The World’s a Bit Gayer Thanks to Gentleman Jack

In matters of representation, representation matters.

Gina Trapani
5 min readJun 30, 2019
Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack, about to marry Ann Walker in the first documented marriage between two women.

When Anne Lister wrote in her journal about what she did, who she saw, and the news of the day, she wrote in “plain hand,” her normal handwriting. But when she wrote about her relationships with her lovers–always women, sometimes married to men–she switched to “crypt hand,” a code she developed to make the intimate details impossible for snoopers to read.

A page of Lister’s journal, written in “crypt hand.”

That kind of caution was required for a woman who was actively courting and sleeping with women in 19th century Halifax, when the word “lesbian” didn’t even exist yet.

I’m on my third rewatch of HBO’s Gentleman Jack, Sally Wainwright’s series inspired by Lister. I couldn’t be happier and gayer for it. Who knew that someone like Lister existed almost two centuries ago?! I’m so grateful to Wainright for introducing me to Lister, an extraordinary woman whose life and diaries are full of historical delights.

Lister was a landowner, entrepreneur, and traveler. She wore all-black clothing, joined workers on her property digging ditches and building walls because she enjoyed manual…



Gina Trapani

Technology, culture, representation, and self-improvement. Once upon a time I started Lifehacker.