THE LOG BOOKS
Season 3 Episode 4 - “How refreshing”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Contributors: 1 (Rita), 2 and 7 (Lyn), 3 (Sali), 4 (Clare Truscott), 5 (Marguerite McLaughlin), 6 (Tony Whitehead), 8 (George Hodson), 9 (Euan Sutherland), 10 (Jay Stewart). 11 (Elaine), 12 (Ruth), 13 (Stella), 14 (Katie Carpenter).
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
TW: This episode contains archaic language around transgender identities.
Log book reader 1: This is a log book entry from November 4 1998.
‘I've just had such a lovely call, I felt I had to share my joy. A young straight woman called she's a fan of Haley on Coronation Street (the transsexual) but didn't know much about TS issues, so she rang us to gather ammunition to challenge the bigoted views of her friends and colleagues. She was an absolute delight to talk to and how refreshing to find someone otherwise unconnected to these issues, willing to expand to knowledge and combat ignorance. I feel fab. ‘
Log book reader 2: This is a log book entry from January 18th 2000.
‘Channel Four are repeating Queer as Folk, series one, starting today and our number will be broadcast afterwards. There's no night shift cover tonight because we'll probably start coming in and as a result of it over the next week.’
TW: I love that first log book entry, we know how it is as LGBTQI+ people to see ourselves represented on screen, but also there's that wider piece around allyship, about that support.
AZ: Yeah, and it's kind of great to think about allies, people, non-LGBTQ+ people, being exposed to themes, queer themes and queer sex and stuff on TV, but it's even more important that we get to see it too. And I remember watching Queer As Folk, I think I was 15 when it came out in 1999. I remember taping it off the TV so I could watch it privately in my bedroom in the dark with the sound off and just watch the sexy bits.
TW: Course you did, Adam.
AZ: You’re listening to The Log Books, stories from Britain's LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today, in partnership with Switchboard The LGBT+ helpline.
TW: In this season, we're reading through the notes made by the volunteers who took calls between 1992 and 2003. I'm Tash Walker.
AZ: And I'm Adam Zmith.
Episode Four, ‘How Refreshing’.
TW: And we're going to be talking all about television and the milestones from 1990 to 2003. We've got Brookside, Byker Grove, Queer As Folk, Hayley from Corrie,
AZ: It's so important to have this representation on screen, especially in fiction and the nineties were just super great about that. So in this episode we've got memories from people remembering when they saw that hot cardigan case in Brookside. Yes, please. And the Switchboard volunteer who spoke to people who needed to talk after Ellen's landmark coming out episode.
TW: … With Laura Dern.
Contributor 1 (Rita): I remember the Brookside case, I remember Anna Friel, and I remember thinking 'She's really sexy, she's my kind of woman, she can't be a lesbian because we don't exist, there aren't many of us out there.' And I remember going to clubs and the Cuban solidarity campaign events and so on, I remember just, you could actually spot the other femme in the room. So there weren't that many of us.
I'm Rita, I'm a pioneer. In terms of TV representation, I would literally come home early and put on my TV. It was one of those old wooden boxes where there was no remote control. But anyway, I had a small TV and I would put it on if I heard that there was any representation of anything remotely LGBT because it just made me feel like the world was bigger than what I could physically see and where I physically was out there in the world in the bigger world, there were other gay people and it was lovely for me to be able to see that. So yes, if there was any opportunity I just remember Brookside partly because it was a woman and ‘femme’ and the whole identity the being able to identify with with her and thinking "Hey, it's okay to be a lesbian and wear lipstick and have long hair and to wear a dress and to look like this."
Archive clip from Brookside: ‘You know how I feel about you, it doesn't just end with me finding you attractive liking your personality. I fancy you in the same way I fancy Peter Harrison I want to kiss you the way I kissed him. Sorry I shouldn't have said that. It's too much and I spilled everything I could possibly, stay friends with me now.’
TW: I was only nine when that Brookside kiss happened. So I've only watched it for the first time a couple of weeks ago in preparation for the show and it makes me feel like a teen.
AZ: Have you been watching it on repeat?
TW: Over and over and over.
AZ: But it was a big deal in 1994 when it first happened, especially for people who were watching it very privately because they weren't out.
Contributor 2 (Lyn): I just knew that there was going to be discussions in the morning at work. And at work I ran a department, but it was very predominantly male and of course I wasn't out, I couldn't really come out. So when anything like this happened, I thought 'How are they going to treat this tomorrow, when I go into work, what are they going to say about it?' For weeks afterwards people were still talking about it.
