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I’m going somewhere with this, so bear with me. Last weekend I went to Summer in the City, which is a massive YouTube convention, and I had the time of my life. I was amongst my people. People who ‘get it’. People who are inspired and enthusiastic about the same things as I am. It gave me a huge burst of energy to go forward with my personal goals and where I want to be in life. I was home.
Being from Wigan, a town in the North, full of small-minded and bigoted people who settle and are happy to accept their provincial and pedestrian lives, there aren’t many people like me. Passionate, inspired dreamers who think everyone should have equal rights and not be heckled in the street or fear being who they are. Last night in Manchester I was around people like me. People who ‘get it’.
I was invited to a press event called Transcript, as part of Manchester Pride’s Superbia cultural programme, at the Black Dog Ballroom, that hosted the writers and stars of progressive TV shows – the iconic Coronation Street and more recently, Russell T Davies’ Cucumber and Banana – who were discussing the concept and development of transgender and other LGBT characters in television dramas and how the story moves from script to screen. (I just got why it was called Transcript. I’m so slow.)
It was delightful to hear about how much work goes into the research and development of characters to properly represent and normalise people who don’t fit the, I’ll say, mainstream binary – straight cisgender people.
Julie Hesmondhalgh, who played the iconic Hayley Cropper in Corrie, was on the guest panel, and rightly so as she was the first actor to play a transgender character in a major television show. It was discussed how Hayley was initially introduced as a love interest for Roy Cropper and it was going to become a joke that she was transgender – but because of the chemistry between the two characters and how well Hayley was written and played by Julie, the nation fell in love with her and accepted her as no different from anyone else.
This proved that people’s views and opinions can be changed through entertainment and that television shows allow people to welcome ‘real’ people into their homes and hearts. Annie Wallace, who provided insight and her experiences to develop Hayley’s character, was also on the panel and it was inspiring to hear how Coronation Street and Hayley’s character had helped her to come to terms with herself and go out into the world and do what she wants to do without being held back.
Bethany Black – actress, stand-up comedian and good friend of mine – was also on the panel because of her role in the recent television series Cucumber and Banana as a trans woman. Her role in the show had nothing to do with her being transgender, and that was the beauty of it! Her episode was about revenge porn, and Beth being transgender was just mentioned in passing, and was treated as something that was unremarkable – and it was amazing!
I’m sat here writing this with my fists balled up rooting because of how far as a community we’ve come from being terrified to even say we felt different from how we were taught we should feel.
Coronation Street writer Ben Tagoe was also on the panel. He wonderfully brought up that when he’s writing characters, 10/15 years ago a character being a minority of any kind was a plot point and had to be a big thing to create drama, but now gender, sexuality, race, anything like that, isn’t considered when writing a storyline – struggles and drama are universal no matter who you’re kissing, where you’re from or how you identify. It was really great to hear and know that such a powerful tool like the entertainment industry is in such capable and open hands.
The only time LGBT issues now affect the storyline is when they’re relevant – such as Daniel Brocklebank’s character in Coronation Street, Billy, who plays a gay vicar, which tackles the issues of religion and homosexuality. He mentioned that whenever two men or women kiss on TV there are always complaints, but 15 years ago when he kissed a man on Emmerdale there were more complaints then than there were recently when a man of the cloth kissed another dude – which I think speaks volumes about how far we’ve progressed as a nation and a people into being more accepting of people who don’t fit into their binary.
Also the charismatic and rather dashing Damon Rochefort opened the floor to questions and I asked how did the panel think that gay characters whose lives had to be portrayed pre-watershed translate and complement the lives of gay characters in post-watershed shows like Cucumber and Banana who are ‘bumming every night’ (to quote my eloquent self). Julie answered my question by saying that just like people of any sexuality, some get lots of sex and some don’t, so they work well together to represent a wide range of my brethren. Damon also promised me a Corrie Anal Week, so I’m holding him to it.
Pride is happening in Manchester this weekend and tickets are still available! Corrie is on ITV as usual and Cucumber, Banana and the accompanying mini-documentary Tofu are all on 4OD.