Jemima Lewis: Sing the praises of Tatu, the teenage lesbians

Watching the video, I was struck by how much the girls reminded me of myself at that awkward age

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I'm confused. I thought the argument about sexual tolerance had been won. In all decent, right-thinking circles, "homophobe" is now a bigger insult than "homosexual", while even the most reactionary old coves like to boast that some of their best friends are gay. So why the big fuss about a couple of girls kissing?

I'm confused. I thought the argument about sexual tolerance had been won. In all decent, right-thinking circles, "homophobe" is now a bigger insult than "homosexual", while even the most reactionary old coves like to boast that some of their best friends are gay. So why the big fuss about a couple of girls kissing?

This week, the number one chart slot was stormed by a couple of Russian teenagers, going by the name of Tatu, who claim to be lesbian lovers. Their video – which shows them kissing in the rain, their school uniforms soaked to the point of transparency – has been banned by Top of the Pops, and the usual voices of Middle England have declared their disgust. The Daily Mail fulminated against the "shocking lesbian imagery"in the video, and gave it the memorable moniker of "paedo-pop". The TV presenter Richard Madeley called it "sick" and expressed concern over the rumours that "these girls actually have underage lesbian sex in real life".

Leaving aside the fact that there is no age of consent for lesbian sex, thanks to Queen Victoria's touching insistence that no woman would ever do something so filthy, I think we can surmise that the old bigotries are alive and well. Beneath a thin veneer of enlightenment, ours is still a resolutely narrow-minded society. The problem with Tatu isn't that they're highly sexualised teenagers – the pop world has been churning those out ever since Britney Spears conquered the world in a pigtails and a miniaturised school uniform. The real, unspoken fear is that Tatu might lead impressionable schoolgirls astray.

If only it were that easy to open up young minds. For the truth is, children are the most conservative and judgemental social group of all. The need to conform is never more urgent than at school, where any whiff of difference can get you either ostracised or tyrannised. Sexual oddity is an especially rich mine, since it touches on the most vulnerable parts of the human soul: the parts that bullies love to reach. From an astonishingly young age – long before puberty sets in – children become aware that to be "gay" or "batty" or "lezzie" is as shockingly different as it gets, which is why these are the favourite taunts of the playground.

At my local swimming pool the other day, I overheard two young boys in a neighbouring cubicle exchanging insults in a desultory sort of way. The conversation went like this: "You're a batty boy." "No you're a batty boy. "No you're a batty boy." "Well you're a batty batty boy." "You're the biggest batty boy ever." And so it went on, hypnotically repetitious, for a good 10 minutes. There was no need for either to diversify into other failings: being "batty" was damning enough.

Male homosexuals always get the worst rap, but it's no joyride being a lesbian at school either. At my sophisticated London day school, there was a sudden epidemic of girl-on-girl action during the sixth form years, pioneered by one supernaturally confident lesbian. For a time, half the school was hopping in and out of her bed: yet still an atmosphere of playground homophobia prevailed. There were nasty notes stuck to the locker one of her lovers; the Trendies made their disgust felt as only Trendies can; several parents complained to the school that she was corrupting their children; when she tried to write a piece about coming out for the school magazine, she was firmly rebuffed. Ultimately she was expelled, although that may have been for sound academic reasons: she did, in truth, spend far more time between the sheets than in front of her books.

I was one of her girlfriends, and I'm sorry to say that for a long time I was ashamed of it. It must have been obvious to everyone that I was madly in love with her, but I denied it to even my closest friends. It was only when I went to university, and realised that it was a great way to pull men, that I became belatedly out and proud.

Watching the Tatu video on MTV last night, I was struck by how much the girls reminded me of myself at that awkward age. Unlike Britney or Christina Aguilera or any of the preened American pop princesses, these ones looked like genuine teenagers: toothy, frizzy-haired, clumsy, ill-fitting, seething with angst. All modern pop songs are about sex, but theirs is about sexual confusion: "Wanna fly her away," they sing, "where the sun and the rain/ Come in over my face, wash away the shame."

There are those who say that the Tatu girls are not really lesbians, and that the whole thing is a marketing exercise (like my coming out at university). But that hardly matters. Whatever their motives, they've captured the anguish of young sapphic love remarkably well: and the fact that it has endeared them to the teenage market is little short of miraculous. It's a lonely business being gay at school. If pop culture can help to loosen the vice-like grip of playground conservatism, so much the better.

The author is the editor of 'The Week'

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