Monday, August 08, 2005

The Last Queer

So, it ended as it began, with Michael doing a voiceover and everyone dancing at Babylon.

After 5 years, Showtime’s Queer As Folk, the groundbreaking series that broke any number of barriers for gay and lesbian characters on television, came to an end. It was, predictably, bittersweet, at times heartbreakingly so.

The series which began as the story of lifetime friends Brian and Michael and how they dealt with the barely legal Justin’s crush on Brian ended, after 5 years of variations on the theme, including Michael’s marriage in Canada and Brian’s bout with testicular cancer, with the pair back together and celebrating in the now bombed-out husk of the club which had been the hub of all the characters’ lives.

It’s easy to underestimate the effect that QAF had. It certainly never got any attention from the usual award committees. But it made a huge dent in the preconceptions that many straight people had about the lives of gays and lesbians, merely by presenting them as normal, well-rounded individuals.

You could fault it at times for being a little too soapy, or a little repetitious in its recycling of established tropes, (yes, we know that Brian, the jerk with the heart of gold, will come through in the end) but it was also smart and unafraid to tread on toes, even those in the gay community. It was never funnier than when it took on the criticism it received for stereotyping gays by inventing a show within the show called “Gay As Blazes.” And it took on the crystal meth epidemic months before I ever saw a mention of it in the media.

Mostly, it was the passion of everyone involved and the constant reinforcement of the message that the characters were proud of who they were. It was a message that easily transferred over to anyone who watched it, whoever they were, regardless of their orientation.

Most of the final season was devoted to a confrontation between Michael’s mature married life in suburbia and Brian’s struggle to remain the party boy of his youth despite encroaching age and the increasing demands from Justin for a commitment. It was a schism that threatened to tear apart all of Brian’s relationships, until tragedy made him rethink his priorities.

In the end, the show that had teased us for years about whether or not Brian and Justin would end up together wouldn’t let us have that simple pleasure. It felt cruel, but in retrospect QAF becomes Justin’s story, the education of a young man who becomes, under Brian’s tutelage, “the best homosexual he can be.”

And in many ways, even though he started out as the youngest and most inexperienced character, Justin always seemed the brightest and most level-headed of the bunch, not to mention someone whose talent meant his time living in Pittsburgh was always going to be limited, anyway.

So we were left with Brian and Michael, their roles reversed, Brian moving on to a dull new maturity that he sees as inevitable and Michael deciding that “some things are never meant to change” and encouraging Brian to be everything he’d ever criticized him for, immature, unrealistic, hedonistic and…beautiful.

As the broken Babylon magically reconstituted itself and Brian started to dance through the glitter and lasers to the same song that concluded its initial episode, Heather Smalls’ Proud:

What have you done today to make you feel proud?
It's never too late to try

What have you done today to make you feel proud?
You could be so many people
If you make that break for freedom

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Brian looked like something larger than himself, confident, unstoppable, heroic…



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