I'm Lyn, and I'm 72 years of age. I don't know anyone in my working environment, that ever came out, I never even got an inkling that they were gay. All the people that worked for me were very much married, family orientated. So that was difficult, because I couldn't be honest, and with one or two people I would have loved to have been really honest but I didn’t know what that knock on effect was going to be and I didn't want to take that risk at the time.
Contributor 3 (Sali): There was an episode of Brookside, I don't remember the exact date that it was aired, there was a case between two what were meant to be younger women and it was brilliant, it received so many complaints, but also so much publicity, so that really helped in a way. I thought, ‘This is awesome and also Anna Friel's quite good looking.’ She was then before she had the Botox in the top lip, but that's another story.
My name is Sali. I'm 54. I am a parent and an entrepreneur. The other thing was, where gay people were, where it was like it was a drama or a story and you had two people who had got together, say they're fairly young, it was always portrayed that one of them would go off with somebody of the opposite gender. In the end, there was no exploration of a relationship that would survive the test of time. There was very, very little portrayal of historical LGBTQ+ characters and we have such a rich and fascinating history, but it's as if we don't exist. Yeah, I used to watch Bad Girls and Cell Block H, but it was almost like sometimes I knew Cell Block H was a bit like a panto because the sex would move and the character representations, I can't remember the name of the officer, but her her side name was 'Vinegar Tits'. She was just such an awful character who would basically go in with her gloves and molest the inmates. So it was hardly a positive portrayal of a lesbian woman. If you were gay, you were deviant in some other way, as well as society viewed us at that time.
TW: Listening to Sali makes me think about being queer, gay or trans as a character. It was always seen as a character trait to a villain or in the case of Bad Girls, a criminal rather than just part of who those people are and the storylines so often ended up or even still do sometimes with the negativity of being LGBTQ+, but I mean, Bad Girls was so good, wasn't it?
AZ: Yes. So bad, it was good, so good, it was just really brilliant. I remember watching it with my Dad and my sister who's a lesbian, I just thought she was obsessed with prisons. I mean, I think she is but there was also something else going on for her. You know, these amazing characters Shell Dockley, Helen Stewart, Nikki, I remember their names and the guards, Screws.
I just remember watching this and thinking there's something so risky about this show and it was so different because there was so many women in it as well as the all the lesbian snogging and stuff like that, that was going on in the cells. And I remember thinking, 'Oh yeah, this show is risky and it's exciting to me.’ It was just so different and I just love that.
TW: Yeah, totally, I feel exactly the same about Queer as Folk. That was about a show about gay men, right? But it was illicit and I was obsessed with it and I couldn't get enough of it and I think it goes to show you how important representation is for LGBTQ+ people, even if it's not exactly you, who you see on screen and what a difference seeing that on TV makes, as Femi remembers here about Beth in Brookside.
Contributor 3 (Femi): It was thrilling, of course, to begin to see actually lesbians that you could lust after and who weren't sorry about being lesbians and who didn't die or go straight on telly. Actually when Beth Jordache socked her Dad and buried him under the patio and then had that amazing lesbian kiss, I mean, those times were just, they were just so important.
You know I almost began to think the job was done then, because we thought 'Well, that's it, mainstream telly, characters being written specifically to be lesbian and not necessarily to be anything else.’ That was incredible. And yeah, video recorders weren't notoriously unreliable, you couldn't be sure that you'd set the wretched thing right. So you had to be in front of the telly at the time you wanted to watch Bad Girls. I think that now what we see comparatively, is so much stronger, so much more vibrant. If we think about the comparison between Bad Girls and Orange is the New Black. Yeah, telly had a big part to play in making our life easier, in reassuring young women that you could be fine being a lesbian.
TW: Femi's comment on the job being done or her thinking that the job was done, makes me think a lot about equal rights, about our fight for equal rights and whenever we're looking to achieve something; marriage equality, for example, as soon as you get there, you realise how far there still is to go and it's that balance between equality versus equity. It makes you realise that the impact of these TV shows is so fantastic when you see that representation, but as soon as you get it, it opens up this whole Pandora's box of how much more work we have to do around it. And another thing it made me realise when we're talking about the impact of these shows was I'm reminded of this thing that happened when I was about 10 or 11.
I was watching a TV documentary with my mum about homosexual kids. And they were experiencing what I remember is just loads of homophobic abuse, obviously, a negative portrayal that we were so used to seeing in the nineties. And I just had a complete meltdown and I cried and I sobbed and I remember begging my mum to promise to never let me be gay, ever.
AZ: Oh, wow. That was just based on something that you saw on the TV?
TW: Yeah, I just remember feeling so overwhelmed and terrified.
AZ: It makes you realise how much of an impact just seeing something on the TV can make you think about yourself and reflect on that or just have a reaction like you did as a little one.
