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Page last updated at 13:06 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 14:06 UK

Why is John Barrowman gay?

John Barrowman
Barrowman: On a quest to find out about his sexuality
Torchwood star John Barrowman has known he was gay since he was nine. But was he born that way or did his upbringing have something to do with it? Here, he explains why he set out to try to solve this mystery, for the BBC One show The Making of Me.

I was in the closet for three hours once in 1972. It was dark, uncomfortable, and really cramped. Plus, I was convinced I wasn't alone (a crumpled jacket lurking in the corner looked pretty dangerous). I was five and my brother, Andrew, then 10, and my sister, Carole, 13, had shoved me into the coat closet because, well, really for absolutely no good reason. I mean what baby brother has ever annoyed his siblings to the point of needing to be locked up or tied down?

This story still gets a laugh from my nieces and nephews. Depending on who's doing the telling, Uncle John was either locked up for 30 fleeting minutes or for three long, tortuous, oxygen-starved hours. As simple as the story is I think it's an apt metaphor for the way I've chosen to live my life - openly, honestly, with no regrets. And, whenever I can, I try to confront the monsters in the dark. As my favourite Jerry Herman song proclaims: "There's no return and no deposit. One life. So open up your closet."

FIND OUT MORE...
John Barrowman: The Making of Me is one BBC One at 2100 BST on 24 July
Or watch it later on the BBC iPlayer

My sexuality has never been deliberately hidden. I'm in a committed relationship with the love of my life, Scott Gill, and he is as much a part of the family as my sister's husband, Kevin, and my brother's wife, Dot. However, just because I'm comfortable with my sexuality doesn't mean that I'm not curious about it and that's one of the reasons I agreed to take this journey to discover the making of me.

I remember vividly when I first realised I was gay. I was nine and a few of my friends were looking at some mild porn in the playground during recess. While they were ogling the well-endowed female models, I couldn't take my eyes off the male members in the shot.

Growing up in the Barrowman household, conversations about sexuality were never taboo. Over the years, we've talked about many of the theories that may explain what makes a person gay. In fact, it's always been a bit of a joke in our family that my dad was responsible - he frequently dressed me up as a girl. In fact, he has some cross-dressing in his own past. He once dressed up as a tarty neighbour, pretended to crash his own party, and proceeded to flirt with the men in the room- all with my mum playing along for the laughs.

Nature or nurture?

The show actually gave me an opportunity to discover whether or not I had ancestors who were gay because years ago if you were in the closet you were so far in the closet you were in the house next door.

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John Barrowman: The Making of Me

During the filming of the programme, I not only revisited my childhood, I was also subjected to a battery of psychological and physical tests, everything from comparing my DNA to that of my straight brother, Andrew's, to watching my brain light up like a fireworks display in response to certain erotic stimuli.

I've always been convinced I was born gay (and am happy that way). But over the years there are plenty of people who have argued the opposite - and some still do today. I really wanted to meet people like this, and the film gave me a chance to do so. In the unresolved argument about whether it is nature of nurture that makes us gay or straight, I was hoping for affirmation that nature decides. The risk I took in filming was that it would be disproved.

But in the end neither happened as the tests didn't provide that clarity. I learned that science has yet to find a fool-proof and definitive genetic test for gayness - at least in my case.

Hormonal explanation?

Yet I did find something unexpected and different. The latest science is concentrating on a whole new area of potential causality that I hadn't thought about at all. It's not genes, but it is biological, looking at hormonal effects in the womb.

Barrowman and Piper
Attracted to women? Barrowman's Captain Jack character flirts with Billie Piper
Other psychological and physical tests told me more about my sexuality. Like whether I had any latent attraction to women at all. That one really caught me by surprise - at least for a moment. And in word association tests, men tend to be more factual and literal. But women and gay men tend to be much more descriptive and eloquent. I'm glad to say that was true for me as well.

