Eleanor Margolis: sapphic cynic at large

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“Lesbian sperm banks”: When the media reports good news as bad news

There is a peculiar phenomenon of good news being reported as bad news. When you’re L, G, B or T, you notice this quite a lot. 

Photo: Mail on Sunday

Christmas has come early for British lesbians. Well, for all three of them who read the front page of last weekend’s Mail on Sunday, for anything other than aggravation. Those who didn’t, did you know that the NHS is pouring funding into a sperm bank just for us? I’m already imagining a ribbon-cutting ceremony in which Claire Balding wields a giant pair of scissors and the whole of Twitter bursts into a chorus of, “Ha. Scissoring. #LesbianSpermBank”.

The last time I used the NHS was when I went in for a smear test earlier this year. Thanks to the Mail, I now know that it was a lesbian smear test. Ta for the heads-up, DM. Now I understand why the speculum was shaped like two of Cara Delevingne’s fingers.

But the Lesbian Sperm Bank, of course, is actually just one of those boring old non-lesbiasn sperm banks – albeit one that lesbians are welcome to patronise. So, unfortunately, there won’t be any cushiony rooms where broody dykes can sit listening to Enya and emotionally recovering from being in the proximity of semen. Well, that’s the NHS off my Christmas card list.

I can’t remember the last time lesbians made the front page of the Mail. The more trite of us humans often say, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” So maybe we should simply be happy about the word “lesbian” sprawled, spreadeagled and fat, across the front page of a national newspaper. In fact, if I was the PR for lesbianism, I’d probably make quite a hoo-hah about it: “Lesbian story makes the front page of the Mail on Sunday. It was totally homophobic, but still, Negronis for everyone!”

Enough of that though, no one wants to read yet another attack on the nation’s most oafish newspaper. It’s far too easy a target, and that would be boring. What I will do though is look into the peculiar phenomenon of good news being reported as bad news. When you’re L, G, B or T, you notice this quite a lot.

You only have to skim right-wing publications to find out that, in the opinion of some orangutans who were taught to write, gay parents are a disaster, same-sex marriage is an abomination, taxpayers are (against their will) funding gender reassignment surgery and the infamous “gay agenda” is turning the government into a feckless quagmire of political correctness (I bet you anything that exact phrase has been used before).

When I saw the Mail on Sunday headline, “NHS to fund sperm banks for lesbians,” my immediate reaction was, “well, wouldn’t that be fantastic if it were true?” It’s isolating to realise that, for many people, that’s the kind of news that makes them choke on their cornflakes, then thrash out an incoherent and entirely grammar-free Facebook post. The only logical explanation for this is that, even in mainstream culture, many people are still determined for anyone who doesn’t fit their definition of “normal” to be unhappy. To see your good news (even if it does happen to be factually inaccurate) reported, in a national newspaper, as bad news is difficult to shrug off.

I’ve been very lucky in life so far, to have been on the receiving end of very little direct homophobia. In many ways, I live in a protective bubble. Safe in my friendship group of London queers and hetero buddies o’gays, and with a mum who insists on coming to Pride with me, I can’t even remember the last time I came face-to-face with someone who holds my sexuality against me. But every time I see how much the advancement of my rights and the progress of the LGBT movement upsets swathes of the population, I’m reminded that it isn’t all proud parents and sticky nights out in Bethnal Green’s gaytopia.

Meanwhile, femininity’s self-proclaimed instruction manual, Cosmopolitan, recently extended its famously shitty sex tips to lesbians. The lesser of two evils, I suppose.