TW: Yeah, of course. And you see that starting to have an impact on the calls to Switchboard, especially when Switchboard's number started to appear at the end of the TV shows.
AZ: I've got a log book entry here attached from May 10th 1994 and it's basically a page that the Switchboard volunteer has ripped out of the Guardian newspaper and stuck into the log book with sellotape and it's an article about coming out to your parents and it's called 'Out With It'.
It’s got a picture of Beth from Brookside and it uses the recent storyline of Beth and Brookside to explore that issue of coming out to your parents. There's a person who's quoted in the article called Sue, who's 20 and works for a clearing bank in London's West End, here's a quote from the article 'It was only after watching a television programme about lesbian lifestyles that I finally faced up to the fact that I was looking at myself. Not only did I prefer the company of women socially, I also found them attractive sexually. Once I had acknowledged that I plucked up the courage to phone Gay Switchboard, and they gave me the details of a women's social group in my area.'
Obviously the Switchboard volunteer has underlined the mention of gay Switchboard in the article.
TW: It's great to see that article and how Switchboard helped someone and still to this day when a TV show comes out talking about LGBTQI+ issues. So often Switchboard's number is at the bottom and we let the volunteers know in advance.
Log book reader 3: This is a log book entry from July 12th 1992.
'Caller from Southport called us after seeing our number on a Switchboard banner on 'Out' on Channel Four. This is the second call I've taken via that programme. Perhaps we could get 'Out' to flash our telephone number up at the end of each programme or Channel Four to make a voiceover at the end of the programmes.'
Log book reader 4: This is a log book entry from January 31 1999.
'Both Jack and I have simultaneously had coming out calls from married 39 year olds as a result of our number being publicised at the end of 'Peak Practice' last week'
Contributor 4 (Clare Truscott): I seem to remember one of the papers used to have TV columns, and these used to highlight if there was a gay programme coming up, because gay programmes were so rare that then you'd stay in to watch them. And very often, this is like in times, I didn't necessarily have a VCR back then. So you would actually stay into watch it because if you missed it, you missed it. It's not like now where you can just catch it on catch up, or watch again, or find it on the internet. There's none of that, you know, you missed it, you missed it.
There started to be regular programmes on, particularly on Channel Four, they had a series of, was it 'Gay on Tuesdays' or something like 'Out on Tuesdays'? They were great. I remember I used to have the numbers for all of the, I mean, there were only four channels about them. So I used to have the numbers for the duty desk of the four channels and if there was a homophobic comment on the telly, I would phone up the duty desk and complain and if there was a gay programme on the telly I'd phone them up and congratulate them. I don't know if that ever made any difference, but you know.
Contributor 5 (Marguerite McLaughlin): In 1992, I was working for a department within the BBC that was known as social action broadcasting. And it involves all of the different material and Public Information Services. Things to do with health, social issues.
Hi, I'm Marguerite McLaughlin. I'm 69 years old. I identify as a lesbian. And I was very proud to work with London, Lesbian and Gay Switchboard from 1995 to 2003. Increasingly programmes were being made about lesbian and gay issues and they were gaining larger audiences. Often, they will also gain a notoriety that will reflect itself in the duty log at the BBC where people will ring up and complain and threaten to withdraw their licence. See, because obscene things like lesbian and gay issues were being explored, issues would be raised and people wouldn't know where to turn because there was no internet at that time and very often all people did need to steer in the right direction to be able to access help and advice. That was where my first awareness of Lesbian and Gay Switchboard happened, because increasingly, we at the BBC were looking for high quality advisors to be able to take calls from people, offer support and also offer referrals so that people could take advantage of things that were on offer that they didn't know about.
TW: We've heard about Brookside, we've heard about Bad Girls, but let's give a shout out to all the other amazing nineties queer content is so good. We had Byker Grove…
AZ: The kiss, Byker Grove!
TW: The Word, Camp Christmas, the gay characters and Channel Four's Hollyoaks in 1995. Gimme, Gimme Gimme from 1999, so fun to say. And of course, Queer as Folk.
AZ: Let's talk about Queer As Folk. It was so huge when it came out in 1999. Such a big deal, we love you Russell T Davies.
Queer As Folk archive clip: ‘No, come back to mine.’
TW: I remember not being able to take my eyes away from the screen. It didn't matter that it was just gay men having loads loads of sex. I had no idea what's going on either.
Queer As Folk archive clip: 'I'm taking him home... I'm going with him.... Good boy.’
‘So what do you like doin?’
‘What do you like doin' in bed?’
‘This is fine.'
