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Brian Kinney is one of the main characters on Queer as Folk. Was portrayed by actor Gale Harold, Brian serves as the show's antihero. In November 2007, the character was voted the 'The Most Popular Gay Character on Television' by AfterEllen's sister site, AfterElton.
Brian is a tall Caucasian male, tan skin, brown hair and is naturally very handsome or "very good looking". When at work he sports a variety of business suits. Outside of work, Brian’s wardrobe excentuate his muscular physique to attract men. Ethan Gold and several other characters have commented on Brian’s beauty.
He is very vain and even narcissistic at times, but ultimately very loyal to his friends; especially Michael and Lindsey and ultimately Justin as well.
Brian at the surface presents himself as vain, narcissistic, and very arrogant. Beneath this facade is a sad and confused boy from a broken household. A clear sign of his insecurity is that Brian still craves his father’s affection. Brian’s outward personality is a result of his upbringing, his father was an alchoholic, his mother was homophobic and strictly religious, and his sister claims he is a “god damn fag” to her children who in turn treat Brian as such. Whenever Brian feels that his vulnerability is exposed he tries to cover it up with vulgar behavior such as when he saved Ted from legal action but responded to his thanks with a sarcastic remark. Only several people can see right through Brian’s facade and see him for who he truly is: Debbie, Michael, Lidnsey and later Justin. In turn, Brian shows a great deal of affection towards these individuals. When Debbie came to thank Brian for fighting against Stockwell’s homophobic campaign, he reminisced and conversed friendly rather than be sarcastic. Brian supports Michael in a variety of ways and knows everything about him, especially his love of comic books. Brian has also shown a degree of respect towards Michael that he rarely shows to other people, when they were traveling to New York, Brian openly admitted to Michael that he can be a terrible person and is grateful that Michael loves him regardless. When their friendship was temporarily broken, Brian was miserable without Michael and couldn’t stop thinking and seeing him. When Lidnsey and Melanie believed their wedding day falling through was a sign that their relationship was not meant to be, Brian planned a whole wedding for them and attempted to pay for their honeymoon but Lidnsey insisted that he had done more than enough and was extremely grateful. Originally Brian found Justin annoying but over time developed genuine feelings for him. Brian came to Justin’s prom and shared a slow dance. He visited a shrink to help discover how to help Justin heal emotionally from his attack. When Justin’s father kicked him out of the house for being gay, Brian immediately called his father out for his hateful words and offered Justin a place to stay. In the series finale, Brian asked Justin to marry him and took a chance on love by selling his loft and nightclub without knowing what Justin’s answer would be. Brian later told Justin to follow his dreams and pursue a successful art career in New York even though he wanted him to stay, having finally found true love, Brian chose to put Justin’s needs before his own.
Brian shows a special degree of selflessness towards Michael and Justin. Brian persistently tried to offer Justin financial assistance for his college education and became very concerned with the toll his night job had on his health and grades. When Michael attempted to sever ties with Justin because of his ungrateful attitude and poor treatment towards Brian, which would have ended Michael’s own dream of creating his own comic, Brian immediately stopped him and told him to make amends with Justin and not give up his dreams for him, prioritizing Michael’s happiness over himself.
Brian, throughout the series, "redefines promiscuity" and can usually be found in the back room of the popular gay club Babylon. Brian's biggest fear is losing his youth and beauty. His best friend, Michael, often tells him: "You will always be young, and you will always be beautiful. You're Brian Kinney, for fuck's sake!" Lindsay, a sister-like figure to Brian, sometimes fondly calls him 'Peter', in reference to Peter Pan, the boy who never grows old; He calls her 'Wendy' in return. Brian came from a broken home with an abusive alcoholic father and an overly-devout mother, and as a result, fears becoming "a shitty father" to his son. In one episode, George Shickle calls him "The love child of James Dean and Ayn Rand", as Brian often appears to practice Rand's philosophy of Objectivism in that he first helps himself so he is then better able to help others. This trait is one that is often misunderstood by his some of his friends, who merely see him as selfish.
Despite Brian's seemingly uncaring and amoral nature, he is shown as loving his friends and often makes great sacrifices for them, even though he won't admit that he cares for them. He plans a wedding for Lindsay and Melanie after theirs falls apart; he gives up his parental rights to Gus, so that Melanie and Lindsay will reunite in the first season. He pushes Michael away, so that he will go back to his boyfriend; he also helps Justin recover after a bashing at his senior prom, which Brian attended to please Justin. He gives up his job and money to beat the anti-gay candidate for mayor, Jim Stockwell, and is willing to give up his loft and nightclub to be with Justin in the final episodes.
