‘Queer As Folk’ Star Jesse James Keitel on Playing Trans Role That’s Not Villainized

“One thing I’m really proud of is how we highlight storytelling around our bodies that doesn’t make us the villain,” actress tells LAMag

As states are preparing for a Supreme Court decision on Roe V. Wade, and citizens are fearing abortion and LGBTQ+ rights coming into question, Jesse James Keitel, who is a trans woman, is “really proud” of Peacock’s reimagining of Queer As Folk for celebrating her body, rather than weaponizing it. 

“I mean, people love to weaponize bodily autonomy and that plays into things like abortion and trans rights,” Keitel told Los Angeles. 

“One thing I’m really proud of is how we highlight storytelling around our bodies that doesn’t make us the villain,” she added. “I think so often when trans women are talked about, it’s from a place of shame. It’s from a place of vile disgust and blatant misogyny and transphobia and getting to see a trans woman be celebrated, not in spite of her body, but with her body, is groundbreaking and impactful, and it’s the storytelling I as a viewer would want to see.”

An unfortunate reality of being a queer person in 2022 is trauma is very much a part of our lived reality

The vibrant reimagining of the groundbreaking British series created by Russell T. Davies, follows a diverse group of friends in New Orleans whose lives are transformed in the aftermath of a tragedy. Keitel plays Ruthie, a trans party girl who is trying to reform her ways now that her non-binary partner Shar (CG) is pregnant with twins from the sperm donation of Ruthie’s lifelong best friend, Brodie (Devin Way). In the interest of representation and complex characters, Keitel got the opportunity to perform her character’s full journey pre and post transition. 

“It was a dream come true,” Keitel said. “It really pushed my boundaries as an actor and a person. I think seeing myself as a high school boy was not necessarily the most affirming thing and it translated to the performance.” 

In the same tone, Keitel’s on-screen parter CG also celebrated the opportunity to showcase a non-binary character named Shar on the silver screen. 

“It was a blink on a new set of eyes to be honest, and to be the embodiment of that on screen was an honor,” CG said. “It was a lesson on self. It was a lesson on being and Shar and I really took each other by the hands and lived together, so I’m just excited and moved, honestly, to be the site or to be a part of the site of that representation.”

Dunn’s reimagining centers around representation, healing and growth, but only after the characters experience a mass shooting that was loosely inspired by the 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub, which left 50 partygoers dead. While the pilot episode may shock some, Keitel reminds viewers traumas from hate crimes is the “unfortunate reality of being a queer person in 2022.” 

“But what I think is beautiful about what Stephen did with the show is this isn’t a show about a tragedy. It’s a show about a community rebuilding after one,” Keitel added. “It really is about this group of friends finding each other and safety within their community again, and finding out who they are after this tragedy.” 

Queer As Folk streams June 9th on Peacock.

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