Jesse James Keitel calls playing Ruthie before and after transitioning on Queer as Folk 'a dream come true'

·3 min read

What's the key to telling authentic stories about trans and queer people? Why, having trans and queer people tell those stories. That's the whole ethos behind Peacock's Queer as Folk, and the importance of that ethos is no more evident than in its sixth episode, "Bleep."

In "Bleep," we flash back to Ruthie and Brodie in high school, before Ruthie was Ruthie — the show avoids deadnaming her by bleeping her birth name. Keitel plays her teenage self before transitioning, something she called a "dream come true."

QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 103 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie, Devin Way as Brodie -- (Photo by: Alyssa Moran/Peacock)
QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 103 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie, Devin Way as Brodie -- (Photo by: Alyssa Moran/Peacock)

Alyssa Moran/Peacock Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie and Devin Way as Brodie in 'Queer as Folk.'

"It was a dream come true because it was written by a trans woman," Keitel told EW. "It was truly authentic storytelling. There were so many parts of that script where I gasped. I cried when I first read that script, because I saw myself reflected. I saw my own lived experience, the nuanced parts of it being brought to life."

The episode was co-written (with Sarah Link) by Jaclyn Moore, an alum of such shows as Dear White People, who also serves as an executive producer on QaF. Moore was aware that the episode might be controversial — particularly among trans people — but it's largely her own story and, she felt, one worth telling.

"There are a lot of people who don't think that trans people should tell before and after stories anymore, that people shouldn't tell pre-transition, post-transition stories anymore," Moore said. "And that comes from a good place because that's the only story — or one, not the only — that's one of the only stories cis people tell about trans people. And it's a story that they tell very badly, and that they tell often casting straight, cis actors to play the roles."

QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 101 -- Pictured: Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie -- (Photo by: Peacock)
QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 101 -- Pictured: Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie -- (Photo by: Peacock)

Peacock Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie in 'Queer as Folk.'

Moore continues, "But the truth is, I am a trans woman who went to an all boys Catholic high school. And that is part of my story. And wanting to tell that story is valuable. I think queer people and trans people telling our honest stories, telling our truths, commenting on our lives, being wrong sometimes — we're allowed to be wrong as artists, I think that's what art's all about, reflecting reality. And reality's not always perfect. So yeah, I'm sure there will be times where people get upset and that's cool. Art's supposed to make people talk."

Queer as Folk represents a step forward in the art of queer storytelling, striving to tell complex — sometimes uncomfortable narratives — responsibly, compassionately, and intelligently.

QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 104 -- Pictured: (l-r) CG as Shar, Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie -- (Photo by: Peacock)
QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 104 -- Pictured: (l-r) CG as Shar, Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie -- (Photo by: Peacock)

Peacock CG as Shar and Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie in 'Queer as Folk.'

"So often stories about trans people are not told with delicacy," Keitel added. "They're not told with elegance. They're told from a perspective from a straight cis creator's narrow understanding of what it means to be trans, what it means to be queer. And so, having a beautiful script written by a trans woman, how could I not feel safe and protected? It was such an enriching experience for me as an actor, and ultimately, me as a person."

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