March 29, 2017
advice articles
Queer as Folk – The Complete Series (US Version)

Queer as Folk – The Complete Series (US Version)

Throughout a vast majority of my life as a young adult, I had the same relationship with Queer as Folk as I did with my parents having sex—I acknowledged its existence but I had no intention of ever watching it in my lifetime. Throughout high school, it was thanks to my deep involvement in the Catholic church and my family’s chronic allergy to premium cable channels. Yet even after I came out in college, I still had no intention of ever going near the series for some reason. I guess I didn’t want to allow myself into tastes of a stereotypical gay man. Nevertheless, when Will bought me the entire series box set on DVD, my reaction was… lukewarm.

Thankfully, Will was onto something that I wasn’t. It wasn’t like he was an avid viewer back in the day, but he had seen enough to know what we were missing. Thus, as we watched the first few episodes, he was absolutely desperate to know my thoughts and reactions. He kept on asking me, “Do you like it? Do you like it?” Then again, that’s probably because he didn’t want to feel like he had given me a bad anniversary gift.

I was very slow in my decision making. For one thing, I can’t stand one of the main characters—Brian Kinne. He looks like a combination of Chris Evans and Ashton Kutcher, but only if you use the unattractive parts. He talks with odd pauses, the way William Shatner would if he thought he was the hottest man alive. He’s also an embodiment of everything that mainstream America hates about gay people: he’s shallow, allergic to commitment, and highly successful thanks to his penchant for cutthroat douchebaggery. But Brian aside, the show is also campy as hell. It never wastes an opportunity to throw in a gratuitous sex scene or some frontal male nudity, and there are frequent moments where the show goes so over the top that it sashays right across the border into a melodrama. Over time, though, that tone of campy rumpus becomes a welcome throughline, one that almost comforts you as you watch characters grapple with heavy problems of discrimination, violence, drug abuse, and of course the infamous human immunodeficiency virus.

Brian and JustinAll in all, it’s really that substance that keeps the show together for me. Yes, it is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but there’s nothing wrong with gratuitous camp if there’s an actual skeleton of substance keeping everything upright. If anything, you begin to view those portions of the show the same way the characters do—as a welcome escape from the sobering reality that was being gay at the turn of the 21st century. That, to me, is another thing that makes the show interesting to watch ten or so years later. Queer as Folk takes place in a setting that is very much within all of our lifetimes. Yet it somehow feels worlds away. Not (just) because Brian has a penchant for wearing three-button suits, or because Babylon plays songs like Darude’s “Sandstorm”, but because of how much the fabric of mainstream society has changed since the early 2000’s. This is a show that gleefully dances around the outskirts of the mainstream and thumbs its nose at those who are too timid to come and join. It had to, since the only acceptable gays on network TV were the blatantly stereotypical, shuck-and-jive ones on Will and Grace. I see a show like Queer as Folk and can’t help but marvel at the blatant homophobia that Michael, Justin, Emmitt, Ted, and company face in episode after episode. At times, I feel like I’m watching a scene from Nazi Germany dressed in 2002 American drag.

That’s why I feel like this show will forever stand the test of time as a cultural document. We’re only ten years in the future ahead of these characters, and already many of the realities that these characters operate in seem obsolete. Yes, a vast majority of their issues still hit very close to home, but there’s no denying that we live in a much more gay-friendly society than these characters did. Thus, I feel like Queer as Folk, or at lease something similar, should be required watching for any young and out gay person, simply to make sure that we never lose touch with the struggles of those who came before us. Well that, and there’s something truly timeless about the naked male form.

And since I’ve not seen the British version, I can’t definitively say which version is “better”. In my experience, though, those who have seen one version first tend to prefer that one over the other. Perhaps I’ll post a review of the British version in a later post… 🙂

About RJ

RJ is a blogger/vlogger/writer and the other half of the NotAdamandSteve duo. When he's not making videos or writing stuff online he's usually working out, traveling, telling you factoids you never asked for, working out, or spending quality time with his new husband and German Shepherd.

5 comments

  1. I had the exact same feelings towards QAF. I didn’t want to start watching because I felt it was too stereotypical. Just the same as you, however, I eventually grew to love some of the characters and empathize with them through some of their very real struggles.

  2. I watched the British version on the UK Channel 4 (famous for it’s radical programme-making at the time) when I was 28 years old (1999) – seems an age ago now!
    For a British audience QAF was truly shocking – the first episode when an underage teenager is seduced with football (soccer) analogies and then driven to school by his gay lover in a black jeep with the word QUEER spray-painted onto it by queer-bashers made my jaw drop.
    QAF is only 2 series long and – in my personal opinion – too much is crammed into each episode. It is as if the programme makers were afraid that the British TV viewers would be so outraged by the content that they’d have to pull the plug on it at any moment.
    QAF was also set in Manchester, a part of Northern England with a notorious gay enclave (Canal Street) nowadays much frequented by hen parties. The same year QAF came out, I went to a LGBT union meeting nearby and spent the evening down canal street. In the late evening, I found myself alone and unable to get a lift back to the college where the meeting was being held. I wandered around a bit and found a taxi company called “Rainbow” taxis. A rather sweet and supremely camp young man came up to me and said “Oh hello there, what’s YOUR name?” I answered, he smiled, turned on his heels and went back into the taxi office. Outside the office, various tipsy couples (mostly straight) lay on the stairs in assorted states of inebriation. 5 minutes later a taxi came for me, not anyone else. I was ferried back to the college building, charged a ridiculously small amount of money and found my way to my room and bed.
    The next morning I was relaying this story to my fellow delegates over breakfast and they nodded knowingly “That’s rainbow cabs” one of them said “The young man was judging whether you were gay or not – you obviously passed the Queer as Folk test”
    I blushed at getting preferential treatment, but it’s rather nice to be discriminated against positively for a change!

  3. i first watched it when i was like 11, when i started to understand why and where i was different from the rest of my friends and family… i was a sexual little child…

  4. i love the show so much i have been a fan for 5 years now

  5. first i have to say: damn RJ, you are a great writer. ” At times, I feel like I’m watching a scene from Nazi Germany dressed in 2002 American drag” <- i cannot even begin to say how much i loved that line…. as for the series, it really is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me as well. i hated the stereotypes but i loved how ballsy it was – tv back then isn't as laid back as it is now. every episode must have brought a new wave of controversy with it. as you said, i also loved the "skeleton" holding it up. it spoke a lot of truth about how LGBT people were being treated that wasn't being said or seen. issues brushed under the rug were now on people's tvs – they couldn't quite pretend things were not happening anymore. all in all i love it.

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