Lately my Facebook wall has been bombarded by my fellow gay brothers (not really by any of my queer-identified brothers or gay or queer sisters) sharing the trailer for, and new stories about, HBO's upcoming show Looking. I imagine this is what life would have been like if Facebook had been around when Queer as Folk debuted, only back then I would have shared the trailers as well.
I remember the fear of getting caught looking at naked, queer, in-your-face gay sexuality onscreen, but the need to see reflections of my sexual self onscreen was so primal and urgent that I did not care about the perceived risk to my closeted self. I plopped my fat, dark, teenage body down in a room illuminated only by a television set and watched Brian, Michael, Ted, and Emmett (oh, glorious Emmett!) prowl around Babylon, and I smiled. Eventually, though, I noticed that I was still hungry.
I was not seeing anything like me in the world of Queer as Folk. Dark boys were not features in that queer world; we popped up as a well-muscled but nameless, line-less, and storyless black hunk whom Brian turned away, as an Asian person who could not speak English but learned enough to demand payment and thus reveal himself as a prostitute, and also as the black half of a supposedly perfect gay couple that was really not perfect at all. So, needless to say, Queer as Folk left me out in the cold. I can't speak for other queer people of color or gay people of color, but when I tried to bring up the issue in chat rooms -- remember those? -- and message boards, I was frequently told to stop complaining and be appreciative that we gay men had any representation at all, and that blacks always complain that we are not being represented. Well, at that time I became an avid L Word fan, and then Noah's Arc came along, and then The DL Chronicles (granted the last two were unceremoniously yanked from their respective stations), and DTLA came and left.
This problem of being not just erased but whited out is not limited to Queer as Folk but happens across the vast majority of visual depictions of queerness and gayness. To live as a queer person of color in this world is to either continuously confront the reality of your systematic and constant erasure from various narrative forms or to constantly contest the limited ways in which others depict us and our communities. This fact informs me going into HBO's Looking.
Airing on a station that has become increasingly white, it is troubling to see the trailers of HBO's Looking and see few, so few, faces of color. The one main character of color the show does have raises the specter of colorism. I see the trailer, and while I know that it is set in contemporary San Francisco, all I can help but wonder is, "Is the gay mecca really that snowy?" I wonder, "Will the bars that they frequent be only the mostly white bars, or will we see the Latino gay scene? The black ones? Will Looking learn from past shows and provide characters of color with agency and perspective?" The trailer doesn't suggest so. The interviews given don't suggest so. What is suggested is that the show will be "sexy" and hip, edgy, buzzworthy.
And yes, it matters. It matters that in 2013 gay visibility, though celebrated, is only measured by the visibility of the most privilege among us. To be anything more than a vague term, visibility must also encompass diversity. I am speaking explicitly about the inclusion of black and brown bodies, trans bodies, and bodies that are not conventionally beautiful or desirable. And while there is a convincing argument to be made that we people of color should stop looking to white systems and structures for access and room and space to tell our stories and depict us (as I said, often the results can be dubious), I think we can assert that it still matters that they rarely do include us, and that assertion does not negate the counterargument. It matters that our stories are relegated to the Internet and harder-to-access venues while we are still expected to be excited over new gay shows that seem like more of the same business as usual. All of this matters.
And yet my hunger, my need to see myself and others like me, is still there, so in 2014 I will look at Looking, and I will be hoping that Looking has looked at people like me and has incorporated our stories into its moving tableau.