Gentleman Jack (episode 5) – BBC 1

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This has been an excellent series from the start, but Sunday’s episode, in which Anne Lister, superbly played by Suranne Jones, spoke about how God had made her the way she was and it would be completely unnatural for her to have a relationship with a man, when she was only attracted to women, was incredibly moving. I feel like comparing it to Shakespeare’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech! There are a lot of issues arising at the moment about the attitudes of religious authorities towards same sex relationships, towards transgender people, and even towards vaccinations. People are entitled to their religious beliefs, but not when that extends to insulting, abusing, hurting, excluding and endangering other people. Anne Lister’s words, from two centuries ago, said it all so well.  Anne Lister, Sally Wainwright and Suranne Jones – three very admirable northern ladies 🙂 .

The only quibble I’d had with the programme so far was that it hadn’t mentioned Anne’s strong religious faith. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my Sunday night period drama being spoilt by anyone being preachy, but her religion is known to have been an important part of her life and personality, and so it needed to be included in order to give an accurate portrayal of her character. I’d even wondered if it was because the series is being shown simultaneously on an American channel and the BBC were wimping out of shocking viewers in Alabama who might not be able to cope with the idea that it is absolutely fine for an LGBT person to be a practising Christian (or practising member of any other religion). Sorry, BBC!

It was a very thought-provoking episode, with Ann Walker’s family and friends repeatedly telling her that she would risk not only being the subject of gossip but possibly being ostracised from society if it became publicly known that she was in a relationship with another woman, and Anne Lister being beaten up by a mysterious assailant who warned her to keep away from Ann. Ann Walker herself was feeling that she ought to accept the proposal of a man who’d once raped her – partly because she felt obliged to marry him after what had happened (and this still happens in some countries, where rapists are not prosecuted if they then marry their victims) and partly because she felt that she had to marry a man, any man, in order to look respectable. It’s not as if these attitudes are a surprise to viewers, but seeing them so well-portrayed really brings it home how difficult life was for the people affected by them.

This is period drama with serious messages – in a way that works really well. It’s so much more effective than (this is an ongoing argument over books for young adults) excluding any expressions of racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, snobbery or anything else that someone might find offensive. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Get it in there, get it out there, and show people the damage it does.

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Beyond the Pale by Elana Dykewomon

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As part of WordPress.com’s showing love and support for Pride month, I’m very pleased to be reviewing a book which shows aspects of two of my specialist subjects from university days, the history of the Russian Empire and the experiences of working-class immigrants in the United States (New York City), through the lives of a same sex couple and a couple including one transgender partner.  It covers a lot of themes, including the Kishinev pogrom, the fight for workers’ rights and the growth of trade unionism in New York City, and the US women’s suffrage movement.  I don’t know how easy it would be to follow without any background knowledge of the history and culture (I’m fairly au fait with Bessarabia, but I’m weird!), and it doesn’t help that the author uses a very strange (“modern”, apparently) transliteration system which I doubt any of her readers will have seen before, but (odd transliteration aside) I found it generally pretty good, if rather rushed in parts.  I do like a historical novel which assumes that the reader has the background knowledge and can just get stuck right in there!  There are a lot of “suffering in the old country, coming to America” novels, but this one’s quite unusual.

The main character in the early part of the book was Gutke, born in Kamenka (in what’s now the disputed area of Transdnistria) in the mid- 1850s, after her mother Feygele was raped.  Neither Gutke nor the reader ever knew who the attacker was.  It was an isolated attack, not part of a pogrom, but the use of sexual violence against women as a means of persecuting a particular community, as happened during pogroms, or as a side-effect of war, as when soldiers were based in Kishinev during the Russo-Turkish War, came up several times during the part of the book set in Bessarabia.  It also mentioned, briefly, that Gutke, by then a midwife, assisted women looking to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape.  These are difficult and distressing subjects, but they’re relevant to every generation.  Oh dear, that makes the book sound really miserable.  It wasn’t exactly a fairytale, but it really wasn’t all miserable!

Feygele was shunned by her own community for having an illegitimate child, with a non-Jewish father, even though people knew that she’d been raped.  So she moved to Kishinev to make a new start – and Gutke grew up there in a very female-centric world.  Feygele got a job at the women’s ritual baths, and Gutke, when she was old enough, became a midwife.  It was very much a world of sisterhood, and also a world in which several of the main people in her life were lesbians.  And we were shown how she resented the way in which her world treated women: many of them were pushed into early marriages, and she wasn’t allowed to say the mourning prayers when her mother died – a man who wasn’t even a relative or close friend said them instead.

Gutke then met Dovid/Dovida, who became her partner.  This should have been an interesting relationship, but unfortunately we didn’t see much of it, and we didn’t hear anything from Dovid/Dovida’s point of view.  The reviews on Amazon had referred to a transgender character, but it was never clear exactly what the character’s situation was.  They were a genetically female character with the given name as Dovida, living as a man called Dovid, but that seemed to be more because of the greater educational and career opportunities open to men than because they identified as male.  It’s not even clear which name the character’s known by in private: Gutke seems to use both of them at different times.  We know that the character has a male identity in public, but we don’t really see them at home, and there is this confusion over whether they identify as male or just prefer the life of a man because it offers things that the life of a woman doesn’t.  All a bit vague, really.  And, shortly after Gutke and Dovid/Dovida got together, the book moved on to another set of characters, led by a girl called Chava, the link being that Gutke was the midwife who’d delivered her.

Chava’s brothers were involved in the Bund and in Zionism, but, again, this wasn’t really developed properly.  Instead, the story moved on to the Kishinev pogrom.  Of the many pogroms, this is probably the best-known, and it had a huge impact on public opinion in the West.  However, this was the first time I’d ever seen it described in a novel, rather than in a text book.  Again, the book didn’t shy away from a difficult and distressing subject.  Chava’s father was killed, and her mother raped and killed.  Afterwards, it was decided that Chava should go to Odessa, and from there emigrate to America with some relatives, including a cousin of the same age, Rose.

This was the end of the section of the book set in the Russian Empire. Now, one thing that really winds me up with books set in the Russian Empire is when authors talk about “Russians” when writing about an area that isn’t actually Russian.  This book did refer to the state as “Russia”, which I suppose is fair enough, but it did make it clear that Kishinev – and I wouldn’t expect anyone to write about “Chisinau” or “Moldova” when writing in English about a period prior to the 1990s – was in Bessarabia, and talked about Moldavians and the Romanian language.  Gold star for that, because it really does annoy me when people get it wrong!  But I could have done without the weird form of transliteration for Yiddish words.  The author said herself, in the glossary, that she was used to the traditional spellings.  Yes, and so is everybody else, and no-one will know this weird “modern” form, so why use it?!

So, goodbye Kishinev, goodbye Odessa, and hello New York City’s Lower East Side.  Like most working-class immigrants, Chava and Rose and the rest of the family all too soon found that the streets weren’t paved with gold.  Well, they hadn’t been expecting that, but nor had they been expecting to end up working long hours for low pay in sweatshops. It’s a common theme in books, but this one was unusual in that the two girls – only in their mid-teens – soon became involved with the labour movement.

They also became lovers.  Was that possibly a bit of a cop-out by the author?  Because they were part of the same family unit, they were living under the same roof, and sharing a bedroom anyway, so the issues that might otherwise have arisen, about them sharing a home and how people might have reacted to that, never arose.  But the development of their relationship was very well-portrayed, whereas with Gutke and Dovid(a) it felt as if we missed most of it.

The political stuff was all a bit rushed.  I can’t believe that anyone, especially a 17-year-old girl, would organise a strike almost immediately after arriving in a new country and starting a job.  The timings were rather odd generally: without the references to historical events – the Russo-Turkish War, the assassination of Alexander II, etc – it would have been impossible to know how much time had passed, and it jumped from the 1880s to the 1900s very suddenly.

But the inclusion of the labour movement in a book about immigration was interesting.  Although so many first and second generation immigrants have been involved in the struggle for workers’ rights, and women’s rights, in the UK, the US and elsewhere, the subject’s often avoided, and it does seem to be because people are nervous about writing anything that suggests minority groups are linked with anything that can be seen as anti-Establishment.

Many of the people mentioned in the American part of the book were real historical figures.  Emma Goldman, a proponent of workers’ rights, women’s rights and gay rights, who was imprisoned as an anarchist.  She’s well-known to historians, but you don’t often find her or people like her in novels.  “Coming to America” (or Britain, or anywhere else) novels more often go for an angle of going from  … well, not necessarily rags to riches, but usually working-class to middle-class.  It doesn’t always happen like that, however hard people work.  Samuel Gompers, the founder of the American Federation of Labour, even better-known than Emma Goldman but also rarely found in fiction.  Lillian Wald, shown as a friend of Gutke and Dovid/a – who’d almost moved to New York –, the founder of American community nursing and an advocate for female suffrage and African-American rights.  Rose Schneiderman, a member of the New York Women’s Trade Union League, who drew attention to dangerous workplace conditions following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire  of 1911, and helped to pass the New York state referendum of 1917 which gave women the right to vote.  I’m not sure that two teenage immigrants working long hours would have met quite as many leading activists as they did, but never mind!

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  It killed 146 people, mostly young women.  The doors were locked to stop workers from taking unauthorised breaks, so they couldn’t get out.  It did lead to legislation about workplace safety, but that wouldn’t have been much consolation to the families and friends of the dead.  And, in the book, one of the dead was Rose.  Most of those killed were recent immigrants, some from the Russian Empire, some from Italy.  They’d gone to America for a better life.  Many, like Rose, had gone there to escape the pogroms … and, as the book put it, and it’s hard to argue, they were effectively killed by American capitalism instead.

I suppose the book did end on an upbeat note, with Chava joining Rose Schneiderman on a tour of Ohio to try to gain support for women’s suffrage.  And Gutke and Dovid/a presumably got to live happily ever after, and their support of Chava was very moving, as was the support that Feygele received from the women she met in Kishinev.  But it was a sad end to the book.  After the recent Coronation Street storyline in which Rana died on her wedding day – for which it was very unfair to criticise the scriptwriters, given that the actress had chosen to leave! – there was a lot of talk about  how stories involving same sex romances tend to end in tragedy far more often than those involving opposite sex romances do.  But maybe this was never going to be a happy ever after book, because it was always about how tough life can be, for Jews in the Pale of Settlement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and for immigrants in New York City in the early 20th century.

It was rather rushed, as I said, especially the part in America, with a lot of aspects of it not really being developed very well, but the subject matter was fascinating, and, whilst it’s well-known, often neglected in fiction.  This isn’t the best book ever, but it’s worth a go.

 

A few other reviews with particular LGBT interest, as WordPress.com is marking Pride month:

Pose

A Terrible Splendor

A Very English Scandal

Second Serve

The Favourite

Gentleman Jack

 

Gentleman Jack – BBC 1

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Anne Lister’s diaries have been described as “the Dead Sea Scrolls of lesbian history”.  They’re on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and include commentary on the major national and international events of the day as well as details about her personal life.  Anne was also a successful businesswoman, a traveller, a climber (and a social climber!), responsible for a huge amount of work at her family home, Shibden Hall near Halifax, and married (“celebrated marital commitment with”) her final partner, Ann Walker by their taking communion together on Easter Sunday in 1834.   She went against everything that society expected of women of her time and her class, but she seems to have been completely comfortable in her own skin – and her own masculine-style black clothes.  What a fascinating character!  Ann Walker’s also interesting, although her story’s much sadder: she suffered from depression and, after Anne’s death, was tricked into leaving Shibden Hall, declared insane and taken to (as it would then have been called) an asylum. Suranne Jones, Sophie Rundle and the rest of a strong, Northern-led 🙂 cast are doing an excellent job of portraying their story.

I did wonder if – this being the cosy Sunday 9pm period drama slot – the scriptwriters might be tempted to make Anne Lister into a much nicer person than she actually was.  Admirable, yes – likeable, not so much!  And if they might be tempted to turn her relationship with Ann Walker into a fairytale romance.  It wasn’t!  But no – it was pretty much warts and all.  Well done to Sally Wainwright and the rest of the scriptwriting team!

Black mark for anachronistic language, though.  People in the 1830s did not go around saying “Either way works for me” or “They’re a handful”.  But, especially after ITV 1’s Victoria had Robert Peel sounding like he came from the East Midlands rather than Bury, gold star for getting most of the characters in this Halifax-based series genuinely sounding like they came from Yorkshire!

The series opened in 1832, when Anne was 41, so there’s a huge amount about her life that we’re not going to get to see.  Maybe an opening for a prequel some time?  We won’t see her having affairs with other girls whilst at school.  We won’t hear her thoughts on the Peterloo Massacre.  We won’t see her travels to the French court.   But, hey, you can only fit so much into eight hours!

In 1832, she was returning to Shibden Hall, which she’d inherited from her uncle, after a long time away.  I went to Shibden Hall on Saturday, and so I particularly enjoyed seeing the house and gardens on TV on Sunday.  It was really nice to see a TV series that was actually filmed where it was set, rather than Budapest filling in for Virginia or whatever!   Immediately, we got the impression that Anne was a real force of nature – everyone was all of a doodah about her return!

And then we saw so many different facets of her fascinating personality that every scene seemed to bring something different.  She was a snob – talking about “shabby little Shibden” (having seen what the panelling was like before she did it up, she had a point, but still!) and clearly feeling that she belonged in far higher social circles than those she’d be mixing in there.  She was a proto-feminist – and made an interesting point about the 1832 Reform Act enshrining in law the fact that women were debarred from voting because of their gender, a point that was to be made repeatedly in the 1901-1914 era, when there was talk of bringing in universal male suffrage without giving the vote to any women.  She showed affection for her family, yet her main concern about the death of her groom seemed to be scientific interest in how death actually came about.  She also showed her affection for her horse, but was tough enough to put him down when it was necessary – shooting him herself when her new groom couldn’t bring himself to do so.

She was a businesswoman, seeing new opportunities such as developing coal mines, and so hard-headed that she had no compunction about evicting an elderly tenant whom she felt was unable to farm efficiently.  And she was fine about collecting the rents herself, and even sitting in the pub to do so.  Yet we saw how deeply she could feel, and how she was broken-hearted that her former lover had dumped her in order to marry a man.

We saw that through flashbacks.  I’m never sure that flashbacks really work in period dramas, but Pride and Prejudice used them, so I suppose they’re OK!  We also got moments when we just got Anne’s thoughts as a monologue, as if she were addressing the viewer – which was a bit weird, but I don’t know how else we could have “seen” her thoughts.  She wrote everything down.  In code.  Brilliant!  And what a good job, from a historian’s viewpoint, that the code was cracked, and that the relative who first read her journals decided not to get rid of them – as he was advised to do by a friend who thought that they might bring scandal on the family.

Being broken-hearted didn’t stop her from spending the night with another former lover.  She had rather a lot of them!   But she wanted a wife.  A couple of days ago, there was a protest march calling for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.  One of the women marching summed it up very well when she told a Sky News reporter that no-one was asking for special treatment, just that everyone should have the same rights as everyone else.  Anne Lister wanted to find a life partner, and she wanted that partnership to be a formal commitment, and she saw that the fact that that would be with a woman rather than a man shouldn’t be an issue –  at a time when the word “lesbian” didn’t exist and so many gay (to use the modern term) people ended up in heterosexual marriages.  She wanted a wife.

Just going back to the issue of the relationship between her and Ann Walker not being a fairytale romance, I’d like to  think they did genuinely love each other, but Ann Walker’s money was certainly a big attraction – as this first episode made crystal clear.  And it’s known that they argued over finances, that Ann felt neglected because so much of Anne’s time was taken up with business and politics and that Anne wasn’t as understanding as she might have been about Ann’s bouts of depression.

I feel rather sorry for Ann, and I was glad to see that the programme did deal sympathetically with her.  We didn’t really get much idea of her from herself, it was all about what other people thought about her, but that was probably quite accurate.  She was very vulnerable – a wealthy single woman, prey to fortune hunters and without the strength and confidence that she probably needed, and struggling with depression.  Sophie Rundle played her very well – and the supporting cast were excellent too.  We met various Lister and Walker relatives, and two of Anne’s former lovers.  And we also got to see the lives of the tenants and the servants – which is a staple of period dramas theswe days, but wasn’t always.  But it was always Anne Lister around whom everything revolved.  Emotional one minute, hard-headed the next.  What a complex and intriguing personality.

However, one big facet of her personality wasn’t shown, and that was her religious side.  She’s known to have had a strong Anglican faith, and evidently found no problem with being a practising Christian and being in a same sex relationship.  Nearly two centuries later, the subject of religion (not just Christianity, but religion generally) and sexuality is still contentious, despite all the progress made in gay rights in other areas of life.  It’s something which causes a lot of distress to a lot of people, and is an area in which little progress seems to be being made.  In that respect, Anne Lister was ahead of our times, never mind her own.  I really hope the BBC aren’t going to pussyfoot around this.  Maybe it’ll come up next week.

Sadly, Anne died aged only 49 and only six years after her marriage to Ann, of a fever caused by an infected insect bite whilst travelling in Georgia (the one in the Caucasus, not the one in America!).  By the terms of Anne’s will, Ann should have had a life interest in Shibden Hall – which she deserved because it was her money that paid for it to be done up, as well as because of her relationship with Anne! – before it passed to some Lister cousins.  However, Ann, who struggled with mental health problems, found it difficult to cope with the pressure of running both Shibden Hall and her own property, and probably also with the gossip about her relationship with Anne.  She was forcibly removed from Shibden Hall by her own family and the local constable and taken to an asylum in York, before eventually returning to her childhood home.

