You know that moment when the straight couple start kissing on TV and you know it is going to lead to more? A LOT more. And your 10, 11, 12 years old. And you glance across the room at your parents and think, this is awkward.
Well, I had that. Except I would squirm, I would fidget, I would pretend I was reading something, I would hide behind the TV Times. But more often than not, I would leave the room. I was incredibly uncomfortable watching an intimate heterosexual scene.
Why? Because we live in a heterosexual world. And I am a lesbian.
And now, 28 years on, I find myself wondering when a lesbian love scene is on TV, whether I should consider my straight friends, especially during intimate, steamy lesbian love scenes. A love scene that I can 110% relate to.
Thoughts flick through my mind of 'should I soften the impact of this for them so they can feel more comfortable?'
And then I think. Hang on, is this even a consideration for heterosexual people? Most likely not.
Introducing... Gentleman Jack
So then Gentleman Jack comes on to our TV screens. BOOM.
The BBC One and HBO period drama series set in 1832 in Yorkshire. The series is based on the diaries of Anne Lister, containing over 4 million words and are written largely in secret code, documenting a lifetime of lesbian relationships and steamy encounters.
Who knew this was right on my doorstep!
I make sure I am sat at home with my partner watching. No parents. No friends. Just us. A shared experience of a beautiful story of lesbian love and being your Authentic Self.
BBC One Breaking The Mould...
TV is a tool to inform, educate and entertain and it dictates to us on a subconscious level what is normal and what is accepted in society.
Mass media portrays heterosexual relationships as the norm. Fact. I grew up watching heterosexual couples kissing on the TV. Blurgh. I was 18 years old when I first saw a gay couple on TV and I recall the media going crazy. Even today, homosexuality or transgender characters hit the headlines amongst controversy.
Now, we have to remember that back in 1832 they didn't have same-sex marriages or civil partnerships. I know, crazy right?!
BBC One are breaking the mould with Gentleman Jack.
They are normalising lesbian life. And I couldn't be happier.
Why? I'll tell you.
Gentleman Jack Review
Sally Wainwright (writer and director) has created a superbly written storyline depicting lesbian life – complete with the highs and lows, the challenges of being a strong character in a woman's body and what it was like being a lesbian in 1832.
Suranne Jones (Anne Lister) and Sophie Rundle (Ann Walker) capture the tenderness and intimacy that is felt within a lesbian relationship beautifully.
Intimacy. As a lesbian in a heterosexual society you adapt how you communicate with your partner. You learn to speak without speaking. You learn to read each other in ways that heterosexual people don't need to. And you learn to understand the nuances of body language and gesture. The glances, the touches of the face, the words behind the eyes, the sexual chemistry and emotional connection. It is all there in the characterisation of Anne and Ann. It is as though Suranne and Sophie have broken down all their own barriers and social conditioning they have faced throughout their lives to be able to play these two characters so impeccably. They have dropped all inhibitions (of kissing a girl, of what others will think, of potential impact on career... you get the idea) and fully immersed themselves into the roles. Absolutely superb.
Gentleman Jack is aired in the UK at 21:00. Still, I thought the level of intimacy and the content of the sex scenes would be muted in some way. That is not the case. It is great to see a lesbian love scene that is authentic, intimate and tender – and not there simply for sensationalism. On another note, I would love to know if heterosexual people tuning in are feeling uncomfortable watching the lesbian love scenes!
Here's what is missing: it is clear to me that Suranne worked with an intimacy director to ensure the sex-scenes were dealt with sensitively. What is missing in the characterisation of Anne and Ann is a lesbian insight into relationships, intimacy and connection. I would like to see this developed into Series 2 (YAY!)
I want to see a more authentic lesbian character in Anne with deeper connection to her own sexuality and the struggles she has with that. I want to see how her rejections have impacted on her mental health and I want to see more of an emotional connection to her lover, Ann Walker. All of this will aid Suranne to connect with the audience at home on a deeper level. She has only just scratched the surface with the characterisation.
Similarly, with Ann Walker, I want to see the struggles she has with her mental health and how this affects her. I want to see the impact of stepping outside the expectations her family have of her and I want to see the way all of this impact on the intimacy she feels and expresses with Anne.
And I want to see a lesbian sex scene that is as close to reality as possible. That's not to say we need to see more skin. I don't think we do. Just more awareness of what goes on in a same-sex couples' bedroom.
Secrecy. When you go out with your partner, do you exchange those glances that speak a thousand words? Do you gently brush up against each other? Do you hold hands, touch their face and show your love towards each other openly? Do you act on a kiss in the heat of the moment? Do you dance together at family weddings? Or do you 'save all that up' for the safety of your own home?
As a same-sex couple, you are constantly on high alert. You are never fully in the moment and appreciating the love between you when in public or with other people. Subconscious thoughts of 'don't let your guard down' and 'don't assume everything will be ok' are always with you. Holding hands, a touch to the leg or the arm, a stroke of the face, a glance that says you care – these are always considered. Always assessing and on guard.
