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.

Privilege, self-satisfaction and the befriending of bastards

Privilege is a weird thing. Most of us have a certain level of privilege, and some of us even recognise it and try to use it to effect change. Some of us deny it exists at all, labouring under the self-imposed misapprehension that everything we’ve achieved has occurred as a direct result of our own unfiltered brilliance, and not because we live in a society in which more or less everything is heavily skewed in favour of straight, rich, white dudes. Others, of course, are so blinded by their own privilege that they see fit to stand up on national television and lecture those who are considerably less privileged about how they ought to respond to people who are, by any reasonable interpretation, objectively fucking awful.

“When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

This was a statement made by US comedian and chat show host, Ellen DeGeneres, earlier this week, which, on the face of it, you might think seems quite laudable. Who could reasonably object to a world where people were kinder to one another, right? This video was widely shared on social media, with lots of other quite privileged people responding with comments like, “Well said, Ellen! What a great message!”

It’s only when you realise that Ms DeGeneres made this somewhat smug, self-satisfied statement to justify her friendship with a guy who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and who predicated his entire political career on denying rights to LGBTQ people, that you begin to see how fundamentally repugnant it is.

In terms of moral cowardice, this argument ranks alongside, “I know that Bundy guy was a little bit murdery, but he did make a lovely lamb casserole, and I just think you have to look for the good in people. We can’t only be kind to those who don’t think it’s acceptable to slaughter dozens of people in cold blood.”

There are, give or take, 7.7 billion people on Earth. Accordingly, there are 7.7 billion differing sets of opinions. It goes without saying that, if we were only ever friends with people whose opinions were aligned completely with our own, we’d exist in the same tragic state of isolation that Toby Young experienced on the night of his stag do.

I have a friend who thinks Star Wars is superior to Star Trek. I have a friend who fancies Chris Pratt more than Chris Hemsworth. I have another friend who thinks putting peanut butter directly onto unbuttered, barely toasted bread (like, it hasn’t even changed colour) is acceptable behaviour. They’re all disgusting people who should be shot at fucking dawn and I love them dearly.

I don’t, I’m proud to say, have a single friend who has overseen the destruction of a Middle Eastern country for their own political ends, or who has sought to deny people like me the right to marry, the right to access goods and services, the right to be housed, or the right to not be fired from my job because of who I’m attracted to. I don’t have friends like that because people like that are fucking abhorrent.

I’m just a little bit really fucking tired of hearing how it’s somehow ‘childish’ or ‘shallow’ to refuse to befriend a person with different political opinions, as though it’s some minor, inconsequential thing like a disgusting peanut butter/toast habit or the mistaken belief that C3PO is in any way more impressive than Commander Data. The fact is, our politics are a fundamental part of who we are. They define us. They are us.

For example, I could never form any kind of meaningful relationship, platonic or otherwise, with a Conservative voter. It’s not just that I disagree with them, it’s that I think they’re intrinsically unpleasant.

People are dying on the streets. Foodbank use is at an all-time high. Welfare spending has been slashed again and again. Mental health funding has been cut to the bone. People seeking to make this country their home are subjected to an environment that the government proudly describes as ‘hostile’. Queer asylum seekers are deported to countries in which they may be imprisoned, tortured or killed for being who they are and told to ‘act less gay’. On top of all that, we’re on the verge of the biggest self-imposed catastrophe ever to befall us, and the Tories are 100% committed to delivering something that will disproportionately affect the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country.

If you voted for any of that, you’re an appalling cunt, and there is no place in my life for you.

Similarly, I don’t care how well-received your sitcom was in the 1990s if you now spend every day of your life mocking, misgendering and directing hate at vulnerable and marginalised people. If I tolerated that kind of behaviour, I’d be as much of an arsehole as you are.

It’s so easy (and a bit fucking selfish) to say, “We should respect everyone’s beliefs,” if their beliefs will never impact you in any meaningful way. But if you’re a rich, white lesbian working in the arts, you don’t get to pontificate to black trans women on low incomes about who they should be nice to. They might just consider that the fact that they’re dying and being killed on an almost industrial scale matters quite a bit, and that offering kindness to those who would eradicate them completely is, in itself, an act of violence.

Views matter. Opinions matter. They are the essence of who we are. Of course it’s up to the individual to decide how much a particular belief matters to them and whether it’s a deal-breaker in any prospective relationship, but let’s not pretend that being nice to everyone makes you a good person. It doesn’t. All it makes you is complicit.

