Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Closet: The Glory And The Hypocrisy

The Closet, and the inseparable Coming Out experience, is a near-universal commonality between LGB people throughout the world. This powerful shared experience is paradoxically unique to each individual. At once it marks us a person and as a member of a group. This makes reactions to negative discussion of individuals and their own "Closets" often rather illogical and emotional.

I've nothing against the Closet in general. No one chooses to be "in the Closet". It is where people are forced to be. And I've always said you are never more than one question away from a Coming Out moment (in my case "Do you have a girlfriend?"). When I criticise closeted people in the public eye, it's not because I am critical of anyone who is hiding their sexuality for any reason but because their situation is rare and full of symbolism worthy of discussion. I hate having to state this, but I need to because I know from past experience even thinking of suggesting we don't allow Coming Out to erase the political sins and missteps of people's pasts is akin to ripping up some commentator's most beloved teddy. I understand how traumatic it can be, but that doesn't mean we should go lightly on those who have things to answer for.

Take Nigel Evans MP for example. He came out in December 2010. When I dared suggest we berate him for his past transgressions (i.e. support for Clause 28), which now seemed that much worse in the light of his personal circumstances, I was told I couldn't imagine how hard it must of been for him. My heart still bleeds. I never did receive a response from him when I asked exactly how he thought, based on his comments, Clause 28 would protect children and, especially, LGBT children. I suspect his silence is because that was a hastily created excuse to cover up for the real fact; he voted with the whip and had no scrupples about the problems it'd cause LGBT kids. This is the man we should have compassion for? Since then he had an interview with Rhona Cameron:

RC: It does stun me that you can be gay and be in the Conservative party. How did you feel as a young person knowing you were gay, being involved in a party that put into force draconian measures like section 28, and the legacy of that? The reason people like me were bullied at a young age, which affected me for the rest of my life, was because we grew up in a climate of persecution and oppression. Are you telling me that when you heard the beginnings of section 28, you didn't take a hit for that, you didn't feel something in your heart?

NE: No, because I was going through denial, and what I would describe as my Neanderthal phase. It was just stupid, I clearly wasn't thinking. I probably thought, wrongly, that this is what the public want and we should concede it [Evans backed section 28, and once voted against lowering the age of consent]. Of course, I was completely wrong. I said it when I came out, I showed absolutely no leadership, whereas David Cameron has. When you say you can't work out how there are so many gays in the Tory party – David is hugely instrumental in that, because of his approach to gay issues and equality.

Oh, he was in denial! Forgiven. I think not. I have a great deal of respect for those who have deeply held beliefs that oppose my own. I have a deep respect for those who are persuaded by force of argument to change their beliefs.  But to simply say "Oh well I was in denial and it was what the people seemed to want" to explain a political decision is, as I said in my original post on Nigel Evans, spineless.

Then we have David Laws. Unlike Nigel Evans, Laws didn't come out; he was dragged out. Also unlike Nigel Evans, Laws has an exemplary Parliamentary record on LGBT rights. So at least he wasn't a hypocrite whilst in the closet. I think Laws dealt with his situation with dignity considering what happened last year, and I don't really have a problem with him personally. But again, his supporters dragged out the "glory" of the Closet to attempt to excuse his actions with regards to his expenses. And this is where we get to the crux of my problem with some people and the Closet. Their coming out experience is used, sometimes by them or as in this case by their supporters, as a shield to stop criticism and derail debate. Coming out is not something to be glorified, people who come out aren't heroes. Coming out is something we should be ashamed has to still happen in our country. Coming out should be viewed as a necessary evil. We need to stop treating those who come out with kid gloves. All gay, bisexual and lesbian people have to do it, constantly. Sympathise by all means, but don't suggest some millionaire coming out is somehow as damaging as some working class kid in a secondary school. It's insulting. Well at least Laws admits, like Evans, his errors.

Did his obsessive wish for secrecy send a poor signal to gay young people? “Yes I regret that. I don’t think that as an MP and somebody who was education spokesman for the party that I set a very good example in that regard,” he says.

It's 2011. You can come out now. You should have come out 10 years ago. You're not safe now but some of us who came out decades ago can tell you, it's a bloody lot safer than it used to be.

Also it's really time people stopped using their sexuality as an excuse for their other transgressions (looks at Chris Bryant and his expenses issues in 2009 for example). It's insulting to every decent LGBT person out there.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

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