The reaction to 57-year-old TV presenter Philip Schofield coming out as gay has been interesting. Interesting because it’s been a very different and much more positive reaction than the reaction to Jameela Jamil coming out as queer the day before, which says a lot about the racism, misogyny and intolerance queer women of colour have to endure.
And it’s interesting because despite the relative positivity there’s nevertheless been a really nasty outbreak of homophobia among some commentators and on social media.
Max Morgan puts it very well:
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.
…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.
I’m older than Morgan and younger than Schofield, but we all grew up during a time when just to admit that LGBT+ people existed could cost people their jobs, when vicious homophobia was in the daily papers, when people like us were only ever portrayed as sick, perverted, predatory.
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.
So many of us did exactly what the advocates of lethal conversion therapy want people like us to do: we tried with all our might not to be gay, or trans, or whichever part of the rainbow we are. We fought to try and make ourselves “normal”, to deny what our own brains and bodies were trying to tell us, to refuse to see any signs that we were who we were trying so hard not to be. Many of us managed to keep that fight going for decades.
I didn’t marry to deceive. I married because I was in love, and because I thought that love had cured me of my sadness. I genuinely believed that I could be Mr Right, and for a while I was.
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.
And the more people depend on you, the more awful the consequences of untangling that web.
I’m currently reading Stuck In The Middle With You, by Jennifer Finney Boylan – like me, a trans woman who came out after years of marriage and after becoming a parent. She writes:
I still believed, on some fundamental level, that love would cure me. That if only I were loved deeply by someone else, I would be content to stay a man… Of course, nobody really gets cured by love, but transsexuals are hardly the only people who believe romance will lead them outside of themselves. You can’t fault a person for hoping that love will make her into someone else, someone better. The world is full of false hopes, many of them dumber than the hope of being transformed by love.
But of course, understanding any of this requires compassion and empathy, something sorely lacking among the tedious contrarians and twitter trolls.
It’s no coincidence that many of the people condemning Schofield for his supposed “deception” are the same people calling Jameela Jamil a fake, a liar who‘s pretending to be queer in order to get “woke points”. As ever, the pejorative use of “woke” is the battle cry of the intolerant and privileged.
Many of them are also so-called “gender critical” activists who claim teenage trans kids aren’t old enough to know who they are (in many cases advocating dangerous and discredited conversion therapy, which converts many perfectly healthy LGBT kids into damaged or even dead ones) while telling trans women of my age that if we had really been suffering we’d have come out in our teens.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter to these people if we come out in our teens when we’re single, in our thirties when we’re in a relationship, or in married middle age. They don’t want us to come out at all. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.