When Tales of the City premiered in 1993, it was well ahead of its time in its authentic, respectful, and sometimes humorous depiction of queer people. This new chapter, from Showrunner and Executive Producer Lauren Morelli, will revive the memory of the show that became a queer, cult classic.
In many ways, the original series was the first time that LGBTQ+ viewers saw themselves, their struggles and their own personal narratives represented on TV in a way that was sincere and accepting. LGBTQ+ characters were front and center, not on the sidelines or secondary to the plot. The characters weren't punchlines, sidekicks or parodies – they were relatable people with layered lives and real problems.
Amongst the show’s major themes, the one that sticks out the most is the lasting value and importance of a chosen family. The definition of ‘home’ is not so cut and dry for the queer community. As certain forces in the world continues to remind the LGBTQ+ community that we don’t belong and are not welcome, queer people often times are forced to embark on a journey to find their home and the people who make them feel most comfortable and in turn, become their chosen family. Whether you are rejected by your biological family or just not fully understood, your chosen family provides a haven as you navigate through the sometimes-turbulent journey of discovering your true self, and who you want to be. Whether you are a fan of the original series or new to Barbary Lane, we asked a few friends of Out to share how Tales of the City impacted their lives, and what they are looking forward to in the Netflix revamp, now streaming.
In many ways, Tales of the City marked my coming of age as a queer person. Living in San Francisco when it premiered in 1993 on PBS, I felt like the world was being let in on my little secret (one shared by tens of thousands of LGBTQ people across multiple generations, of course). And while people around the country argued about the nudity and happy gay characters (unusual for TV back then) and cannabis use (hey, it's California), all that was just a simple depiction of life in my backyard. Like Mary Ann, I had visited the city on vacation and later stayed. And while Mary Ann chased a broadcasting career as I was editing the world's first lesbian erotic magazine (On Our Backs), there were parallels in my life to be found with many of the bisexual, lesbian, gay, and transgender characters. Since I'm sandwiched between the generations of author Armistead Maupin and new Tales star Ellen Page, I look forward most with this new installment, to see how those two generations of LGBTQ creatives mesh on screen. And of course, seeing the show tackles HIV now 25 years after the original (including, I hope storylines that cover PrEP, serodiscordant relationships, and U=U) will be gratifying; it's a rare TV series that still shows living with the virus doesn't have to change your life, love, or dreams of your future.
Growing up queer can feel lonely, but Tales of the City introduced LGBTQ role models to the literary canon. Armistead’s characters gave so many of us hope that we would find our own chosen families and our own 28 Barbary Lane, a place filled with friends, lovers, and hopefully an eccentric, pot-smoking landlady.
I’m most excited to see how trans representation is depicted in the revival, and if we’ll get a look into Anna Madrigal’s backstory.
Coming up and out as I did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books, and the subsequent TV series, were defining texts of my generation. Before Barbary Lane and its communal space of love and acceptance, queer life was depicted primarily in the shadows. The original Tales liberated LGBTQ people and told stories of being a part of a community that is also a family. The heartfelt Netflix reboot seeks to cross generations, instilling that same openness and joy with an even more expansive view of what it means to be queer.
I read the series in an introduction to LGBTQ history class while an undergrad, and it completely changed my life. I had never read works about queer folks in the 1970's just living their lives. Most contemporary queer work focuses on the AIDS epidemic, which is important. But Maupin's work allowed me to dream of a world that wasn't just about our struggles, but took me deep into how our community is connected through our mutual love and sense of community.
As a writer, I am constantly thinking about this series when I am considering how to show the humanity of people like me on the page -- and I am incredibly grateful not only for the original work, but how this series has blossomed across mediums. So with the reboot, I am excited to see how the series is continuing to grow and develop, and I can't wait to see how some of these characters handle the world today.