So there isn’t going to be a happy ending to this story – but (as well as the Shibden Hall estate, which is rather a nice place for a half-day out) there’s Anne Lister’s legacy to history, which is an important one.  That’s recognised by the fact that there are blue plaques commemorating her life both at Shibden Hall and at the church in York where she and Ann Walker had their ceremony.   And this series is about to make her very well-known.  Just spare a thought for Ann as well, eh?  But Anne’s the character who grabs your attention, and Suranne Jones really did a very good job of portraying that.  This looks set to be an excellent series.

 

 

 

Second Serve by Renée Richards with John Ames

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Taking a quick break from my usual historical novels to read a tennis-related book –  the story of Renee Richards, born Richard Raskind in a family of New York doctors, who, after transitioning from male to female, won a legal battle against the US Tennis Association to be able to compete in women’s events, reached the final of the ladies’ doubles and (partnering Ilie Nastase) the mixed doubles at the US Open, and later coached Martina Navratilova.  It’s not particularly well-written, and says disappointingly little about actual tennis history, but it makes some interesting points, including about the way in which sports players from minority groups attract a lot of press attention which other players don’t have to deal with.

There isn’t actually that much tennis in the book.  A lot of it details Richard (Dick)’s female conquests and Renee’s male conquests, which the reader probably doesn’t really want to know about, especially not in quite as much detail as it gives.  It also gives the impression of someone who was rather confused, rather than that of a transgender person who knew that they were a woman in a man’s body.  Young Dick seems to have had unhealthy relationships with both his mother and his sister, and in fact all the relationships within the family seem to have been strained.

They (I’m initially using gender-neutral pronouns because they write about Dick and Renee living inside the same body and vying with each other to get out) were a top student, who went to Yale, captained the tennis team there, qualified as a doctor and became a leading ophthalmologist, and also spent time in the US Navy, and had a lot of girlfriends.   They at one point made the decision to transition, and went as far as having hormone treatment and developing female characteristics, but then decided to go back to being a man, stopped the treatment, had surgery, and married a woman and fathered a child.   It’s very unusual to hear of someone going backwards and forwards like that.  It’s very sad: they said that they suffered periods of depression and contemplated suicide, and weren’t really able to find help despite seeing a number of very prominent psychiatrists.

Eventually, they came to the decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery, and moved from New York to California to begin a new life as a woman.  A lot of good points are made about the practical problems of passports, driving licences, certificates showing professional qualifications, etc, being in the name of a man when the person is now a woman.  These days, people would just explain, but, in the 1970s, Renee felt unable to acknowledge her previous identity as Dick in her working life, and had to try to establish her professional reputation all over again.  She was told that, as Dick had been quite well-known in the tennis world, she would probably be recognised if she took up playing tennis again, but she did so anyway – and was indeed recognised.

She was in her forties by this time, which is very late for someone to try to begin a professional tennis career, but she felt that she was playing well and had a chance of success in the big events, but was refused permission to play because of being transgender.  After various legal battles, and with the support of some big names, notably Billie Jean King and Gladys Heldman, she was allowed to compete in women’s events – although only in the US and South America, because there wasn’t a unified tour in those days and she didn’t feel that she wanted to fight any more legal battles in order to try to win the right to compete in Britain, France, etc.

The issue of transgender athletes is very much in the news now, thirty years later.  Several leading athletes have called for medical research to be done to establish whether or not a transgender woman has an advantage over a cisgender woman, but it all seems to be up in the air at the moment, and has been complicated by the separate issue of cisgender women who have naturally high testosterone levels … which seems rather an odd thing to penalise people for, as a lot of athletes have a natural advantage due to height or build, and no-one suggests that they shouldn’t be allowed to compete.

This book really isn’t very good, but, as I said, it does raise some good points.  One that’s very relevant at the moment, with the ongoing issues of a) racism in sport, very much in the news this week following the disgraceful scenes during England’s match in Montenegro, and b) why there are still no openly gay top level male footballers, is the amount of attention which players from any minority group attract, and how they’re expected to be spokespeople for the community concerned.  Hopefully most of that attention is positive and supportive, but many people may neither want nor be able to deal with that.  It would have been better to have heard more about that, and more about Dick/Renee’s personal issues and feelings, and less about all of Dick’s women and Renee’s men, but, hey, the book is what it is.  I wouldn’t spend too much money on it, but, if you happen to stumble across a cheap copy, it might be worth a read.

