Ann Walker, wife of the famous Anne Lister, a brave person in her own right.
Everyone is always talking about how important representation is and what it means for groups of people. Of course it is good to read and learn about lives different than ours but it is very special to read, see, experience stories that has a character similar to us. Especially, it seems like, for marginalized groups. Just ask most book-loving lesbians how it felt to discover lesbian literature, but I digress.
I have loved the BBC/HBO series Gentleman Jack and I have talked about it before. In this post I want to focus on Miss Walker and what she means to me. Not just as a lesbian, but as a woman dealing with an illness. In this post I’m focusing on her as a character in the TV-series and not necessarily as a historical figure.
What do we know about Ann Walker’s illness?
We know that she is weak. We know it’s something with her spine and we hear Eliza Priestley say that perhaps “it is a menstrual” issue. I know she is Mrs Priestley is saying it in a speculative way, in a cruel way but it has convinced me that Miss Walker has endometriosis. As a fellow endometriosis – haver, I claim her for my representation.
Endometriosis – and I’m talking from memory here – is when endometrial cells wind up sitting in the wrong place in a woman’s body. Usually they’re supposed to build up in the uterus and then be shed during that time of the month but when you have endometriosis these cells place themselves outside the uterus, in the fallopian tubes, around the bladder etc. This causes inflammation in the body. The symptoms can include nausea, fatigue, anxiety, terrible period pain, abdominal pain, pain, painful joints, painful sex, painful urination, weakness, pain, pain, pain… great right?
I’m on medication now and I don’t get most of these symptoms anymore but when I have a flare up, it makes it hard to walk, use my hands and my feet have a tendency to curl inwards which I’m trying to work on. The first symptom I had was in my knees and it took me about sixteen years to get a diagnosis because no doctor connected my “bad knees” with my cycle. Also, what 11 year old has bad knees? When puberty hit I started dislocating my knees and “getting stuck” as in I had them bent and couldn’t unbend them. As the years kept going, the pain went from my knees to include my whole body until I had most of the symtoms I list above. After the age of 25-26 I started having trouble walking, it felt like I was rusting on the inside, turning into a tin man. Even then it was hard to connect symtoms like painful joints to my cycle. At 28 I was told that I somehow have nerve damage in hips and arms. Just before 29 I found I have scar tissue in very strange places and a seeming inability get pregnant.
But back to Ann Walker
I tried desperately to find the gif of Mrs Priestley asking our dear Ann “how is the invalid” and Ann looking a bit embarrassed, the end of the gif is the one just above. You get so sick of being treated like an invalid. I really feel Miss Walker in that gif. It always sucks to not be able, especially when you’re young and seemingly capable and to go through life feeling absolutely pathetic. And it sucks to have an ailment, handicap, whatever, that is so invisible. What happens then is that you turn into a weak woman. And in a world of badass women like Miss Lister for Ann Walker or my wife for me, that’s not a nice feeling.
We don’t carry heavy boxes. We don’t wield a weapon or go to kick-boxing or head to the gym regularly. I can’t connect to the the non-stereotypical, tradition-breaking kickass women. I know that I was born damaged and I don’t mean that in a derogatory or even self-deprecating way. Most of the time I’m okay anyway, I’m used to being in pain and I learn every year to deal with it better and be thankful anyway. I like my life.
At least I have medicine, unlike poor Miss Walker. At least I live now and there is loads of help to get. And just like her I got a badass wife who loves me anyway and teases me and treats me like a normal person while occasionally driving me to (not in York though!) the doctor.
The character of Miss Walker gave me representation I didn’t know I needed and I can’t wait for the second season.
If you’re still reading now and has stayed with me for this long, thanks for reading!