Some would say "better late than never".
I think it's fair to say that I am surprised that Ricky Martin has eased himself out of a closet. Not because I didn't think he was gay - far from it. Just because I thought if he hadn't done it by now he never would.
There are certain occupations where it's still hard to come out. It used to be virtually everywhere. You could only really be out if you worked in the theatre, perhaps television. These days, it's pretty much only professional footballers that can't come out and have to marry pop singers to prove their heterosexuality.
Hollywood is an interesting one, though. It's swarming with homosexuals, but there's something of a glass ceiling if you're openly a gay. There is still a fear that audiences will reject an openly gay man playing a heterosexual hero, even though the audiences mainly understand the difference between real life and pretending, and consider a straight actor playing a homosexualist as at best normal and at worst "brave".
Similarly in the music industry. As we saw in the UK, coming out deeply hurt the career of Will Young, who never adorned a poster on a teenage girl's wall. Boyzone and Westlife both disbanded when one of their members came out, and Take That never achieved success after playing a gay bar once.
Timing is the interesting thing here. There is a certain amount of press interest that can be generated by playing the "is-he/isn't-he" card. You can be spotted cavorting on the beach with a fit mate, for instance, and that might just remind someone who reads the Daily Mail who you are, and you might sell a few more records, or get yourself a part in a Zovirax commercial. Speculation can create interest, even when there is no new product attached to you.
So will this revelation kick-start Ricky Martin's career once more?
I heard the news today. Major headline. "Thingy out of Westlife is Gay".
An hour later, and I couldn't tell you which one it was. Could be all of them for all I know, and for all it matters.
As recently as five years ago, coming out in the public eye was a big thing. The tabloids still try to make it a big thing - it used to sell a lot of newspapers. These days it doesn't shock. Let's be honest, we'd all kind of assumed that all of Westlife were gay anyway. And we still can't tell them apart (apart from my colleague Nuala, who is going to marry one of them, but I can't remember which. If she's in mourning today then it'll be Padraig or whatever his name is).
One argument is that this is a good thing. By drawing attention to people coming out, the media has desensitised the public to it, making it easier for those of us who have to come out to our families to guess what their reaction will be.
"Mum, I've got something to tell you, it's going to come as quite a shock."
"Just a second, son. That bloody Graham Norton's on again. The bloody poof!"
FX: Brick through Television
Now, what were you going to say?"
"Nothing, mum, nothing."
Of course, there's another side - at least one other side. In order to sell newspapers they have to get more outrageous. So if a "celebrity" coming out doesn't shift papers, we may find ourselves in a situation where more and more extremes of human society are paraded across our media and absorbed into society. Celebrity A hires prostitutes. Celebrity B eats dog food. Suddenly, Celebrity C and Celebrity D eat dog food too, and kids all over the world are trying it, liking it, and it becomes cool, or something. I don't know.
So, thingy out of Westlife's gay. So what?
I still don't fancy him.
So, I hear none of you cry, where is my head at.
Digressing, I hate that phrase. Mainly because of the song that sounds like a siren on a police car screeching down the road at ninety to get tho the granny who's dropped her knitting and thinks it's an emergency because she can't reach down to pick it up, not with her hip anyway. But I digress.
As ever, the blitz continues. We're moving through the flat at a snail's pace, like slow dervishes clearing stuff out. I kepp repeating the mantra to myself "just because we have more space now, we don't have to buy stuff to fill it". Discipline is called for. Always discipline.
The other thing in my head is the bizarre idea of personal control of blatantly obvious information.
I'm feeling like straying in to euphemism here, so I expect pretty much both my readers to know what I am talking about.
I had a friend who used to wear red socks. He would cover them up as far as possible, but the fact is that you can't entirely hide your socksuality, and people would pretty quickly get the idea that he wore red socks. So much so, that when I told him that all of his work colleagues knew that he wore red socks he went immediately into denial.
"You know I wear red socks," he'd say. "And I know it. But what colour of socks I wear is my secret, and so they can't know I wear red socks. They won't know until I tell them, so they don't know."
Seven years later, and the world is - let's be honest - far more tolerant of people who wear red socks. And yet I see someone on television most nights who has blatantly been wearing red socks. And yet he still thinks that only two or three people - the people that he has told - are the only people who know.
More on this later, I think. Probably much the same sort of stuff as I have written before.
This week, I was accosted by a drunked Euan from work. "Doctor Oddverse," he says to me in his posh St Ninians accent. "Doctor Oddverse, is Dermot gay?"
It seems that as the official poof in the office, I am supposed to know. It makes a bit of sense, I guess.
"I don't know," I replied. "I didn't get the e-mail from the Gay Register telling me."
I was drunk too at this point. Hence the crappy quality of my humour.
Euan was, however, able to give me another bit of information. Dermot's flat mate is Niall. I've met Niall before.