AZ: There was a blow job at a funeral. I think I remember and I just remember watching it at the time, with the lights off and everything. We're just getting really into it into the characters Stewart Alan Jones, I remember that name, Nathan Maloney, you know all of these amazing characters and I can remember specific scenes, especially the sex scenes in episode one, season one. 'Yes, yes', the whole football team is there naked in in shorts and the referees going 'Yes, yes, in we go.' Something like that, I just remember these lines.
TW: And you're sitting so close to the TV screen that you're able to tell me that you could see the hairs on Nathan's back.
AZ: So you could see. Yes, you can say that because Stewart Alan Jones puts his chin on the bum when he's talking about rimming and then doing rimming on the TV.
Contributor 5 (Tony Whitehead): I don't remember very well, this is my problem now. But I did watch Queer as Folk and I'm pretty sure I liked it.
I'm Tony Whitehead. I am 67 years old, much to my surprise. Now even at the age I was then I might have felt a little flushed watching it with my mother. Mayby, I don't know, but yes, I thought it was great to see, I mean we assume the sex scenes then were not 100% honest, without going into too many details, sex can be messy and farty and clumsy and all sorts of all sorts of things. So yeah, sex scenes looked a little more polished than some I can think of. I just thought, I wish this had been around when, when I was desperately trying to understand my own sexuality, and about sexual relationships and terrified and yet fascinated the thought of having sex.
Contributor 7 (Lyn): I mean, I watched queer Queer as Folk was it? Yeah. And sometimes I have to say it was a little bit cringy to me. My god, is that what happens? You know, what occurs with men. [laughs] But obviously, the more I saw, the more I realised that they say they can have good times too.
Contributor 8 (George): I thought it was fabulous. We'll fuck. That's how it is, I didn't rush to my smelling salts, I didn't get hard and horny and wank off, I just thought yeah, this is how it is. This is how we all used to fuck. How we all used to… This is how we expressed ourselves, and isn't that wonderful? And who is upsetting? You know, it's time we showed that gay sex is like normal sex. It can be portrayed in whichever way it's being wanted by the participants and Russell really knew that and showed it.
Contributor 9 (Euan Sutherland): I absolutely avidly remember watching Queer as Folk when it came out, the soundtrack just takes me back there and how taboo it still was that rimming was represented.
My name is Euan Sutherland. I'm 44. I didn't remember anything else, I saw elements of me and lots of different characters and those shared experiences which you saw being on screen, you related back to your own experience.
What was absolutely fascinating when watching Queer as Folk was Nathan as an under age, gay man, blatantly, enthusiastically having his first gay experience, it was a criminal, the age of consent had been fudged down to 18. At that point by Parliament, the European court case which I was involved with was several years away from being completed but this was a representation of what we had been talking about. Which was as a teenager, engaging in a sexual activity with the threat of prosecution hanging over them and with family and friends and school, all of those. Being a teenager is complicated and what I loved about Queer as Folk was that it wasn't one dimensional, there were appealing and unappealing characteristics about the cast, so that 'warts and all' approach to things was incredibly refreshing to see
Log book reader 5: This is a log book entry from February 18 1992.
‘Rebecca from Liverpool saw a clip of kd lang in a rather raunchy film clip, possibly on 'The Word'. Where not many clothes were worn. Do you know the name of the film? HMV were apparently not helpful, but said they'd get the film if they could find the title. I told her to ring Sister Right. P.S. she'll ring back in a week or so. Get those brains racking.’
Log book reader 6: This is a log book entry from August 14 1994.
‘Does anyone tape 'Tuesdays Out' on Channel Four, repeated Wednesday night. I forgot on both occasions and would like a copy since I'm in it. Report on Stonewall 25 in New York. If you can help, please ring me at home and leave a message. Thanks.’
TW: 'Desperate lesbian' I think I definitely identified as a desperate lesbian in the nineties. All I wanted to do was tape The L Word, but it was on at 1am on Living TV. So I used to have to crawl down in the middle of the night and press record, and then wake up really early and tiptoe downstairs and sit right next to the TV screen with the volume on one.
I was just so desperate to hear what Shane had done was looking over my shoulder in case my parents crept down the stairs and I was gonna be exposed as the gay that I was.
Contributor 3 (Femi): So representation around that time was starting to change. So it was going from, although it took a while, from the lesbians being the first one to die in the movie, the gay man is always the camp one that falls over all the time and tries to get off with the hero. So it was kind of like lessening that and it was changing a bit.
