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. 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 nine through twelve of Season One. You are invited to follow along on Netflix, where all five seasons are currently streaming.
Turning 30 really isn’t a big deal. Maybe it’s because we live in the age of “zaddy,” but I haven’t dreaded 30 as much as Queer as Folk wants me to. To the characters on Folk, however, 30 is a wildebeest gnawing at your ankles, looking to hobble you Annie Wilkes-style.
Of course, I’m no idiot. Yes, I know that our beloved queer community still idolizes youth way too much and throws away people over 50 for the most part. Queer spaces are full of ageism and loneliness among our LGBTQ elders is sky high. But I just don’t hate the prospect of 30.
Folk finds itself in quite a pickle. The characters perform the queer reality of “dead at 30” by having the characters tease each other about their age. But the underlying argument of the show is that this bunch of late 20-somethings and early 30-somethings have lives that are worth investigating. So the show undermines its thesis just by existing!
Anxiety around turning 30 is mostly experienced by resident geek Michael this episode. When he talks to his gay uncle about turning 30 and wanting to go out to bars, his uncle snaps, “Get out before they kick you out!” echoing just how much older gay men feel tossed away by their youthful counterparts. The show is making an argument for the worth of all gay men, and yet it just can’t help but shower attention upon its youngest character, Justin.
Even though the season opened by seeming to be about the central four characters a la Sex and the City, Justin comes through and dominates the show in a way that you didn’t know a 17-year-old twink could dominate. Even the 20- and 30-something characters on the show can’t seem to help but all coalesce around Justin. In just a few short episodes, the character goes from Brian’s one-night stand to a hangaround to a central part of the main group’s frustrations.
The group coalesces around Justin and gives him unending jockstrap-like support. When he loses his house, Brian takes him in — after only having had a few casual hookups with him! When he runs away to New York City, the group chases him down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I talk often about the fantasies the show gave me about my own maturation. I thought maybe I’d find some group of older gays who’d nurture me from crawling baby gay to stumbling toddler gay. But, alas, that didn’t happen!
Watching it when I was younger, I could only see the show from Justin’s point of view. Now, I can parse out most characters’ motivations. Justin wants desperately to seem like an adult. Brian desperately wants to cling to Justin’s youth. The group believes they’re helping a homeless queer youth find his way. Seen through one lens, everyone in the show is acting pretty charitably. They’re all looking out for each other.
But through another, each one is using the other to get some kind of social status. Justin gets homo street cred, Brian gets his Cum Fountain of Youth and, well, I don’t really know what the rest of the group gets, I have to admit.
In a show obsessed with queer mythology, turning 30 was bound to be a plot point. As Michael deals with this age milestone and Justin deals with running away from his parents, Emmett deals with another central part of queer television: the HIV test. Surprisingly, the show is earnest and good when it comes to presenting an HIV test. Emmett misses a phone call from the clinic and spends his weekend going through the Rolodex of guys he’s slept with, fixating on the silliest acts that probably wouldn’t lend itself to HIV transmission. That guy had a cut on his lip! He sucked on someone’s fingers!
Increasingly, Queer as Folk seems to be a show centered on queer anxieties — being too young, receiving an HIV+ diagnosis or growing older. But if there’s one thing that’s made me anxious, I’m gonna say it’s being gay, so good job!