Indeed, when I first started working here in Foreign, Niall sat three desks away from me. Niall is flamboyant, Niall minces, Niall is camp as Christmas in G-A-Y would be probably. But, I'd been told he wasn't a gentleman-who-only-likes-sport-for-the-costumes. Or at least if he was, he wasn't open about it.
There's a very real sense in which this is all completely irrelevant. It doesn't affect Dermot's ability to do his job, any more than it affected Niall's. I'm not going to be looking for office romance. It would be nice if he could be open about it, but I know exactly how hard that is. I'd hope that the fact that Dermot's already met Mr Twinky makes it easier for him. And I know that he has told Triona, but obviously I can't ask her, because that would look like I'm making an issue out of it. And I don't want to do that. I've written about it twice here, but that's just because in a tedious job, it's the one thing that's been interesting in the last couple of weeks.
I had another conversation on Wednesday night, with Craig who I have known for years. We spoke about one of our former colleagues, and how he wasn't out at work, despite having been in his current relationship for fifteen years. It's still not an easy thing to do. If you're in the habit of not talking about it, then you don't talk about it.
Anyway, I've now had definite confirmation from Dermot. Which is nice, and changes absolutely nothing.
The newsletter thudded on to the doormat. Bit bigger than usual. Must be May, I thought.
Ever since I signed up as a semi-professional homosexualist, I've been getting the newsletter, which reminds me of all of the things that I need to know in order to keep my membership, and to allow me to keep Mr Twinky. So I get prewarned about such joys as which commercials Graham Norton is doing a voice-over for this month, or which "men's" magazines are running adverts for bumrazors.
This month we're watching Eurovision. We're not really interested, we don't care who wins, but we have to watch it. The world's longest celebration of mediocrity, with no clear target audience and a voting system that is arcane and almost as long as the contest itself, the Eurovision Song Contest has been hailed by some as being just like Pride but done from the sofa. With wine as anaesthetic.
I can kind of see why there's an attraction to the gayers, in particular to those homosexualists for whom life is enriched by glitter and/or lust. The sort of gay who goes to the bingo on a Sunday, just becuase it's a bit fabulous, and they might make a new "friend". I can't see any reason at all why I would like it.
And yet... I'll be watching. Maybe it's due to my love of sarcasm and dry wit. Or maybe it's just because they'd revoke my membership if I didn't.
I'm not going to write about gay marriage here. I'm not going to write about the difference between the religious concept of marriage and the secular concepts of taxation and legal rights. These are debates and arguments for other people, for other days. I've ranted merrily about this in the past, and regular readers are doubtless bored silly by my views. I know I am.
Today, in Ireland, Bernadette Coleman married Patrick Dunne. They hadn't met before. The whole thing was organised by a radio station. Part of their prize for getting married is a frock, use of a couple of cars for a year, the wedding itself, and a honeymoon in Austria. Dream holiday. With a complete stranger. Could be great, could be a nightmare.
Their prospects can't be great. There's got to be a chance that the whole thing will be annulled by Christmas. There's also a horrible chance that it'll work out, they'll have kids and four years down the line they'll be explaining to a toddler that Mummy won Daddy in a competition.
It can't just be me that thinks that the whole thing is not only stupid, but frivolous and distressing. I used to believe that marriage was not to be entered into lightly, but only
after serious thought. It required sincerity, honesty and mutual respect. Now, it seems, it just requires a call to a premium rate line, answering a few questions correctly and having your name pulled out of a hat.
It all makes Britney Spears look positively responsible.
I must apologise for the circuitous route that my thoughts have taken this week. Last week triggered a lot of nostalgic feelings. In a sense, being in London on my own, and spending time with people who have been my friends for longer than I can comfortably remember took me by surprise, and I found myself thinking in ways that I'd forgotten that I could think.
Thursday with Michael's a bit of a blur, really, but we talked a lot. And we walked a lot. We went shopping on Oxford Street, and laughed at the hairstyles of the young men in Selfridges. Too much hairspray, too much fashion, just far too much.
We wound up - as I had kind of expected we would, in Compton's. We always seem to end up in that part of the city, and to say our goodbyes from there. It's part of the whole nostalgia kick, I suspect. We spent a lot of time in bars in Hong Kong, back in that summer that he wants to go back to visit. We'd stand, we'd talk, we'd bitch about the rest of the customers, confident in the fact that they were bitching about us.
One man caught my eye. Not like that. He was just a businessman, having a drink with a couple of mates - the tall guy with the piercings who had been singing along to Kylie a few minutes earlier, and the short guy in his fifties in the tight denim trousers. He was standing behind Michael, so I couldn't really miss seeing him. The more I looked at him the more familiar he became. He was about my age, he had a familiar accent, and if you were to knock about forty pounds off his weight he looked like he could be Steven.
