Thursday, September 16, 2010

Has The Negative Stigma Shifted To Being IN The Closet?

By: Craig Rigby
This week at work an interesting thing happened, one of the girls I work with fell out of the closet. The interesting thing was the reaction… most people in the office were angry with her, including me. We were angry because she had worked with us for two years and never said anything. In my department there are three other gay people and two bisexuals, there are countless in the business. As far as I am aware, there has never been a homophobic incident in my workplace. She told us she never said anything because she was embarrassed....but this just doesn’t wash.  I for one, feel that she has a problem with gay people. It's as if she is saying we should have something to be ashamed about.

The situation was more or less resolved. People talked it through with her, pointed out that her attitude and some of the things she was saying were homophobic and moved on. I think it will take a while for her friendships to recover, but she is fine for now. However, I should point out that she is in her mid thirties and in my opinion, has had plenty of time to work through her homophobic feelings. I know for a fact that her friends and family would have no problem with her homosexuality. The only person with a problem with gay people seems to be her.

Looking back, this all seemed like quite an extreme reaction. Had she been a teenager I am sure the reaction would have been different...the feelings of deception and homophobic judgement would not have been there. It made me think of several recent press outings and how they had been handled in the press. There seems to be a big divide between the incidents of people being honest and people being found or suspected of being in the closet.

Above we have David Laws, he was the first government minister to be outed as gay this parliament and promptly resigned. He was outed by a paper called the Daily Telegraph at the height of his career. From 2004 to 2009 David had been claiming expenses for renting his second home. The rooms had been rented to his “secret lover” and “long term partner” James Luddie. Since 2006 parliamentary rules have banned renting a room to a partner.

The sad thing is that David Laws is a millionaire, he could have easily afforded not to claim back the money which is small change to him. He seems to have done so solely to avoid suspicion of his sexuality. In a statement on his website he said:

“But the root cause of my difficulties has been a decision I took long ago, which logic has never succeeded in changing – the decision to cover up my sexuality.

I realized on Friday that 35 years of dishonesty about my sexuality had finally got to end – and that I could only hope to counter the allegations being made by telling more lies or by ending the relationship which has brought most happiness to my life.

Losing my privacy and revealing my sexuality has not proven to be as painful as I expected, after the initial trauma. Indeed, it will be wonderful that I can now introduce the person I love and value above all others to my family and friends. I shall always be grateful to the Daily Telegraph for that! I will also be able to set a much better example, as a public figure, to my constituents and to those others struggling with their own identities.

I had had to acknowledge that I had made a serious mistake, and it seemed to me that I must pay the price for that mistake.”

I feel bad for David Laws, once he had started in the closet he could never quite get out. He grew up in the 70's which was a different time. I can see why it would be easy to slip into a pattern of secrecy through such circumstances.

The telegraph had held onto its story about him for quite some time. It could have published the information the previous year with the rest of the expenses scandal. In amongst all of that, it would have looked like nothing. Instead they held onto the information until he was at the height of his career. I am pretty certain that a story about a secret gay lover was a juicy piece for them. I am also sure that it was the lying about being gay that caused both the rule breaking and gave the story its sensational edge.

The next outing of the parliament was a different affair...more personally sad, but less politically damaging. Crispin Blunt is the prisons minister. Out of the blue, at the end of August,  he announced that he was separating from his wife to “come to terms with his sexuality”.

Apart from some slightly unpleasant sniping on the conservative blog sites about “boarding school homosexuality” the response was pretty non-plussed. It was such a low key story that most news programs reported it with just a one line statement. Although I am sure that most people feel sorry for his wife and family. Even on the most right wing sites, no one seems to be calling for his resignation.

It has even been suggested that he may have saved himself from the axe. Previously, Number 10 had released information that suggested he was soon to be sacked for poor performance. The would have to be very brave now to face accusations of sacking the man because he is gay.

Last but not least is William Hague. I should hasten to add that this one is probably not about him being gay, in all likelihood he isn't. is about the press speculation that he is in the closet and lying to the electorate.

Earlier this month Christopher Myers, a special adviser to Hague, resigned, citing the "untrue and malicious" rumours and pressure on his family. Last month a national newspaper published pictures of Hague and Myers together, taken last year, strolling along London's Victoria Embankment and this was followed by a story in the Telegraph saying a cabinet minister was prepared to "take action" against any publication that intended to publish gay rumours. The right wing political gossip blog Guido Fawkes then revealed Hague and Myers shared a hotel room during the election campaign.

Hague then took the odd step of making an incredibly personal statement about his marriage in which he stated he had never had a relationship with any man. He even went so far as to say that his wife has recently suffered several miscarriages. This seemed like the worst thing to do, it brought attention to something that was essentially petty gossip. In addition it was such a personal statement that it only created the idea that maybe he was protesting too much.

In any case the venom with which the papers went after him clearly contrasts with the way they left off Crispin Blunt...the two stories appearing in the same week. It seems that in British politics, it is fine to be out of the closet and gay, but don't try to hide it or the press sees you as fair game.

