The arrival of Marc in Coronation Street and the revelation that he occasionally dresses in women’s clothes and answers to the name Marcia makes for another milestone in soap – the first cross-dressing character to be treated seriously. (Dreadful drag queens in the Queen Vic don’t count.)
While transsexual Hayley Cropper has been a Weatherfield regular now for well over a decade and Hollyoaks has transgender teen Jasmine/Jason Costello, Marc/Marcia is still something of a pioneer.
But Coronation Street series producer Louise Sutton explains that the story sprang from the desire to play out a relationship story with Audrey and not from the urge to tackle another issue. “We wanted to ask: what if someone she has a relationship with is a cross-dresser? It’s about whether Audrey – liberal, with a lot of love to give, and with a past herself – can see past the clothes to the man.”
While Sutton takes the responsibility of telling the story seriously, she says, “We take advice and do research, but ultimately it’s about creating a character whom the audience fall in love with. If one person can sit and think that there’s not something wrong with Marc [played by Andrew Hall], we’ve done a good job. But, above all, we want to tell an engaging story.”
They’re certainly doing that – and a wonderfully tender one. It’s a story of which Janett Scott would surely approve. Having lived as a woman for more than 20 years, Janett has seen times, and tolerance, change considerably. “We’ve come on leaps and bounds in the past decade: good documentaries and storylines in soaps as well as sensitive articles in newspapers and magazines change public attitudes,” says Janett.
“When I told my fiancee Fran in 1957 that I liked dressing as a girl, there was no support or awareness of any kind. We married in 1958 and when she became pregnant in 1960, she wanted me to be cured. So I went to the doctor, who told me I was a transvestite.
“That was the first time I’d heard the word, but I don’t like it as it has connotations of sexual deviance and isn’t the case.”
Janett says that cross-dressing “clouded” the marriage and it was only after Fran died and Janett retired that she began living full-time as a woman. Once head of the Beaumont Society, a support group for cross-dressers, transsexuals and their friends and families, Janett is now 77, with sons and grandchildren who treat her as a woman. But life’s not peachy for everyone.
“I was in Manchester [at an event for crossdressers] and I saw one of our girls punched to the ground by two men – at 2pm. The battle for acceptance is far from over and if soaps can combat prejudice and provide help, especially to youngsters who perhaps find out that their dad sometimes dresses in their mum’s clothes, then all power to them.”