There was Channel Four's 'Out on Tuesday'. Was it 11 o'clock at bloody night? But we were getting some representation, even if you had to get out in the morning for work or for college or uni, you would stay up and put two alarm clocks on to get up early in the morning because you didn't want to miss it. You didn't want to miss that one bit of representation of stuff that was made by our community for our community. And of course there were the screams about 'Oh, it's always about gay men' and stuff, and 'there's not enough lesbian representation'. Then Dyke TV came out as well, that was fabulous. Dykes were making TV, there were lesbians behind the camera, there were lesbians in front of the camera, it was about lesbian subjects, it was about stuff that affected us at that time and that was mind blowing, because we'd never had that before.
Programmes were made about us, or said things to us, but it was not us explaining ourselves or entertaining ourselves by showing our relationships as being just normal, or the couple or just having to pay the bills, having to go shopping, having to go to work. The story was not around, 'Oh this lesbian's got this particular issue'. It wasn't issue based unless it was explaining something, unless it was specific to that thing.
TW: All of the shows that we've looked at so far focus on lesbian and gay lives, but there's hardly any trans representation at all.
AZ: Except for 1998 When something super important happened on Coronation Street, Britain's longest running TV, soap and export from the north of England. They introduced a important character, Hayley Cropper, who was the first transgender character in a soap on British TV and this was such a big deal.
She was originally cast as the punchline of a joke of a scene where Roy Cropper went on a bad date, basically, but the public and the writers liked her so much that she became a permanent character on the show, and explored so many different storylines over the years and lots of different themes not only being trans and not only transitioning, so that in itself is super important. And of course, she also represented later on the theme of assisted dying. So a really, really important character, Hayley Cropper.
TW: What a pioneer.
Contributor 10 (Jay Stewart): Interestingly, I wrote my PhD about UK TV documentaries that feature trans people. So I know quite a lot about the 1990s film in terms of documentaries, but there was, you know, in terms of drama, there was very, very little trans representation. Hello,
I'm Jay Stewart, I use he/him pronouns and I'm from Birmingham. A lot of TV documentaries record the wrong body. And there was the kind of the dogma of being trapped in the wrong body and all of these kinds of narrative and rhetoric that we've since challenged. But there was a young person, a young trans boy, actually on a TV documentary and he was, I'm not sure what year would that have been maybe 92/93, and he was somebody that made me really think, 'Gosh, it's it's possible, it's, it's interesting'. I wasn't one of these people who just because I knew from the get go that you know, I was a trans man. It's something that didn't really cement or solidify until my sort of mid 20s. You're kind of peppered, not very much actually, but there's a couple of opportunities to see yourself represented on TV.
Contributor 11 (Elaine): I don’t watch Coronation Street because it’s from up north. But I must say I did start to watch it when Hayley, the transsexual came into it, because it was so well done. In fact it was so well don't, I hope Lyn won’t mind me saying this, she actually asked her friend who’s an actor if she really is a transexual, because you actually thought she was didn't you? From what I can remember I think it was so well done because the local people accepted her and I think that’s a very important thing. If a person's essence is female, we might call that soul or essence. The inside part of that person. If that person feels they are female, if they have the courage to go through the whole transition, there's no doubt in my mind that that person is a woman. We have got one friend whose been through that and I admire her for that and in my eyes she is a woman.
She is a woman, yep.
Contributor 5 (Marguerite McLaughlin): What happened with Hayley on Coronation Street was that suddenly there was a huge explosion of people ringing Switchboard and saying there is a person like me on television, but often there wasn’t the same kind of happy ever after that was being shown to Hayley and that callers were experiencing a lot of transphobia because of the increased public awareness of transgender issues.
AZ: There’s that double edged sword of visibility right? It’s super important to have characters on screen you identify with but then there's also this backlash about it sometimes when other people who don't like those characters see it. And I remember Ellen. Now Ellen is a big character in this. I loved Ellen, it was a great show, Ellen was a great character. She was a wise-cracking, bad-dressing bookshop owner and that’s basically who I identified as.
TW: Literally you’re talking about yourself here Adam.
AZ: I remember when she was about to come out everyone knew it was about to happen, there was going to be this big media moment, it was weirdly stressful, there was this electricity in the air about Ellen coming out even though we all knew it was going to happen. And of course the love interest was Laura fucking Dern, hello?
TW: I’m there for Laura but I just didn’t care about Ellen at all.
TW: But of course she meant a lot to people, just like you Adam and Switchboard was there to talk to them.
Contributor 12 (Ruth): There was a sense of change in the nineties there was a sense of momentum and a sense of movement and certainly by 1997, when Blair’s labour government was voted in, there was a sense of optimism.
My name is Ruth and I’ve been a Switchboard volunteer since 1996. I’m still a volunteer today.
A sense of change, change was in the air but there were also other things happening. Ellen coming out in America. Switchboard was asked to go to the offices of Channel Four and five volunteers went along on the evening of Ellen Degeneres coming out and at that time Switchboard wasn’t computerised, everything was done on hard copy.