Personally I feel the same way about closeted politicians as I do about closeted colleges at work: I find them aggravating. If they feel that being gay is something to be ashamed of then,  do they think I should feel ashamed?  In the end, I think everyone has their own reasons for staying in the closet. Fear of rejection is understandable...if a little adolescent. Internalised homophobia is almost as bad as everyday homophobia, something to be conquered.


  1. Craig,

    I love this post for its honesty...but what it ALSO points out is just how different the climbate is in the UK for gay men and women. In talking with you I have gotten the picture that a coming out is most often met with a yawn, and then everyone gets on with business...whereas here their is a certain amount of risk taken in coming out.

    for an accepting environement, I understand feeling a bit slighted by her not sharing that detail of her life with you


    Coming from a society in which acceptance ISN'T the norm, I understand that some people have their reasons for not coming out as well...and they don't neccesarily mean that the person in question is making a judgment about us...perhaps only her castigation of herself.

    In any rate, its good that everyone was able to talk through it and now perhaps, she will be able to grow beyond her closet walls


  2. p.s....

    politicians are a whole different breed being that they make decisions that affect our lives in very personal seems to make honesty on their part, so much more an issue.

  3. I make no secret of my being gay at work. In fact when they hire me they knew I was gay.

    However I do play it close in some places. I was like that at the AG's office. Thing was, 2/3's of my staff knew I was gay. There was just one shrewish woman who through her endless speculating and probing meant I walled her off and would never tell her anything.

  4. It realy is interesting to read about the diffences between the UK and the US. It only makes the US feel even more bakwords when it comes to LGBT exceptance.

  5. I'm a straight guy. After I graduated high-school one of my friends in the class below me came out of the closet. I felt very annoyed. Not because I found out that he was gay, but because he never told me. It made me feel like he did not trust me. I felt insulted that he did not tell me before, like maybe he thought I would have a problem with it. When I saw him again after I found out I just gave him a hug and a pat on the back and said "So, this is the real you."

  6. I wonder if some of us remember what it is like being in the closet. How frustrating and devastating it is to one's complete soul - and how that burden is not immediately lifted once one comes out of the closet.

    I had forgotten how much it hurt until I moved to a rural community this past summer. For my own safety I feel the need to be closeted here. And it drives me insane at times. There are weeks where my being is crippled by fits of frustration and sorrow, with nowhere to vent except my pillow. And to do so quietly, so that my room-mate would not hear.

    It is with this consideration that I must point out that we have absolutely no right to judge those who are "in the closet", to be frustrated with them or sense that they do not trust us enough to reveal themselves. This is the power of fear - and it is based on years of experiences telling you that you are NOT ok the way you are. Being anything but patient with people when they are just discovering that they are ok is... making you seem like you are the more important person in that person's big moment. It is absolutely selfish and thoroughly lacking in compassion.

    I'm hesitant to tell people I am gay. I don't actively hide it and will tell people who ask, but I don't feel it is my responsibility to "flaunt" it in any way. Even as a right of passage, it conveys two messages to society: first of all, it is still ok that there exists a duality of expectation where I, as a sexual minority, am required to "come out" and others, as a sexual majority, are allowed to exist in a presumed heterosexuality. I would rather alter the perception so that what exists is merely a "presumed sexuality", where people don't need to come out but can just be - to make that change in social perceptions, I fight everybody's expectation that I will some day come out of the closet to everybody I know. Not my responsibility.

    Secondly, it tells the world that my sexual existence is their rightful knowledge; in a way that no heterosexual person must convey and be expected to talk about sex and intimacy, it becomes my responsibility to society. I instantly am a missionary, sharing with the world my sexuality, my preferences, my favourite positions. Once again, not my responsibility.

    I won't deny that I still do live in some fear of the people and society that I live in, but I also live my life the way I want to, as best I can. That has not required a public "coming out" party - it has required me becoming comfortable with everything that I am, and allowing others to get in on the party. A party to which not everybody is invited.

  7. It is true that staying in the closet in an accepting environment is in some sense, a statement of distrust, that the friendship is not as real as it can be.

    Then again, in a work environment, how real is any friendship? It is the same reason why office romance should be avoided. A professional environment is best when intimacy is limited. It is one thing to be inclusive, to embrace employee families etc. It is another to demand employees to expose their private lives.

    I don't see any reason for people to get upset over someone withholding their private life. Indeed, "getting upset" speaks loud and clear why she kept quiet about it. Some friends are not really friends. Real friends are understanding, and accept without question. Coming out is an occasion to celebrate taking another step closer, in trust and in intimacy; it is not the time to make accusations of past mistrust, of past walls that stopped communication.

    No one should be made to feel bad for their personal life, for decisions concerning their personal life.

  8. " heterosexual person must convey and be expected to talk about sex and intimacy..." Well said, canadianhumility.

    What happens in private, stays private.

    Why does the rule changes for gays?