Top Gear 2020 to be hosted by Mary Berry and an otter

BBC execs have today confirmed the exciting news that the 2020 series of Top Gear will be presented by Mary Berry carrying an otter.

Following the sacking of steak-hungry producer-puncher Jeremy Clarkson, and the subsequent resignations of inconsequential sycophant Richard Hammond and that other prick whose sole contribution was to laugh at Clarkson’s racism and say ‘oh cock’ a lot, producers of Top Gear have visibly struggled to settle on the future direction of the once-flagship show.

Their initial response was to set up a two hundred-strong presenting team headed up by unlikeable twat Chris Evans, as he engaged in a hilariously futile competition for attention with the hot one out of Friends. Following Joey’s effortlessly comprehensive victory over Evans, however, he quickly became bored of producing basically the same programme every week, leading to another enforced change of personnel.

Today’s announcement that some guy who once did quite a good cricket and the presenter of ‘Blind Date For Cunts’, Paddy McGuinness, would be taking over raised a few eyebrows, but it’s the succession planning for when that inevitably goes tits up that has created the most excitement.

A spokesperson for the BBC said,

“Look, people who watch Top Gear are basically morons anyway. All they need to keep them happy is a familiar face twatting about in a fast car while shouting barely coherent slogans like ‘mental’ and ‘epic’ every few seconds. That said, Mary Berry is a national treasure, and we are confident that she will bring all the right ingredients to the Top Gear experience in 2020. Make sure you stress ‘ingredients’, ok, because that’s really fucking clever.”

When asked to explain the thinking behind the otter’s inclusion, the spokesperson said:

“What the fuck are you talking about? Who doesn’t like otters? Adorable little whiskery bastards. What sort of fucking question is that anyway? We’re done here.”

It has been intimated that further additions to the team will be announced in the next few weeks, with Sir Trevor McDonald and that endlessly punchable cunt off the ‘Go Compare’ adverts among the favourites.

 

Sometimes, it’s ok to state the obvious.

“I also understand the Pope is a Catholic!”

Depressingly, this seems to be considered by many to be the most appropriate response to a gay person coming out. No ‘well done for having the courage’ or ‘I hope you feel happier now this is in the open’, just plain old, ‘tell us something we don’t know’.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand every LGBT person’s individual ‘coming out’ journey but I do know that for many, myself included, it can be a long, difficult, and sometimes painful process. The nights laid awake wondering how your friends, family and colleagues will react, the self doubt, the panic of not knowing whether the revelation will cause your life as you know it to blow up in your face. I’m sure for some people, coming out is the easiest, most natural thing in the world, but for others, it’s the single biggest step they’ll ever take. It’s a little soul-destroying, therefore, to see this momentous (at the least for the person taking it) step reduced to, “It was hardly a secret, was it?”

That’s why it’s always a little disappointing when a celebrity that people have decided ‘looks gay’ comes out, and social media is suddenly awash with commentators quick to point out how they’ve always known, and that it was blindly obvious all along.

That’s exactly what happened this week when Barry Manilow came out at the age of 73 after being in a relationship with the same man for nearly 40 years. Whilst Manilow was trending on Twitter, I’d estimate that more than half the tweets about the news were of the self-congratulatory ‘and I suppose bears shit in the woods’ variety. Now in Manilow’s case, matters are complicated somewhat by the fact that he married his partner three years ago in what was supposed to be a secret ceremony. That nasty rags like the Daily Mail invaded Manilow’s privacy to report the news a year later does mean that many people probably did know, but there’s also a pretty strong case for saying that it’s up to him to decide when he wants to discuss such private matters, and not some unscrupulous ‘journalist’ chasing a scoop.

I should point out that, in the vast majority of cases, there was no outright malice involved in the comments, but also little thought as to how they might affect others who might be thinking of coming out. Having been in that situation myself, much of what was said to me in the days afterwards was a bit of a blur. I do remember that, in general, most people were kind, supportive and loving, but the comments I remember most clearly are the ones that were not quite so positive – including the various sneery observations of those who ‘knew all along’. If I was thinking of coming out now, I’d be much more emboldened to do so by seeing others who have taken this step being received warmly and positively.

So next time an ‘obviously gay’ person comes out, you might like to consider whether you want your comment to be the one that helps someone else summon up the courage to join them, or the one that they’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.