As an avid fan of HBO's Girls, my absolute guiltiest pleasure, hearing about a comparably gay equivalent sounded great. From the trailers and behind-the-scenes specials HBO's Looking looks very promising; super attractive cast, hip and current cinematography and great music. What struck me about the media hype and excitement around the show is about how "honest" the show will be about being "gay."
I remember the first time I saw an openly gay man on television. In a late night, cable TV curiosity I stumbled upon Brian Kinney dancing around with jazz and champagne colored sheets feeling himself in a moment of ecstasy only interrupted by his blonde teenage lover. Many queer people can recall the moment they knew, and my first time watching Queer as Folk was mine. I was so mesmerized by what seemed like a plethora of gay voices and stories that were absent from all the other shows and movies I was consuming. Love, heartbreak, joys and tragedies all shown as central and human and whole. It wasn't until years later, after "coming out" and letting people in on my identity, that I saw how distant my life is and would be from the beautiful (white) boys of Queer as Folk. Ten years later, we find ourselves Looking.
I understand the appeal of hailing this show as iconic and a sign of the times. As Louis Peltzman of Buzzfeed writes that Looking offers "characters who are fleshed out enough to not be dismissed as mere gay types, while also putting their sexuality front and center." Based on the limited previews of the show I have to agree with this summation. The characters seem interesting, both nuanced and flawed, humorous and cliché. It will be great to see a variety of experiences on such a large platform. However, if you remember the initial controversy around Girls, we can only imagine a similar one around Looking. Though there are more smatterings of people of color in the trailers, I am interested to see how they "honestly" portray the intersections of race and class with sexuality.
More representations of LGBT characters should become a mainstay in our culture. Exposure being a large motivator for social change, but we must be more critical of the type of exposure. Though over- and mis- used, white privilege is real and pervasive. Whiteness has the miraculous power to erase the stories and lived experiences of marginalized people. Even by including characters of color, we often find them in the periphery. Their nuances and complexities left unaccounted for or minimized. They become token Blacks, Asian sidekicks, spicy Latino/as. They serve as insurance from ridicule of being a completely white show. Lena Dunham, creator of Girls, is a great recent example of this behavior. After criticism for the snowy white central characters, she added Donald Glover, also known as rapper Childish Gambino, as her beau for a few early episodes and paints her ignorance of marginalized Black identities as humorous for their breakup; his anger is "unjustified" -- she doesn't know any better.
Shows with LGBT themes and characters can fall into the same problematic space. I don't remember a single notable person of color on Queer as Folk. Shows like Modern Family and Will & Grace, iconic, if not essentializing, all center on white queer people, mostly men, but that's a different conversation. So how do we understand this exposure? We unfortunately have been forced to understand queerness as white, male and all too often middle classed. We have come leaps and bounds from only spectacle campy queer men (no shade to my queens) as representations. People of color are queer, are interesting, are exciting and should be highlighted -- not added for flavor.
If Looking wants to be "honest" and modern, it must take into account the varied and real lived experiences of the community to which it wants to cling -- if not pander. If your representation or "equality" require the erasure of parts of your diaspora, how equal or representative are you? If your success, economically, culturally and socially rests on the backs of your own, how successful are you? However, Looking, like Girls, has more to incorporate than simply race; trans identities, queer male misogyny, class inequality, and heteronormativity must all be critiqued and considered.