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Politically incorrect queer folk.

A frank gay TV series ignites a fierce debate in the sexually conservative United Kingdom

It's the television series that made the Ellen coming-out episode look like Teletubbies. And the irony is that Queer as Folk, a series in which gay men deep-kissed frequently and wound up having torrid sex in almost every 40-minute episode, was seen by millions of viewers in the United Kingdom, the country that recently refused to keep in step with its European neighbors and lower the age of consent for gay sex to 16.

From February into April, British television viewers were absorbed, outraged, and scintillated as the eight-episode dramatic series aired on the U.K.'s Channel Four. The program revolved around the romantic and hedonistic escapades of three young scene-making gay "folk" in Manchester, England. Series creator and writer and Manchester resident Russell T. Davies explains, "It's not a series about the entire gay world. It doesn't represent every gay man and lesbian on earth--anything that set out to do so would be bland, unfocused, and dull as fuck."

Davies describes the three lead characters of Queer as Folk this way: "Vince has been in love with Stuart all his life and has never slept with him; Nathan sleeps with Stuart the first time he meets him and falls in love with him; Stuart will never commit, never say who he loves or if he loves anyone at all. It's a three-way love story!"

As one might expect, conservatives in the United Kingdom immediately and harshly attacked the program. The Broadcasting Standards Commission began a formal investigation of the series because of the complaints it received after the first episode, in which virginal 15-year-old Nathan was seduced by 29-year-old Stuart. "I knew everyone would react to the sex scenes," Davies says. "What the hell is wrong with sex on television? I like it!"

The three actors cast in the leads were "fantastic about the sex," Davies says. "[They were] nervous, as any actor is about doing any sex scene, but they knew the scenes were vital and wanted to make them work." All three happened to be straight, Davies reports, with the caveat, "I don't know them socially very well--who knows what they get up to? It's actually none of my business. And that's how the auditions were conducted: We never asked anyone about their sexuality." But, he adds, since they all had the scripts in advance, "the moment they walked through the door, they knew what they were in for."

With its frank, gay, intergenerational sexual content, it seems unlikely that American viewers will ever see Queer as Folk on broadcast or cable television. If the justreleased European video version is a hit, U.S. video distribution is possible, although no such plans are in the works. For the near future the series will be accessible in this country only at screenings scheduled for this summer at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and Outfest: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

But that doesn't guarantee gay Americans will embrace it. Certainly not all gay people in the United Kingdom welcomed the show's depiction of clubbing, "shagging" gay men. Writing in New Statesman, Tim Teeman, the former editor of London's gay Pink Paper, said he watched Queer as Folk "with mounting nausea," reviled by the program's depiction of the "metropolitan homosexual lifestyle."

Davies responds coolly, "I'm the only one not surprised by the response from the boneheaded, politically correct gay political fossils. Shocked by the sex! Outraged by the drugs! Appalled by the hedonism! Many of those taken aback have, sadly, been expressing those old, familiar gay traits of self-loathing, fear, and shame. I'm very sorry for them, and I've very little time for them."

Davies, 35, considers Queer as Folk the pinnacle of his personal and professional lives. A writer of many programs for British television, he is now at work on a sequel to the series. He promises it will be as painfully honest and provocative as the original because, he explains, "I'm sick of seeing gay characters on-screen as being passive victims, or cuddly and fluffy, or just the victims of AIDS. Straight characters are granted the full range of emotions; it's about time we were given the same. I refuse to apologize, to explain--an explanation is always akin to apology, in my opinion--or to be afraid."

The notoriety and success of Queer as Folk have changed Davies's life in more ways than he expected, he says. "Writing this show has entailed me coming out to one and all--not that I ever hid anything," he says. "Five weeks ago my mum had her 70th birthday. Big party, all lovely. But three of my mother's oddest friends didn't come `because Russell will be there.' Astonishing, isn't it? And my mum just said, `Sod them!'"

Zachary is an Emmy award-winning television producer who also writes

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:British television program incites strong opinions
Author:Zachary, Bohdan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 8, 1999
Previous Article:School's "out" for summer.
Next Article:Gay 90s.

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