Another test involved looking at moving images of different combinations of men and women. I had to press buttons to signal my reaction while lying in an MRI scanner which also measured my reaction so I couldn't lie.

I'm proud to say that in some of the tests I was totally off the scale.

So participating in this programme was exciting and provocative, but in the end, taking the personal risk to discover what makes me gay was worth it because on a daily basis I get letters from young men and women who are feeling the brunt of our culture's homophobia. If exploring this issue can bring comfort to some of these young people then I think the programme will have done a really wonderful thing.

Written by John Barrowman and Carole E Barrowman


Below is a selection of your comments.

The only thing I'd like to discover about John Barrowman is why he talks with an American accent except when he's in Scotland - what is that about? Its ridiculous and patronising and I'd like to know why he does it?
Lisa G, Falkirk

Good for John. I think it's high time people accept others for who they are and not who they want them to be.
Jenny, Denver, Colorado

Much as I find John Barrowman hugely entertaining and genuinely I do, may I suggest that he is on TV far too much and is running the risk of over exposure. With regard to being out of the closet - he is now so far out that he must surely find it difficult to even see without the aid of a strong pair of binoculars. That said - I'll be there 9pm, BBC1.
Tim Holder, London

Many congratulations to the BBC for airing this programme, the subject matter of which is smart, dangerous, timely and strongly political. Would that it were compulsory viewing at the Lambeth conference...
Kathryn Whitney, Oxford

Can we have a John Barrowman amnesty? He's never off the tv and I'm not sure anyone really cares which side he plays for.
Gary P, West London

I'm glad there are people like him in the public eye that don't necessarily conform to stereotypes and help promote understanding and acceptance of people that don't necessarily fit to what society tells us in normal. And not just homophobia, there's other things that need combating and every single person that stands up against an issue close to them also stands up to all the issues!
Angel Cutsforth, Reading, England

What an amazing family John Barrowman's is. Sadly I don't think all families are as supportive about their children/brothers, sisters etc. being gay. I will look forward to watching this programme this evening.
Celia Proud, Oxford

Typical gay man, using his sexuality to boost his career. Lucky for some, my boss is female which means I can't follow suit.
Angel, Coventry, UK

I don't think that gayness has one simple cause. Rather, like intelligence, it is a subtle interaction of genetic inheritance, neonatal & juvenile development along with environmental factors (e.g. disease, schooling) and upbringing. All of these interplay to make a person more or less likely to be gay in a statistical sense. Nature, Nurture, Personal Choice: Some people want it to be one or the other or a combination to justify their own circumstances or beliefs. At the end it is natural: animals show homosexual tendencies. We should all get used to it. We have enough evidence that homosexuality has been part of humanity for thousands of years and we aren't going to change any time soon.
Sue, Staines, UK

It's really refreshing that the BBC is exploring this issue. So many narrow minded people today just believe blindly that gay is wrong just because that's what they've been told by their parents of friends. Very similar to religion, really - you believe something just because you couldn't be bothered to think about it. Gay people don't go about beating up straight people, yet straights who do so to gays don't think they're doing anything wrong (yet themselves indulge in back-slapping, hugging and touching during footie matches - go figure). Live and let live. In this day and age people really need to wake up and stop hating so much before finding out facts.
Bob, Oxford, UK

I am interested in why the BBC seems preoccupied with homosexuality or to be more precise its promotion. Is it because according to Andrew Marr the BBC is disproportionately overrepresented by gays? And certainly in positions of influence to promote the gay agenda?
Dave Stevens, Reading, UK

This sounds like a great project and it is my hope that it will be shown in Canada at some point. I recently interviewed your Torchwood romantic counterpart (Gareth David-Lloyd) and was pleased to note how he didn't over-react to his character's bisexuality nor did he feel the need to loudly declare his own heterosexuality, as so many other straight actors have. "The Making of Me" will hopefully put a dent in the homophobia and self-loathing.
Kristine Maitland, Toronto, Canada


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