HBO’s Once-Dismissed ‘Looking’ Has Found a New Audience: Trans Guys

HBO’s Looking was essential to my coming out as a trans guy.

Normally, this would be where I’d joke, “And no, I will not elaborate.” But after I mentioned this in another article, a reader wrote in wanting to hear more. So why did a show about cis gay men living and loving in San Francisco become important to me, an AFAB person who has spent almost no time in that city? I’ll try to explain.

Depictions of gay men have always featured heavily in my understanding of myself as queer. In middle school, I was out to myself as bisexual and I rented the original British version and the American remake of Queer as Folk from Blockbuster over and over. Eventually, I bought both box sets so I could take them with me to college.

I felt more seen by Michael Novotny, QAF’s neurotic comic book nerd, than by any of the few queer female characters that were on TV at the time. I never had any interest in The L Word.

When Looking premiered, it got a lot of negative, dismissive reviews. It was lumped in with Girls as more Millennial whining –- but gay! And, like Girls with girls, people expected it to center all gay men rather than a specific — mostly white — subset of San Francisco. Others labeled it “Sex and the City for gay men” without acknowledging that Sex and the City is “Sex and the City for gay men.” And Girls, I’d argue, was actually for transfeminine women.

But Looking? Turns out Looking was for the trans mascs like me.

Both QAFs were slick, sexy, and fast paced melodramas. They were aspirational – just out of reach enough for me to not be able to picture myself in those roles. I had no idea it was possible to transition until maybe 2010, and then didn’t consider it a possibility for myself until 2017, and then I didn’t come out until 2021.

All I knew was that I couldn’t be like those ripped guys dancing at club Babylon so therefore I couldn’t be a man. I didn’t realize that most cis gay men also couldn’t be like those ripped guys dancing at club Babylon, and those men were still men. There were no trans guys on either QAF.

When I finally started Looking in 2020, there still weren’t really depictions of gay trans men on TV. Don’t get excited: There are none on Looking either. But our leading men’s hookups are ill advised, their decisions are immature, and they live or die by their intimate male friendships that can not be distilled into one gossipy, expensive brunch. The show is a non-judgemental messy exploration of queer second adolescence, something trans men certainly relate to.

Looking is definitely not SATC’s version of gay men either. The characters are not high rollers. They have regular jobs – our leading man Patrick works in an office, Agustin is an assistant, Dom is a hostess who unsuccessfully strives to be a chef. There’s no flashy fashion. The boys wear jeans and t-shirts. There’s no camp, no over the top sitcom shenanigans, no perfect quips while flicking fans. The boys are just boys.

Sarah Condon, the show’s executive producer, told GQ in a January 2024 retrospective that Looking was designed to be “less slick, and less surface” than both QAF and SATC. HBO wanted Looking to be intimate and emotional. And it was those things in-part due to the eye of director Andrew Haigh, who went on to direct 2023’s devastating All Of Us Strangers.

Patrick, played by Jonathan Groff, is vulnerable and hot and so stupid in Looking. He’s in his 20s, and coming into his sexuality, having only come out to his family in the middle of college. He doesn’t have a lot of dating experience and it shows. He’s learning what he likes, what matters to him in a relationship, and how to lean into something healthy vs. something toxic when unfortunately being toxic is pretty hot.

I was so frustrated with him. And yet loving him inched me toward loving myself.

Groff has spoken about how he hadn’t played many gay characters when he got the role of Patrick and that through doing Looking, he was able to own his own sexuality alongside his character’s. When he first filmed a pivotal scene of him flirting with another man, he told GQ he felt “raw and exposed.” He was giddy with nerves. Patrick’s energy came through off the screen and highlighted an energy that I’d been ignoring in myself. There was excitement to being a gay man that could be more introspective, and less GBF performative.

Looking didn’t shy away from sex, but it also didn’t make it seem polished, perfect and hours long. There’s a fine line for trans guys who fuck cis men. I could have gone on with my life not realizing I was trans because of my attraction to men. What’s the difference between sleeping with one as a woman and sleeping with one as a man?

A lot. The way they fucked on Looking was much closer to the way I wanted to be fucking.

It might not look like getting with a client in the bathroom of your glamorous advertising job with the line “we’re here to please the client” like Brian Kinney does in the second episode of Queer As Folk. It might look like Patrick meeting a nice boy named Richie on a train.

I related to Patrick’s anxiety around bottoming, even though our reasons for worrying were different. I related when later, Danny Franzese joined the show as Eddie, and has said he was delighted to be in some sexy sex scenes as “a bigger guy” to show “there’s different kinds of bodies, different kinds of people fall in love.”

Eddie also flirts unabashedly with both his love interest Agustin and in one episode, with Patrick’s boss Kevin, men who Franzese said he would have thought were out of someone like Eddie’s league. But why? Letting go of the idea of “leagues” was huge for my confidence in dating cis men as a trans guy. Looking succeeded here in a way that Queer As Folk never managed.