Except he couldn't be. I'd not heard from Steven, or of Steven for a couple of years, but when I last saw him he was back living in Cornwall. Still with Helen, and his two daughters. It couldn't be him. And also, there was the whole weight thing. Steven was a vain man and would NEVER have let himself go like that. Never. And damn it, Steven was straight. Wasn't he? He used to like to act a bit camp from time to time, but he was straight.
It could have been him. He could have left Helen, he could have been living in London. He could have realised what was going on in his head later on in life - I know that happens from personal experience, after all. Or perhaps he was living a double life. Coming in to London for a business meeting, taking a little walk into Old Compton Street, indulging in forbidden pleasures.
I should say something. I shouldn't say anything. He would recognise me, wouldn't he? And he knows I'm gay, so he wouldn't have to go through the whole dilemma that I'm going through. I'll leave it up to him. And I have to go for my flight, so I've got an escape route if the whole conversation turns awkward. Damn, he's let himself go. A lot. More friends of his arrived. They could be work colleagues. Even Kylie-dancer. He could just be there as a tourist.
It wasn't him. I was just seeing patterns where there weren't any. I was just tired, hung over, excited about getting home. Except it could be. And if it was, then there were so many questions I wanted to ask. Too many questions. So I left it.
At the end of the day, it's completely unimportant. If I could go back to last Thursday, and say something, I wouldn't. If I could go back to University and say something, I wouldn't. I don't believe in dwelling on what might have been. I got on my plane, got home just after ten that night, and spent the rest of the evening sitting on the sofa in the arms of the man who is my future, rather than the memories of my past.
The days of implants and electrodes seem to be firmly in the past, but the days of small mindedness and naivety are still with us. As is often the case, a member of the clergy is suggesting that it is possible to 'cure' homosexuality through psychiatry. It beats forcing them to throw up and lie in their own vomit for 72 hours.
I often wonder about the success rate of converting homosexuals to heterosexuality. I am sceptical about the success. I can believe that there are people who choose to live in denial, and who welcome support for that. I believe that there are people who cannot square off their beliefs about life with their knowledge about themselves, and while I feel sorry for them, I can't really understand them.
I think my main worry is for those heterosexuals - primarily clergy and Christians - who are so insecure about their own sexuality that they believe that it's possible to change it. After all, surely if it is possible for a homosexual to be "cured", it's possible for them to become "infected"?
It's an odd fear. I'm aware of the image of a gay man as predatory, but the idea of actually "recruiting" straight men and converting them seems very odd and largely pointless when there's an ample supply of gay men already.
I'm aware that it's easy for me to say that, as I'm in no doubt about my sexuality. But I was very confused for a long time and it's perceptions like this that retarded my self-acceptance and caused me a lot of unhappiness at the time.
It's almost enough to send me out recruitin'.
The mainstream belief is currently that sexual orientation is hardwired from birth. The Prince of Wales is neither gay nor bisexual.
When I went for my medical before last, there was a question on the form for the GP to fill in that basically said 'Do you have any reason to believe that the man sitting in front of you is a gay homosexualist.'
So the Doctor says to me - I hate these questions. I'm supposed to ask you if you're gay. It's really none of their business.
- Well, say I - Yes, I am a gay, but that's not actually what the question is asking. It just asks if I've made you think I'm gay.
- Oh, well that's okay then. It hadn't even crossed my mind up until that point.
Lifted from Money Marketing.
The ABI's updated code of practice for HIV and insurance is beginning to take shape with its first consultation document published this week.
Last updated in 1997, the statement covers the treatment of applications for life and protection insurance where HIV can be an issue. The ABI has consulted with the insurance industry and groups such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Pink finance.com and is now looking to extend that.
The proposed update includes standard questions for industrywide use in assessing risk levels and supplementary questions to help establish higher or lower-risk levels in specific cases, such as gay men. Assumptions such as using a person's occupation as an indication of their sexuality would be outlawed.
Other proposals include ensuring confidentiality between insurers and applicants, preventing life offices from asking GPs to speculate on risk of infection or non-clinical issues.
One suggestion in the document is that all applicants should be questioned on whether they practice safe sex, to prevent the gay community feeling singled out and to account for the large numbers of heterosexuals also at risk in absolute terms.
Pinkfinance.com editor Chris Morgan says: "These proposed best practice guidelines demonstrate a new level of respect towards gay men from the ABI. The real test of respect towards the gay community will be the attitude of the life insurance companies in the coming weeks as the document passes through consultation."
I find a deep irony in the commercialism of the body spiritual, with all their talk of caucuses and division.
By which I mean the Anglican Church, naturally.
Quick reminder. Gay bishop fiascos. Tolerance and acceptance of the world outside the church versus protectionism of unity within it. Talk of schism. All that sort of stuff.
