‘It’s a Sin’: AIDS as Generation Black Hole

I inhaled the HBO Max/Channel 4 AIDS dramatic mini-series It’s a Sin in one day and am still thinking about it.

As someone who was in ACT UP and moved to the West Village in the early 90s, AIDS is never off my radar. I’ll never forget my beautiful young friends who seemed like ghosts even before they died. I’ll never forget equating sex with death even before I lost my virginity.

The London-set series has charisma to spare–hip-strutting, head-strong boys; head-spinning montages; spot-on 80s and 90s set and costume design; catchphrases! But it spares no soundtrack cliches nor no 90s-era micro-aggression: witness its centralization of white characters; the lack of sex life for the sole female protagonist, who seems to exist solely to caretake men.

I resist the critique that It’s a Sin fast-forwards too quickly, though. While I was still in my teens, the transition from carefree club life and wanton fucking to hospitals, funerals, and activism took place in the blink of an eye. Gender/sexual harassment/trauma was so widespread it was background noise–something you white-knuckled through if you wanted an apartment, job, not to get beat to a pulp. Believe me. As someone who has often called out aberrant behavior—who confronted the landlord who stuck his tongue down my throat, who refused to work for the newspaper editor who licked his lips while asking if I had a boyfriend–my career and livelihood suffered mightily.

Gen X is too hard on Z/millennials, but we resent younger people’s assumption that we’re oblivious to trauma. My generation of queers just was swamped with too much macro-aggression–mass extinction and existential horror–to tackle micro. Oh how this show captures that giddy ghastly time.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy