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Fab Feminist Magazine

7 Reasons You Need To Watch Gentleman Jack Right Now

7 Reasons You Need To Watch Gentleman Jack Right Now

by Callie Garp

August 22, 2019

Art and queer culture are such a beautiful combination, pushing boundaries and expectations and in the best expressions, questioning stereotypes and social roles at every turn. So, when a queer cultural work of art hits mainstream media in a way that retains queer-positive representation, while also touching base on actual historical events and figures... *oh my* I get chills! Gentleman Jack is a period drama in the style (and romantic [erotic] longings) of Jane Austen, but for the queer people. It’s written by the talented, vocally queer-positive lesbian Sally Wainwright, and stars Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle.


I first learned about the fierce Anne Lister (April 3, 1791 - September 22, 1840) when I was in graduate school. A badass and kinda bitchy lesbian who romped around the world (in and out of many women’s beds) when most women were struggling with things like, oh I don’t know, being their husband’s or father’s property, definitely caught my attention. There are so many things about Anne to like: she was highly educated thanks to her very privileged background, and the fact that her parent’s desire to not deal with her attitude meant they sent her away to boarding school asap (7 years old). 


Like so many women in our historical past who lacked a safe public space their own, Lister turned her thoughts, fears, love and let us not forget most explicit desires, inwards and documented it all in a highly detailed diary, which she of course wrote in code. AND she came up with this code when she was 15, while she was having a sexual affair with her classmate in her school attic, and ya know, wanted someone to talk to about it. So she talked to herself, in a complicated code. Because, again, Anne Lister is a badass.



Side Note: It’s a bummer that the show Gentleman Jack hasn’t flashed back to this first love, because it makes sense to explore her coming of age narrative and her first lover was Eliza Raine, a biracial daughter of a white surgeon. Being the daughter of an Indian woman and a white British man, Eliza was considered illegitimate and would have certainly experienced racism and classism at school. Eliza was the first of many girls Anne would exchange rings with and swear to love forever.

While we are on the subject of documenting intimacy, this lady was an original (mostly) sex positive queer. She rated her orgasms and her partner’s orgasms (which she called “a kiss”) and discussed the efficacy of her sexual encounters. Through her documentation, we know she was aware both of the things that turned her on and made her feel sexually fulfilled, as well as what her partners most enjoyed. On the downside, when Anne contracted an STI from a partner, Anne didn’t inform her other sexual partners of her status, which is definitely not sex positive. So, there’s that.

I actually think it’s likely Anne turned inwards due to trauma, pain and isolation. She suffered through so much loss in her love lives (in the form of women leaving her for men for various reasons, for instance), and just general cruelty from society at large.


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The final episode of season one of Gentleman Jack just KILLS ME 😭🥺❤️❤️❤️❤️ a brief but strongly worded article instructing you to watch this show is soon to come. Please tell me all the reasons YOU love the show below!!! ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜 . “Don’t hurt me. I’m not as strong as you think I am. Well, I am, obviously. ...But, sometimes I’m not.” 💔💔💔 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #gentlemanjack #gentlemanjackhbo #hbo #jackthelass #annelister #annwalker #shibdenhall #lesbianpride #queerpride #queerhistory #queerhistorymatters #queerart #queerartists #queerartist #lesbianart #lesbianlove #queertv #queermedia #queervisibility #lesbianromance #gayrights #pridemonth #pride2019 #sophierundle #surannejones

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It has to be mentioned, of course, how rare and magical it was that Anne was a landowner. Sheer luck and tenacity put her in the position to be the inheritor of a large estate, which she became responsible for running (and hopefully not running into the ground through her endeavors to bring it into the "modern" world).

But enough about Anne Lister the historical figure -- there are tons of fantastic resources out there much more qualified than I am to tell you about this badass babe. I want to get back to the BBC/HBO show Gentleman Jack, which my wife and I have watched with eyes peeled to the screen and are STARVED for more episodes. Here’s a list of things to love about this show:

  1. The best thing about this TV show is that actresses Suranne Jones (Anne Lister) and Sophie Rundle (Ann Walker) have such palpable chemistry! Normally I would have to give demerits to a show about lesbian women, which did not hire queer women to portray their characters. And, I still maintain that representation absolutely matters. However, again, these two women absolutely read like queer women who are definitely attracted to one another, and mired in the ups and downs of in-and-out of like/love/lust.
  2. Anne Lister’s queer identity is not presented as a settled, definite thing. She is at times hesitant, uncertain and we even see her experiment with her outward expression in the world. When Lister visits a young boy, who has been gravely injured, he asks her if she is a man. She hesitates and considers the question with visible emotion. When she answers no, she is not a man, there is still a questioning quality in her voice and phrasing. “Nature it seems has played a trick on me.” She switches out her slim black and certainly masculine leaning dresses for a ball gown and frankly ridiculous hair piece. She even wears a white ball gown, and appears to have some joy in it alongside the obvious discomfort.
  3. What is always clear about Anne is that sexually, men are never ever allowed in the picture and I am so grateful this point is made perfectly clear! She’s not attracted to men, has never been attracted to men and she’s never, ever going to go there with a man, no matter the social convention. It’s just not an option. “I love, and only love, the fairer sex.”
  4. As a queer woman, I’m just so tired of the supposedly “queer rom-com” where the central plot line is actually: straight woman meets queer woman, has a fun queer affair and then returns to her “real”, more fulfilling relationship with whatever man she was with in the first place. This kind of queer baiting only serves to exoticize queer women, and Gentleman Jack turns that gross dynamic on its head. In fact, we see exactly what happens to that queer woman when her romantic partner leaves her for a man. She is devastated.
  5. This tv show does not rely on tired tropes. Neither Anne Lister, who daily struggles with fighting tooth and nail to live her life out loud to the best of her ability, nor Ann Walker, who is also struggling with mental illness and fear of ostracization, are left as one-dimensional beings. 
  6. Anne Lister is a centralized, femme queer character with a masc gender expression -- and that is so rare, even with increasing queer representation in media. I feel it’s so important that these struggles and desires are explored -- and frankly, many of the most traumatic experiences Lister recounts or experiences before us in the show are so damn relatable today. She’s assaulted in a wooded path in the middle of nowhere, by a man who initially attempts to rape her. In an angst ridden argument with Anne Walker she cries something along the lines of: “I know it hard to love me. I am different and just by being me, I make people take notice. I forget how hard it is to be with me in the world. I feel it and I rise above.”
  7. Anne might just be the queer woman anti-hero we didn’t realize we needed. She’s so far from perfect it’s almost laughable. She does just enough fucked up things that most of us can relate to her poor decisions and her good intentions.

So go on then, give Gentleman Jack a go! You won't regret it!


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1 comment

  • You twice call Anne Lister femme, and I’m flabbergasted. That chick was butch af. Read the diaries.

    Susan Spilecki on

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