Looking, HBO's first mainstream gay dramedy for gay people and people who might not be gay premieres on Sunday. As we know, gay culture has its own unique lexicon and touchstones, some of which make its way on the show. And you may find yourself asking questions like "what's the difference between hipster hairy and gym-teacher hairy" (a lot) or pondering why a human being might ask someone if they are drug- and disease-free.
With that in mind, we created a primer on the show's first few episodes. Think of these as the answers you wanted to questions you didn't have a gay friend or Google on hand to ask. So, without further ado, here's an A-to-Z guide to all the terms, the nuances, and the innuendos from the first couple episodes of Looking.
A is for Ass-less Chaps The phrase "ass-less chaps" is actually redundant. Chaps, which are usually worn by cowboys and by some gay men who are into leather, are all ass-less, and saying "ass-less" chaps is like saying wet water.
B is for Beyonce and Backpacks. Only one of these exists in Looking, because backpacks didn't wait to drop a visual album until after Looking finished filming its first season.
C is for Cruising. Cruising is what gay men used to do to find other gay men for sex before hook-up websites like Manhunt, hook-up apps like Grindr and Scruff, and a growing tolerance for gay people existed. This would involve going to parks, going to certain bars, or just making that certain kind of eye-contact with someone. The show, reflecting reality, treats cruising like it's an extinct animal.
D is for Drug and Disease Free or DDF. This is not a question about colds. This refers to the blunt way gay men talk to each other to make sure the man/men they might want to sleep with doesn't have HIV/AIDS or do drugs that may put them at risk for HIV/AIDS.
E is for Erasure. While Beyonce apparently doesn't exist in this world (possibly due to music rights), Erasure does. The world would be better if gay bars played more Erasure and less Britney Spears. What an underrated and overlooked band Erasure is. They're often passed over for the likes of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, and there's no reason they should be.
F is for Folsom Street Fair. Even though its name rhymes with "wholesome", you probably would not like to take your parents here. It's the annual BDSM (Bondage/Discipline Sadism/Masochism, which could have been our "B" term, but: Beyonce) leather celebration in San Francisco that has historically involved a lot of kink, nakedness, and balls.
G is for Golden Girls. Never trust a gay man who doesn't hold a deep respect for Golden Girls.
G is also for Grindr. Grindr was the first app for gay men that let them meet people based on location. It debuted in 2009 and was a hit, but other apps have caught up and even surpassed Grindr (which is very buggy at the moment), like Scruff.
H is for Hipster Hairy. The kind of hairy that's now become trendy.
H is also for Hoodies. Apparently, hoodies and a backpack seem to be acceptable ways for grown adults in San Francisco to dress. The combination makes Jonathan Groff look like an adult child.
I is for Internet Dating. I will fully admit now that I have never been on a heterosexual date, nor have I ever procured one through online dating. I do know, however, that gay men have a myriad of "dating" sites to choose from: OkCupid, Mahunt, Match.com, Adam4adam and each one has its own connotation.
J is for Jonathan Groff. Groff plays Patrick, the lead character and love-seeker of Looking. Groff—see The Wire's interview with him here—is probably better known in niche entertainment circles. The Glee people know him for playing Rachel's bad boyfriend Jesse St. James. The Broadway people know him for Spring Awakening. The gays know him because he's an actual out gay actor, one of very few out gay performers playing gay lead characters on TV.
K is for Kink. Even though Looking doesn't have very much of it in its first few episodes. Unless you consider a fairly straightforward three-way or the perfunctory donning of a leather vest to be kinky. In which case, you are adorable.
L is for Looking. That's the title of the show, but it's also a common way gay men either online or in apps, message one another to ask whether they're looking for sex (or pen pals).
M is for Mustache. Mustaches, beards, and scruff are very popular. And gay men, like heterosexual women, very much like them.
N is for Nonwhite Characters. Particularly in the wake of Girls, the next HBO show about young people representing a larger class of people was always going to be majorly scrutinized for the diversity of its main cast. Thus far, Looking gets about a B/B- on this front. Augustin, one of the three leads, is Cuban-American, his boyfriend is black, Patrick meets a cute Latino guy on the bus. It's just a parade of diversity!
O is for Oakland. Oakland is basically Brooklyn? In the premiere episode, Augustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) moves to Oakland to live with his boyfriend because the living is cheaper there than in San Francisco, reliably one of the most expensive places to live in America. (In that respect, Oakland is most definitely not Brooklyn.)
P is for Public Transportation. San Francisco's Muni plays an important role on the show. The show's characters all take public transportation, proving that you don't really need a car in San Francisco ... unless you want to move to Oakland.
Q is for Quantum Leap. Which is really just our flimsy excuse to talk about Scott Bakula, who plays a gay, buff, tan, shirtless older man on the show. And he's good! He was also in HBO's Behind the Candelabra and really seems to be cultivating his gay following.
R is for Russell Tovey. Tovey plays Kevin, Patrick's boss as his video-game design company, and also a possible/probable love interest. Like Groff, Tovey is also an actual out-of-the-closet homosexual man, meaning he also has a bit of cachet within the gay community. Particularly the gay Anglophile community (he's English).
S is for San Francisco. The show's director and writers seem very intent on making Looking feel like San Francisco and making San Francisco look beautiful. By focusing on San Francisco, it also makes the show feel almost distant and perhaps more interesting to someone who's never lived or experienced gay life there. Particularly the New York chattering class that can't wait to talk about how New York shows get New York wrong.
T is for Tech. Technically, Patrick is a video game designer and not working for Google or Apple or a Silicon Valley startup. But it's nice to see gay guys on television that a) don't work in fashion b) aren't super successful at whatever they do.
U is for Unromantic Friendships. Okay, so we fudged a little here. Unromantic means platonic, but P was already … okay. Yes, gay men are capable of platonic friendships (though sometimes they didn't start out as platonic). The problem is that television hasn't always done a good job in portraying this. Usually, the only time there's more than one gay man on screen nowadays is to show his partner, boyfriend, lover, or husband. And usually, gay men are only friends with or are related to straight people (see: Happy Endings, Glee, Brothers and Sisters, Sex and the City, Girls).
V is for Vibrate. No one on this show seems to set their phones on vibrate. It's weird. Gay people, like straight people, set their phones to vibrate.
W is for woods. As in "getting a hand job in the ..."
X is for eXes. It's impossible to find a word beginning with the letter "x." And the terribleness of exes is something that transcends sexuality.
Y is for YAAASSSSSS. Which is how gay people express approval of each other and Lady Gaga nowadays. But not on Looking. Yet.
Z is for Zuni Cafe. The restaurant is an institution in San Francisco, and its roast chicken with bread salad is legendary.