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Reality and Fiction Mix on The Baker and the Beauty

Reality and Fiction Mix on The Baker and the Beauty

Beauty

The sitcom's out stars, Belissa Escobedo and Dan Bucatinsky, reflect on playing LGBTQ characters on primetime.

The coming out story never gets old. And, even old stories about coming out -- we're talking for those of us of a certain age who waited till our 20s or 30s -- can hardly be compared to this generation's stories of exiting the closet freely and proudly as teenagers.

The dichotomy between someone who is in their 50s and came out decades ago versus someone who is in their teens and does it today might seem miles apart. But in real life, and on their television show, two stars are proving that the coming out experience can still be a bit difficult, with some obstacles, but in the end highly rewarding.

ABC's The Baker and the Beauty is a comedy about an ordinary baker who falls for an international fashion icon. LGBTQ Emmy-winner Dan Bucatinsky plays the luminary's devoted, gay manager, Lewis. Set in Miami, the series focuses on the importance of the baker's Hispanic family life, including his sister Natalie (Belissa Escobedo).

The program was hailed by Variety as "...heartening...a show that feels warm and genuinely escapist at a tense time in the world outside the frame." As part of its review, Variety cited a subplot involving Natalie becoming aware of her growing attraction to female classmates as "...nicely drawn."

In tonight's episode, Natalie finally reveals that attraction to her family. I had the opportunity to speak with both Bucatinsky and Escobedo about the coming out experiences, not only from their personal points of view, but also through the lives of their characters.

"I came out at 25, which in today's world is a decade later than most kids," said Bucatinsky. "At first, like many of us during the late '80s, the AIDS epidemic cast a dark shadow on the choice to come out. So, I willed myself between the ages of 18-21 not to accept being gay."

Bucatinsky explained that once he graduated from college he started having his first sexual experiences with men and entered into his first same-sex relationship. "At first, I said that I was bi, and while living in NYC I did experiment with both women and men, but after a couple years, I met the man I'd end up with for the rest of my life, my husband Don (Roos), and we began a very conventional and happy relationship. So, all that came early for me." Unlike Bucatinsky's character in the show, Lewis, who took decades to come out.

"Lewis grew up in the Midwest, got married, then came out later in his life to his wife and family," pointed out Bucatinsky. "After admitting to himself who he really is, he then escapes to a new life in Miami. Lewis struggled with his sexuality for years before finally making the revelation."

For Escobedo, coming to terms with her own sexuality was much less of a dramatic event. "When I was around 15 years old, I started realizing the person that I was," she said. "One night, after having dinner with my parents, and coming back from the restaurant in the car, I just blurted out that I was pansexual. And then, I had to explain to my parents what that term meant. I'm very lucky since they are totally fine about it."

"Two years later, I'm in a position where I play a teen lesbian on a network television show. So, I think the experience of growing up as a gay teen is very different than it was in Dan's case. There's so much more acceptance now, it's more normal and the subject isn't as taboo as it used to be."

However, for her character on the show, the process is a bit more challenging. "As a 15 year old, Natalie has an intimidating task of trying to gain acceptance from a family that is very religious and very devoted to their culture both of which can sometimes not be so tolerant of LGBTQ people. However, on the flip side, Natalie has more support at her high school and among her friends which helps her in so many ways."

Teen and twenty-something LGBTQ characters on television today, as well as noteworthy LGBTQ young adults in pop-culture, are out and proud and able to be role models for kids who might be struggling with their sexuality. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, those role models didn't exist or were difficult to find.

"I used to envy really flamboyant, gender-bending performers like Elton John, KISS, and Paul McCrane from the movie Fame," recalled Bucatinsky. "I probably wasn't into the music as much as I was the notion of the leather, high heel shoes, costumes and all the outrageous and liberating things they represented. But in terms of just out, gay people to look up to, I don't recall having any of those."

For Escobedo, she feels lucky that today she has a lot to choose to from, and looks up to inspiring, successful out celebrities like Raven Simone. "It's so gratifying to me and people of my generation to see them being so happy and thriving in their lives; however, I didn't really have someone who I could relate to that represented my Latin culture and being a Latin teen from a Catholic family. I'm glad this show finally fills that void with Natalie."

Both out stars of the show are delighted that in the first season they get to see Natalie with a loving girlfriend, and whether it's lasting or not, the pairing provides a look into the future where Natalie, and maybe Lewis, could ultimately end up with serious, same-sex love interests.

And while they are both thrilled to be in a show that provides a meaningful forum for their LGBTQ characters to explore their lives in new ways that are not stereotypical, there is still one thing that both Escobedo and Bucatinsky agree they want for themselves both professionally -- and personally.

"We're dying to be in a scene together," Bucatinsky disclosed. "I think we both want an opportunity for the two characters to have a connection, and for there to be meaningful dialogue between Lewis and Natalie. I think we both feel that they have things they can learn from each other."

JohnCasey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.

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