Pose – BBC 2

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Could we have more TV series set in the 1980s, please? My music collection has never got out of the 1980s (except sometimes into the early 1990s), and it’s never going to! This is set in 1987-88, and is centred on the ball(room) culture of African-American and Latino LGBTQ people in New York. It’s been hugely popular in the US, and premiered here in the UK last night. The music’s brilliant and there’s quite a soap opera feel to it as well, as well as shades of ’80s music/dance films like Fame and Flashdance; but it’s also got a serious message, with some scenes of violence, and many of the actors having spoken out about their experiences of facing prejudice even, or indeed especially, from their own families. The producer’s giving all his profits from the series to LGBTQ charities. On a different note, it also features Trump Tower and the people who work there.

Whilst most of the characters are fictional, some of them are real people – notably Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza, who was very involved in developing “vogueing” and worked closely with Madonna on Vogue and the Blonde Ambition tour. The surname Xtravaganza came from the House of Xtravaganza, one of the “houses” associated with the ball culture scene, which provided alternative families for people who’d had issues with their own families. This series revolves around the (fictional) House of Evangelista – named in honour of Linda Evangelista – and House of Abundance.

It got off to a pretty hard-hitting start. Blanca, a transgender woman, was diagnosed with HIV. She decided to leave the House of Abundance and set up the House of Evangelista: she was the house mother, looking after young people who were alone. Then Damon, a 17-year-old dancer from Pennsylvania, was kicked out by his parents after telling them that he was gay. Those were very emotive scenes, with his dad hitting him and his mum coming out with a lot of Bible-basher comments. We next saw him sleeping on a park bench in New York. He tried to raise some money by dancing, and Blanca saw him and took him in, and he walked for the House of Evangelista at the balls.

I have to admit that I hadn’t realised that “walk” meant walk as catwalk poses, rather than actual dancing: the competitions at the balls involved people dressing for certain themes, and then doing catwalk poses and being judged on those. Hence “Strike a pose” in the Madonna song. “I know a place where you can get away. It’s called a dance floor, and here’s what it’s for.” The lyrics to that song are incredible: I’d never really thought about it much before! And a lot of the costumes were very 1980s – really glamorous and OTT.

However, it wasn’t just about having fun. Blanca told Damon about how her family had disowned her for being trans, and there was a lot of talk about how some of the ball contest themes involved seeing who could best pass as, say, a businessperson. There were some superb lines, about “the world of acceptability”, and how they felt that they didn’t “have access to the American Dream”, because of being both gay/trans and black/Latino.

There’s been a bit of a row this year over the decision that the rainbow flags for Manchester Pride should feature black and brown stripes. It’s been done at some events in the US, but not previously in the UK. Some people feel that it’s inappropriate because it suggests that the rainbow flag does not represent non-white people, whilst others feel that it highlights the fact that many non-white LGBTQ people face a double whammy of prejudice. This series is certainly highlighting that fact. And it’s got the biggest transgender cast of any TV series in history.

Then a different aspect of New York life was brought in – Stan, the aspiringYuppie who’d just got a job at Trump Tower. There’s a scene in Back to the Future in which someone in 1955 asks Marty McFly who’s president of the United States in 1985, and is both bemused and amused to be told that it’s Ronald Reagan, whom he thinks of as a film star. Imagine if someone had told you in 1987 that the president of the United States in 2017 would be Donald Trump. Who’s going to be president of the United States in 2049? It might be best not to think about that! A comment was also made about the fact that Donald Trump was so rich that he probably had a solid gold toilet, but Donald Trump’s toilet isn’t something that I really want to think about either!

Stan had a wife and kids (even though he looked about 12 – I’m clearly getting old), and he was living right in the middle of the “world of acceptability” – but he picked up Angel, a prostitute whom he didn’t realise was pre-op transgender until she actually stripped off. They then got involved, and there was a sense that everyone was pretending and everything was a bit fake.

And then it turned pure ’80s Fame/Flashdance. Damon had missed the cut-off date for sending his application form in to the dance academy where he was hoping to get a place. Blanca pleaded with the powers that were to give him a special audition. They agreed, and, of course, they loved him, and offered him a place on the spot. So that was quite a change-up from where the episode had started. We’d gone from this very tragic tale of a young lad being rejected by his own family to a Fairytale of New York. And this programme is both – it’s joy and tragedy and so many other things. I think I was watching mainly for the ’80s music, but I really got drawn in by the storylines and the characters, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series. Highly recommended.