TV

Gentleman Jack fans share inspiring, meaningful ways Anne Lister’s story has changed their lives

Nola Ojomu April 10, 2022
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Anne Lister was known as Gentleman Jack, the title of Ross McGregor's play and of the BBC production due to air this year.

Gentleman Jack is set in the 19th century. (BBC One)

When Gentleman Jack first landed on screens in 2019, viewers were instantly drawn in by the incredible true story of Anne Lister – who is known as “the first modern lesbian”.

Born on 3 April 1791, Lister famously wrote secret diaries – which were later decoded – about her lesbian relationships, travelling the world and her upper-class life at Shibden Hall.

After her story was brought to life by celebrated TV writer and producer Sally Wainwright, fans across the world couldn’t get enough of Suranne Jones‘ Lister power walking around Halifax, Yorkshire and setting her own rules.

As BBC viewers watched her impressive determination to live her life without conforming to societal expectations, many were inspired to look inward and make changes so they could do the same.

Suranne Jones plays Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack (BBC)
Suranne Jones plays Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack (BBC)

Kate is one of the fans who was inspired to make a life-changing decision after the show aired. Having been in a straight relationship for 25 years, the 49-year-old came out as a lesbian.

“I always knew that I had feelings for the same sex but I buried it deep because I knew that there was no way that I could even contemplate anything else,” she told PinkNews.

The maths teacher explains that she began watching Gentleman Jack shortly after the death of close family members and was motivated to make a change after the very first episode.

“Watching the first episode, I felt that I have to do this, that I have to try,” she recalled. “Anne Lister arrived in my life at a time when I really needed her to. The show validated how I was feeling.”

She continued: “I was probably relating more to Ann Walker (played by Sophie Rundle) with the fear of how I would be received if I came out.”

Reflecting on the way Anne Lister’s story further changed her approach to life, she explained: “I speak my mind more now. I don’t worry about what people think of me. I am also very open about my sexuality. I spent too much time in the closet to hide the real me now. Gentleman Jack is my comfort blanket, that helps me when I need it to.”

Kate admitted “life has not been all hearts and flowers” since she came out, but praised her three children for being great support as she shared her truth with family and friends.

She is now engaged to a woman who “loves and supports me and encourages me to become the best person that I can be”.

Sharing her hopes for future seasons of Gentleman Jack, Kate added: “I am hopeful that others who have been in my position gain comfort from seeing what women can achieve in life, given the determination that Anne had.

“Having read parts of the diaries in the book that accompanied the series, Anne was a great narrator of life at that time, who everyone can learn from.”

Gentleman Jack
Gentleman Jack stars Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones (BBC)

Like Kate, Cade was also motivated to be their true self after learning more about the gender-nonconforming lesbian through the show. After previously identifying as a cis lesbian, Cade came out as a trans man.

Reflecting on a key moment in the show that inspire the decision, the 20-year-old told PinkNews: “I remember one scene from early on the series when Anne was talking about gender and how a ‘bold spirit’ like hers was trapped in the vessel of her body.

“Sally Wainwright isn’t trans but the way she encapsulated this phrase gave me pause. And still, when I think back to it, it really does speak to the trans experience and the tumultuous time we have with our interior feelings vs our physical exterior.”

Cade continued: “I think her commitment to being different and ‘out there’, despite what anyone else thought was amazing. She is played and written so boldly, unapologetically, with enormous courage.

“I think the first part of feeling motivated to question my gender was exactly the bravery to stand out that the show celebrates.”

Though Cade says their trans experience has been a “difficult one” in certain ways, they have found continued “comfort” in the show during hard times.

“It let me know that there were situations out there that were also prone to waiting, secrets, outside phobia and internalised phobia. I felt so many parallels to my own existence in Anne and Ann, even though I no longer relate to them in a lesbian-identified way, they’re still very much part of my queerness and my life.”

Cade, who was able to share their story directly with Jones, Rundle and Wainwright at a preview event in March, reflected on how the unexpected impact the series has had as they added: “My life has truly changed because of this show and no amount of thank you’s or gratitude could be shown. All I can really state over and over again is how thankful I am that this show has touched and helped so many, including myself.

“As soon as the first season ended I knew something momentous had happened. It was like I finally started to accept that I could have my own place in the world, even as someone with a complex gender identity to figure out.”

Cade continued: “I remember clearly thinking, ‘If Anne Lister and Ann Walker can defy heteronormativity, societal roles, gender expression and religion, why couldn’t I do those things as a religious, bisexual trans man in the 21st century?’ And the answer became obvious: I could, and Gentleman Jack showed this to me.”

Anne Lister sitting down, holding hands with Ann Walker who is on bended knee
Gentleman Jack ended its first season with a wedding (BBC)

Holly is another fan who not only came out after the show but also found love in a fan group for the series.

The 25-year-old American first began to watch the show because she was a fan of Suranne Jones and had no idea who Anne Lister was.

“The show affected me because I really related to both Anne and Ann, I felt sure of myself and confident like Anne, but growing up where I did I also felt very internally homophobic like Ann,” Holly told PinkNews. “I was not out publicly, I felt as though I might be a part of the LGBT+ community but I had never taken that extra step to say I was. It helped me to accept who I was and to finally come out and be myself.”

Holly went on to join a Gentlemen Jack group started by a friend, at which point she began speaking to her British girlfriend Danni.

She added: “My girlfriend, Danni, was inspired to accept herself and be confident in herself even though she was already out.

“She is from a very religious family and the show helped her to feel like she could be open about herself and her feelings and she wasn’t worried about how people thought or the consequences.”

Praising the series for putting its entire focus on a lesbian relationship, Holly gushed: “I think it is amazing to see a reoccurring lesbian relationship and lesbian main character on television. I hope that it continues to be that saving grace that a lot of queer folk need.”

Gentleman Jack season two returns to BBC One from 10 April.

More: Anne Lister, gentleman jack

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