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It’s approaching two years since I entered the famous Big Brother house but it still feels so real and watching this series (albeit a little behind the curve) is fascinating and so weird.

The last few series have been great but maybe a bit lacking in depth but this series has returned to what made the show great. It’s a mix of ages, backgrounds, nationalities, outlooks and attitudes. Unlike other so-called reality shows like Love Island and TOWIE, this one is genuinely about real people behaving naturally without scripts and direction and yes, as a former housemate, I can confirm absolutely that it is completely genuine and unscripted.

Most excitingly, people are actually talking about things – important things rather than boob implants and celebrity blowjobs –  and wasn’t it interesting to see that, in a women-only house, there was an extraordinary range of personalities? It proves women don’t need men to be interesting on reality TV (not that proof was needed) but it also showed that women can be just as argumentative and fractious as blokes. If these women ruled the world there’d still be war, right?

The big headline this year though, apart from Courtney Acts hilarious wardrobe malfunction, is the way the show is getting people talking about LGBT+ issues of gender identity. In fact, roll back a moment, even that mishap with Courtney got people talking about ‘tucking’ and what drag queens do for their art. Okay, it’s a facile point of fascination but the more people learning about other walks of life for any reason – no matter how shallow and silly – is a good thing.

Courtney Act, or to use his pan-gender non-drag name, Shane Jenek has proven to be a revelation in the house, gaining a huge swell of support from fans for his balanced and rational approach to gender. Before he entered, there had been some serious tension between trans journalist India Willoughby, Rachel Johnson, Amanda Barrie and Ann Widdecombe after the latter two repeatedly misgendered India – even as they attempted to apologise for doing so.

India copped some considerable flack after she angrily confronted the trio and certainly she was rather stubborn and churlish to refuse their apologies which seemed sincere enough. But in India’s defence, she was facing a constant drip of misgendering that seemed, if not deliberate then certainly careless and unsympathetic. As a viewer, it made me uncomfortable to see India looking somewhat separate from the other women and the distance between the 50-year-old and her housemates does reflect the fact that society is still getting used to the idea that a trans woman is, in fact, simply a woman.

One thing I get asked constantly as a former BB housemate is whether you are edited to be something you’re not. The short answer, in my opinion, is ‘no’. Some of my former housemates would like you to think they were edited to look miserable, cruel and poisonous, but I’m sorry, they gave Big Brother the ingredients and he madea cake. If you don’t like the taste, get over it. You can’t be made to be someone you’re not. Even if producers did try to make a nice person evil or a calm person frantic for their first episode, how could they possibly continue to do that for an entire series? It’s impossible. So whatever you think of the housemates, trust me you can trust Big Brother to be showing you what they’re really like.

Someone who seems to be coming across as genuinely lovely is RuPaul star, Shane Jenek who has explained his belief that gender is on a continuum, just like sexuality and that he would be mostly a boy but partly a girl. His explanation won him applause from viewers on Twitter.

India had previously said she finds drag queens creepy like clowns which went down like a led ballon with Twitter fans who called her a hypocrite.

Now Ann Widdecombe is causing more ructions and perhaps bringing Shane and India closer together by expressing her opposition to equal marriage. She said: “If a marriage is between a man and a man and woman and a woman, then why not between one man and two women?”

Shane retorted: “Marriage has been redefined many times throughout history. You used to never be able to get divorced…”

Ann wasn’t impressed and said the term ‘marriage’ could never be altered.

India interjected: “But if two people love each other and want to get married it doesn’t impact anyone else,” to which Ann responded: “What you’re saying is you don’t apply the definition of marriage.

“It’s not just a word, it’s an institution set up for the stability of society which has been with us for centuries. Marriage is a man and a woman.”

I get very tired of people saying with some strange sense of misplaced pride that they don’t watch Big Brother or they haven’t since the early days when it was a ‘social experiment’. This is one of the only shows – in fact THE only show on British television that presents such a diverse array of people and beams them into people’s homes.

This season of CBB, like no other season, is pushing boundaries and getting the nation talking about LGBT+ issues. That doesn’t happen on any other show. Strictly refuses to have same-sex couples, I’m a Celeb’ is too busy eating snakes and the other yoof shows don’t even warrant a mention because they can’t see beyond their genitals.

My year in BB had the first ever gay engagement (less said about that the better) and two other gay guys and one bi housemate. We broke boundaries just by taking part and I’ll always take pride in that. This latest gang of celebs can take similar pride.

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Andy West

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