It has been two weeks since Russell T. Davies’ new television drama, It’s A Sin, first aired on our screens, it has been viewed 6.5 million times and #BeMoreJill has gone viral. This five part series follows the lives of a group of five friends, four gay men and their friend Jill, who live together in the Pink Palace, navigating adulthood amidst the 1980s AIDS crisis.
I streamed this series in one go and was struck by the range of emotions you feel in a five hour period. It’s A Sin is a triumph for humanity and an exploration of the different attitudes from the times; from the AIDS deniers to the various conspiracy theories surrounding the origins and presence of HIV/AIDS. Head on, this show depicts the stigma and unspoken horror of young gay men dying and no-one knowing why. At the heart of the drama, it is a story of true allyship and friendship, an unbreakable bond which allows the group together to navigate the horrors of the epidemic, the agony of alienation from loved ones and the undeniable prejudice towards gay men at this time.
The Significance of It’s A Sin
The timing of this drama I find notable and impactful for different reasons. For those who lived through the crisis, it is a stark reminder of how far things have come and honours the memory of those who passed away. This drama is pioneering in approach and potentially is the first time this has been spoken about openly in the mainstream and people are able to grieve publicly for loved ones, due to a silence, subconscious stigmatism which led to a veil of secrecy surrounding the crisis. But for a younger gen z audience who feel the benefits of living in a more liberal, tolerant and accepting society, where the stigmatisation of HIV and AIDS is far less as a direct result of the work of those who have come before us. It is a confronting moment to realise what others have gone through and the work which is still needed to be done to fight prejudices and injustice, which still remains today towards members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The unspoken heroine of the series is that of Jill Baxter played by actress Lydia West, inspired by real life Jill Nalder. A friend of Russell T. Davies, who moved to London in the 80’s and lived in the Pink Palace herself. In recent interviews Jill notes the murmurings of the emergence of a new ‘gay flu’ and then the disappearance of young men and the subsequent deaths of many close friends. This followed Jill’s work to understand the AIDS related infections, supporting the young men in hospital and setting up of charity West End Cares (now known as Theatre MAD) to raise funds.
What Jill does is signify and present a true image of allyship and the important role an ally plays. When writing this I Google what is the definition of an ally? This was the response that I found “An ally is someone that aligns with and supports a cause with another individual or group of people. A straight ally, more specifically, is an individual outside of the LGBTQ community that supports their fight for equality and rights”. It’s A Sin demonstrates the importance of using ally voices to bridge gaps and emphasise the voice of the minority. To bolster a cause and support those in their fight for equality and rights.
Characteristics of Jill
True allyship and friendship extends beyond the supporting of marginalised groups and so often in times of great change and personal struggle, we all need to surround ourselves with allies and our very own Jill. Those people in our life who may not be experiencing the circumstances we are going through but are there to support. I have many Jill’s in my life and they each hold a special role. Characteristics of Jill include the confidant, the mother figure, the cheerleader and the healer.
The Confidant, the unconditional, unjudgmental listening ear. The person who holds your deepest secrets and always has time to hold your stuff as well as their own. This person is so often aware of your feelings, before you are aware and even more than you give them credit for. I often think you can hide something really well, but for a Jill they see straight through it and provide the ultimate safe space for you to share, feel supported and heard. When it comes to applying for jobs the confidant is the one who sends you the text about a job, the one who will put you forward when they see something that would suit you and will attend that free online top-up class with you that will embellish the CV.
The Mother Figure. Within a friendship group there is always one mother hen, someone wise beyond their years and has thought about all the potential outcomes of a situation before they have even happened. The nurturer of the group, who only sees the potential in others, sees the flourish and blossoming and looks on with pride. The one who will fight for you, rally the troops and direct the group action to make a positive change. The one in the group that will create a post outlining the ludicrous nature of needing 5 years’ experience to obtain an entry level job.
The Cheerleader, the person who shows up, who is always on the side-lines and champions each step that you make. They see the achievement in the small things and how recognition of the small steps is what is going to make the big dreams happen. This person in my life, I often find saying to me “just do one thing every day, that takes you one step closer to the dream”. Each email is a triumph, each new connection on LinkedIn, each pitch formulated. It is in the journey that we experience the transition towards the person we are meant to become and yet in the moment we do not necessarily realise it. Something I often find quite remarkable is that we have the capabilities as humans to manifest and create our dreams and this is so powerful. Self-doubt and insecurity can be rooted and perpetuated for many reasons. Whether it is a lack of confidence, hesitation from previous perceived failures to the crippling effects of imposter syndrome. But the advantage of having your own cheerleader in your corner is when that voice which tells you that you cannot take the next step, it is challenged by a bombardment of positive affirmations and validations that you can do it.
The Healer, the one who will go on a 3 miles evening walk and sit with you in silence over a FaceTime whilst you cry in the bath. The cathartic phone calls of desperation at 2am, which seem to then become an unexpected care-package in the post three days later. The reassuring squeeze of the hand, or a knowing look which immediately puts you at ease, as somehow even in a crowded room, Jill can still see your soul screaming for reassurance. The healer is safety and feels like home, a place to re-charge, re-boot and feel better. The healer is the tonic on the darkest of days and provides the release of tension, which provides clarity and a headspace to tackle any situation. When you find yourself writing your umpteenth application, days of looking at the same four walls, seem both monotonous and relentless; however, speaking to this Jill in my life takes the edge off of any situation. They have seen me at my worst and know how to get me to my best.
Discovering your inner Jill
To find a Jill can be hard, it may be a group of people, it may be a mentor, someone on social media or it may even be yourself. You can be your own Jill. As we have just made it through arguably the longest January on record, I know like so many, find it hard to see the positives and the end point. However, by adopting a #BeMoreJill attitude you are becoming your own biggest ally and supporting yourself to live your very best life, authentically to you and by doing so you are radiating a positivity to others to do the same and you will find your tribe.
One of my great passions is reading and I have created my Morey's Must Reads IGTV series. Here is the latest recommendation for your reading pleasure. This week it is People In Trouble by Sarah Schulman.