Shameless, Skins

OUR SHAMELESS SKINS

By Adam Lowe

It’s a new era of representation for queers on TV. Or is it?

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In 1999, skinny young gay boys secretly tuned into Queer as Folk for their weekly dose of gay lifestyle. They were taught about rimming, slutting about and the perils of drugs use. These gay men were proud, sexual, confident creatures who did not apologise about being gay. Stuart was the epitome of power and gay prowess. He was defiant, rebellious and independent. He was an icon and inspired hordes of closeted teenagers to stride out of the closet and into the midst of the gay scene.

For many, Queer as Folk was fantasy. For others, it was a rallying call—a call to arms. In my own experience, it was Queer as Folk that helped me understand what life as a gay man might consist of, and it gave me the courage to come out and become the person I am today. There’s always been the apologist section of gay society, who need to point out how straight we gays are, and how unlike the unabashed faggots of Russell T. Davies we are. But bollocks to them, I say.

And what do we have now? There’s Coronation Street’s Antony Cotton, who played the smart and funny Alexander in Queer as Folk, and who, for all intents and purposes, plays a castrated version of this same character. He’s inoffensive, asexual and traditional. He’s also little more than a neutered stereotype. I want him to scream witty tirades at Dierdre and have a threesome with Steve and Tyrone. Okay, maybe not those two, but you get the drift.

There are also the gay men of Shameless and Skins. And this is where I’m torn. There’s chavtastic homo Ian in the former. He has sex in dirty public toilets with old men. He’s often sucking something through a glory-hole, and may have inadvertently shagged his half-brother. There’s nothing camp or stereotypical about him. He blends the seamy, raunchier aspects of gay sex (i.e., cottaging) with a council estate aesthetic, and doesn’t seem to give a shit about being gay.

Then there’s Maxxie in Skins. Mitch Hewer who plays him is utterly gorgeous, which is a bonus. But Maxxie is clearly a Billy Elliot rip-off. He just wants to dance, even though his father wants him to be a builder. Luckily, his father is Bill Bailey, and he doesn’t care about his son’s sexuality a great deal either. Maxxie is frequently charming, funny and seductive, but until series two he had very little airtime compared to the straight characters.

My biggest problem with Maxxie is that he had to be creative. Why not make him a hairdresser? The only plus is that he’s well liked and well-adjusted, compared to the other characters and their many issues. But he’s also a little bland and dull. He isn’t the strident homosexual of Channel 4’s earlier venture, Queer as Folk. His role is smaller than Ian’s in Shameless.

Perhaps this isn’t to do with stereotyping or unoriginality. Perhaps it’s just that gay characters are now such a staple of modern British TV that we’ve become window-dressing. We’re no longer the explosive, shocking beasts we once were—we’re just the same as any other character. And when the writing’s bad, so are the characters, straight or gay. And that seems to be another issue with Skins. Shameless is hardly high art, but episodes seem more even than those of Skins. The latter is far too jumpy, with each issue being entirely different to the last. Sometimes it works, and it works well. Other times, it just flatlines and becomes uninteresting.maxie+7

I would say we need a new Queer as Folk, but maybe we should be happy being just like everyone else? The apologists I mentioned would love that. Oh, the irony!

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