Their stories are our stories. (Images via Channel 4)
When it comes to the early years of the AIDS crisis, I can't say, “I was there.” Rather, I was around there.
My youth wasn't so much directly shaken by AIDS as it was formed by the tsunami it created. I was already aware of what AIDS was before I had my first kiss in 1987, so by the time I was having sex, it was a fact of life. There was no meaningful before, during and after for me, just — after.
Instead of sexual abandon, I poured myself into collecting things, obsessing over music, making art and writing. I eventually worked out many of my frustrations in a novel that, in retrospect, exposes some of my AIDS-induced hang-ups — and I think It's a Sin could be read as similarly revelatory of the mindset of creator Russell T. Davies, for better and for worse.
Having received largely rapturous reviews, It's a Sin, a commercial, serialized, gay-told take on how AIDS ravaged the queer community in London in the '80s, is now experiencing a bit of a backlash, mostly from HIV activists, whose experience with the subject matter makes it impossible for me to refute their experience with the series. From the perspective of someone who narrowly missed the early years of HIV, and as an HIV-negative man, It's a Sin was always going to mean something different to me than it would mean to people who truly survived that era.
But I think the praise and the criticism are both valuable, and speak to the buttons Davies and his talented cast are pushing — buttons that should be pushed more often so we don't wind up, as we did when this first aired in the UK, with scores of young people expressing shock that AIDS ever happened in the first place.
Overall, I loved It's a Sin. Over the course of four episodes, I was engrossed in the story, impressed by the acting and surprised by Davies' deft ability to work in other aspects of gay life that I hadn't expected, including issues surrounding coming of age, coming out, meeting your first gay person, coming to terms with and exploring sexuality and dealing with parental, political and social pressures while attempting to nurture one's own sense of self. The series is not the story of HIV, after all, but the story of a group of people confronted by it, and it is most successful when not losing sight of that.
The fifth episode, however, failed miserably for me. It was so off the mark it caused me to reflect more deeply and critically on minor quibbles I'd had with the previous installments, and led me to decide I felt It's a Sin — which I urge everyone to watch — is a far better and more important work if one forgets the final episode.
Read on if you are okay with spoilers ...