Assessing every single thought of intimacy or affection for potential risks is commonplace for those of us in same-sex relationships. Before you lean in for a kiss, you check all around you to see if there is anyone there. Always on the look-out asking 'who can see us? How much time do we have before someone walks in and sees us?' Always on guard looking around you to see who is watching, judging and criticising.
Suranne and Sophie have captured this essence of lesbian life really well. Hiding behind walls, curtains, doors. It feels as though they are sneaking around for those intimate moments, those secret glances, making sure they aren't 'caught' – that totally resonates for those of us in same-sex relationships today!
I must say though, I found myself on numerous occasions in episode 3 shouting at the TV 'LOCK THE DOOR!!' A lesbian couple would have had it locked, moving furniture such as a chest of drawers against the door! You just never know, right?
Authenticity. As a heterosexual actor, playing a lesbian character can be quite tricky. I know, I used to be an actor when I was younger. But it was flipped for me. I would play straight characters – I can't even begin to tell you how difficult that is! Consideration of gestures, facial expressions, body language, thought patterns that affect your behaviour, feelings that are suppressed because of societal pressures – it is really difficult when you are going against your innate behaviours and mannerisms AND have no direct experience of being in my case, straight and in Suranne and Sophie's case, lesbians.
Firstly, they are creating fantastic characters that are loveable and we can relate to.
In episode 3, we witnessed a poignant scene with Anne Lister and her Aunt. Her Aunt triggered her when she said "all would be well and good if you were a man." To which Anne replies: "Nature played a challenging trick on me, putting a bold spirit like mine in this vessel, in which I'm obliged to wear frills and petticoats. Well I refuse to be cowed by it."
Wow. I looked at my partner and said "Blimey. She nailed that."
We are being reminded that it is ok to be different and to be your Authentic Self. We witness Anne facing abuse and disgust from society yet she is adamant about living life by her own rules and staying true to herself and her sexuality. Not easy today, never mind in 1832. Kudos.
As an expert in authenticity and LGBT+ relationships, I can see a level of authenticity with Anne and Ann.
What is missing: I want to see more! More authenticity. I want to see a deeper understanding of lesbian traits, thought patterns, feelings and how this affects how we project ourselves to the world – our behaviours and actions.
I see Suranne has a basic awareness of this – a surface level understanding and application. I want to see her go deeper into authenticity, to really capture lesbian life and relationships with an intensity that demonstrates to me she really 'gets it'. I want to see her being more present with her lover (emotionally, mentally and spiritually – not just physically) and fully embody being a lesbian.
I want to see this within her first and foremost. Then I want to see how this affects her relationship, tenderness and intimacy with Sophie. All of this will also help her to build more connection with the audience. And her dad. I want to see how her understanding of lesbian life and thoughts affects her relationship with her dad. Her dad had expectations for her and based on her sexuality, she isn't living up to those. There is more to explore there and I would love to see that play out.
Society. There are social pressures to behave and show up in the world in a certain way. We live in a heterosexual world and when you show up as anything that stands outside of this, you are judged. There is no doubt about that.
We hear messages as a child that seep into our subconscious mind. The world and your experience of life are viewed through a filter; that filter consists of your conditioning and messages you heard/assimilated through childhood.
Your conditioning teaches you that you are expected to be or perform in a certain way; with specific people, in situations and in society/public life. You begin to judge yourself and others based on the beliefs you have inherited from others. You question other people's way of life, decisions and choices. You compare yourself to others and wonder why you aren't as successful (or happy, peaceful or as wealthy) as them. You criticise others if they don't live up to your expectations or standards. All of this stems from your conditioning.
That also works the other way. OTHER PEOPLE judge you, criticise you and your decisions, they expect things of you and when you don't live up to those society, communities and individuals let you know.
In episode 3 we hear Sam Sowden call Anne Lister "a fella in a frock." Anne's face said it all. The impact of the words he used was palpable. He is demonstrating to us what was expected of ladies and classed as 'normal' back in the 1800s. There was an expectation to look and dress a certain way. We can visibly see and hear on occasions Anne Lister's struggle with the constraints of the clothing she feels she must wear to fit in to society. And we can feel it is suppressing her individuality, authenticity and sexuality.
There was also the expectation to marry a (wealthy) man and have children. We see this in episode 1 and 2 where Anne's lovers are settling down with men. We feel her heartache, grief and loneliness from her lovers choosing to conform to societal pressures. Her strength and courage to not settle down in this way and to find a female companion is phenomenal.
We mustn't forget the impact religion has to play here too. Anne Lister had a strong Anglican faith. The pressures from her religion (and therefore in the local community) must have been intense yet she saw no conflict between her Christian faith and her sexuality.
All this said, the other characters in Gentleman Jack are creating a strong sense of what must have been an oppressive and stifling atmosphere in her community, when out in public and in society at large for Anne Lister. Their roles in creating this environment is essential.
The portrayal of society has been nailed. I can't see anything missing here.
