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TURING: An ungainly obsession

PinkNews Staff Writer July 9, 2007
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PinkNews.co.uk’s new pseudonymous contributor reflects on lessons that can be learnt from the life and death of the genius who is the inspiration for his new weekly column.

Alan Turing is no gay icon-and fortunately so. Today, that epithet is more representative of superficial (so-called) celebrities and their obsession with sex, drugs, fashion and every thing else that have come to epitomise popular culture.

Few, if any, personalities, whose sexual orientation has indeed been firmly established, who made a genuine contribution to human progress, like Oscar Wilde or Michelangelo, are thought of as gay icons.

This columnist, for one, is happy for the use of the epithet to be restricted to the former category.

At this juncture, perhaps devout devotees might pause for a few seconds to think of that very iconic heiress, Paris Hilton.

Be that as it may, for several homosexuals around the world, including this columnist, personalities like Turing and Wilde serve as role-models one can look up to, for precisely the same reason a budding young woman scientist might look up to Marie Curie or Barbara McClintock, or an amateur writer might look up to Alan Hollinghurst.

But, unlike gay icons, role-models have a purpose.

Their sexuality, or for that matter, any other aspect of their personal lives, do not matter.

A mathematician looks up to Turing because of his mathematical achievements, and a writer to Wilde or Hollinghurst in due reverence to their style of prose and wit.

Two days before this columnist returned to the homophobic country of his birth for a brief holiday, where, even today, he can be jailed for life for so-called “unnatural offences” the home-page of this news website carried this rather intriguing headline.

“Statue of gay war hero unveiled.”

As it happened, the report was about Alan Turing, and the statue is at Bletchley Park, where the mathematical genius was stationed during the Second World War.

The headline was disturbing on two fronts.

One, it reduced the life of a genius to a tabloid stereotype – a gay war hero, really?

Two, what seemed an otherwise reasonable news story was mis-characterised by a headline which gave an undue emphasis to Turing’s sexuality, almost bordering on labelling Turing on the basis of his sexual orientation.

Surely he was so much more than his sexuality?

The world wouldn’t be remembering him today were it not for his mathematical abilities, and his role in saving thousands of lives during the Second World War.

I would not wish to undermine Turing’s struggle as a homosexual in a repressive society.

On the contrary, his personal life must still be remembered to remind today’s generation of gay men in the Western world how hard won their freedom is, and how, in many developing countries, gay men are still the subject of persecution and often fatal discrimination.

Rather, what must be opposed, and vehemently so, is today’s media obsession (and yes, particularly the so-called gay media) with reducing a person’s rich and complex life all down to his or her sexual orientation (Lord Browne, anyone?).

Whether or not one’s sexuality plays a significant role in his or her life is down to an individual’s choice, and the media has no business speculating or insisting otherwise.

Peter Mandelson, for example, admirably keeps his private and political life separate, and insofar as the former has no direct bearing on his public service, there is no reason why his sexual orientation should be a constant matter of media scrutiny.

Besides, would it have mattered if Mandelson was straight? Why this obsession with his, or for that matter, Turing’s or any other person’s sexual orientation?

There are occasions, one must concede, when such issues do matter.

Ted Haggard springs to mind, who, despite his vicious homophobic preaching, had a homosexual affair with a male prostitute, who ended up claiming moral high-ground by publicly outing him.

Hypocrites, by definition, deserve to be labelled, not as ‘gay’ or ‘straight,’ but as ‘hypocrites.’

But, such instances are few and far between.

Most gay men and women in the West, like their straight counterparts, and that includes celebrities, politicians, writers and scientists, have a right to carry on with their every day lives without undue attention to their sexuality.

It is high time that private matters remained precisely that: private.

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