Gentleman Jack: How TV inspired us with one of the bravest and boldest queer icons

Despite the show's sudden cancellation, we mustn't forget what Anne Lister’s legacy has done for so many people.

A photo of Anne and Ann embracing one another.
Image: via

If you are still as heartbroken as I am about the cancellation of Gentleman Jack, then you have come to the right place. I cannot quite wrap my head around the fact that we will no longer be seeing Anne Lister on our screens anymore. 

She has become quite the queer icon. The hit BBC One show launched her right into modern day, although I think it is fair to say that she never left modern day with how she lived her life so bravely and so boldly over 200 years ago.

There have been murals, monuments and plaques placed in both York and Halifax to commemorate Anne Lister and her ferocious impact since the show aired in 2019. You can even visit Shibden Hall, the former home of the acclaimed queer hero.

Anne Lister and her wife Ann Walker each took the sacrament together in the Holy Trinity Church in York on 30 March 1834. Today, you can find a plaque commemorating their marriage outside the church. 

I found myself wondering what that day must have been like for them, taking the sacrament and not having the freedom to celebrate their union. Anne and Ann are beyond inspiring for so many reasons but especially for getting married at a time when their marriage was not recognised. 

Shortly after the amazing finale of the second series, the BBC announced that there would be a documentary titled Gentleman Jack Changed My Life which would be narrated by none other than Miriam Margolyes.

The documentary focused on the lives of gay women who were faced with rediscovering or confronting their sexualities after meeting Anne Lister on screen for the first time. 

One of the women featured in the documentary is 64 year-old Yvonne from Blackpool. She details her journey with her sexuality after watching the show for the first time. 

She talks about when she saw the final scene in the series one finale in which Anne and Ann declare their love for one another and after that, everything changed for her “It was like a ceiling fell in and I just couldn’t pretend any more.”

The documentary then follows Yvonne as she tells her grown children about her sexuality. The responses from them were overwhelmingly positive and they displayed nothing but love and support for their mother on her new journey. 

Yvonne felt compelled to take part in the documentary in the hopes that it would help people. “I hope it helps somebody, and that they don’t have to hate themselves or go through the turmoil this can bring.”

The feature also introduces us to 35 year-old Sami from Manchester who felt empowered by the show’s historical roots. “I thought, ‘Wow, she had the guts to do this in that day and age.’ That resonated – just to be me.”

Sami came out in her early twenties to her mother but she subsequently went back into the closet afterwards. Although she struggled to have conversations with her mum about her sexuality, Gentleman Jack allowed her to feel more comfortable.

She further states that “It allowed us to start talking about these uncomfortable issues. I don’t think my mum is 100% [onboard], but I feel more able to talk to her about it now, whether she likes it or not.”

Gentleman Jack has given people the confidence to come out, a striking reminder of how powerful art can be. The show has inspired so many people to be who they are with confidence and pride. Anne Lister’s legacy will continue to live on even without the show on air. 

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