Queer as Folk premiered almost two decades ago on Showtime. Its depiction of gay life among a group of Pittsburgh friends is intriguing, problematic, heartwarming, cringe-inducing and often corny. But the stories it wants to tell often have a lot to say about gay life in 2018. As such, INTO is embarking on a rewatch of the entire series, all five seasons and 83 episodes. In this week’s “Rewatch,” staff writer Mathew Rodriguez revisits episodes sixteen through eighteen of Season One. You are invited to follow along on Netflix, where all five seasons are currently streaming.
No doubt you’ve heard about them, the Other Gays. They’re the gays that you’re not like. They circuit. They use. They do whatever it is you definitely don’t do.
Queer as Folk defines itself through the tastes of its four protagonists: Brian the lothario, Justin the twink, Ted the cautious, Emmett the fabulous and Michael the nerdy. Much of their friendly banter in the club revolves around judging the others in the bar, but in this week’s batch of episodes, several members of the group interact with people who they might consider those other gays, which forces them to examine their own convictions.
First up, you have Ted, who spends most of these few episodes trying to kindle a relationship with Blake Wyzecki, who we saw earlier this season when Blake tried to get Ted to use GHB, which ended with Ted in a coma. Ted sees Blake out at Babylon and is triggered by the sight of him. When he goes searching for him in the “back room,” he finds Blake passed out on the floor after using too much crystal.
What follows is Ted trying to fit Blake into his life. Ted stays with him at the hospital, even after Blake didn’t stick around when he overdosed. Ted allows Blake, who is staying “with friends” after he was kicked out of his house, to stay with him in his home. Ted teaches Blake about La Traviata, an opera about a sick sex worker, which becomes a metaphor for their own relationship.
The only problem with the relationship is that everyone in it is judging Blake. When Ted’s wallet goes missing, he blames Blake, believing that a drug user must also necessarily be a thief. And Emmett is no help: to Emmett, Blake is only his addiction. He advises Ted to swerve away from Blake at every chance he gets. Both Ted and Emmett see themselves as inherently better than Blake because of his addiction, the difference being that Ted extends Blake sympathy.
But the show judges Ted’s sympathy, and invites us to join in. Sure, Ted may be a little neurotic, but he has a job and an apartment. His neurosis is relatable. But Blake? He’s an other gay: tweaking and unable to get his shit together. We’re not supposed to care. In that way, the show reifies the rampant lack of understanding and dehumanizing of people who use drugs in the queer community.
Then there’s Michael and his chiropractor boo, Dr. David. Dr. David is obsessed with separating himself from Michael’s friends and lives his life like a damn Countess Luann song — Jams! Jets! Silhouettes! Champagne in the sky! — but, as the saying goes, Money Can’t Buy You Class. Turns out that keeping up with the Joneses isn’t Dr. David’s only fixation. He also likes to go to bathhouses so that he can jack off with other guys in the steam room.
OK, two things. The show does judge Dr. David for what he does, but it also decides to show its most together character as one who is also extremely sexual and doesn’t want to be limited to monogamy in some way. Michael, meanwhile, crumbles when he learns about this. Michael wants monogamy and begins to see Dr. David as dirty for what he did. He now realizes that he is dating one of those other gays who goes to the bathhouse for a quickie then slides into bed for a second round.
The entire saga dusts up what is a recurring tension in the show between the Brian Kinney gays (monogamy isn’t natural!) and everyone else on Queer as Folk (monogamy is the ultimate goal!) Ultimately, Michael makes a diplomatic choice after attempting his own extramarital fun: he sees that sex without emotion is not the same as sex with emotion and chooses to turn a blind eye to Dr. David’s bathhouse jerk off sessions.
The Michael/David relationship also gets sent up during a pretty funny scene where Dr. David hosts a fundraiser for a local gay-friendly Democrat. Seeing that Michael has begun to live the snooty life, the gang stages a macro-level intervention and shows up to the fundraiser in S&M gear, drag and mesh shirts. They fill the speakers with Babylon-esque thump-thump music and truly gay up the party. Though they are the show’s main gays, they perform “other gay-ness” for the sake of making a point.
Queer as Folk’s presenting of a specific set of queer attitudes and viewpoints will inevitably create in-groups and out-groups just based on who it chooses to feature. Folk asks us to spend time with a group of gays who go out several nights a week. Their social circle revolves around a gay diner. They wear leather pants and really love sucking cock.
To some gays, the Queer as Folk gays may be the other gays.