Who would have thought that 2021 would be the year the iconic Miss Tracy Beaker returned to our television screens? My Mum Tracy Beaker has set new records, earning the title of CBBC’s “most successful show ever” with a total of 2.1 million streams on BBC iPlayer during its opening weekend from 12February onwards.
The first episode accumulated an average audience of 492,000 viewers, likely compromised of mostly reminiscent Gen Z and Millennial viewers who cherished Jacqueline Wilson’s stories growing up.
I, no doubt, form part of this statistic: as a child, I absorbed the Jacqueline Wilson books like they were going out of fashion. I remember queuing up outside a WHSmith in Croydon with my mum as the much-coveted Jackie Daydream was released, reading it from cover to cover as I waited for a glimpse of Jacqueline at the signing desk. Taking a timid picture with her, little did I know that I was standing next to a queer author and that, in adolescence, I too would discover my own queerness.
Gen Zs and Millennials might not have known it at the time, but Jacqueline Wilson was a queer icon in waiting: her coming out in 2020 was a breath of fresh air for so many of her fans who grew up to identify as LGBTQ+. Retrospectively, there were subliminally gay messages in The Story of Tracy Beaker, Sleepovers, and Best Friends alike, which all explored the dynamics of friendships between young girls.
With Cam Lawson and her short hair and lack of boyfriend, it is now clear to me that Jacqueline Wilson was trying to signal to the world that her beloved Cam was a lesbian. She might have been berated by her foster daughter Tracy for liking “uncool” things and generally being a bit of a nerd with her little red Beetle and her knitted jumpers but Cam has subtly been breaking queer boundaries since 1991.
Tracy herself was represented as being a bit of a tomboy, with an anger issue and a tempestuous tendency to become enraged with jealousy at the growing closeness between her best friend Louise and arch-enemy Justine Littlewood. As a child, I resonated with many of Tracy’s mannerisms and behaviours: I now understand that my intense jealousy of the friendships between my “best” friends and other girls was probably a result of my queerness, and perhaps Tracy felt this way, too.
Jacqueline Wilson’s stories also helped other Gen Zs and Millennials who identify as LGBTQ+ in adulthood to come to terms with and explore their sexuality. We spoke to a couple of OutNewsGlobal readers:
Sophie says, “Looking back, I can definitely see the queer themes in Tracy Beaker. As a child, I loved Cam’s character, and talked to friends about how she must have been gay.” Abby adds: “As a lesbian, I definitely felt that themes within Tracy Beaker spoke to me in a very coded, indirect way. I was always fascinated with the fact that Cam was seen without a boyfriend for the majority of the show…I also think that Tracy was somewhat queer coded, whether intentional or not, and I definitely saw her as more of a tomboy and resonated with that.”
Abby continues: “Growing up with Jacqueline Wilson’s books, her coming out in 2020 gave me power through how she had shaped parts of my childhood and the media I was consuming. Reflecting now as an adult on Section 28, I am so grateful for the creators like Jacqueline who subtly gave us the set-up for the representation we needed. Society has come so far, with Cam’s sexuality finally being able to be not only shown but celebrated in My Mum Tracy Beaker.”
Believe it or not, The Story of Tracy Beaker was released thirty years ago, in 1991. The Conservative government’s Section 28 policy, introduced in 1988, remained in place until it was repealed by the Blair administration in 2003: it outlawed all discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom as the “promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” As a result, LGBTQ+ stories were stripped from the shelves of public libraries, teachers were forbidden to discuss LGBTQ+ issues, and LGBTQ+ teachers feared for both their jobs and their safety as queer people.
It is understandable that Jacqueline Wilson, who came out as gay in 2020, felt that she couldn’t openly explore LGBTQ+ themes in her novels or officially “come out” as a result of the fairly hostile environment towards the LGBTQ+ community in the UK. Spoiler alert: Cam marries a woman in My Mum Tracy Beaker, the BBC’s newest exploration of post-Dumping Ground life, and many graduates of the University of Jacqueline Wilson have taken to Twitter to express their joy that Cam is finally being given the freedom to live her truth:
Sophie continues: “I can see why Jacqueline didn’t feel that she could come out in the 1990s and write clearly about LGBTQ+ themes because of Section 28. I’m so glad that she has now felt that she can come out herself and have Cam’s sexuality shown in My Mum Tracy Beaker.” Abby expresses: “I’m very happy that children today will be able to read Jacqueline’s books, particularly her first gay romance Love Frankie, and see the incredible LGBTQ+ people in both the fiction and behind it.”
The queer legacy of Jacqueline Wilson is important: the popularity of CBBC’s My Mum Tracy Beaker has allowed children to witness queer love stories on the television, which is in stark contrast to the barbarism of Section 28 which outlawed the telling of these stories. Cam’s happy marriage to a woman is truly positive LGBTQ+ representation, with no killing off of lesbian characters or queerbaiting in sight.
As Abby recognises, Love Frankie, released in 2020,represents Jacqueline’s first openly LGBTQ+ story both as an author and in terms of its themes, notably coming of age and coming out. Growing up in the early 2000s, I never read any children’s books with LGBTQ+ characters: having access to these queer narratives would have given me both the space and the permission to understand my own sexuality as a baby gay. For an entire generation of LGBTQ+ kids, Jacqueline Wilson’s coming out was and remains a blessing.