Jesse James Keitel Says There Are 'No Rules' to Being Queer

The actor in the new 'Queer as Folk' reboot on the pop culture and community that influenced her.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Over Zoom, actor Jesse James Keitel laughingly describes her new character Ruthie, on Peacock’s reboot of OG gay drama Queer as Folk (now streaming) as “50 shades of chaos.” The 28 year old has had small parts in shows like Younger and was the lead of ABC’s Big Sky, where she was the first nonbinary actor to to play a nonbinary series regular in primetime. Queer as Folk is a new acting playground for her, where she’s become close with her castmates and found a richness in playing Ruthie-a trans woman who is just starting a family with her partner Shar (CG) as her best friend, Brodie (Devin Way), comes back to town and into their community like a wrecking ball when tragedy strikes.

The original Queer as Folk certainly had more than its fair share of cis, white, male blind spots wherein nonbinary, trans, disabled, Latinx, and Black characters didn’t exist. But in a writers’ room and with directors who were primarily queer, Keitel trusted them with her “whole being” in working on creating a character for the reboot where being transgender wasn’t her whole identity.

“Ruthie is so unapologetic in not just her transness, but her queerness. Those are both small parts of who she is,” Keitel says. “And we’re on a big queer show, so it’s big parts of the world, but she’s a teacher. She’s trying to be a better person. She’s entering motherhood for the first time. There’s so much more to her than just her being trans.”

Ruthie is chaotic and messy, and parties too much with Brodie while also figuring out how to navigate becoming a mother and how to not fuck it up. For Keitel, playing Ruthie has been not only a learning experience personally, but also one professionally, “It’s seldom we get to see a queer character who’s as richly flawed. I think there’s some really unique opportunities to tell some profoundly queer stories with Ruthie and where her heart is.”

Keitel talked to Thrillist about Laverne Cox, drag, and how the never-ending coming-out process helped to spark her own gender identification.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black¬†was one of the first times I saw a trans person reflected in a way that was very humanizing on TV. At that point, I had actually known a couple trans men, friends of mine from high school, but it didn’t feel like an actual reality that leaning into myself was a possibility. I feel like her character on Orange Is the New Black did give me permission to do that.

I’m sure she knows how impactful she is and the doors she has opened for other people. There’s so many times where I think back and I’m like, “Some days I don’t want to be an advocate. Sometimes I just want to be an actor.” But I think being a public-facing trans person, I do feel a profound sense of responsibility to continue opening doors, just like my predecessors have. And I hope I can have a fraction of a legacy as Laverne, as Michaela Ja√© Rodriguez, as Candis Cayne, etc. They’ve had a profound impact on me, and if I could do that for someone else, then I guess my job here is done.


I feel like my journey through gender was actively explored in [doing] drag for a few years. I was a drag artist, and a lot of my peers were inspiring. Just the creativity I found within myself from finding queer community and surrounding myself with queer people.

Throwback to the Haus of FemAnon [in Toronto]: We were this ragtag group of theatre dorks who were really frustrated and felt this need to create and express ourselves in a way that acting and directing, etc., wasn’t allowing us to do at that time. And so, I leaned on them and drag and my own creativity until it didn’t serve me anymore and acting started to again. It gave me the tools to see myself in a way that I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to prior.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Being reflected in media as an adult

I’ve always related most to these strong, resilient women, yet I don’t think I ever really saw myself reflected in terms of my own queerness until my adulthood. I think the closest understanding I had to myself was these effeminate gay men, and that never really resonated with me. And I knew that, but didn’t have the language for it.

As I got to see more people like me in the world, and more people like me on TV, like when Asia Kate Dillon played their character on Billions, I was like, “Wow, what a beautiful, nuanced thing.” There are no rules. None of this is real. There’s no rules to any of this.

Coming out again and again

I feel like coming out has been part of my experience since I was a toddler. I’ve been queer from the get-go. Look at any photo of me from middle school. People told me I was queer before I knew what any of that meant. People told me my identity before I even knew those words existed. So, I came out in middle school, then I came out again in high school and then I was outed to my family via a threatening letter that was put in our mailbox. And then I came out again in college, and then I came out again in college, then I came out after college until that led me here.

You look at characters like Brenda [played by Kim Cattrall] on Queer as Folk. It takes her until way later in her life to learn something about herself or to accept something about herself. Because I think as queer people, you always know. Even if you don’t understand it, it doesn’t mean you don’t know it.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Kerensa Cadenas is the Editorial Director of Entertainment at Thrillist. You can follow her @kerensacadenas.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef,¬†Cuong Nguyen¬†will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.