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From RuPaul to Pose: the TV providing queer community through lockdown | Television


Aside from the emotional heft and resonant politics of It’s a Sin, the show filled a space in my heart usually nourished by the queer community that in normal times would offer me a sense of belonging in an overwhelmingly, and at times aggressively straight world. That community usually means particular cafes, pubs and dancefloors; it means parks in warm weather and ratty venues hosting accessible shows of all kinds. Sometimes, it just means walking down a busy city street and noticing a sprinkling of visibly queer siblings. You don’t make eye contact because that would be weird but it is proof that you and your kind exist.

But every physical manifestation of queer community has been snuffed out by the pandemic. And “online community” is such a poor substitute is for the real thing.

Of course, LGBTQ+ people are far from alone in experiencing such a loss. Yet it is especially unnerving to lose sight of something that was already so elusive and thinly spread. Unlike the infrastructure of mainstream society, queer spaces, and the sense of community they foster, may not pull through. They were vulnerable enough before all this. There is no reassuring lockdown version of queer community to take its place. There is no mass nostalgia, backed by mass capital, promising post-pandemic resurrection. Queer community is inherently DIY and, by extension, fragile. What if it never comes back? What if it was never as real or as thrilling as it seemed in the first place?

Its a Sin, the stunning Russell T Davies drama, has provided answers to both those questions. The queer community is resilient. Its size and societal standing belie its power. And by the queer gods, it might just be the the most real thing out there. So, while it can never be a replacement, queer TV may be the next best thing for now.

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Ryan Jamaal Swain, MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore in Acting Up, Pose, season two.
Ryan Jamaal Swain, MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore in Acting Up, Pose, season two. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

I never made it through the first season of Pose. Despite the careful casting, the glossiness of the show was distracting, any ripples flattened by its sheer Ryan Murphy-ness.

Yet, season two feels like a different proposition. As well as being about the ballroom scene, it foregrounds the impact of Aids on that community and the wider LGBTQ+ population of New York at the start of the 1990s. Unlike Its a Sin, it also grapples explicitly with the intersection of race and sexuality in the context of Aids activism.

Pose is, mercifully, less devastating, but the two shows dovetail poignantly, revealing parallels and contrasts between the crises on either side of the Atlantic.

Natalie and Harry in Big Mouth.
Natalie and Harry in Big Mouth. Photograph: Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

This animated show is a surreal and staggeringly rude coming-of-age sitcom, following a group of pubescent middle-schoolers (year 8s for Brits). Plot lines include anxiety, class, masturbation and possession by the ghost of Duke Ellington.

In truth, season four ends up too loopy for my liking but it starts strong. Specifically, I saw echoes of my own community in the character of Natalie, a transgender girl whose story arc crackles with what YouTube philosopher ContraPoints calls The Darkness. In other words, the humour attached to her is not exploitative, rather, it is truly funny, truly trans-literate and at times truly, cathartically dark.

Star and co-creator Abby McEnany (centre) in Work in Progress.
Star and co-creator Abby McEnany (centre) in Work in Progress. Photograph: Adrian S Burrows/Courtesy of Showtime

This is one of those “why aren’t we already obsessed with this show?!” shows. A depressed, 45-year-old “butch dyke” starts dating a queer, self-assured 22-year-old trans man. The show’s star and co-creator Abby McEnany has the makings of a comic legend, a potential queer icon.

To top it off, from a UK perspective the mere existence of this show feels profound. In Britain, so much attention focuses on the “toxic conflict” between trans people and some radical feminists, many of whom see lesbian identity as the crucible of said conflict. Meanwhile, Work in Progress is over there, deftly exploring the actual, complex evolution and expansion of queer community to comfortably encompass trans people, and with intelligence, humour and heart.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, BBC iPlayer

Baga Chipz, Divina De Campo and The Vivienne in RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
Baga Chipz, Divina De Campo and The Vivienne in RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/World of Wonder

It might seem an obvious remark, but season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK does more than fill a hole left by the country’s previously thriving and endlessly creative live drag circuit. The US original dragged its feet on queer representation – prioritising gay cis men (the current season, 13, is the first to feature a trans man). But the UK show, like the local scenes that it showcases, feels as if it has proper, subversive queerness in its bones. Hearing Bimini and Ginny share thoughts on being non-binary or Cherry Valentine talk about her Traveller heritage evoked that feeling of “belonging” that our community can be, even when it’s simply a reminder that there are other proud weirdos out there.

And, joyfully, it’s also just something fun to watch with your parents, with whom many of us have ended up, inevitably, stuck in a support bubble. This season allowed me to explain to my stepdad that the point of drag is not to be “the prettiest”. Queer community this is not, but, on the bright side, such cross-cultural diplomacy would not be happening were it not for lockdown.

My favourite kind of queer joy is a particular sort of laugh. It is triggered by a good joke, that morphs into surprise at the insight contained within, and ends impressed – head nodding – because a queer joke that is funny and insightful was part of something that actually got made for the world to see. Less than two minutes into These Thems, a high production value web series, I laughed like this and knew, again, that I belonged.

The opening montage introduces us to the principal characters: a trans man, his non-binary friend, a cis woman (who we learn from the trailer is about to realise she is a lesbian) and a femme, gay cis man. This sounds incredibly forced but because the show is queer at every level, it knows how to avoid feeling that way.

If you are looking for a comforting escape that foretells a brighter queer future, look no further than the consciously un-selfconscious These Thems.



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