Learning from Queer as Folk

This Series Is Not Just About Gay Sex. It’s About the Bond Gay Sex Creates.

But about the sex! It's only slightly more raunchy than those softcore gay porn films with buff boys greeting the sunrise in each other's arms. Think Last Tango in Pittsburgh and you'll get the drift. But just as Last Tango was notorious not only for the sex but for the relationship that enclosed it, Queer as Folk draws its power from infusing the kinky with the interpersonal. This show blows up the balloon of porn, so that the players are full of life itself. Once the distancing conventions of porn are shattered, sex resonates with all the hidden dilemmas that actually make it dangerous—and irresistible. Though safety is the name of this game (and the action affirms that AIDS is spread by semen, not promiscuity), the show preserves the riskiness of sex by demonstrating that what's at play in every roll in the hay is not just the body but the self.

There are many lessons to be learned from Queer as Folk. One of them is that universality can only be rendered by being faithful to the particulars of life. Another is that sexual explicitness has enormous power to deepen a story and convey character. Novelists have long known this, and fought for their right to party. Yet our visual novels—films and TV shows—have been deprived of this crucial narrative device. At the same time, we have created a separate genre for erotic works, in which sex is stripped of its interpersonal vitality. The dichotomy between porn and other dramatic forms is a testament to our abiding puritanism, which insists that you can't be pornographic and profound. This show points to a future in which the forced segregation of the erotic and the emotional is overcome.

Are you ready for Johnny Depp in flagrante or Jennifer Lopez getting rimmed? I know I am. But then, I'm queer as folk.

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