Magazine News & Features Do gay characters on TV help people come out? By Hadley | @wordsbyhadley | Photo: shutterstock.com “How do I come out?” It’s a question that I’ve been asked before and, interestingly, I always seem to start talking about TV storylines. Whether it be a same-sex couple getting married on one of our favourite soaps, a gay character on a TV drama, or even one of the main characters of a US show coming out, these stories seem to influence conversations and attitudes about being gay. I’m not for one minute suggesting we all begin to religiously watch all the soaps at our disposal, in the hope of a gay character being introduced into the narrative. Although I would recommend to anybody moving to London from the North to watch a few episodes of EastEnders. Personally I found it an excellent training ground for trying to understand directions when I first moved down. Nor do I think fictional gay characters are the embodiment of every single gay man to walk the planet. They do allow somebody who is thinking about coming out to begin to open up discussion around that three letter word. We often talk about ‘testing the waters’ with friends and family members, when it comes to coming out. Yet, how exactly do we do that? In some households or friendship groups, discussing LGBT people or coming out may not be a conversation starter. And if these topics have never been discussed by the people we share our lives with, how are we supposed to know how they feel about it? Unless you’re telepathic, there’s really no right way of trying to suss it out. The power of television means that you don’t have to start the conversation; the characters of your favourite soap, for example, have acted out a path for you. So when the post-episode conversation ensues, you’re able to pick up on how the other person feels about the two men kissing on the TV, or the marriage between two characters of the same sex. Most importantly, television infiltrates the homes of its viewers, a place where they feel the most secure, and almost challenges them to see the world from a different point of view. When I was thinking about coming out, Gareth Thomas had come out a few months earlier. Nobody in my family watches rugby, therefore, using Gareth to open up a conversation about gay men would be meaningless to the people I was trying to come out to. However, we were watching the American TV series, Brothers and Sisters, which featured a gay main character. Discussing Kevin’s character did allow me to open up a dialogue about being gay, ultimately allowing me to feel comfortable about the reaction I was likely to receive when I eventually came out. For people growing up in homes where being gay is a taboo subject, the characters on our TV screens and their stories are helping to amplify some of those silenced conversations. It’s not a guarantee; just because your parents or friends think a gay character is wonderful, doesn’t mean they’ll think you being gay is equally wonderful. However, it’s a place to start those sometimes awkward conversations and a positive response may give you the confidence to come out. Gay characters are not real people, yet the themes that run through their onscreen stories – coming out, getting married, or being the victim of hate crime – are themes that run through the lives of many gay men today. The importance of these characters may be challenged, but I believe it’s about time we started telling the stories of our wider society on national television, assisting those thinking about coming out with their real-life story. INFORMATION: visit www.stonewall.org.uk.