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Schitt’s Creek, Dan, Decoys, and David

Joel McDonald Okinawa Japan ca 2000
Joel McDonald sitting on a seawall in Okinawa, Japan, around 2000.

December 21, 2020

Joel McDonald Okinawa Japan ca 2000

Joel McDonald sitting on a seawall in Okinawa, Japan, around 2000.

by Joel McDonald

I love Schitt’s Creek. I believe it’s a must-see show for anyone. It was co-created by Daniel Levy. In a recent photoshoot and interview with Bustle, Dan is open about his experience coming to terms with his sexuality and coming out, an experience that no doubt helps to shape the show. While doing so, he shared something that really resonated with me.

Talking about his early experience in theatre, Dan says, “It was like a decoy version of myself that I was putting out there to not have to live with the reality that when the bullying was happening — if someone was calling me a f—-t or whatever it was — they were speaking the truth.”

I have this semi-vivid memory of being in the courtyard of my middle school. There was a confrontation of some sort with a small group of boys. They weren’t friends. They weren’t anyone I talked to or interacted with on a daily basis. Somehow our paths crossed that day. Maybe they went out of their way to approach me. Maybe we were walking on a path in the opposite direction. Those details evade me. I also don’t remember exactly what they said to me during our brief exchange or what I may have said back. Maybe they said something about my clothes. That part is fuzzy. What I do remember is when our encounter ended, as I walked away, I heard a word used to describe me. Either the word was hurled toward me or used for comic effect between themselves. I can’t be sure. But I remember them clearly calling me a fag.

At that time, in eighth grade, I don’t think I really knew what the word meant. I think I knew it was another word for gay, but maybe worse. I don’t think I really knew what being gay meant either, other than that it was bad. It was a cause for ridicule. It was something to be avoided. It was something that I simply could not be.

Fast forward nearly two years, I found myself standing in a chapel parking lot waiting for others in my youth group to arrive and for their bags to be loaded into the vans heading to the coast so that we could catch the ferry to Tokashiki Island for a week-long youth retreat. My family was living in Okinawa, Japan, at the time as this was where the United States Air Force had sent us. I was active in my Protestant chapel community and youth group and was looking forward to spending a week that was sure to be filled with friends, fun, and spiritual experiences. It was while waiting in that parking lot that my friend Colleen introduced me to David.

David was homeschooled, so he knew practically no one. I don’t remember seeing him at church or youth group, so I’m not sure how active he really was. What I do know is that David and I took an instant liking to each other and were practically inseparable for that week and for months after. We went to church together, we sang in the choir together, we volunteered as youth leaders for the middle school youth group. We spent a lot of time together. So much so that my dad, after my asking permission to sleep over at David’s for the umpteenth time, joked that he thought David and I needed to break up.

I don’t remember how I outwardly responded to the words “break up,” but I do remember being inwardly stunned. Those aren’t words you use to describe ending a friendship. Those are words you use to describe ending a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, David and I were spending a lot of time together, but we were friends. Nothing more. And how could there be more between David and me? That wasn’t an option.

I’m confident that the boys in the middle school courtyard had haphazardly thrown a popular slur for the time. I doubt they really read into my soul before pronouncing their assessment that I was a fag. My dad though? For him to say something like this? Did he see something?

The truth, which I can say knowing what I know now about myself and life in general, was that I did want something more with David, even if I couldn’t really define or understand it at the time. As young men do as teenagers, I was becoming more aware of feelings and attractions and everything that came with them. Sadly, David and I did eventually part ways. I can’t speak for him, but from my vantage point, there was a tension that grew between us that we didn’t understand or were unwilling, or maybe unable, to address. I could be wrong, but I think we both wanted something more, even if we couldn’t define what that something was or accept that such a thing was even possible.

I think about David from time to time. I wonder how he’s doing. I’m curious to know if he, like me, is attracted to men; and if so, if he ever was able to live authentically and how his faith shaped or continues to shape that experience. I’ve searched for him online a few times without success. I hope he’s well.

Eighth grade me or the me that was David’s friend could have hardly imagined the trajectory my life would take through high school to today. At 17, believing in The Book of Mormon and the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, I was baptized as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At 19, I set off to serve as a full-time missionary in Colorado and Kansas. At 21, I returned home from my mission having struggled with finally coming to terms with my sexual orientation for the latter half of my two-year assignment. At 24, I had my first boyfriend, resigned from the Church, and came out to my family. At 28, I became the first openly gay person elected to any office in my city and region. Now, at 36, I’m fortunate to work for Affirmation to help provide safety, love, and hope for the LGBTQIA+ Latter-day Saint community and I have someone in my life that I can see a real future with. It was with him that I watched the final season of Schitt’s Creek. I’m his Patrick. He’s my David (from Schitt’s Creek, not from high school).

Returning to Dan Levy’s description of presenting a “decoy” of himself while on stage to escape the reality of his personal struggle with his sexual orientation, I think how often I, and possibly David (from high school, not from Schitt’s Creek), and so many others have done the exact same thing. If not through the theatre, maybe through sports, or academics, or religiosity. How often have we felt the need to create a facade to hide our true selves from the world and maybe from ourselves as well? How many stories have we heard about young Latter-day Saints trying to make a cosmic deal with God to go out into the world as obedient and hard-working missionaries in exchange for the perceived burden of their sexual orientation or gender identity to be lifted from them?

We become decoys of ourselves to hide from our families, communities, and society where direct and indirect messages are sent that tell us that we are not normal. That we are others. That we don’t belong. There is pain in that hiding. There is a loss of healthy, natural developmental experiences. There is a loss of time to live authentically.

I hope and pray for a day where nobody feels the need to hide who they are. A day where the closet is only a place to find clothing, shoes, and maybe dusty boxes of personal mementos. Until that day, I will celebrate every person who finds the strength to come out to both themselves and the world, and I will do what I can to make society a place where doing so is a little bit easier.

I applaud Dan and all involved in making Schitt’s Creek a reality. I believe shows like this help make society a place where living authentically is a little easier. It’s the kind of show created by the kind of people who the eighth grade me and the me who was David’s friend would have benefited greatly from years ago.


  1. Richard on January 3, 2021 at 2:37 PM

    Excellence article written with a powerful narrative that resonates with all those who struggle with being different and the acceptance of one’s wonderful uniqueness.

    Thank you for writing a healing article of validation, purpose and possibilities. The perfect message for a new year that underscores – we are “divinely created” just the way we are!

    I wish all Affirmation readers peace, wellness and the feeling of inclusion and protection from discrimination – “No Man Is Alone”.

    • J R on August 14, 2022 at 5:39 PM

      I am a visitor this site but have enjoyed this insightful read. Thank you for it and your honesty.

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