-mails and posts I received from people who were affected by the show. One mother wrote me to say that her young son had come out to her and that she’d been distraught not knowing how to prepare him to live “in the gay world.” The show ended up really helping her see that gay and straight people are really more alike than different and that her son could find a wonderful partner some day and be happy. She was so grateful, and her letter was so fulfilling to read. Another man whose nephew was overseas in the service wrote me...there were just so many. I thought the twist would eclipse the real purpose of the show, but somehow it didn’t. That really surprised me.
Did the success of the show come as a shock?
Working in advertising—once I learned the twist—I realized the viewership would be much larger than I’d expected. So no, it wasn’t a shock.
You did this series to support a gay friend, but the gay community—including some interviewers and commentators—have been quick to criticize you, depicting you as a hysterical woman. Does that disappoint you?
I would be lying if I said it didn’t. Obviously I was not prepared for the twist, and in that moment I was disappointed in so many people, including myself for having any part in the show. I don’t apologize for my sincere reaction, but I am sad that it has been the topic of so much discussion where the focus should be on the gay men who had the guts to participate in this program.
Does James or do any of the mates refer to you as a “fag hag,” and do you have any problems with that term?
James has never call me a fag hag, nor have the mates, to my knowledge. I think the term is derogatory towards gays and also towards women, but it seems the more you express dislike for a label, the more people like to use it.
It has been reported that James and Mark Markline were in a relationship during Boy Meets Boy. Is this true?
I would not have participated in the show if James had had a boyfriend. He and Mark may have gone out once or twice prior to the show, but James was single when we went to Palm Springs.
What was it like to go from being completely unknown to being discussed on the Web and in newsgroups, all overnight?
Slightly overwhelming. Every time I read something really hurtful or negative, my thoughts went to my children and I realized I had to be prepared to explain [why there would be negative comments made about their mother]. That was the one thing I hadn’t anticipated. I actually thought there would be a lot less focus on why I was there. I did save some of the more touching letters for when they’re old enough to understand, to show them the positive aspects too. But generally speaking, the overall reaction was good because that meant the discussion had been opened and people were actually watching.
Did you follow the online discussions as fans tried to figure out who the straight guys were?
I didn’t follow it online, but I followed it at work. It was funny overhearing [coworkers say] things like, “He’s gay, for sure, no doubt,” and they’d be completely wrong. Or people would come into my office and say, “So what about Franklin?” or “What about...?” trying to catch me off-guard, knowing I couldn’t talk about it.
James said the experience of making Boy Meets Boy tested your friendship to its limits, and that it came out even stronger. What would you say?
Every big experience in life that you share with someone will either bring you closer or push you apart. I think everyone who watched knows how much we care for each other. He’s a very special person.
Doing the show ended up taking an emotional toll on cast members. Many online fans posted very positive things calling you “a true friend” and “someone I’d like to have in my corner.” Others characterized you as “hysterical” or “prone to tears.” Are you prone to tears?
I’m very empathetic, and I truly grow to care about people. All I can say is that my reactions are genuine and if tears are involved, they’re sincere. Also, if someone I care about has tears in their eyes, I’ll likely follow, and that was often the case. Now whether or not it would be great if you could hold that back, I don’t know—I’m trying not to become one of those people who holds back, because that’s not who I am.
Has anyone reproached you for doing the show? Has anyone said to you, “Look, it was a bad idea”?
No. My family and friends have been totally supportive. My Grandfather said, “You just be careful. What if you turn some of them straight?” [Laughs] Then after the twist he said, “See, I told you,” because we’d had that whole conversation—the whole, “Are you kidding? You can’t turn somebody straight,” which ended up being so ironically funny after we found out what the show was really about.
So no one’s approached you on the street to say, “Shame on you for promoting this”?
No. And that’s what I was prepared for. Some people have said I sound bitchy or that I came across as controlling, but what I was prepared for was having to explain why my best friend was gay. Well he was my best friend first and then I found out he was gay later—what does that matter?
Many Americans still believe that widespread acceptance of gays and lesbians threaten the traditionally defined nuclear family—the “straight way of life.” What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t understand how acceptance is a bad thing or why people would be threatened by someone of a different sexual orientation than their own. I was raised in such a way that that concept doesn’t make sense. I’m married and have two children, so I guess I have a traditional nuclear family, and my best friend is gay. When you don’t grow up with this being an issue, you just feel like that whole concept of gay people being threatening is so foreign. I’m thinking that as a society we’ve learned so much, we’re not ignorant anymore. So it’s very strange to me.
Did you talk with your children about the twist?
Oh, yeah, we had to talk about the whole twist and all that stuff.
Did you have to explain in case there were repercussions?
