My Dad, John Barrowman and Me: How Captain Jack Helped Me Come Out

I realised — or, more accurately, noticed — that I was gay when I was thirteen. I came out to my parents — or, more accurately, they noticed — when I was sixteen.

“Your mum and I have been wondering,” said my dad, putting the kettle on. “Do you think you might be gay?”

“… Um, well actually,” I said, my brain shorting out due to the unexpected turn in the conversation, “now that you mention it, yes.”

We hugged, drank tea, and talked about it for a little while, and then we all moved on with our lives. Everything was fine, and it was honestly the most low-key and therefore somewhat surreal coming out conversation I could ever have hoped for, and certainly not what I expected.

I would like to give John Barrowman partial credit for my dad’s attitude.

Like a lot of straight men, I think, my dad used to fall into a group of people who although in principle fully in favour of gay rights and so on, were made visibly uncomfortable by camp, flamboyant or effeminate men. This, in turn, made me invisibly uncomfortable, because would it only be okay that I was gay if I acted within certain parameters? Dad never appeared to have any particular feelings about how queer women should behave, but I didn’t want to put that to the test.

Meanwhile, I was looking for people like me in fiction, and most of what I found was either tragic or a soap opera, sometimes both. (Watching The L Word gave me some pretty unrealistic expectations about what adult lesbian life would be like, I must say.) I was looking for something a bit more relevant to my interests, and then Doctor Who came back on TV, and brought with it Captain Jack Harkness.

Captain Jack was amazing. He was charming and heroic and loved by Rose and the Doctor, and he flirted with everyone he met regardless of gender like it was no big deal. There is an awful lot to be said about Jack’s position in the Whoniverse and to what extent overall he has been a positive representation of a queer character, but I know he’s had an important role to play in the lives of a lot of queer sci-fi fans. Aged fifteen, he made me feel that I was okay exactly as I was. If Jack could be a hero, so could I. I could dream of travelling in the TARDIS too. It meant a lot then, and it still means a lot now.

As for my dad, well. Over the run of the series and the subsequent rise of John Barrowman on British TV — there was a time it was actually a challenge to flick between channels and not find him somewhere or other — my dad became a huge fan. His previous discomfort with camp and flamboyance began to change dramatically, as he became charmed and entertained by Barrowman’s loud and proud approach to life. When Barrowman spoke about gay rights, my dad listened, and he thought, and some socially constructed wires began to rework themselves.

Fast forward a little, and my dad’s making tea and asking me the question, and I know that everything’s going to be fine.

So thanks, Captain Jack. I owe you one.

6 comments

  1. tansy says:

    This is lovely! One of the things I like best about the RTD era in particular is the way that gay and queer characters were placed there JUST BECAUSE, and Doctor Who is richer for this attitude.

    I’m an unrelenting Captain Jack fan, in all his different modes, from angsty and tragic to fun and shameless.

    Your story makes me happy.

  2. daisybones says:

    I love this story:) Your Dad sounds wonderful. It’s really a gift to young LGBTQ kids when gay celebrities come out. I LOVE the way his character’s sexuality is presented- very matter-of-fact and, as Tansy put it: JUST BECAUSE.

    Great post!

  3. Sadbhyl says:

    I have to tell you, this resonated with me, not because of the gay acceptance issue, but because of the role model issue. I’m an old school fan, and when I was 14-15, I wanted to be Sarah Jane Smith. In later interviews, Lis said she didn’t understand why people admired Sarah so much as she was just screaming and getting kidnapped all the time, but that wasn’t how I saw it. She was a woman out in the universe doing things. Things didn’t always go well, but she kept doing, and kept doing, and when she came back for School Reunion and SJA, she was still DOING.

    Are the companions perfect role models? No. They all have flaws, and the writers have flaws in how they use them. But it doesn’t matter, because they’re THERE. Jack and Sarah and Martha and all the others are there for people to see, not in a camp way, a funny way, a cutesy way. They’re all heroes. And that’s something for all of us to admire.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  4. For me there’s always two sides to Doctor Who when it comes to gay rights. One is that Doctor Who is not so great all the time (especially in the Moffat era, but Davies’s was by no means flawless) when it comes to being politically and unabashedly anti-oppression and anti-homophobia. And that is sad. But the other side is what you describe here so wonderfully: Doctor Who gives us characters and scenes that allow GLBTQ people the relate closely with the show, to work through any insecurities and questions, and to change the minds of those around us. And that is powerful and important.

    This is one of the best coming out stories I’ve ever read. Thank you.

  5. daisybones says:

    @Sadbhyl I wanted to respond to this: “Are the companions perfect role models? No. They all have flaws, and the writers have flaws in how they use them. But it doesn’t matter, because they’re THERE. Jack and Sarah and Martha and all the others are there for people to see, not in a camp way, a funny way, a cutesy way. They’re all heroes. And that’s something for all of us to admire.”

    I think it’s a strength that all the WhoVerse characters are complex and flawed. No one is idealized or two-dimensional, as with so many SciFi heroes/heroines. I loved that quoted passage:)

  6. [...] Jack has been a huge role model for many a young LBGT geek. Take this blogger who says watching Jack on Doctor Who as a teenager helped her feel OK with who she was. Or the fans at Barrowman’s panel, many of whom stood up to identify themselves as queer [...]

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