Friday, 6 February 2004

It's Not Unusual - but Maybe That's What It Takes

Alex Parks was the quiet one - the elfin Cornish lass whose shyness and self-effacing attitude won the votes of 56% of the Fame Academy audience. Her voice is similar to both Annie Lennox - deep and rich - and Sinead O'Connor - raw and emotional. Her debut single made number three in the charts. She toured the TV shows, amongst them Friday Night With Jonathan Ross.

Given Ross' reputation for amusingly risqué and sometimes slightly insensitive material, not once did he mention Alex's sexuality. Alex has been a lesbian since she was fourteen.

It seems that every reality TV show nowadays needs to be totally PC with its choice of contestants. Looking back over the plethora of reality TV recently the number of gay, lesbian or bisexual participants is, some would say, over-representative of Britain's LGB population.

Certainly in Big Brother the producers positively discriminated in the hope that it would bring credibility: including as many ethnic, sexual and national minorities as possible. This was seen less and less in 2002/3.

It's interesting to note that Will Young, Brian Dowling and Alex were actual winners of their shows, whilst Anna Nolan was a runner up. Being gay therefore has little or no impact on a person's performance in a particular show. Why therefore does homosexuality seem to be the primary identifier of these talented people?

Remember Will came out to the public only after winning Pop Idol. It's possible this was because the other gay finalist, Korben, was voted out in the first round. Such cynicism is only strengthened by the persistent use of "gay", "lesbian" and "homosexual" in the print media.

The counter argument of this is that sexuality is a strong source of identity, consistent with "Welsh" or "Asian". However homosexuality is still seen largely as a lifestyle choice, similar to being a Christian or a follower of a football team.

The idea that a person is naturally homosexual is increasingly being supported. However this has not yet filtered through into public opinion. This is why the print media focus on it and use it as a primary identifier.

In the case of Alex it is even more so as the words "Cornish," "19-year-old" and "elfin" also apply. Jonathan Ross, in his own non-serious manner, managed to draw attention to these three things. Unfortunately he was the exception to the rule. Heat magazine made sure Alex's sexuality dominated the subject matter. In contrast an interview with Out Northwest magazine was sensitive and only gave a little background information about her sexuality.

The fact remains that homosexuality is one of the last stigmas. Being gay is still seen as abnormal and it is still seen as a lifestyle choice rather than a natural part of a person's character. It's time that "gay", "lesbian" and "bisexual" were moved into the same group as "American", "Chinese", "Asian", "Muslim" and other such identifiers. Like it or not, it's who they are, not who they want to be.