Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey stand closely in 'Fellow Travelers.'

How ‘Fellow Travelers’ Is—and Isn’t—Based on a True Story

It feels pretty real.

Fellow Travelers is Showtime’s latest historical romance series. The series, which spans the 1950s to the 1990s in America, features many historical events—but is it based on a true story?

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Fellow Travelers is about a grand love story between Hawk Fuller (Matt Bomer) and Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey). In the first episode, we see Hawk and Tim when they first meet in the McCarthy era of the 1950s, and again when they are much older in the 1990s, dealing with the AIDS epidemic. The chemistry between Hawk and Tim is immediate, and things get unexpectedly steamy in the first episode.

The heart of the story is the love affair between the two men, even though we know they lead very different lives as they age. Since the show seems so historical, is it based on something that actually happened?

Is Fellow Travelers based on a true story?

The eight-episode series on Showtime is based on the book Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon. The book is a historical fiction novel about the lives of Hawk and Tim. Although the two main characters are fictional and did not live, their stories could have easily happened. The trials and secrecy they must go through as gay men are similar to those experienced by men who lived through the 1950s. Speaking in code or going to secret meeting places and bars to connect were all part of gay reality in America at that time. Both Tim and Hawk date women to “keep up appearances” so no one can suspect that they might be gay.

Historical events shown in the series also actually happened. In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy, whom Tim works for in the series, waged a personal war on ridding America of the perceived Communist threat. It turned into a witch hunt to find any Communist sympathizers. They also went after anyone who could be queer. Later on in the 1980s and 1990s, the series also covers the AIDS crisis as it ravaged the gay community while sitting President Ronald Reagan did nothing to help. Even if Tim and Hawk are fictional, the events and struggles they face were very much real.

(featured image: Showtime)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.