The clock struck midnight two nights ago as I pressed play on the final episode of Queer as Folk, a show that has catapulted into the ‘big leagues’ of my life. After inhaling all five seasons over a span of a couple of weeks, I was anxious about it coming to an end. Now that it has, I feel as though I’m grieving the loss of actual dear friends. Yes, they’ll live on in syndication heaven, but the narratives of their lives have ended, and short of revisiting my pastime of fan-fiction writing, there’s nothing I can do.
This show combined my love of ensemble friendships and phenomenal characters with my passion for gay rights. It first aired on Showtime in 2000, and revolves around a group of friends living in Pittsburgh. Their lives are not unlike yours or mine – they love, laugh, hurt, work, and play. But they’re queer, and that aspect of their identities colors their lives and a lot of their unique experiences. They spend many of their days at the local gay club, Babylon, and socialize over lunch at the Liberty Diner. Some of them are active for the plight of equality, while others are initially more indifferent to politics and try to live their lives without asking permission. Some let their homosexuality light up their lives like a candle burning bright, while others attempt to blend in to mainstream society and hide who they are. Each of the characters is a gem, and I’m so glad that my good friend Rach suggested I watch!
As I mentioned before, the lives of these genuine characters are very much like ours – yet often the media strives to neuter gay life. In a sense, the idea of gay lifestyles is more acceptable in the present day, but the realistic expression of gay sexuality is swept under the rug for fear of offending straight people. They’re eunuchs in a way – it seems the only time they’re sanctioned in the mainstream society is when they’re giving style tips. It’s unfair, and I’m glad this show addressed that. Whereas most broadcast networks make gay kissing out to be a milestone of epic proportions (i.e. the nonexistent liplocking on Modern Family), the characters of Queer have sex in a realistic way within their relationships. This is not to say that I support crudeness, necessarily, I’m just voicing my appreciation for the show’s honest portrayal of gay lives.
Once I finished the last episode, I naturally found my way to YouTube, where I spent about another other in the middle of the night watching interviews. One notable interview was when the entire cast appeared on Larry King Live in 2002. What I found disturbing was that King kept repeatedly establishing which of the actors were gay “in real life”, and which were straight. He asked awkward questions about kissing people of the same sex, and then even asked the straight actors whether they regretted taking the part. Granted, this was eight years ago, but I felt like he missed the whole point of the show – who cares how you identify yourself, as long as you can relate to the humanity of the characters? We’re all the same, and as Debbie (more about her soon) said on the show, “genitalia is just God’s way of accessorizing.”
My absolute favorite enigma of a character on the show is Brian Kinney. Played by the sultry, gorgeous Gale Harold, Brian has one thing on his mind and one thing only: sex. At 29, he’s a brilliant advertising exec with a keen fashion sense. The plot thickens when he meets a high school senior and budding artist named Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison), who’s a rookie to the gay scene. As you can imagine, Justin falls head over heels for Brian – but Brian builds a tough exterior, the kind that detests relationships and love, much less marriage.
Yet it’s clear to everyone around him that Brian adores and loves Justin, and the two have a magnetic connection. It’s the subtle things that Brian does that show just how fragile and loving he is. When Justin is the victim of a hate crime at his school prom, Brian spends every day in the hospital with him. I can literally go on for pages and pages about my love for Brian, but I’ll leave some of the suspense alive in case you decide to check it out. 🙂
Here’s one of my favorite scenes from Season 1, where Brian surprises Justin and shows up at his prom.
And now, for the rest of the wonderful characters!
First, it’s the matriarch of Liberty Avenue: Debbie Novotny (Sharon Gless). She’s the mother of one of the main characters, Michael, and she’s just as flamboyant as the clientele she serves at the diner. I love her deep love for her son and his friends, her strength to stand up for gay rights, and her potty mouth 😉 She’s an incredibly loving, beautiful, and sincere person, and she’s the glue that holds everyone together. Not to mention, she’s got hilarious t-shirts in every episode!
Next, we’ve got Pittsburgh’s “Queer Guy,” Emmett Honeycutt (Peter Paige). Emmett is the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet – and he’s a loyal friend. He loves to dance to the thumpa thumpa music, and he’s a lot stronger than people give him credit for. I love Emmett’s sense of humor, his carefree style, and his love of all things men.
Liberty Avenue also boasts a lesbian couple, Lindsay & Melanie. At the start of the show, Lindsay (Thea Gill) gives birth to their first child, Gus, whose biological father/sperm donor is none other than Brian Kinney. Linds and Mel (Michelle Clunie) are monogamous (for the most part…) and they try to live peacefully in their home and raise their children. Linds is an artist and teacher, while Mel is a lawyer with a proud Jewish heritage.
Ted Schmidt (Scott Lowell) is a shy accountant who’s perpetually in the state of trying to find his soulmate. He’s obsessed with opera, and he can appreciate the finer things in life. However, he’s also somewhat repressed, and in time develops a very debilitating addiction. His journey to find himself is frustrating at times, but still he’s an important part of the group.
The next couple on Liberty Avenue is Michael and Ben. Michael (Hal Sparks, left) is a self-professed comic book genius, and eventually he even owns his own store and creates the very first gay superhero. He’s also been best friends with Brian since they were in middle school. He meets Ben (Robert Gant), a teacher, who wanders into the store to look for subject matter to teach in his gay culture course. They’re attracted to each other and go out on a couple of dates, but Michael quickly learns that Ben is HIV positive. At first the prospect of contracting the disease terrifies Michael and they go their separate ways, but ultimately they realize how much they love each other and overcome the difficulties that come with HIV. This subplot of the show is another very significant achievement – it lifts the stigma of the disease and portrays gay men who don’t let the disease define them. They manage it well, and are healthy, thriving members of society.
This post was difficult for me to put down into words – I had so much to say about each of these characters, and yet I didn’t want to spoil anything, and so for the longest time I didn’t know where to start. Ultimately, it’s as much for me as I hope it is for you – a rave review about a fantastic, fresh show (regardless of the fact that it ended in 2005) that highlights equality and freedom to love. In my previous blog post, I wrote about how burnt out I was on politics. I still am, but this show rekindled my longstanding support for gay rights, and regardless of who’s in office or which political commentator is spewing on television, I stand strong for gay rights and will defend the rights of all people to love whomever they want! Now, about my sadness for the show ending – I can always go back and re-watch 🙂