Sexually irresistible, beautifully turned out, and highly successful, Brian has nonetheless been an extremely controversial character in the LGBT community. Some people feel that he represents the community poorly, embodying a promiscuity and an inability to grow up that are negative stereotypes among the larger community. This conflict is represented within the series as Brian's ongoing antagonism with Pittsburgh's Gay and Lesbian Center. Others regard Brian as the most moral character on the show, and one of the most morally uncompromising characters on television.
In the pilot, he takes Justin home and takes his virginity. In the same episode, his son, Gus, is born to a lesbian couple - Lindsey and Melanie. Because of the simultaneousness of these two pivotal events, Brian often associates Gus with Justin, referring to both as "sonny boy." During the first season, his relationship with Justin is unclear. Brian hates the idea of couples but breaks his own rules for Justin, unable to resist the pull he feels towards him. He takes care of him in different ways: letting him move into his loft after Justin's kicked out of his parents' home, going after him to NYC after he runs away, advising him on school situations -- thus over and over, disproving his own verbal declarations of not wanting him around through his actions.
After witnessing Justin's prom bashing, Brian is traumatized. No one - except Jennifer Taylor - knows that Brian stands secret vigil outside Justin's hospital room every night for weeks. Upon Justin's release from the hospital, Jennifer Taylor bars Brian from seeing Justin but later asks him to 'take' her son, because Brian is the only one he trusts. During the second season, Brian helps Justin recover, both physically and emotionally. Justin confronts Brian by asking if the reason he is still living with Brian is because he feels guilty. Brian says that guilt was the reason he took Justin in, but its not the reason he wants him to stay. To restrict Brian's promiscuity and protect himself, Justin sets some rules. Justin later breaks the rules with the more romantic Ethan, and Brian tells Justin to decide who he wants to be with. Brian is hurt when Justin leaves him to be with Ethan, but will not admit it. Despite his outwardly-detached nature, Brian's loneliness is evident in the beginning of the third season.
During the third season, Brian's success as an advertising executive comes into opposition with his beliefs when he is asked to head up a conservative, anti-gay mayoral candidate's campaign. Though he is initially instrumental in the candidate's rise, he eventually, with Justin, destabilizes the campaign, using his own money to pay for ads. Because of this, Brian loses his job. However, in the fourth season, he founds his own company, Kinnetik. After a casual sexual encounter at Babylon following Vic's unexpected death (there is evidence that Vic was an important person in Brian's childhood), he discovers he has testicular cancer. Battling this is especially tough because of his narcissism. After beating cancer and completing a bike ride from Toronto to Pittsburgh, Brian reevaluates his life, deciding to take a more active role in his son's life and asking Justin to move back in.
In the fifth season, things between him an Justin seem stable until Brian buys Babylon and becomes envious of a new contender for his crown as Top Stud in gay Pittsburgh. Because of this, along with catching syphilis as a result of his promiscuity, Justin moves out, frustrated at Brian's inability to form a committed relationship. After a bomb goes off at Babylon, Brian admits his love for Justin and mends his relationship with his best friend, Michael, who is gravely injured in the blast. Brian proposes to Justin but later tells Justin that he should go to New York to pursue a promising art career. They spend one last night, knowing that even though they are separating for the time being, they still love each other. Brian shows Justin that he has kept the wedding rings as a symbol of hope that they will have the chance to be together again. The series ends with Michael and Brian dancing in the ruins of Babylon which transforms to show it restored as they dance with all their friends, giving the impression that despite the odds, Brian Kinney will survive.
Heterosexual women and lesbians have often fetished the character more than gay men have enjoyed him. Brian's admirers tend to see him as a larger than life icon. The scholar and critic Camille Paglia, reviewing the premiere episode on the website Salon.com, said she enjoyed the show "principally because of the glamorous performance by Gale Harold of cruel-as-ice Brian, who looks like Donatello's David all grown up."
Brian has also been singled out for praise from a liberationist point of view by Paul Robinson, the Richard W. Lyman Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. In his book "Queer Wars" (University of Chicago Press, 2005), Professor Robinson writes of the character at length, describing him as "someone who has completely liberated himself from the repressive conventions of heterosexuality and whose utter contempt for straight society makes him the ultimate gay hero." Brian's popularity was such that the famous "Brian bracelet" - a simple woven bracelet with cowrie shells which became identified with the character - emerged as a totem in the gay community. One of the contestants on the gay dating reality series Boy Meets Boy was seen wearing one.