Once, at a party, I happened to ask a friend what had inspired him to come out to his friends and family. His answer: Jack on Dawson’s Creek. He told me the reveal that Jack was gay had blindsided him. Jack wasn’t portrayed the way gay guys were usually portrayed on TV. He was just an ordinary guy. My friend said to me, “I realised, if Jack could be gay, maybe I could be too.”
I didn’t tell my friend this at the time of course, but we’d been informed in the office that very afternoon that we’d (finally) be introducing a regular gay character on Neighbours. At that time, Chris Pappas had appeared once, as a very small (and apparently heterosexual) bit-part in a recent episode. We would now be bringing him back, expanding his role, and eventually learning, as he discovered it himself, that he was gay.
And as the one gay guy on the story team, I felt a weight of responsibility and a glow of possibility. This was something I would get to be a part of! It was genuinely one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had working at Neighbours. And, you’d better believe, when I returned to the office after that party, my friend’s words were fresh in my mind.
I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, of course, but I was determined that Chris would be a character everyone could relate to. And that, when he came out, every insecure gay kid who saw him do so would be a little more secure than they had been before.
I feel incredibly lucky that so many other people on the Neighbours team had the same goal. And that we had an actor as talented and sympathetic as James Mason to carry that goal to the screen.
There were moments when it was difficult. When it was a fight. The only times I’ve ever really becaome worked-up in the Story Room, sometimes with tears in my eyes, were when I was fighting for Chris. And I’ll always be proud that I did.
Because Chris is now embraced by the vast majority of our viewers, and accepted as “part of the family” on Neighbours, a beloved, primetime, family soap opera.
And, as a former lonely, doubtful gay kid, take it from me: that’s really, really important.