It’s been less than a week since It’s A Sin launched on Channel 4 and already, for me, a part of my life will forever be defined by before and after devouring Russell T. Davies’ transformative drama.
Set in London during the 1980s when the capital was alive with dancing, sex and discovery, It’s A Sin is the first-time gay sex has been celebrated on mainstream television in such a monumental fashion since Davies’ Queer As Folk 21 years ago.
Almost every gay man I speak to today shares the same memories of Queer As Folk: sneakily staying up late with the lights off and volume turned to its minimum to watch Stuart give Nathan his uncensored sexual awakening.
Little did I know it would take another 21 years and our saving grace Davies once again to deliver such an impactful televised experience for gay men, only this time gay men my age could tune in with the volume full blast with a boyfriend in tow.
That, I must stress, was not me. But one can dream.
While I can only imagine how it must have felt watching Queer As Folk as an openly gay man in 1999, not only has It’s A Sin taught me more about what it means to be LGBTQ+ in five hours than I’ve learned since the days of watching gay sex on Channel 4 for the first time on a school night, I’ve also never been prouder of the LGBTQ+ community and honoured to be a part of it.
It’s taken me a long time to truly get to grips with my sexuality, which is no one else’s fault or even my own. We all get there in our own time without the tools straight people carry with them through their adolescent journey of self-discovery. I came out to family just three months ago and due to the coronavirus restrictions am yet to be in their presence as an openly gay man.
But for perhaps the first time I feel truly connected to the gay community as many of us are learning the lessons we should have been taught years ago together; about the ghosts of our past that have shaped who we are individually and as a community.
It’s A Sin follows a group of young gay men who have moved to London and found home in each other, a roof in The Pink Palace, and a mother in Jill. Naturally, with the liberation to be their true selves and meet other colourful, confident beautiful LGBTQ+ people, rarely found in suburban Britain in the 1980s, they dive head first into care-free unprotected sex, unaware a deadly virus was swiftly wiping our community out one by one.
The five-part masterpiece launched to huge numbers upon its release, becoming Channel 4’s most successful drama in three years. Yet before being commissioned by the broadcaster, despite being attached to one of the most prolific writers of the 21st century in Davies, it was turned down by three other stations until it found its home.
Of course, that’s no wonder. So rarely are ‘gay dramas’ given the time of day over fears just the insinuation of a gay drama will ultimately alienate 80 to 90% of a mainstream audience.
However, it appears we’ve turned a corner. It’s A Sin has touched and awoken millions of audience members – both gay and straight.
The Aids pandemic has been swept under the carpet – particularly in the UK. While dramas and plays such as Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance and HBO’s Angels In America (adapted from Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name) have had an immeasurable impact, Britain’s traumatic past in the other great pandemic has been somewhat ignored.
In my lifetime, at least, there has never truly been a moment to bind the LGBTQ+ community together like It’s A Sin. While the lockdown has kept us isolated and has felt like we’re all so out of reach of each other, I personally have never felt so connected to my gay peers as I do right now.
Following the first episode of It’s A Sin airing last week, social media has been awash with gay men lending their time and experience to support others. While we may be lonelier than ever in lockdown, It’s A Sin has made sure we are not alone.
While It’s A Sin painfully recalls the horrors of Aids during the 1980s, in 2020 living with HIV+ is an entirely different experience, at least medically. With a pill a day those living with HIV+ are both undetectable and untransmittable – they cannot pass on the virus.
However, the stigma attached to HIV and Aids rages on.
Since It’s A Sin launched, countless people living with HIV have come forward to publicly share their status, while others are using the opportunity to spread the word and commend their bravery.
Of course, the anguish which millions lived through has not been lost, and the stories of those who are no longer with us have remained buried for too long. We cannot change the past but we can make sure those fallen heroes will not be forgotten again.
There is truly no greater comfort than looking out at the response to It’s A Sin and know that if you come for us, we have an army of warriors built with an unshakable armour – we’ve all been demonised, abused and lived a lifetime of shame because of the unforgiveable treatment of gay men who spent their dying days being treated like killers by doctors, police, the media, politicians and their own families.
This is a moment, but the legacy of It’s A Sin cannot be lost tomorrow. While we are all shaken, enlightened and empowered it must be the start of something much bigger. If the history books won’t keep the memory of Aids victims alive, and keep this extraordinary revolution going so that the next generation of LGBTQ+ children discover their past much sooner than we did, the responsibility falls on us.
Sadly, with many of the Tory Government reluctant to have the mention of LGBTQ+ even whispered in front of children in schools, the arts will continue to be the only resource we have to make sure this isn’t just a moment but a movement.
If we want future LGBTQ+ generations to know that is not only fine to be gay but one of the greatest privileges life has to offer, the fire stoked by It’s A Sin can’t burn out.
And, thankfully, when I look at the LGBTQ+ community’s determination to keep it alight, I have every faith that our past will be given the respect it deserves and our future will be forever changed.
It’s A Sin is available to stream on All 4.
Credit: Original article published here.