We went along to Channel Four offices and we had to do instant messages, we had to go into chat rooms after the show and Switchboard’s number was put after the show and it was a little bit nerve-wracking being put in the chatroom as it wasn’t something we were used to doing but I guess it was the first time Switchboard had done instant messaging. And the response was overwhelming. We were there until two in the morning, there were 5 of us on separate computers in separate chat rooms. The people flooded in. It was absolutely amazing and I’d been at Switchboard for less than a year so I felt really honoured. I think it was three women and two men but it was great Switchboard was offering that service then and that we were able to respond in realtime to callers not just from London but from all over the country who were responding to Ellen coming out. And again it was that sense of change, that change of someone watching something on TV and being able to chat to an LGBT volunteer. I like to think it helped people come out, things were changing, things were shifting.
AZ: That shift has continued because TV is such a fluid medium, TV budgets have gone through the roof. New TV platforms like Netflix mean lots and lots of content and diversity and it’s great and we love it but there’s also this ghettoisation. I think potentially, of queer characters, into the LGBT+ category that people can click on, and I’m not too sure how I feel about that.
TW: Absolutely, 100% Adam, so we talked to two TV producers who work behind the scenes as TV producers today to what they think needs to change and shift going forwards.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Hi I’m Stella I’m a TV producer and I’m producing a series called Gentleman Jack.
Contributor 14 (Katie): Hi I’m Katie, I’m also a TV producer and I’m producing something called Landscapers at the moment.
Contributor 13 (Stella): So I’ll start by saying hello Katie.
Contributor 14 (Katie): Hi I’m very Shane today.
Contributor 13 (Stella): I want to remind you that when we met we had a very long conversation about The L Word, and here we are making our dreams come true.
Contributor 14 (Katie): Still not working on The L Word are we though?
Contributor 13 (Stella): Still not working on the L Word and it’s weird they bought it back and didn’t ask us to do it. Would you want to work on The L Word?
Contributor 14 (Katie): I genuinely would love to work on The L Word. Yeah, sometimes I fantasise about it. I haven’t actually told anyone about that, so confessions.
Contributor 13 (Stella): I fantasise about it and one of the actors is very unwell and I have to do the scene.
Contributor 14 (Katie): When I was very anxious on one of my first TV jobs, one of my happy thoughts was basically my first day on The L Word set as producer.
Contributor 13 (Stella): And you felt supported did you?
Contributor 14 (Katie): I felt very supported, Leisha Haley took me to set it was really dreamy.
Contributor 13 (Stella): That’s a very good segue into talking about our current roles as two gay women doing two pretty gay jobs. IS yours pretty gay at the moment?
Contributor 14 (Katie): [laughs] My current job is the first show I’ve worked on that features no homesexual characters whatsoever.
Contributor 13 (Stella): How do you feel about that?
Contributor 14 (Katie): Surprised to find myself enjoying it. Which firstly is an indication of how privileged i’ve been to work on shows with so many queer characters. Secondly the relief I feel to not be the person in the room who has to provide the answers and legitimacy for the storyline
Contributor 13 (Stella): I love that it gives me a power kick.
Contributor 14 (Katie): Does it happen often to you?
Contributor 13 (Stella): In my head it happens often to me but in reality i’m the person in the back of the room being ignored. I know what you mean, I was thinking about the question of how much more queer TV is now than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean every programme has to have somebody in it who ticks a box. That balance of authenticity and representation, it’s nice to have a balance of a box that ticks so many things. At the moment I’m working on if you made up a dream show in my mind that would be the show. A historical show about a kick ass lesbian. I’m looking forward to working on something that’s completely out my comfort zone. Is that what your’re doing?
Contributor 14 (Katie): I don’t feel like it’s necessarily taking me out of my comfort zone but it's allowing me to keep my mind on the story and not worry about the politics of it. I think you’re right that there has been such a development over almost a decade. I Realise I’ve been in the industry which is scary. When I first began one of the first shows I script edited. I was the only gay person in the room. Part of the storyline was about lesbian cop. I remember being taken out of the room by one of the senior people running the show and she said ‘Katie, if there is anything in that room that's made you feel uncomfortable, please let me know and I remember feeling really outraged, like if there's something in that room that has made me feel uncomfortable, it should have made you feel uncomfortable. And suddenly it's my responsibility to be the guardian about the legitimacy of the show but also the guardian of whats ‘pc’ in the room, it felt very exposing.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Yeah it's exposing, I think it's the downside, the babystep side of that question, of people being much more respectful of authenticity but not having the skills to put that into practice. I'm having a very different experience to that, the very, very positive side of people being respectful to authenticity. We have lots of people that are curious and sensitive and gay and want to get things right and I feel that is such a different situation to ten year ago being like ‘Ok, we have the stamp of approval from the one dyke in the room, so let’s all move on.’
