This article isn’t about Phillip Schofield

Well, ok. Maybe it is, just a little. But it’s more about the wider issues thrown up by Schofield’s decision, at the age of 57, to come out as a gay man, and the predictably grim reactions to that decision in the press and on social media.

Now, as you might expect, and as I’m sure many of you have gathered from my Twitter feed, some of the comments in the aftermath of his announcement were pretty fucking ugly, and it was difficult for me not to take them at least a little bit personally having been in a very similar situation to that in which Schofield now finds himself, albeit without the harsh glare of the media spotlight.

One thing I’d like to get out of the way before I go any further is that I’m well aware that Phillip Schofield is quite possibly a Tory. I’m aware that he posed for a grinning selfie with noted homophobe Boris Johnson prior to the general election. And whilst there’s a conversation to be had about gay men cosying up to people who would describe us as ‘tank-topped bumboys’, and about them appearing to support a party whose evil policies unquestionably delayed us being able to come out safely, that’s not what this article is about. Don’t @ me.

The main issue I want to address is the repeated portrayal of Schofield (and ergo other men who come out after years of marriage to a woman) as a liar and a deceiver, as someone who used his wife to cover his dirty little secret before ditching her when it was expedient for him to do so. I’m obviously not privy to the inner workings of the Schofields’ marriage, but I do know that in a great many cases this grubby insinuation couldn’t be further from the truth.

LGBT people who grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s did so at a time where every aspect of the public discourse was awash with a particularly nasty and virulent brand of homophobia. The press, the media, even the government - fuck, especially the government - displayed an unflinching commitment to hammering home the message that being gay was wrong, shameful, disgusting.

We were perverts. We were predators. We were mentally ill. We were spreaders of disease. We were paedophiles, hell bent on corrupting children for our own nefarious ends. We were incapable of fidelity, or of love. We were a powerful lobby, to be feared and mistrusted. We were poofs, faggots and queers, dykes, rug-munchers and trannies. We were less than human and fair game for whatever violence came our way.

This mantra was repeated, loud and often, in the papers, on TV, and in the Houses of Parliament. We were not represented in mainstream movies or on TV shows, save for as shrieking stereotypes the other characters played for laughs. We were cut adrift, with no social media or LGBT-positive education (because that was illegal) to offset the damage this would inevitably inflict.

So imagine, if you will, or maybe you don’t have to imagine, being 8 or 10 or 15, and having to come to terms with your burgeoning sexuality in a climate where the very essence of who you are is being dragged through the shit on a daily basis. Imagine going through puberty, with all the attendant difficulties that make this such a challenging time for any teenager, with the added burden of knowing that you are reviled by society, perhaps even by your own friends and family, simply because you are attracted to people of the same gender.

If this was you and you managed to stand up and say, “Fuck you, this is me, and you won’t drive me into the closet,” great. And thank you. Your courage helped pave the way for the rest of us to follow, and we owe you our gratitude. But lots of us, for a whole range of very complex reasons, weren’t able to do that. Many of us succumbed to the closet, usually because it was the only place we felt safe.

But here’s the thing. The closet isn’t just one big homogenous barn that houses all the as-yet-not-out queers. Everyone has their own closet, built to their own unique specification, carefully designed to adequately accommodate their own particular baggage.

For me, and so many others, the closet wasn’t a place where I said, “I’m gay, but I’m going to hide it in here,” it was a place in which I fought tooth and nail, at great psychological cost, to convince myself I wasn’t gay at all. I knew I liked boys when I was about 6 or 7. And I knew very shortly after that that a boy who likes other boys was the very worst thing you could possibly be. So I convinced myself I wasn’t that. You might find this difficult to comprehend, ‘Schofield is a liar’ wankers, but that’s one of the very best reasons for you to not belch out your half-arsed opinions on subjects about which you have zero knowledge or understanding.

I was 24 when I got married, and I can confirm that I didn’t stand there taking my vows thinking, “This is amazing, she has absolutely no idea I’m quite enthusiastically into cock.” I took those vows because I loved my wife, and that remains the case to this day. I would never knowingly have misled her, or undertaken any conscious act that would have hurt her in any way. Sure, there was a deception taking place, but it was a tangled and intricate web of self-deception, from which it would take me a further 13 years to extricate myself.

When I did finally find my way out, however, things improved. For both of us. I had always been a loving husband and father, and we’d always enjoyed a happy marriage, but there was something eating at me a lot of the time that just made me less…available (I think that’s the right word, but even now I’m not sure). She knew it, and so did I. We just couldn’t give it a name.

Not that everything was perfect afterwards. I had issues to deal with. I still do, but now we can work through them together, and with no barriers between us. What it did do, immediately and enduringly, was to bring us closer, and to strengthen the bond between us. Sure, adjustments had to be made, but it didn’t dilute our love one iota. Marriage, and love in general, can be more than one thing.

