Thirty years ago, homosexuality was rarely mentioned publicly, let alone discussed openly. But times have changed, and today, as Queer As Folk' has shown, it's not unusual to come across gay people on TV or in the press. Although certain newspapers still err towards homophobia, the growing visibility and acceptance of homosexuality brings issues of its own.
In theory, it leads towards acceptance and tolerance, but there is a flip side. A substantial straight audience watched to see what would happen to Nathan, Stuart and Vince in QAF2. This `looking in` from the outside seems to have created some rather unfortunate expectations of the gay world.
Society`s perception of it is increasingly `hip`, but this carries a risk, at least for the likes of Nathan. If you`re a gay teenager you`ll probably know what I`m talking about. Have you noticed how every gay character on TV is pretty darn good-looking? This is an accusation that can be levelled at all television, but it has greater resonance in a milieu that already has a reputation for prizing good looks too highly.
The same can be said for money. Stuart's gorgeous flat in QAF was no more realistic than the Friends' set. But we are often told about the high levels of disposable wealth enjoyed by gay men and women. When you`re a less than perfect, impoverished teenager, it`s an awful lot to live up to.
If you're working out your queer sexuality, it certainly makes life a little easier knowing that there are other people like you, but the very fact that they appear to be so beautiful, rich and confident, can easily lead you to question whether you'll fit into that world.
It's all a matter of perception. One's own expectations can alter when you discover the gay scene for yourself and find that gays are no more good-looking, or confident than anyone else. Which is just as well really; it would be pretty boring if everyone fitted the stereotype.
And it doesn`t end with our own perceptions. As our friends and family try to comprehend, and support us, they too look to often ill-founded perceptions, and their expectations of us can be just as high.
The misconception that all gay people are flamboyant, creative individuals is hardly new, it's something of a hangover from Victorian times, but today it's become much more defined, and when you`re young and trying to fit in, those pressures certainly don`t help.
Remember back to the first series of QAF, when Nathan`s mother found out that he was gay. She did all she could to support him, and understand, but Nathan wanted no part of it. This is something that many of us have experienced it's not that we don`t want understanding parents, but that we don`t want them drawn too closely into our new-found life, for fear of letting them down – you see it's all about expectations.
There is always going to be some kind of pigeon-holing of homosexuality. This may not be so generally disapproving in the noughties', but the urge to categorise is still strong.
Let's not lose sight of just how much attitudes have changed, or how important visibility really is. But the next stage – the point at which we achieve genuine acceptance – comes when, in fiction and real-life, an individual`s sexuality isn`t in itself the cause of scandal, or immediately defines that person. Only when that happens will society, and gay teens for whom it impacts mosts, accept the importance of individuality whatever one's orientation.
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