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.