Willie Garson's Stanford in SATC felt monumental for a closeted gay teen like me

As renowned drag queen Lady Bunny crowned Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) and his best friend Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) joint LGBTQ+ prom queens in an episode of Sex and the City, I watched in awe and secret longing.

At the time, I was a closeted gay teen gawking at the show with my older sister – who always commandeered the TV remote – and I pretended to begrudgingly accommodate.

In reality, I loved the show for its refreshing discussions around sex and sexuality, but particularly because Stanford was one of the first openly gay characters I’d ever seen on the small screen.

So when I heard the news this morning about the death of Willie Garson, a pang of deep sadness swept over me.

He had a long list of impressive acting credentials, including recurring roles on police dramas NYPD Blue and White Collar, as well as Big Mouth. The actor, who identified as straight, was a father and a strong advocate for adoption, as well as a progressive voice on social media.

But it was his role as the spectacled sassy gay best friend in Sex and the City that was truly formative for me.

I came out at the age of 18 after 13 years of repressive Catholic school education, where the only time teachers mentioned homosexuality was the bible passage: ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination’.

Watching Sex and the City – particularly Kim Cattrall’s Samantha Jones – felt like a much-needed escape from that at a time when I was trying to figure out who I was.

Even though Stanford was often a stereotype of the ‘gay best friend’ trope, his wit, one-liners – like when Carrie fell over on the runway during a fashion show and he quipped ‘She’s fashion roadkill!’ or when he remarked ‘We all judge – that’s our hobby. Some people do arts and crafts, we judge’ – and his unbridled search for romance helped shape who I’ve become.

But it was his unconditional love for his best friend Carrie that really spoke to me. He was often a reliable ear to the show’s main protagonist, listening to her many relationship woes.

That’s not to say that was all he was though. In one episode, he lovingly called her out in search of feedback about his new boyfriend Marcus: ‘I’ve listened to you talk about Aidan, for what, 10 blocks and two years? And I’ve been a wonderful audience… How many relationships have I been in since you’ve known me?’

She quipped back: ‘Real or imaginary?’ and he responded: ‘Come on, your opinion means a lot to me.’ It’s these tender, yet affectionately sarcastic moments between best friends that I relate to most.

I mostly befriended girls on the school playground (which has carried on into my adult life) so I’ve always cherished the female friendships I have. I value the love and support of these friendships because they’ve accepted me for exactly who I am – just like Carrie and Stanford.

I’ll also never forget routinely going around the circle with my three female best friends and placing who was the ‘Carrie’ or ‘Miranda’ of the group (I always seemed to get Samantha at the time, read that how you will).

But the show was far from perfect, especially when it came to LGBTQ+ portrayals. In one episode, Carrie is dating a bisexual men and the four female friends have a truly awful conversation over brunch about how bisexuality isn’t real (it is!).

There’s also the fact that the two main gay characters – Stanford and Anthony Marentino (played by Mario Cantone) ended up together during an elaborate wedding in the second film spin-off, which felt unnatural and forced. 

The two characters absolutely hated each other throughout the TV show (Stanford once referred to Anthony as a ‘bitchy pine nut’) but they married each other in what was admittedly a heartwarming and super camp ceremony – featuring swans and Liza Minelli as a celebrant. 

Stanford was always the warm, trusted gay best friend with quick humour and a beautiful heart – and that’s due to how Garson attentively played him.

It’s no surprise to see the loving tributes flow for the brilliant actor, like co-star Cynthia Nixon, who said: ‘He was endlessly funny on-screen and in real life. He was a source of light, friendship and show business lore. He was a consummate professional — always.’ Or Cantone, who wrote on Instagram: ‘I couldn’t have had a more brilliant TV partner… You were a gift from the gods sweet Willie.’

I don’t know how Stanford will be portrayed in the upcoming Sex and the City revival, And Just Like That, but it sounds like Garson’s presence on set will surely be missed for the rest of the filming.

If it’s anything like the LGBTQ+ prom episode, where Stanford adoringly dances with his boyfriend Marcus, I’m sure it will be a small win for representation.

Garson’s memory and the warm, openly gay character he portrayed will live on in the hearts of many gay men who struggled to come to terms with their sexuality, but who were offered some small ray of hope through Stanford – just like me.

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