Written August 2013 on my tumblr. My first proper essay about fandom and it’s impact on me.
An essay about coming home to a fandom that changed my life, all because of one picture.
It’s a little crazy how something like a television show can trickle into your life and leave such a long lasting impression so that, years later, when you rediscover it feels like a reunion. This has happened twice with Queer as Folk (US) and each time it is akin to stepping back into your childhood home with perhaps more sexual content, drug use and gay politics.
Then again I’ve never been to your childhood home so I may be completely off the mark.
Queer as Folk started as a British TV show, written by Russell T. Davies and was considered to be fairly popular. Then Showcase came along and, like any good American company, decided to remake it for an American audience – which meant changing things. The characters names were changed and their personalities were different but the first episode’s dialogue was almost, line-for-line, the same.
The moment I saw that intro, with its loud techno and half-naked dancers, I was hooked. The show drew me in and wouldn’t let me go. It was past my bedtime and frowned upon by adults but I found a way. I would watch it at my girlfriend’s house as she complained that her mom would find out. I’d watch it with the volume turned way down sitting right next to the TV. My finger always on the channel button to switch it at a moment’s notice if her mother happened to magically materialize in the room.
With its main cast made up of almost entirely gay characters (the actors were straight and gay) it questioned some of the important issues surrounding gay and lesbian life. As someone young (probably 15 at the time) I was just discovering my sexuality and wondering if it was okay to be bisexual. What if that “gay side” of me was wrong, what if it meant I couldn’t become someone successful? I only had Will & Grace to look to and that was hardly anything.
It was reassuring to think that a kick-ass lawyer could be a lesbian, a very successful Ad-man could be gay and it was okay to be fabulous and flamboyant and never apologize for it. In fact Brian Kinney taught me to never apologize about anything about yourself. You were you, screw the rest.
Queer as Folk did so much for my personal life and helped to shape my mind as Doctor Who did, later on, for my social life. These two are also connected. (As a not-so-odd coincidence one of the main characters in the UK version was a big Doctor Who fan. This would be changed to comics and superheroes in the US version.)
When I rediscovered Queer as Folk years later, after the show had gone off the air, I found fans who had been changed as much as I had been. Some had been changed even more.
At roughly 22 years of age I was now old enough to appreciate the lessons and stories behind the handsome and beautiful actors. Now I wasn’t just watching it because of its risqué nature or the beats and colours of Babylon. I could see the layers the actors had put into their characters. These were gay characters with lives, motivations, problems, drug issues, worries and less-than-stellar family upbringings. These were amazing characters who just happened to be gay. I had never seen that before.
The fans also sported many layers and talents. When I discovered livejournal (and later insanejournal when censorship reared its ugly head at LJ) the Queer as Folk fandom introduced me to fanfiction and to slash fiction. In the show sex is a huge part of the characters world and the fans gladly wrote that way as well. Having characters who were gay in canon also meant more freedom. I was introduced to fanart and to drabbles (100 word stories) which I happily tried to write myself. Their positive comments about my little stories gave me so much confidence. It was my first experience writing in another person’s sandbox and I loved it!
I felt a connection to the community and trusted their opinions and loved to be involved in their discussions. So when someone recommended a short piece of fanfiction where the two main characters (Brian and Justin) watch an episode of Torchwood because of Jack Harkness’ likeness to Brian I happily read it. Thankfully the author knew the show and represented what little of it there was in the story accurately and after commenting and saying how much I liked it, the author recommended I start with “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.”
Again, here was Jack, a character that existed outside of the fact that he was “omnisexual.” He was a leader and had his own problems. I greedily absorbed everything I could about Torchwood, then about Jack & Ianto. From there it was just a matter of time before I found out about the Doctor.
With Doctor Who my social life would begin and I would meet the love of my life, finally escape a horrible abusive relationship and find some of the best friends I could ever hope to have.
“So, in other words, for Justin to live here with you, he has to deny who he is, what he thinks and how he feels… Well, that’s not love. That’s hate. Justin, you coming?”
– 1×08 Brian Kinney to Justin’s father Craig (Craig says Justin can live in their home but cannot see men, or go out or acknowledge that he’s gay.)
When I rediscovered Queer as Folk I was in a bad relationship, often I locked myself in my bedroom trying to escape from everything and it was with this show that I would retreat away from the world. I would sit for hours, a tumbler of Jim Beam in my hand to sip (it was no coincidence that was the main character’s drink of choice) while real challenges I had never faced played on the screen. Gay bashing, HIV, drug abuse, parenting, custody issues were just some of the problems these characters faced and it opened my sheltered little eyes.
Yes it was fictional, I never for a moment thought otherwise. And yes, it was just a television show but those characters with their flaws and issues got through those problems; people in real life got through those problems and that meant I could too.
I’ve stated on many podcasts that Doctor Who changed my life. This is 100% true but it was Queer as Folk that gave me the seeds to begin that change. I was stumbling through tumblr when I saw this image the other day:
It was like coming home.
It led to me rewatching old clips and remembering that first sip of Jim Beam. Remembering the first time I logged into insanejournal to see that someone was willing to beta a piece of fanfiction for me. It was the realization that it was okay to be obsessed with a show and think about nothing else.
The show, somehow, gave me the permission to be myself. Doctor Who, Torchwood, Supernatural, South Park, they all came into my life later but still reminded me of the message that Queer as Folk gave to me first.
“Actually, that’s not the truth. Sure, in a lot of ways, I am just like you. I wanna be happy, I want some security, a little extra money in my pocket, but in many ways, my life is nothing like yours. Why should it be? Do we all have to have the same lives to have the same rights? I thought that diversity was what this country was all about. In the gay community, we have drag queens, leather daddies, trannies, and couples with children – every color of the rainbow. My mother’s standing way in the back with some friends. My friends. She once told me that people are like snowflakes; every one special and unique… and in the morning you have to shovel ‘em off the driveway. But being different is what makes us all the same. It’s what makes us family.”
– 5×13 Michael throwing away his planned speech and instead speaking before the conservative press about diversity.