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Brian Kinney is one of the main characters on Queer as Folk. 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, 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 embraced the character more than gay men. 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.