It’s not someone telling your story over there and just turning around to check that it’s okay with you. You’re doing it together as a team and I think that’s got to be the way it goes on.
Contributor 14 (Katie): I totally agree and I think, what’s nice is as people progress I felt myself falling into the slipstream of a widening of the conversation as I found myself working with more queer people. When I made The Bisexual I was working with a director, a writer, loads of crew that identified with the themes of that show, which was amazing. I remember being in a room with Desi who was the writer, creator, actor, everything and we found ourselves joking about The L Word and how much we loved it and suddenly we found ourselves putting it into the show. There's a scene where there’s literally just two dykes sitting on the sofa watching The L Word. I remember there was an actor who didn’t get the references they were saying Bette’s name wrong, literally ‘Betty’ someone had to correct her.
Contributor 14 (Katie): It was one of those moments when you’re like ‘Fucking hell, this is amazing and so great’. And yeah it’s niche and my mum’s not going to get her but it’s not for her, so yeah.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Fuck your mum.
Contributor 14 (Katie): Fuck Ika.
I think it’s the feeling of not being the person in the room being like ‘Oh god, that’s not going to happen, please don’t make her flirt with a guy because it’s a helpful plot point.’ But being worried about saying that because that would mean the straight white male showrunner is going to be pissed off with you and it’s like having those internal battles in your head about where the space is for your voice and the legitimacy of your voice, even though you know you’re correct. Suddenly you’re in a space that’s like being in open water, you can just jump in and swim and seeing where it takes you and as a result the storylines just find themselves and it doesn’t feel so artificial
Contributor 13 (Stella): I think it’s also about the individuals and about the atmosphere and I think you can feel it on TV, it’s changing everyday. You know I’ve always felt comfortable speaking up for myself as a woman, as a gay person but I think were getting it place where it’s a much more supported environment for people to do and for people to feel they can raise things that make them feel uncomfortable where they don’t feel their voice is being heard. I think there’s an environment now that is more embracing of other voices. I think people get scared in a ‘cancel culture’ way, that only someone who has had this experience can write about this. Only someone who has had this experience can direct that, I think there is a losing sight within that, that we make these things as a team. And if we are talking to each other, I’ve felt exposed in situations before, but you feel much less exposed if you know that that person over there really cares about your experience, even if they havent had the same experience as you. Or that person over there you’ve chosen because they’re sensitive, or that person over there because they’re gay or because they are really geeky about a certain thing. I think it’s about making those environments where of course it’s not cut and dry, not everybody is going to have had the same experiences as the things they are trying to show on screen but of course they are respectful of the fact that maybe they haven’t and they need to speak to somebody about it. But, there will always be people that just don’t get it too.
Let’s talk about Bad Girls please. You watch things like Bad Girls and you’re like here's a show, I don’t want to say ahead of its time because it’s of its time and it was amazing. It wasn’t about gay women, It wasn’t an issue drama in that sense but it had lots of gay women in it. Not just Wing Governor Helen Stewart and Nikki, but also Denny who was in a relationship. Who was it? What's her name, played by the one who did the impression show? Yeah you do, she was in Eastenders as well.
Contributor 14 (Katie): I did not watch more than one series.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Shell Dockly was the character, I don’t think she identified as a gay character but she was in this relationship with a woman. And that was just all going on in the background and there’s so few shows where you look back and they were doing that. I think there’s much more characters now or shows, where they’re not just about a group if gay people. Which were also amazing, Queer As Folk, an amazing show. The L Word, an amazing show, let’s not beat around the bush.
Contributor 14 (Katie): I think you’re right they are amazing shows but it’s interesting those two references, the endings of both those series. The two series of Queer As Folk and god knows how many series of The L Word.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Six, well six plus two, Generation Q
Contributor 14 (Katie): But neither Queer As Folk or The L Word quite managed to find their endings. Queer as Folk they drive off in their car into this fantasy world. The L word, I mean fuck knows, something very strange. It’s interesting neither of those shows could quite bring it to the end into something that felt right. Somehow that speaks to me to the fact that the culture, the environment was still emerging and they lived in their own universe and they had to throw the happy ending or the terrible ending in the case of The L Word into the world of fantasy.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Well it depends how you feel about Jenny doesn’t it. Yeah, I think if you made a series about a group of gay women or a group of gay men now it would be very different. Queer as Folk is one of the best shows ever made in my opinion but I think they would be very different.