Mental Health. Ann Walker. It is great to see Sophie dealing with Ann's mental health issues so sensitively. Mental health is a huge issue in the LGBT+ community. MIND, the mental health charity state "42% of gay men and 70% of lesbians experience mental health problems, compared to 25% of the wider population." It is fascinating to see Sophie step into the characterisation of Ann and portray her mental health issues. The way it is talked about between the characters, the way Ann talks about it to others. It is really demonstrating to us what a taboo it was back in the 1800s.
I am looking forward to seeing how Sophie deals with Ann's progressive mental health as she 'comes out' and continues on her journey as a lesbian.
What is missing: I want to see hints of Anne's hurt, rejection, grief, mourning of past lover's (that decided to marry men) and the loneliness she feels, both with her being a lesbian but also being a strong, bold, outspoken character. I want to see a hint of the impact all of this is having on her mental health.
I feel this would totally put Suranne in another league – if she deepened the characterisation of Anne's underlying mental health, what it is like to be a lesbian and more presence and authenticity.
Acting Techniques. Suranne playing Anne Lister breaks the fourth wall. Utter genius. The fourth wall is a term used in stage acting where you treat the audience as an invisible fourth wall in your 'room'. In stage acting you don't acknowledge the audience. It is as though they are a fly on the wall in the scene unfolding in the room. When you break the fourth wall, you turn to the camera (or the audience) and speak directly to the audience.
Sally Wainwright has used this very cleverly to engage the audience, reinforcing themes or the character traits of Anne Lister. It creates a moment that connects Anne directly with the audience on a more personal level, allowing us to become something beyond just an observer.
There was a brilliant moment in episode 3 where we saw this in action. In one of the steamy moments (there are a few), Ann asks Anne Lister "Have you done this before?" We see Anne look directly into camera with a grin as she replies, "No, of course not" BUT ANN NOTICES and asks "What are you looking at?" TV GOLD.
Music. Then there is the choice of music. O'Hooley and Tidow are the closing theme song for Gentleman Jack. Around 11 years ago, I met Belinda O'Hooley when she was a solo artist. She was performing in the Cellar Bar at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, the same theatre that is featured as Rawsons Bank in Gentleman Jack. To hear the title track from an LGBT+ Yorkshire Folk Duo – fantastic!
So to wrap up.
I want to see deeper characterisation from Suranne and Sophie. I want to see they really get what it means to be a lesbian in a heterosexual world. I want to see the intricacies of the social conditioning we experience and the resulting impact this has on mental health. I want to see more authenticity, a deeper connection between Anne and Ann and the sexual chemistry to feel more authentic and real.
There is so much more they could give and explore in their characterisation of these two iconic women.
I want to see them working with a lesbian on their characterisation, where they will gain valuable insights into lesbian life, mindset and lifestyle.
It goes without saying that I would love to work with the team on this. To produce a legacy for the next generation of LGBT+ individuals would be amazing. I don't want them to experience the same harshness I did growing up in a heterosexual world.
I am looking forward to the story unfolding over the coming weeks, to seeing Anne and Ann's relationship blossom and play out. And I don't know about you, but I am absolutely thrilled there will be a second series!
BBC (and HBO) thank you. You have no idea what message this is sending out to the world and to the next generation.
Sally you are a genius. Really looking forward to seeing more of your work over the coming years! Thank you for sharing the story of Anne Lister in an elegant and authentic way.
Suranne and Sophie. Wow. Thank you for giving lesbians around the globe a voice, a sense of belonging and helping to normalise LGBT+ life. You are trailblazers. You know where I am if you want to work on your characterisation!
Wider Cast. You are showing us what it was like to live in the 1800s and how difficult it must have been to be a lesbian and a trailbrazer in society. Huge kudos to you all.
O'Hooley and Tidow. Your music is an inspiration to people around the world. Looking forward to hearing you more and more on TV!
Get In Touch
I'd love to hear from you.
Are you watching Gentleman Jack? What do you think? What have been your highlights so far?
Leave me a message!
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How Lack Of Public Displays Of Affection Can Ruin Intimacy
About Gina Battye
Gina Battye is a world-renowned LGBT+ Coordinator and Authenticity Director for film, television, theatre and radio as well as an advisor for the global press, Fortune 500s + Leading Global Organisations.
15 years ago Gina Battye created the Authentic Self Process, which led her to become a world-renowned Authentic Self & Inclusion Consultant, Trainer & LGBT+ Coach for Fortune 500 companies & leading global organisations.
In the last four years, Gina has been called on to advise and consult on best practice for heterosexual actors playing LGBT+ characters and to create scenes involving LGBT+ relationships to ensure authentic delivery in film, TV, theatre and radio.
Watching Gina at work is mesmerising. Working with actors, directors, celebrities and public figures, Gina has the rare ability to electrify everyone on set whilst delivering original and useful insights that lead to characters blossoming and stepping into their Authentic Self.
Gina specialises in LGBT+ relationships, being your Authentic Self and creating an authentic character, mindset and self-help.
Gina's work has been featured widely in the media, including BBC, The Telegraph, BBC Three, The Times, The Sun, Psychologies, Cosmopolitan, Pink News, Vice, Gay Star News, Diva and Curve.
Find out more about Gina and her work at www.ginabattye.com/media and chat with her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.