February was the LGBT History Month UK.
It’s 30 Years since the passing of Section 28, the legislation that made it illegal to “promote homosexuality” or “promote ‘teaching the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.” That was MY family they were talking about!
I’m what you could call the second generation gay. My lesbian mothers raised me in the 1980’s and 90’s in London at the beating heart of the lesbian and gay rights movement.
The results of the fight my mothers and the LGBT community made are that today I’m able to marry, have children and have legal protection both at work and on the streets.
So much has changed in such a small amount of time. It’s a real challenge for the older generations to keep up. This next generation of LGBT youngsters may not face legal discrimination but they are now in a place that the labels ascribed to them are not feeling relevant and this has given rise to a discussion of identity politics.
Identity is always going to be complex. A word describing only part of who we are can easily become a name with which to define us, an adjective becoming a noun, and the young simply don’t want to be defined by anyone but themselves.
Last year a show that I had been working on for three and a half years opened in Sheffield and is now on in the West End. It’s called Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and it’s about a sixteen-year-old school boy who wants to wear a dress to his school prom. The show was inspired by a BBC documentary called Jamie–Drag Queen At Sixteen.
One of the things that drew me personally to this project was the fact that it explores concerns that this generation are dealing with right now. How you put yourself out into the big wide world, how you “brand” yourself seems so important to these young people. With social media being such a huge part of life these days I can see how the pressure must be enormous. You must find your tribe or find your niche.
In many ways Everybody’s Talking About Jamie couldn’t be more niche. It’s about a very specific sort of boy with a very specific dream on a very specific council estate in Sheffield, however, it seems to have captured the imagination of a mainstream audience and this is amazing to me. My co-writer Tom McCrea says it’s because everyone has some kind of dress that they want to wear. We all had wild dreams at 16 years old and those dreams usually involved stepping out of the ordinary.
It seems to me that night after night in the theatre we are seeing the power of people’s imagination allowing them to empathize with someone “other” to them. We manage in the theatre but can we do it so easily in real life?
I think our history tells us that we can. It takes a leap of imagination for anything to move forward. And look how far we’ve come.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.