Of course, Murray Bartlett’s mustache made me want a mustache. Dom is still my mustache goals. When he eventually falls for older man Lynn, played by Scott Bakula, and sees up close what life was like for gay men during the AIDS crisis, it caused me to want to know more about our gay male history.

The SF setting had the same effect. The characters were living inside that history. Even if they were a mere blip on the timeline, they were part of an ongoing legacy. And within that legacy, and in the 10 years since the show first aired, there was room for me: a trans man.

Looking’s token woman, the BFF character of Doris, also helped me figure out my transness. There was a woman in the Looking universe and she loved being a woman. She was friends with all these guys, but she didn’t want to be a guy. She was brash and cool, and it proved to me that women can go against the existing ideas of what a woman should be and behave “like a man” without “wanting to be men.” They can even identify heavily with gay men in particular, and still be women. What I was feeling was not the experience of being Doris. It was transness.

When media is positioned as being mainly for a specific group, it often doesn’t reach or resonate with that group the way the creators hoped it would. And for that, it’s deemed a failure. But Looking wasn’t a failure just because some cis gay men didn’t like it enough. It reached me, an unlikely and perfect audience – and hopefully can reach even more of us now in retrospect.

The most common complaint about Looking in 2013 was that it was “boring.” But it’s this slice-of-life approach that made it perfect for me as I came to terms with my gender.

To be a gay man, you don’t have to be any one type of gay man. You can even be boring.

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Gabe Dunn

Gabe (he/him) is a queer, trans writer and director whose most recent film GRINDR BABY was selected for Frameline Festival’s 2023 Voices. He is a best-selling author thrice-over, host of the podcasts The Knew Guys, Just Between Us and Bad With Money. As a TV writer, he has sold over a dozen TV shows to networks like FX, Freeform, and Netflix. His young adult sci-fi drama Apocalypse Untreated was released by Audible Originals in 2020. His latest TV project The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams is in development at Universal with Gabe set to write and produce.

Gabe has written 16 articles for us.


  1. Autostraddle really used to be the only predominately lesbian-focused website on the internet. Now, we are lucky if one of 10 of the stories on the main page are lesbian-related. Coooool.

    • Currently six out of 10 stories on the main page are about queer women, two are about all queer people, one is about all trans people, and this is the only one specifically about queer trans men. Seems like in the time it took to write this comment, you could’ve read one of those other pieces.

    • hi, i am a gay married lady and i freakin LOVE THIS PIECE. and while i am not trans masc, so much of it reflects what i adore about looking. i’m always glad to see a piece about looking, and to see anything written by gabe. for me, seeing lesbian/queer content from a range of points of view makes me feel more welcome. like gabe, i’ve never watched the l word at all (but remember those QAF trips to blockbuster!!) and pieces like this make me feel more connected to this community, not less. thanks, gabe!

  2. I love this show so much and your perspective on it. The exploration of queer second adolescence resonated deeply with me as well and I’ve gone back to it multiple times. Rewatching knowing that Tanya Saracho (Vida creator) wrote and produced some eps makes so much sense too – a genius who can do no wrong.

    Groff played Patrick in a way that makes it impossible to hate him, even as he is endlessly frustrating. Raúl Castillo played Richie so tenderly my heart breaks a bit every time his is broken. And I can be smug that I knew how impressive Murray Bartlett and his facial hair were years before White Lotus.

    Yes it was a narrow, too white milieu, but that was its only main drawback as far as I’m concerned. Plus I kind of expected that, having seen Andrew Haigh’s other work beforehand.

    And FAO Sarah who commented: I’m a queer woman and you don’t speak for me. As you can see this article is of great interest to me and I’m delighted it’s here on Autostraddle.

  3. Wow! Gabe thank you for bespokely writing me a whole article just because I asked for it :’) That is so fucking kind and neat and fun!!!!

    I have never understood why Looking got so much hate, especially not why it’s been deemed “boring”. I devour every episode everytime I rewatch it. I think about certain scenes alll the time (Kevin teaching the gang British football chants at Gay Rugby, the boys floating along the river and getting pulled in by Eddie’s magnetism, Agustin and Eddie dancing and singing on Eddies “sick day” before they hook up for the first time, “domsjuicychicken dot tumblr dot com”. I could go on and on…

    And I think that Looking IS aspirational, because ultimately it’s about having friends who kind of suck / are a bit messy but who are still ultimately loyal, fun to be around and invested in you being happy. They help each other so much in this show. Patrick drives the van for Ritchie, Doris gives Dom the chicken shop money, Eddie gets Agustin a job when he really needs it, Dom and Patrick tryyyy to help Agustin with his drinking/partying etc etc

    I just love this show, I loved this article and I can super relate to the way in which Looking can be a catalyst for sexual/gender realisations.

    Ok end of my super long comment slash ted talk.

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