There are few things little girls of the 90s loved more than the Spice Girls. In groups of five (tough luck if you were the sixth), we proudly declared which Spice Girl we were. Wearing our Pulp platforms from Hannahs (mine were blue), we flounced about pouting and posing at lunchtime, rehearsing our dance routines and imagining that we were the epitome of cool.
I was Baby Spice. I remember a Kylie who also wanted to be Baby Spice, but she had red hair, so she obviously had to be Ginger. Them's the breaks. I loved the Spice Girls so much that I remember trying to make my mother promise that she'd take me to see them if they ever performed in New Zealand. They never did, so she got off lightly. But it didn't matter. The Spice Girls and their "girl power" message had a potent impact on children all around the globe.
Those children are now in their 20s and 30s. Some of them – like me – are still fans, though Spice Girls' songs would be more likely to pop up on my "guilty pleasures" playlist than anywhere else these days. Still, I seriously considered travelling to Britain to see them on their upcoming tour, and would certainly have travelled to Australia to see them in concert. I should've booked the UK trip, as recent scandals have made it unlikely that Spice World will be orbiting any closer to Godzone in the foreseeable future.
Who knew that an alleged lesbian fling would herald the apparent end of the Spice universe? When I read the news that Mel B and Geri had apparently – gasp – had sex in the 90s, I felt a strange sense of… validation? The word doesn't seem quite right, and it's difficult to explain such a feeling to those outside of the LGBTQ+ community, but in a world that is still overwhelmingly heteronormative, the idea that some of my childhood heroes were also members of the rainbow community was somewhat heartening. On the flipside, that an allegation of consensual gay sex could have such a negative impact demonstrates how far we still have to go.
Of course, the complicating factor is that it should never have been a story in the first place. Outing someone without their permission is never okay. As someone who made the decision to come out in recent years, I know that I would've been devastated had someone betrayed my trust and talked to the media about my sexuality before I was ready.
Mel B should never have made whatever happened between her and Geri public. It sounded salacious and flippant, and seemed almost vulgar given the disclosure was made while she was promoting her arena tour. If she laboured under the illusion that any publicity is good publicity, hopefully she's been thoroughly disabused of the notion in the time since her shock admission.
Part of Geri's representative's response, however – "that what has been reported recently… has been very hurtful to her family" – gave me pause. If the allegations are untrue, I can certainly see how they would be vexing and upsetting, but as a gay woman I struggle to see how an allegation of a lesbian fling nearly 20 years ago could be construed as "hurtful".
Surely we've moved past the point where being accused of being attracted to the same sex is defamatory. Particularly when lesbian experimentation is now so common among young women.
In my view, by characterising the allegation as "hurtful" Geri has inadvertently cast a shadow upon the LGBTQ+ community. It was a bizarrely forceful refutation for a singer who had previously been crowned an "honorary gay" by British rainbow publication Attitude. In 2016, she told the publication that she felt "honoured" and "flattered" to receive the award, saying, "I value the gay fans' loyalty so much, thank you."
I can't help but feel that with the words she chose to issue her denial of Mel B's story, she's thrown those same gay fans under the bus. Had the story broken differently, with Mel B and Geri choosing together to disclose whatever attraction may have passed between them back in the 90s, the positive impact upon young gay and questioning fans would've been immense.
Mel B has long been open about her bisexuality, and a significant number of women who end up in straight relationships experience (and act upon) same-sex attractions. Such a disclosure, if consensual and mutual, would've sent a powerful message about the completely normal fluidity of human sexual behaviour.
One also has to wonder why Mel B would make such a thing up. It seems a strange falsehood to feed to the international media. Surely no one can be that desperate for publicity as to risk being so widely branded a liar.
The whole episode will go down as one of the stranger twists in the Spice story. While fans are hardly novices when it comes to dealing with the band's various controversies, there's something deeply disappointing about this one. Not only have fans, Mel C and Emma become innocent victims again in another internal feud, this time the LGBTQ+ community has been caught in the crossfire.
Stop right now, thank you very much.