So when I read about ‘poor Mrs Schofield’ and ‘their poor children’, those helpless, down-trodden victims of his merciless dishonesty, it’s difficult not to be a little bit fucking enraged. I accept that it’s perfectly possible that he entered into the marriage knowing he was deceiving her but not caring, that he subsequently embarked upon a string of seedy, illicit affairs with random men behind her back, and that her whole world has collapsed around her with the realisation that she’s been living a lie for 27 years. What I do not accept, and will never accept, is the automatic assumption that this simply must be the case. 

It’s equally possible that Schofield loves his wife dearly, has always loved her, was in a state of denial about his true sexuality, and has honestly and openly dealt with these issues with her support and understanding. It’s also quite possible that she loves him even more now that he’s come to terms with who he really is, and is looking forward to spending the rest of her life with her best friend.

The point is, we don’t know, but that so many are prepared to jump to the former conclusion rather than the latter (or to not jump to any conclusion at all) underscores just how far we have yet to go to rid our society of these stubbornly entrenched homophobic attitudes.

Based solely on what I’ve read, I don’t necessarily believe Steph Schofield views herself as a victim in all this. If she does, it’s up to her to say that, and not for a million Twitter dickheads to assume it on her behalf. And even if she is a victim, there’s an excellent chance she’s a victim of the same toxic homophobia that kept her husband in the closet for nearly six decades, unable to be his whole, authentic self, and not of the wilful or negligent dishonesty of the man she loves.

10 thoughts on “This article isn’t about Phillip Schofield

  1. I’ve got a similar but different story.
    I was out to a degree in my 20s but didn’t make a big fanfare about it, I just started dating men and those people who knew knew. I was also in a casual relationship with a woman – although thought of myself as gay rather than bisexual?? It’s complicated …
    After about 6 months we had a summit and decided to stop sleeping with other people and commit. I finished with the man I had been seeing and in 1986 at the height of Clause 28/AIDS homophobia I found myself back in the closet.
    We knew everything about past relationships but decided to make a go of it anyway and she is undoubtably the love of my life and best friend.
    We were monogamous for 30 years but I’m sure we both looked at others of whatever sex With interest.
    She died 3 years ago and after a year I moved to Berlin (because our home town was just too provincially constraining and came out (again) to our children, relatives and friends who were all supportive. Again in a quiet way and without much fuss.
    The funny thing was that old friends always knew but with new friends (mostly of the children’s friends parents) I had actually never said ‘hey you know I used to sleep with men’ cos it had never sort of cropped up.
    So I was 58 and I have sympathy with PS and others. He may be a reviled Tory but he’s actually braver than me.
    And I think my main point is you don’t know what goes on in other people’s lives and relationships. You don’t know the dynamics and so I yes I say I agree with all of the above Max has written – homophobic victim tropes and prurient (in the guise of well meaning) interest.
    Yes I’ll always be sad (understatement) – my wife died but I’m still going to have the time of my life.
    And anybody who says poor Steph left alone in her 50s is saying more about their own transmogrified life than anyone else’s. Come to Berghain on a Sunday afternoon and tell me that.

    1. Thank you for this.

      I realize “it’s complicated” but…

      Is it possible to explain why you think of yourself as gay rather than bisexual, given that you were in a monogamous relationship with the love of your life for thirty years?

      1. Not really sorry. Possibly we are on a scale and people are at different points and that can change. Or maybe pansexual (loving the person rather than the sexuality) would be more accurate. I don’t know

  2. Thank you sincerely. You have described my journey, my story, my anguish, far better than anyone else I’ve read. I xame out at 50. It was painful for all (wife, son, me) and I have to deal with it every say still. I’m genuinely grateful for distilling your thoughts with such clarity and empathy. I found it very healing, to read. X

  3. Thanks for this Max. An excellent article and hopefully opens a debate on this kind of situation. I never did marry and luckily did not feel any pressure to do so even though I did not come out to my family until my 30s. However because I was working in mainly muslim countries I could not be out properly and my partner of 10 years and I had to lead the closeted life I was so used to. I was heartened though this week, I am on a training course in UK for a new job and on our lunch break the Schofe story was running on the TV and everyone was talking about it. In the discussion I told these 8 people who I had only met a couple of days before that I was gay and the outpouring of warmth and support and proper adult debate was wonderful, from a group of people aged 21 to 63…. Wow has this country changed since I last lived here! So am thankful for that but so worried about the whole “fear the unknown” attitude that has surged since the referendum fuelled by the Main Stream Media (MSM is Men who have Sex with Men in my world!) and particularly our “leaders”. Ho hum La Lutta Continua!!

  4. God, you’re good.
    It’s not often someone who can write cutting, concise witty tweets, turns out to be equally adept at constructing a long-form piece that doesn’t drift and wander all over the place.
    I echo and endorse every word.
    Beautiful!

    paul

  5. Thank you for writing this.👍As a now out gay older man of 52 mine was a very similar situation myself.I’ve been angered at some comments as it will only drive anyone still struggling with coming to terms with being themselves 😢I was lucky at 30 too start too deal with my inner feelings.But at that time living in Glasgow walking out of the door seeing massive bill boards saying ‘support section 28 do you want this man teaching your child’ didn’t help.
    Many thanks again

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