So we’ve been talking about the shows, looking back at shows where we can see the holes in them and how we might plug those holes now. What do you think would be the holes in 20 years would look back at the shows we’re making?
Contributor 14 (Katie): People are going to look back at the shows we’re making and see the hole for trans characters. I’ve experienced that in terms of the feedback I’ve had for shows I’ve made in the last five years. I remember a screening for The Bisexulal and we were all sitting around congratulating ourselves on how great it was to see this unexplored queer storyline and this trans person came me and was like ‘I really feel like my story wasn’t there and I really wanted it to be’ and I just, I was getting cash out at the time and I remember feeling ‘Gosh, you’re such a dick.’ It’s like stop congratulating yourself because there is so much to do.
Contributor 13 (Stella): There is a lot more to do but I also think you can congratulate yourself as that was a series that was very different for people and it really broke some new ground and it’s always worth looking back and thinking what can I do next time we do it and who do I need to speak to but I think, people are very unenlightened about bisexual people, they really are. I was having a conversation with someone last night who I really hope isn’t listening to this as she’s a dear friend. She said ‘Is it more difficult going out with bisexual people than lesbians?’.
I said ‘yes dear.’ No, but do you know what I mean, I think the conversations people are having now about non-binary identities, trans identities, I’m not going to say ‘the trans debate’ because human rights are not a debate but the conversations people are having and the things they are wanting to understand I think we will start to reflect them soon and drama does it first. That’s something I was going to say about drama, how drama is starting to represent the world you and I live in, that we all live in to be honest. But ‘reality’ is not doing that. I was thinking about ‘drama’ versus ‘reality’. I love Love Island, I love watching Love Island but as an anthropological exercise about what goes on in straight peoples minds and it feels very othering to queer people, shows like that. It’s the most mainstream shows, it’s one of the most watched shows and it’s almost like having a series of Big Brother that didn’t have gay people on it or anyone queer, it’s very very old fashioned in its gender dynamics and it’s quite depressing in that sense.
Contributor 14 (Katie): I totally agree, in a way I get really annoyed at people who are like ‘oh god, guilty pleasure’ as this is a show that had a debate about whether or not they should include non-heterosexual people in it and it’s like how did you debate that? We exist.
Contributor 13 (Stella): I don’t know if you understand the rules of Love Island, Katie, but it would actually be very difficult to have gay people in it.
Contributor 14 (Katie): Of course I’m so sorry, do forgive me. You know lots of people in the industry watch it and I want to boycott it.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Really? I would rather boycott it because of the way that it perpetuates stereotypes about men and women, but that’s part of the same thing I suppose.
Contributor 14 (Katie): It’s all part and parcel isn’t it. Good storytelling is just loving people whatever they are and whatever they do and being able to tell a story about them and those stories can be timeless. We’ve banged on about The L Word a lot, maybe we’ve given it too much airtime. But I know that I would not have come out if I hadn’t watched that show, because it felt like I found a family.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Stolen minutes on YouTube.
Contributor 14 (Katie): Furtive, furtive downloading.
Contributor 13 (Stella): Then it’s amazing to think back on that. You know those women did not have lives like us I was watching it from Norwich in 2007 I wasn’t driving around LA with Bette.
Contributor 14 (Katie): That was yet to come…
Contributor 13 (Stella): That was 2009, 2010, that was my gap year.
And yet now we can watch things on BBC One where we see a character who is having a relationship and it’s not the thing the story is about and you see something that just feels so much more relatable. Or you see a character that’s walking down the road in the 19th century hashtag Gentleman Jack and you think yeah we’ve been around forever and you ain't never gonna get rid of us either.
AZ: Hey Tash, what’s the future of TV?
TW: Queer Battlestar Galactica every damn day.
AZ: Yes! Hit me up Ronald D Moore. I’m ready to write. Shapeshifting alien sex, maybe a Sense 8 reboot, I can’t wait for Picard season 2, Seven and Raffi, space aliens, space lesbians….
TW: Okay, enough about space, this has been fun but as you know with the log books we also get serious.
[piano and string music]
AZ: So in the next episode we’re taking you to April 30th 1999, the day the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho was bombed.
[piano and string music]
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential, so to bring The Log Books to life we’ve changed callers’ details.
AZ: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, and Adam Zmith, in partnership with Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline. And supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to email@example.com, or join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TheLogBooks.
AZ: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes, and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to…
AZ: Stef Dickers, and the team at the Bishopsgate Institute. The folks at Acast, Content is Queen, David Pye, the staff and volunteers at Switchboard, and everyone who shared their stories with us.
TW: Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10 am to 10 pm, every day. If you’re affected by any of the issues in this podcast, or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or instant message via switchboard.lgbt, where you can also donate money, or time, to help.