8 British Film and TV Characters Who Made Me Gay

When I was growing up during the 2000s and early 2010s, I had to seek out queer media. I was in St. Louis, Missouri and Southern Illinois, two conservative areas right in the middle of the Heartland. As I came into my queerness, I was met with physical violence, Bible verses written on looseleaf paper dropped in my locker, and a decent amount of cyberbullying.

But the internet also became my safe space. It allowed me to learn about other queer people and dream of going somewhere far, far away. Through my late night searches on Tumblr pages and Facebook groups, I stumbled across movies and TV shows from around the world. For some reason, I quickly found a theme of British queer and trans characters catching my eye. I guess I’ve always loved a good accent.


Emily Fitch & Naomi Campbell — Skins (2007)

Emily and Naomi kiss on Skins.

Like any queer kid on Tumblr back in the day, I was obsessed with Skins. Before I watched this show, I had no clue that a teen-centric series could be so raw and real. Euphoria is a great show, but it’s got nothing on this UK classic. Skins was a portal into a life that I could only imagine. It mimicked what I wanted for my own adolescence from the wild parties to the chaotic friendships — as opposed to my usual all-night Sims benders.

In this chaos of a series, I found Emily Fitch and Naomi Campbell, two Bristol, England teens with colorful senses of style and a strong yearning for one another. Their love story was tumultuous yet tender and I wanted what they had. I wanted to find “my person” who would be brave enough to proclaim their love for me in front of my whole high school. While that never happened, watching these two lovebirds gave me the hope I needed to keep dreaming.

As a kid, dreams keep you alive, and Emily and Naomi did exactly that.

Jamie & Ste — Beautiful Thing (1996)

Jamie and Ste tickle each other's backs in bed.
When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I began staying up at night to watch programming on Logo or what my friend and I called “the gay channel.” I kept my Logo-watching secret for a few years, but the beginning of this late-night ritual was the Channel 4 original Beautiful Thing. (Oddly enough, it premiered just a day after I was born, so I’m claiming that as kismet.)

This film follows Jamie and Ste who live in a working class neighborhood in South East London. Both come from neglectful families and struggle to figure out who they are. That’s also what makes them such a perfect pairing. When I watched this film, it was the first time I saw two men kissing each other. It also was the first time I learned what “gay” even meant. I lived in a gayborhood in St. Louis, but my parents always told me those couples were actually just siblings. For years I thought being gay meant having a brother. Imagine my surprise!

Michael — Billy Elliot (2002)

Michael puts on makeup in the mirror.
At around nine years old, I stumbled upon Billy Elliot while channel surfing in my mother’s bedroom. (She had the biggest TV in the house.) I’ve always loved films and shows about dancers and gymnasts, so this story about a working class boy who wants to trade in his boxing gloves for ballet flats was right up my alley. However, it wasn’t the titular character (Jamie Bell) that caught my eye, it was his best friend, Michael.

Michael (Stuart Wells) is a young effeminate boy who enjoys playing around in his mother’s closet. When he shows Billy the joy of experimenting with gender presentation, Billy is confused and asks Michael why. Michael says, “It’s okay! My dad does it all the time.” This moment affirmed so much for me at a young age. It told me the urges I felt to adorn myself in clothing and makeup traditionally worn by cisgender women was okay. At the end of the film, there’s a flash forward to Billy being the principal dancer at the Royal Ballet. The camera pans from Billy’s father and older brother to Michael, and my prepubescent heart was shattered when I saw that Michael grew up to become a queer man. While I didn’t have the language at the time, I hoped that this character I felt so connected to would magically become a woman. I continued to watch reruns of Billy Elliot throughout my tweendom until I finally discovered the trans representation I had been yearning for, Paris is Burning.

Even now in my late twenties, I’ll always see Michael as the first trans character I watched onscreen because at the time, he was the best I had.

Steven — Get Real (1998)

Two boys in school uniforms sit next to each other on a field.
This was one of the first films that I found on Tumblr, and it immediately became a favorite. Steven is a sixteen-year-old closeted gay kid working for his school yearbook staff who begins hooking up with the school jock he met at a local cruising spot. I was an out gay kid (but closeted trans kid) working for my school yearbook staff. I had crushes on many a jock, but that was never reciprocated or even vocalized. This film was yet another portal for me to live out a dreamed up reality. Steven, like me, was gangly, unathletic and profusely bullied all while having to keep a large piece of his identity hidden.

When I found this film, it felt as if it was made just for me. I was shocked to learn this and Beautiful Thing were made in the 90s. Finding representation from yesteryear was a kind reminder that everything I was going through was nothing new.

Mae & George – Feel Good (2020)

Mae and George lie in bed together in Feel Good
By 2020, I was well settled into my transness, but there was still one thing I was working through: my sexuality. When the pandemic hit, I had the opportunity to get real about my true feelings. Those early days of lockdown were mostly me, my laptop, and my ever-changing roster of roommates as I bounced around from crib-to-crib and coast-to-coast. Eventually I landed upon a very sapphic household in Crown Heights who put me onto Netflix’s Feel Good.

I had been struggling with comphet for awhile, and this show (along with Hayley Kiyoko’s entire discography) was an integral part of my sapphic awakening. The show begins with George (Charlotte Ritchie), a closeted bisexual, swooning over Mae’s devilish charm and keen wit during their comedy set, and it quickly takes the audience on a fun and gut-wrenching journey of coming out. George struggles to come out as queer while Mae struggles to come into their nonbinary identity.

As a bi trans woman, I found myself entranced with this series and binged the entire first season in one sitting. I related to both characters in ways I never before thought possible. To this day, I hold these characters close to my heart and frequently rewatch the show. Once again, it was a British series that helped me find myself.

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Eva Reign

Eva Reign is a Peabody and GLAAD Award winning Brooklyn-based actress, writer and artist from St. Louis, Missouri. She is the star of Billy Porter’s directorial debut Anything’s Possible from Amazon Studios and MGM’s Orion Pictures. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, Vice, Them, The Cut, Byrdie, PAPER, and Highsnobiety.

Eva has written 3 articles for us.

4 Comments

    • I guess it is not specifically stated. The character says “It’s me, Michael” to Billy’s brother when the family show up at the theatre. However, arguably they *could* be referring to an old name so Tony would remember who they are. Their presentation is very effeminate. I think the implication (especially given the time) is that Michael is a gay man, especially since I think the audience is supposed to assume he is sitting next to a male partner at the show, but generally the only thing that is really confirmed is that the character is living their best queer life.

  1. I work in the town Billy Elliot is set in (well, the real life analogue) and our school did the play version of the film – call me biased but it was amazing and heart-warming. :)

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