‘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 active in ACT UP in college, who 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, for heaven’s sake! Far worse than the spare-no-cliche soundtrack, though, is how it perpetuate 90s-era toxicity: more nuance and internal workings for the white characters; the sole female protagonist has no sex life and exists solely to caretake the men.

But I resist the critique that It’s a Sin fast-forwards too quickly, especially over problems like workplace harassment. While I was still in my teens, the transition from carefree club life 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 often called out aberrant behavior—who confronted the landlord who stuck his tongue down my throat, who refused to work for the newspaper editor asked if I had a boyfriend while licking his lips–my career and livelihood suffered mightily.

Gen X is too hard on Z/millennials but we resent the assumption of younger people that we were 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