Queer as Folk stars Jesse James Keitel and CG have a simple message to people who don’t think trans people should exist: “F**k you.”
Two decades ago, Queer as Folk came along and changed the game for gay representation on television – but today, it’s glaringly obvious that it didn’t represent the breadth and depth of the LGBTQ+ experience. That’s where the new version of the show is different
Set in New Orleans, the 2022 version of Queer as Folk follows a new group of queer characters – gay, disabled, trans and non-binary – as they navigate life in the aftermath of a tragedy. Among those characters is Ruthie (Jesse James Keitel), a trans woman, and her partner Shar (CG), who is non-binary. They find themselves navigating new challenges in their relationship after they decide to start a family together.
Given the times we’re living through, Keitel and CG felt a powerful sense of responsibility in playing a trans and non-binary couple on Queer as Folk.
“We are under such constant, blatant attacks – transphobic attacks, either in legislation, physical hate crimes, in the media,” Jesse James Keitel tells PinkNews. “We are constantly mocked and vilified. Getting to show queer people in love [as] thriving, vibrant adults who make mistakes – showing our humanity separate from our transness, separate from our queerness – is so powerful.”
Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie. (Peacock)
She continues: “I can only speak for myself – I am not assaulting anyone in bathrooms. I know plenty of trans women who have been threatened and beaten and have had beer bottles thrown at them and have been choked and punched and strangled and groped just for walking through the world.
“So yes, we have such a profound responsibility to tell these stories, and to be getting to do it as a couple – as a trans couple, a queer couple – is the biggest f**k you to all of the people who wish we didn’t exist.”
“I’m a little passionate about it!” she laughs.
I hope that’s one thing that can be taken away from this… You hold your power.
CG echoes that. “People think they hold so much power, which, sure – but everything in this couple, it’s like, f**k your power – it has no power here. I hold my power. You can think you hold my power because you make these f**king bogus, hurtful, deadname laws that you think are going to take me out of the game, but nah, no.
“To be in this couple, to be in this show, to have the vibe of, the power is not yours, it is mine. That is so infinite… I hope that’s one thing that can be taken away from this… You hold your power. You get to live even if they don’t think [you should].”
It’s for those reasons, and many more, that Keitel and CG are so proud to be reviving Queer as Folk with a trans and non-binary couple at its centre. When the show debuted in the UK more than 20 years ago, it helped gay men feel seen. They hope this new version can do the same for trans and non-binary people.
CG as Shar in Queer as Folk. (Peacock)
“It meant so much to people in 1999 when it came out, but in reality it represented such a small part of the community,” Keitel says. “So for me now, it feels really important and really impactful that we get to represent so many more parts of the LGBTQ+ community and all of the rich diversity within that. Hopefully this version can mean just as much to even more people.”
CG agrees – they feel honoured to have the chance to be a “bearer of belonging” for LGBTQ+ people.
“Everyone belongs, yes, but everyone was not seen before,” they say.
Queer as Folk explores the trauma queer people face in the aftermath of a tragedy
Because they felt such a strong sense of responsibility in representing trans and non-binary lives, Keitel and CG wanted to make sure they got their relationship right behind the scenes. Thankfully, it didn’t take too much work – they felt a profound sense of love for each other right from the get go.
“I’m in love with Jesse James Keitel,” CG says. “We started off on Zoom… and there was this electricity that was being played with from the jump and we weren’t even in person. To be able to start from a place like that – if you do any work on it you might mess it up so how about you just let it be, because what it was at the beginning was what it needed to be anyway. We didn’t really have to work so hard.”
Keitel credits the Queer as Folk writers for giving them the material they needed to craft their on-screen relationship.
“The foundation of the relationship is on the page,” Keitel says. “If there was ever at all a single moment of disconnect between us – which there wasn’t – we would have had the script to fall back on. The beauty is we had such a profound level of trust between the two of us that we were able to just sit in the quiet and stare into each other’s eyes and share a soft kiss and for it to feel like this couple had been together for a hundred years. We really got very lucky and it’s a testament to the casting and to the creators for knowing how to write a queer relationship.”
Devin Way as Brodie (L) and Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie (R) in Queer as Folk. (Peacock)
Needless to say, it’s not all plain-sailing for Keitel and CG’s characters on Queer as Folk. The show hits on some of the bigger issues facing queer people today, including hate-motivated violence. In the first episode, there’s a horrific mass shooting in a queer club that bears a devastating resemblance to the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016.
Keitel’s character Ruthie is among those who finds herself in the club when the shooting happens. Being a part of that narrative was “heavy and emotional”, she says.
“I used to work in nightlife in New York and when Pulse happened… I went out that night. I went out the following night. And what came from that was this sense of community coming together. We were scared – it was scary. I didn’t know anyone who was directly impacted by that event, but we still felt it – deeply. So to be able to go out and find community and solace with each other, that’s what the show is about. I was able to draw from that lived experience.”
It’s very sensitive – like touching a wound that’s still open kind of sensitive.
She continues: “The show’s not about a tragedy – it’s about a community coming together in the wake of one. I felt we had a responsibility to tell not the story of a shooter but the story of survivors.”
CG’s character isn’t directly involved in the shooting, but they still felt the weight of being part of a storyline that is so close to their community.
“When you asked that question, and while [Jesse James Keitel] was speaking, it was the first time it felt like my heart fell into my stomach and it got really heavy over here,” CG says. “It’s very sensitive – like touching a wound that’s still open kind of sensitive.”
CG, Ryan O’Connell, Johnny Sibilly, Devin Way, Jesse James Keitel and Fin Argus attend Peacock’s “Queer As Folk” World Premiere Event. (Amy Sussman/Getty)
The show explores how people are pulled in different directions in the aftermath of a traumatic event, CG says. Crucially, it lets its cast of queer characters deal with the shooting in their own ways. “It’s really important,” they say.
In the direct aftermath of the shooting, Ruthie finds that she can’t orgasm because she feels so disconnected from her body. It’s a powerful storyline that explores the complexity of trauma and the wide-ranging impacts such events can have on a person, but it also goes deeper into the experience of being trans.
“Yes, it’s the trauma in the wake of the tragedy, but also it’s coupled with the trauma of being a queer person and Ruthie’s trauma as being a trans woman and feeling disconnected from her body pre-transition, early transition, and now again. That was fascinating for me because I’ve felt that. I’ve been there,” says Keitel.
“Actually, at the time of filming that, I was feeling disconnected from something, and I think that’s an experience that everyone can relate to – feeling alienated from yourself. Adding a layer of transness on top of it, you realise just how far we as trans people need to go to get back to ourselves. So having that rug puled out from under you is debilitating… Ruthie’s trying to mask the pain in any way she knows how, and all the ways she knows how aren’t working.”
The messy, complicated realities of queer parenting is central to the show
There’s no denying that the 2022 iteration of Queer as Folk tackles some heavy themes, but there’s also plenty of joy in there. One of the more joyful – if still complicated – storylines is Ruthie and Shar’s foray into parenthood. It’s still rare to see queer parents on television, but when they do crop up, they’re almost always cis gay men. In real life, queer people from all walks of life are raising children.
“People who are queer and want to be parents are extremely present in life,” CG says.
“It takes a lot of stepping outside of yourself to want to have a child and it’s very interesting thinking about this in real time – just how long it takes for a queer person to step into themselves. It’s like, now I want to be outside of myself so I can provide not just materially for these lives but spiritually, emotionally, mentally. There’s just so much that goes into parenthood that is not seen and everything is not seen on Queer as Folk either.”
As is the case with everything in Queer as Folk, Ruthie and Shar’s parenthood storyline is laced with complexity. Keitel was excited to explore some of the challenges her character faces in becoming a mother.
CG as Shar in Queer as Folk. (Peacock)
“I can’t wait to one day step into motherhood in some way, shape or form – [but] Ruthie is not on that journey,” Keitel says. “She is not ready. She did it out of so much love for her partner and I think that’s what’s really refreshing… We get to tell a story about parenthood separate from her queerness, separate from her transness, but also in tandem with it. We see how parenthood triggers her own dysphoria and how really her journey to accepting her place as a mother is rooted in gender dysphoria.
“That feels so nuanced and special. I’m so excited to get to tell that.”
Queer As Folk premieres on July 1 in the UK on STARZPLAY.