‘Never underestimate the power of representation’: Tom Mack on the need for more gay stories like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

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Tom Mack, currently studying for an MA in Creative Producing at Mountview, shared this piece with the Mates on why, as a young gay man, it’s so gratifying to see out-and-proud stories like those in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and the recent film Love, Simon onstage and screen.

“Yeah…” My answer in response to my brother saying to me “You’re not really into Daenerys are you? You’re more of a Renly guy.”

“Because it affects me directly.” My answer in response to my mother asking me why I got so invested in the debate around equal marriage legalisation when I was 17.

“I’m never going to bring a girl home, Dad.” How I began the most feared conversation of my life….

My cultural engagement over a recent weekend was pretty ‘gay’, I won’t lie. I had my first experience of the nightclub Heaven on Thursday evening, I went to see Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the West End’s Apollo Theatre on Friday evening, and then Love, Simon at the cinema the next night.

All three of these activities helped to solidify a feeling that has been intensifying in me for a few months now. How, despite living in a world full of intolerance, bigotry and ignorance, if somebody were to ask me ‘But wouldn’t you prefer to be straight? It’d be so much easier’ I’d respond with complete assuredness and conviction, unequivocally… ‘Never.’

‘But wouldn’t you prefer to be straight? It’d be so much easier.’
‘Never.’

It’s been a long journey for me to reach this point, I’ve considered taking my own life multiple times, cried myself to sleep even more, and thought ‘Why me?’ too many times to count. One of the main reasons for these reactions to my own sexuality, I believe, was the woeful underrepresentation of people like me in the books I read and the films I watched as an awkward teenager who was still getting to grips with personal hygiene.

 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre

Sure, I enjoyed TV shows like Glee until it descended into a superficial ‘ticking-off’ of diversity-related ‘hot topics’. Because, for me, many of these characters were just their ‘label’, I really struggled to feel truly represented and to feel like I actually existed in the eyes of mainstream popular culture.

 

I had high hopes for Call Me By Your Name, but again I found it to be superficial and tailored to appease heteronormative consumer culture sensibilities. With it shying away from equal representation of gay intimacy compared to how straight intimacy was portrayed (cue camera pan to tree outside when things get explicitly gay), I found it completely unsatisfying and utterly frustrating.

Now. Onto the two gay stories that prompted me to write what I hope ends up being a relatively coherent blog post.

Get all social media for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie & its cast on www.stagefaves.com

Everyone’s Talking About Jamie was unapologetically camp, empowering and heartfelt. From the first verse of the opening number ‘Don’t Even Know It’, a wave of forgotten thoughts and feelings washed over me and swept me along in tandem with the story of a gay boy whose narrative is incredibly different from my own, whilst also resonating with me completely.

I’ve never done drag, and to be honest I’m scared to, but I am in complete awe of the courageousness of the individuals who do. I see drag as often as I can, and it reminds me to remain true to myself at all times, despite how others may wish me to behave in order to not draw too much attention to myself.

In the documentary that provided the basis for this musical, Jamie Campbell (the inspiration for the character of ‘Jamie New’ in the show) is shown to be completely ‘at-one’ with himself when he puts on a pair of stiletto heels and is fiercely strutting to Kylie Minogue.

It reminded me of when I was little and used to dress up in my female friends’ Disney princess costumes, and the shame that was invoked when I was caught doing so. I believe that my aversion to personally dressing in drag is due to this ignorant handling of childhood gender experimentation. Jamie is a role model for gay youth everywhere, inspiring them to first-and-foremost remain true to themselves and to never apologise for how they express their individual identities.

Jamie is a role model for gay youth everywhere, inspiring them to first-and-foremost remain true to themselves and to never apologise for how they express their individual identities.

I read the book Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda (the book Love, Simon is based on) a couple of months ago after a friend linked me to the Love, Simon trailer on Twitter. This story has resonated with me so profoundly that I’ve lent my copy of the book to multiple friends and recommended it to even more. I felt hugely protective over this story when I kept up with the film’s pre-release publicity and marketing campaign.

Love, Simon

The book made me laugh at Simon’s self-deprecating humour, gasp at big plot reveals, and cry at the utterly truthful and honest depiction of what it’s like to come out to your family and friends. This book was everything I needed when I was 15, the age when I was teetering over the precipice, a hair’s breadth from succumbing to self-destructive behaviours. I was desperate for this book to be adapted truthfully on film. I was desperate for it not to be another Call Me By Your Name.

Never underestimate the power of representation. It’s essential.

The film moved me in ways I can’t even describe. The moment when Simon comes out to his family on Christmas Day hit me like a brick wall. Tears streamed down my face, and I felt the warm comfort of my friends’ hands on my arm. In that moment, I was reminded of the pain, the self-doubt, the self-loathing, the coming to accept myself, and the complete weightlessness I felt once I finally said The Words that I opened this blog with.

I saw an article a few weeks back that questioned the need for a film like Love, Simon. I need this film just as much now as I did when I was 15. I need it because it’s clarified to me how far I have come. I need it because it’s helped me finally come to terms with all of the pain I inflicted on myself because society told me being gay was inherently painful. I need it because I’d never seen myself represented on screen until tonight.

Never underestimate the power of representation. It’s essential. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life currently. I love being gay. I love being ‘me’. I cannot wait to see more stories like those of Jamie Campbell and Simon Spier.

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
Guest Bloggers
MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.

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