History is important. And there are so many different kinds of history we aren’t even aware of, which the public has barely even been exposed to. February in the UK is LGBT+ History Month, and if you dig just a little, it’s easy to see why exactly LGBT+ history needs to be highlighted. For those my age who grew up in the UK, the shadow of Section 28 ensured we were rarely exposed to any historical events that didn’t fit the narrative we were supposed to learn. Yet LGBT+ history is British history, it’s part – as all history is – of a wider narrative, and it’s a disservice to ignore that.
Which is why it’s actually kind of great to see more LGBT+ content coming out, especially on mainstream platforms such as Channel 4 in the UK. A show like It’s a Sin doesn’t pull any punches, and instead confronts the viewer with the reality of life in the 80s for those within the community.
The characters in this show are young. The 5 part series spans a decade, from 1981 to 1991, and starts with the characters embarking on their lives – leaving for university, or leaving their small town to look for work in London. The characters come together by chance, forming their own small community which gradually grows.
These characters are not saints. They are not perfect. They are messy and flawed and misunderstand things, because they are young adults heading out into the world. A world which will refuse to accept them or care for them, and where they have to carve out their own lives while unable to fully be themselves. Ritchie pushes boundaries and ignores what his own body is telling him in the name of self-hatred. Colin is naïve and not too bright and maybe trusts just a little too easily, but he cares, deeply, in a world that doesn’t care if he gets hurt or sick.
But the series doesn’t just show us the young and carefree. We see the older generation, trying to guide the younger until they realise they can’t really, but forging connections all the same. And when they’re in trouble, they turn to each other, helping one another work through whatever they’re facing. When they can, anyway. They’re a family, and for some they’re the only family they have, for others they’re the only family they can be open with.
It’s a beautiful portrayal of an often overlooked, ignored, or shunned community, and every heartbreak they feel is felt in the viewer, too. The characters are messy – Ritchie especially – in a very realistic way, and the series really shows the sort of situations faced in the 80s, whether it’s family problems or disease or money.
Shows like this are important, and long overdue.
These are stories we have to listen to. These are stories that deserve to be told in the mainstream, and we need to hear from the people who were there before it’s too late. It’s a Sin confronts AIDs through the eyes of people who experienced it, and more and more references to it are being inserted into TV. This show isn’t easy to watch. It’s not glamourous and fun, but it’s witty and truthful and blunt and so darkly funny at times, it’ll have you laughing one minute and full on sobbing the next.
We have to know our history. The light and dark, the joy and the tragedy, and this is shown to us here, in this community ravaged by a disease no one understood, and wilfully misunderstood when it suited them. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that this series was on TV, and how crucial overall to getting more people to understand this part of history, what people went through, the misinformation and lack of treatment and the attitudes some people had.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I really highly recommend this series. Just make sure you have tissues close at hand, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll sob your way through complete episodes.