Coming Out In The Army – The Story Of POSTERBOY

James Robert Moore’s play POSTERBOY will be featured as part of Army @ TheVirtualFringe. Here he writes about the origins of a project that explores the real-life experience of a soldier who did much to advance LGBT+ rights in the Army.

Back in 2014 I Tweeted that I wanted to speak to openly gay soldiers about their experiences of serving in the British Army, for research regarding a play I was writing. I’d always been fascinated about an institution that throughout history had been the definition of perceived masculinity – and something for the entire country to be proud about. What would it be like to come out in that potentially toxic environment?

James Robert Moore

One reply to the call out caught my attention – it was from veteran James Wharton, who had written an autobiography in 2013 called OUT IN THE ARMY: MY LIFE AS A GAY SOLIDER. I immediately threw my plans for a fictional storyline out the window, devoured Wharton’s book and asked if he would allow me to adapt it into a play. Thrillingly, he said yes.

Wharton spoke so eloquently in his book about the real dilemma he had to face when he was sixteen-years-old. He knew he was “different” but didn’t want to explore his sexuality because he knew it was in direct conflict with the career he longed to have. The fear that being his authentic self wouldn’t allow him to serve in the Army, lead to him burying his identity for many years as he trained, and served in Iraq. But eventually he found the courage to be open and fight against the oppression and misunderstanding that he faced.

Scene from POSTERBOY

In 2012, his courage lead to Wharton and his then partner appearing on the front cover of Attitude Magazine with the headline, “Have you heard the one about the Iraq veteran who can fight for his country but can’t get married?”

Wharton’s battle wasn’t only in the scorching desert, but every single day as he navigated being out in the Army. Historically, in TV and film LGBT characters have been nothing more than a base stereotype: the effeminate gay man, the butch lesbian – but here was Wharton and a whole heap of his fellow soldiers who were smashing through those preconceptions, and paving the way to make a real change in societal attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community.

My play, called POSTERBOY, charts Wharton’s unique journey through his 10 years of service, from defying homophobic soldiers, to being Prince Harry’s gunner, and reshaping the narrative for queer people everywhere. Something which I am extremely passionate about doing through the medium of theatre and conversation.

We are here. And we have always been here. It’s just time you started to notice us. Not just in the places you assume we’ll be. But everywhere.

  • On Monday 17th of August at 7.30pm you can watch a 20-minute section of the play, performed by six actors, followed by a Q&A with Moore, director Kate Golledge, and James Wharton himself.
  • POSTERBOY won first prize in the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Award in 2017, which celebrates LGBTQ+ playwrights.