Topher Payne: Gays of our lives


It was a family ritual: Every weekday afternoon, my sister and I would lay out our homework on the coffee table, Mama would pour herself a Diet Coke, and we’d get caught up on the latest shocking developments on the daytime TV soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”

The beleaguered citizens of the show’s mythical town of Salem couldn’t catch a break, and we were rabid consumers of their glossy agonies – plane crashes, amnesia, and a persistent problem with shipwrecks. We were locked onto the living room Zenith for it all.

“Days of Our Lives” was structured in a really useful way, in that one could ignore a scene entirely while doing math homework, then get caught up in the next scene when characters repeated the exact same plot points, very slowly. I’ve always assumed the reason so many awful things happened in Salem was because everyone had trouble processing basic information.

KRISTEN: “John, Marlena. Let me repeat this again. I’m pregnant with John’s baby.”

JOHN: ”You’re… pregnant? With my… with my… baby?”

KRISTEN: “Yes. The baby growing inside of my body is yours. Because of the sex we had that time.”

MARLENA: “I don’t understand! What are you saying? John, what is she saying?”

JOHN: “I can’t make any sense of this at all! How dare you? How… dare you!

The three of us would sit in the living room, nodding in recognition of a given fact which the characters were unlikely to know for months, perhaps even years: Somehow, some way, Stefano DeMira was behind this.

DeMira was the source of all sorrow and consternation in the little town of Salem. Whenever anybody was thrown down a well or locked in a secret chamber by their evil twin, all roads would lead back to proverbial villain. Once the truth was revealed, someone would murder Stefano. This would restore order for a little while, until Stefano returned, even more nefarious and vowing revenge because someone had murdered him again.

It was really useful, spending my childhood watching Stefano DeMira plotting and conniving. Because then I grew up, and I wasn’t surprised to see the Stefanos of the real world. They’re the people so single-minded in their desire to wreak havoc on their targets that they’ve lost the ability to evaluate why they’re doing it. And any time there’s trouble, it doesn’t take long to find their fingerprints all over the damning evidence.

Our community’s Stefano is Brian Brown. He’s the president of the National Organization for Marriage. When marriage equality becomes a hot topic in a state, Brian is never far behind, armed with righteous indignation and media talking points.

Brian was the Oxford-educated, camera-ready replacement for the previous NOM president, Maggie Gallagher, a shrieking harpy who looks like the result of inflating Edna Mode, and then melting her. It was impossible to take her seriously as a spokesperson for traditional marriage, because she seemed absolutely miserable. Who the hell would want to be like her?

Brian is a far more charismatic villain. He’s quick to resist the “bigot” label. He claims not to be prejudiced in the slightest. He’s simply a patriotic Catholic who believes that some people are more deserving of rights than others, based upon arbitrary distinctions defined by people who live and think like he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is attempting to destroy America. But call him a bigot? How dare you! dareyou!

But you’ve got to look a little closer to really appreciate the Stefano DeMira-level villainy this man pursues. The anti-marriage equality protests in France – guess who’s there? Brian Brown.

Who flew to Moscow to encourage passage of the draconian anti-gay legislation? Yep, it’s the globetrotting Brian Brown, spreading hatred, fear, and mistrust around the planet. What a worthwhile way to spend a life, no? I feel like a citizen of Salem every time something awful happens, I know he can’t be far behind.

But something interesting happens with those single-minded villains: they eventually become parodies of themselves. People stop listening, because it’s always the same story over and over. They never learn, or grow. A redemptive arc is impossible. And then they fade into obscurity, remembered only for the trouble they caused when they once had power.

Maybe that’s what happened to Stefano. I really don’t know. We all stopped watching long ago, when we found better things to do.