Is it good for gays?

Promiscuous gay men. Bickering lesbians. Underage sex. PFLAG-waving moms. These things happen. But should they be on television for the world to see? Fervent fans and critics of Showtime’s Queer as Folk face off.

BY Greg Killday

June 19 2001 12:00 AM ET

Are love-struck
Michael and the controlling Dr. Dave headed for
splitsville?

Will
love-’em-and-leave-’em Brian ever acknowledge
that he’s developed a genuine bond with young
and restless Justin?

And what about
Emmett? With all his pals pairing off, will he be left
single and alone? And Ted—isn’t he just asking
for trouble by taking in that meth twinkie Blake?

And now that
Melanie and Lindsay and their baby are back together, will
they live happily ever after?

As
Showtime’s Queer as Folk ends its first
season—the last episode, revolving around
Brian’s tumultuous 30th birthday and promising
cliff-hangers aplenty, airs June 24—the ongoing
debates that have dogged the series since its debut in
December are sure to intensify. As the first dramatic
series on American television to focus
unapologetically on a circle of sexually unabashed gay men,
QAF, as it’s often called, has been a lavender
lighting rod from the very beginning.

The show’s
Web site—which Showtime says draws 300,000 unique
visitors a month—has played host to impassioned
arguments. “I can totally relate to the
characters,” enthused one visitor, Rick, hailing the
series as a breakthrough for its unflinching
presentation of gay lives. “I have known people
like Michael, Brian, Emmett, Justin. I think we all have
moments like the characters, longing for someone we
can’t have, longing to be the beautiful one,
confused about love and lust, etc.” Others, like a
visitor signing himself Tolver, have reacted with
alarm, worrying that QAF’s frank
sexuality—especially its major plot thread
focusing on 29-year-old Brian’s dalliance with the
then–17-year-old Justin—can only spell
trouble: “This is very bad. Gay men as
promiscuous child molesters. The religious right will use it
as a weapon to sway Middle America against
gays.… Nowhere in this series is there any
evidence of stable gay men who are productive members of
society.”

That feared
backlash never materialized. Though the Family Research
Council aimed an obligatory broadside the show’s way,
cultural conservatives generally steered clear of
Queer. “The religious right can’t make
a credible case against a show that’s on pay TV
late at night—most people tend to side with the
right to freedom of privacy and freedom of choice, no
matter what the content,” says Wayne Besen, a
spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay
lobbying group. “Plus a lot of religious
conservatives don’t get Showtime—or at least
don’t acknowledge that they subscribe to a
network that advertises ‘No Limits.’ ”

But Queer as
Folk
has clearly struck more than a few nerves
among gay and lesbian viewers, who have taken up the
slack for the absent antigay forces. Fans and detractors
have obsessively submitted the show—based on
the 10-episode British series created by Russell
Davies, which first aired on England’s Channel Four
in 1999—to the most rigorous analyses, pro and con.

Folk tales

Gays, lesbians,
and friends from around the country assess the impact of
Queer as Folk

Michael Volpatt
Senior strategist for a technology communications firm,
Pittsburgh native

Nothing like that
happens here [in Pittsburgh]. It’s a beautiful city,
but it has a low-key gay scene. You wouldn’t see drag
queens walking down the street. Multiple people would
not be having sex in an alley. There are no sex clubs
here that I know of. There’s not a big gym where
people are running around going “Oh-h-h, Sister
Sledge!” And we have no Big Q.

Tom Duane
New York state senator, New York City

I think Queer
as Folk
has to be put into a context of the
general lack of programming on television that speaks to
the queer community. [The show covers] a tiny part of what
some gay people’s lives are about, but
that’s more than what we see most of the time.
I wish that every night I would have trouble deciding which
gay-oriented programming I wanted to watch, but it’s
just not like that. Is it the best thing in the world?
No. But is it kind of enjoyable? Yeah. A lot of
heterosexual Americans watch television because
there’s pretty people on their shows, so why
shouldn’t we have some on ours?

Amy Kobeta
Spokesperson for Parents, Families, and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays, Washington, D.C.

I think Sharon
Gless’s character is an honest representation of many
of our active PFLAG moms and dads in how excited she
is that her son is gay, in how accepting she is, in
how she embraces who her child is and how she
doesn’t hold back. From the first episode, where
she’s wearing the I'M A PFLAF MOM button,
people called us and thought it was great. There are
also PFLAG parents like Justin’s mom—at first
they’re confused and scared and then upset and
hurt, and then they move into a more active role. In
one of the last episodes [I saw], she was in the school
fighting for her son!

Bruce La Bruce
Writer-filmmaker (Hustler White),Toronto

I saw the first
two hours, and I thought it was terrible. I was a huge
fan of the U.K. version, and I thought the American version
looked substandard in every respect. I didn’t
like the casting, I didn’t like the design,
didn’t like the writing. The American version does
push the buttons—there are very explicit sex
scenes—but everything else is so banal. I think
it makes gay culture seem sad and superficial. Also,
Pittsburgh is such an amazingly beautiful city, and they
didn’t even shoot any second-unit stuff
there—it’s all shot in Toronto. Here
it’s shot mostly in the gay ghetto, which I
mostly avoid—it’s the same people over
and over again.

Frank Decaro
Writer and regular on The Daily Show with Jon
Stewart
, New Jersey native

I’m a big
fan; I’ve only missed one [episode] so far. I feel
like I have a relationship with the show, and as in
any relationship, I get angry with it sometimes, but
I’m still glad to be in the relationship. It does
touch on topics in gay life that we’ve never seen
before on TV. I think that we were quick to get jaded
with the show. We were chomping at the bit for
sexualized gay characters and then got over our period of
being thankful for this show very quickly. I think
it’s a lot more realistic than a lot of gay
people would like to admit and also a lot more in the
tradition of Dynasty than its creators would like to admit.

The Rev. Irene Monroe
Theologian, columnist, and doctoral candidate,
Harvard Divinity school, Cambridge, Mass.

While I applaud
the show for being unapologetically queer, I am
nonetheless appalled by the slice of queer life the show
chose to portray: hedonistic, promiscuous, and drugged
gay men. And how is it possible to reside in
Pittsburgh, an urban city, and not run into any LGBT
person of color? As I have seen no people of color featured
in its episodes, even in cameo appearances, the show,
I’ve begun to realize, would have best been
called Queer as White Folk.

- Reported by Chad Graham

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