Fandom is a series in which I detail my favourite shows and reflect on why they speak to me. These posts will contain spoilers.
I have always loved television. Like REALLY loved television. In fact, my mother informed me a few months ago that, even as a small child, if we didn’t make it home to watch Sesame Street every single day, there was hell to pay. I remember racing home after school every day in the early to mid 90s to watch Degrassi (the original, both Junior High and High, then in syndication). I loved those characters. Joey Jeremiah was probably my first crush. I spent my evenings watching whatever I was allowed to, although I was particularly fond of Kratt’s Creatures and Muppets Tonight. However, when I reflect back on my 20 some years of television watching the show that stands out, the one that hits me so viscerally that I sometimes tear up just thinking about it, was one that aired while I was in high school.
I first heard about Queer as Folk as a recently out 11th grader. In my small town in not-quite-Northern Ontario there wasn’t much going on for queer youth. I first heard my two best friends talking about it in our American History class. I wish I could remember what story line they were talking about, but I don’t. What I do remember is a panic “Theres this great gay show that I don’t know about? But I’m the gayest of them all!” Worried about losing my credibility as the gay leader of my high school, I pretended to know what they were talking about. Then I went home and researched. Now, this was in early 2003. The internet was even then not what it is today, and I was not the most internet savvy teen. I couldn’t just pop on to any old site and start streaming the episodes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find them easily to download either. Thankfully, the third season was just starting on Showcase in Canada.
I watched the first episode of season three and was instantly hooked. Who were these people? Why did I not know them before? My love for the show was instantaneous and obsessive. I had all my friends come over the next week (and every week after that) to watch the episodes when they aired. Those evenings, with my friends piled on my bed, are easily my favourite memories from high school.
Watching wasn’t enough. I joined forums and found fan sites. I consumed everything related to the show. For my birthday, my boyfriend at the time bought me the first season box set. I watched the entire thing in two days. For Christmas my dad got me season two, and I don’t think I slept until I’d finished it. I bought a QAF coffee table book and looked for the out of print novels. My favourite quotes from the show were printed in rainbow colours and posted all over my room. These characters were my people. In a town with a limited queer community, during my tumultuous teenage years, I felt like these characters understood who I was.
Struggling with mental illness, my friendships and my relationships were fraught with tension, constantly off and on. Even during the good times I could never shake the feeling that the people I was spending my time with were temporary. But Brian and Justin? They were forever. They were dependable, around whenever I needed them, and certainly predictable when I could recite the scripts verbatim.
In the 12th grade I took a trip to Toronto to visit York University. I was supposed to be evaluating the school to see if it was a good fit. Instead my friend and I spend most of our time and money in the village. I visited the places that the show was filmed and bought tons of rainbow things. I bought the third season on DVD. My mom wasn’t happy about how I’d spent the trip, but all I could think about was how much I wanted to go back there. To be there, in those places, with the characters who were my friends.
When I went to university, I was far far from home. I didn’t keep contact with most of the friends I’d had in high school, but I wasn’t too sad about. I did make some new friends, and I found the queer centre on campus (although I rarely went in my first year). Of all the things that I had brought with me, my QAF DVDs were my most prized possession. Once, a girl down the hall borrowed my first season without asking. I came home and noticed the box was missing, and I lost it. Equal parts panic, loss and anger. Who would do that to me? When the box was found, I’m pretty sure I yelled. People thought I was irrational. No one ever touched the DVDs again.
When the show ended after my first year of university, in the summer of 2005, I felt like someone had run me over. I was devastated. I watched the finale, went to my room and cried for hours. I grieved for weeks, watching the series over and over again. But as with any loss, I moved on with time. I stopped watching the series on repeat, and I made new real life gay friends. But QAF stayed with me. To this day, 10 years after my first taste of of show, it remains the show that I turn to when I feel sad or want to celebrate. Like a good friend who is always there for my life milestones. I continue to name it as my favourite television show of all time, although it now has friends on the list.
As an isolated teen, dealing with serious depression in a town with no queer community to speak of, it seems obvious why QAF would become important to me. There is, however, so much more to it than that. QAF taught me what it meant to be queer, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t mean it taught me to be gay, that seemed and seems pretty self explanatory. Rather, it taught me the power in resisting hetero and homonromative discourses that told me to find a monogamous relationship and settle down. It showed me that there was power in saying “Actually, we AREN’T all the same.”
We continue to live in a time where LGBTQ activism is focused on maintaining institutions that are extremely problematic. Instead of working to dismantle systems of oppression, much of the activism we do is focused on gaining access to those systems through the army or through marriage. QAF shows us that there is value in distancing ourselves from those institutions. So much of who I am, my politics and values and morals, have been shaped by the narratives of resistance I found on that show.
QAF was not perfect. It failed to capture racial and ethnic diversity, with a completely white main cast. Furthermore, it struggled with a limited look at class, although early seasons attempted in their depictions of Michael and Emmett. These are both topics I plan to return to in posts in the future. However, I believe that it is in part because of the show that I am able to see and critique those limitations, to call them out. QAF made me a radical, and I will forever be grateful for that.