Gay History 101: What the folk!

The original “Queer as Folk” is a 1999 British series that chronicles the lives of three gay men living in Manchester's gay village around Canal Street. It is one of the most controversial shows ever to grace British television screens. The title of the program comes from a dialect expression from Northern England, "there's nowt so queer as folk," meaning "there's nothing as strange as people"; which is a word play on the modern-day English synonym of "queer," meaning homosexual.

The original title was known as Queer as Fuck, before it reverted to the former name. This is a series, which focused on gay men, that didn't shy away from getting graphic, and that was unapologetic in its subject matter. Back then Channel 4 was breaking boundaries on a weekly basis.

Most Americans have not seen the original British series. It is highly recommended. Driven by its success overseas, American cable channel Showtime and Canadian cable channel Showcase co-made a North American version set in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, still under the title Queer as Folk, closely following the original's plot, but then moving onto new storylines since it continued for four additional seasons becoming a sort of gay soap opera.

The North American version covered more social issues such as AIDS, gay parental rights, and gay marriage.

It quickly became the number one show on the Showtime roster. The network's initial marketing of the show was primarily targeted at gay male (and to some extent, lesbian) audiences, yet a sizeable segment of the viewership turned out to be heterosexual women.

Groundbreaking scenes abounded in “Queer as Folk,” beginning with the first episode, containing the first simulated sex scene between two men shown on American television (including mutual masturbation, anal sex, and rimming), albeit more tame than the scene it was based on in the UK version. Despite the frank portrayals of drug use and casual sex in the gay club scene, the expected conservative uproar never materialized. (maybe they got off on it).

Initially, most of the actors kept their real-life sexual orientations ambiguous in the press so as not to detract from their characters, causing much speculation among the viewing audience. Since that time, Randy Harrison, Peter Paige, Robert Gant and Jack Wetherall have stated that they are gay, while the rest of the cast have for the most part avoided public discussion of their orientation. Everyone who has seen the series has his or her own favorite characters. One of them is Emmett Honeycutt, played by Peter Paige: Originally from Hazlehurst, Mississippi, Emmett is the most flamboyant of the group. He goes through several jobs, including shopkeeper at a clothing store called Torso, porn star, naked maid, party planner, and correspondent for a local news station, as well as a number of relationships during the course of the series.

Always ready to make a fashion statement, Emmett flaunted orange leather pants with a lining of Tom of Finland characters. The autographed pants are currently on display at the Stonewall Library and Archives in Wilton Manors. Also on display is Sharon Gless’ famous leopard outfit worn on the show. Everybody, hands down, loves Debbie Novotny, the character played by Sharon Gless: An active PFLAG member, Debbie is fiercely proud of her son’s homosexuality, to the extent of making him embarrassed about it. She treats all the boys as her own family, especially Justin, who briefly lives with her after he runs away from home. She is also one of the people who sees past Brian's cockiness for what he really is. She works at the Liberty Diner and, at home, she takes care of her ill brother Vic.

As of February 1, 2014, the entire series is available for online streaming, via Netlfix. If you are a fan of the show you might want to visit the exhibit at the Stonewall Library and Archives in Wilton Manors and take a trip down memory lane.


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