Well, knowing they wanted to see the show after “Mommy did a TV show,” and now “No, no, you can’t watch it”? But they know “James likes boys” and “other boys like girls.” So we had to talk about reality television and “people lie” and all that stuff, so that was...it took a little bit of a different angle. When they’re older we’ll explain more about why.
It was more important to explain the lying; the sexual politics come later.
Yeah. It was more important that [as if to her children] “we can get over the lying” and “we forgive people” and show that you can go on with your life and don’t stay angry. “It’s OK to get angry.” [Lightly] “Mom’s going to be angry in this episode,” but... [Laughs]
Speaking of that, if you could liken the emotional flavor of making Boy Meets Boy to a movie genre, what would it be?
[Smiling] My initial reaction is to say it was like a black comedy. You know, one of those that you’re watching and you feel guilty for laughing because you know there’s this horrible irony. I’m listening to myself [in an episode] say, [melodramatically] “I’m sure they’re all so sincere,” and I’m like, oh, it’s painful to watch. [Laughs] It’s funny, but you feel guilty because you shouldn’t be laughing.
But it was also like a character movie, like The Big Chill or The Breakfast Club. And that’s one thing that I wish had come across more, that there were these amazing individuals in this house with all these really amazing backgrounds and different lives.
Which song would you say best illustrates the experience of making Boy Meets Boy? What would be your theme song?
My personal theme song [at the time filming concluded] was a Leann Rimes song called “Life Goes On” because it’s so positive. But in terms of the show itself, there’s not just one song. Lifehouse sings, “Somewhere in between what is real and just a dream,” and that’s a good line because [making Boy Meets Boy] was really such a great time, and then it took a turn and it was hard to draw the distinctions between what was real and what wasn’t. Or Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends” about it being “a time of innocence, a time of confidences” and about preserving your memories. It sounds sad, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s more like what happened on the show has to remain encapsulated because too much happened that you can’t really explain or understand. Like I can’t understand the experience somebody else had, really. And all of us had valid experiences. I know that people watching might say “It’s Raining Men” or whatever, but it was a lot deeper for me than “It’s Raining Men.”
Do you and your husband see any of the straight mates socially with their significant others? Is that something you’re interested in doing?
That hasn’t happened. Would I be interested in it? Eventually I think it would be wonderful if there was a big barbeque or something and everyone brought those people along who are important to them to share more of who they are. Do I think it will happen? I don’t know. I think life goes on and people fall back into their routines. I do see a few of the boys for lunch or on a special night out now and then, and I consider them my friends, but I only hope the best for every one of them, regardless of whether or not I’m in contact with them.
Have you talked to or seen Franklin?
I saw Franklin at the Here Lounge [last September] to watch the final episode [air], but not since, no.
What’s your response to people accusing you of spending too much time with the gay boys and not enough with your family?
People saw one week out of my life. My entire family helped watch the kids, and they got to have slumber parties with my sister, so it was almost like a fun little vacation for them as well. We made it that way, and we talked to them about “this is what we’re doing because” and they understood, “OK, sure, you’re going to go do James a favor.” Then later I took a trip for three days in Mexico with James and some of the mates. People wondered where my husband was. He happened to be in Canada with the children for a monthlong trip they take every summer. I know I don’t owe any explanations, but it’s difficult when someone questions what kind of mother I am. I shouldn’t have to justify time I spend with friends, gay or straight. I spend time with my straight girlfriends, but no one seems concerned about that.
Is it tough losing your anonymity?
I love meeting people. That part I absolutely love. People will come up and say, “I’m sorry to bug you, but...” but there’s no bugging me, so that’s not at all a problem. And it’s interesting when you can see that people have prejudged you or have preconceived notions, and then find you’re really approachable and you shatter who they thought you were. Like, “Oh, you’re married?” and “You have kids...and a job?” And it’s like, “Yeah,” you know. I’m not this woman sitting pining away for James to become straight.
What have you learned since doing Boy Meets Boy? How are you different today than you were a year ago?
I realized I’m much stronger than I thought I was, and that at times you may not be able to understand the good that may come from a situation until time has passed and you can step back from it.
After James informed you of the twist, you told him you’d do it all again. Still true?
I was listening to “Blessed” [by Martina McBride] yesterday and realized it’s true in my life. I have wonderful, wonderful friends; I have beautiful children and a supportive husband and family; I’m very lucky. So take everything else and put that into the mix, and what I went through on the show is so small. The experience while I was in it was a really big deal, and I was really trying, but a lot of good has come from it for other people, and that so far outweighs the fact that maybe I showed a lot of raw emotion on national television. So yes, I would do a favor for a friend in a heartbeat. You can’t have regrets. I refuse to live that way.
The article can also be found here.