Putting aside the money aspects of it, the principal concern of those against the ordination of gay bishops seems to rest on the premise that marriage as blessed by God is a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of bearing children. Fantastic. And so what?
Marriage as defined by society is a legal contract with consent implications and tax implications. Nothing to do with God, and everything to do with Mammon.
Surely, part of the solution on the marriage issue is to divorce these two proceedings?
Keep marriage between a man and a woman only, but have it conferring no tax benefits, no rights at all, other than the knowledge that your union is blessed by a God you may or may not believe in. And rename the rest of it. Because like it or not, the Church is no longer the moral guardian of the British people. It works for some. For others it is an anachronism. For others it is an alternative religion.
The Church cannot, by definition, recognise British multiculturalism. The state, however, cannot ignore it.
I've strayed away from the gay bishop thing, though. The point was this. The Bible may well say that homosexuality is an evil abberation (through some euphemism about lying down). It also says :
All of which are just as open to interpretation, obviously.
May 1 was originally called "GayDay", until that noted homophobe Pope Innocent XXIII changed it to Mayday in 1203. In the Julian Calendar it's still known as GayDay, and so, for that matter, is Julian.
There was an attempt to reverse this change by the next Pope, Agnetha XIV, a flamboyant aesthete. However, there were so many complaints about His Holiness taking late-night confession from choirboys that he was subjected to Inquisition, tortured with lesbian porn, and demoted to Master of the Papal Vestments. Mayday remains unchanged to this day.
It seems that a lot of sentiment on the web these days is that 'Pride is okay, it's just not for me, really'. I can see where these people are coming from; I'm one of them myself, after all. But there's another side to this that needs to be mentioned. There was a time when Pride was much more relevant, much more about making the 'community' visible, and raising awareness. And that's largely been achieved. Most people know we're here, know we're queer, are used to it, and are slightly bemused by the fact that we feel a need to wave flags and dress up in lame knickers and feather boas just to prove it. And you know what, that's great.
So, it's not that I don't appreciate the fight from those who came before me. I owe them a hell of a lot. It's just that I don't really feel the same need to raise awareness or show solidarity.
The organisers of some of the larger Pride festivals have taken it upon themselves to rebrand and refocus, to become more Mardi Gras than Activism. And that's great, but it seems a recognition of the strange void that Pride is now falling into. And the reason for that...?
I'm going to sum it up by saying that I'm not a good homosexual. I don't go out clubbing every Friday. I don't obsess over looking good in front of people who are never going to judge me on my personality. I don't wear leather, have a pencil moustache, or dress in drag - ever. I don't have feminine affectations, or say 'hark at her' on a regular basis. I allow myself to have friends of all genders and sexual tastes, and I wouldn't tell anyone who identified as bisexual that 'you must be fooling yourself'. Good homosexuals are a narrow band. They're not the majority, but they're louder, and more visible. I grew up through the heyday of pride, and a lot of the legal and social freedoms that I now enjoy are a result of it. But it portrays a biased view of homosexuality, and one that I would be lying if I said I was comfortable with.
And the thing is, I know that I could be wrong entirely. I wasn't there, even to watch. I've avoided these things for so long, that everything could have changed, and it could be as simple as a bunch of people walking along the road. Short people, tall people, thin people, fat people, people who you wouldn't look at twice in the street. Because while it's nice to look at a troop of gym bunnies marching along twirling batons, and wearing nothing but gold hot pants, that ain't me.
Gay Society. Kind of a contradiction in terms. And trying to find 'gay society' that isn't your bog-standard 'scene queens and keen teens' is like trying to find hen's teeth. Maybe marginally easier.
If you're looking for "gay society" that's not the horrendous stereotype, then you've got two options. Either move yourself to a major international cities, where there's room for much more diversity, an alternative to alternative, or hunt more carefully where you are.
The bulk of commercial public 'gay society' remains the decadent slutty stereotypical society. The important thing there is commercial. It makes money to offer an environment where people can get drunk and get off. I've seen this everywhere I've lived in the last five years.
To get away from that, you're really moving into sort of sensible territory, spending time in places and company that aren't particularly 'gay' in themselves. There's a mental link that needs to be broken between assuming that just because a bar isn't a gay bar it must be a straight bar. Balls. The bulk of 'gay society' happens beyond the 'gay scene'. And I like it that way.
I don't drink in gay bars, with the occasional exception of an odd drink in the Front Lounge, mainly because they're meat markets, pure and simple. That's true no matter where you are, from Dublin to San Francisco to Hong Kong.
Dublin's got a good side, in terms of tolerance. I've found Dublin to be generally very accepting of my sexuality, in particular dealings with lawyers, estate agents and banks, where I've had to talk about 'my partner' and there's been no assumption that I meant my wife. That's a really nice touch.
I'll stay here for a bit.
I was stunned this morning. As I walked to work, for a period of about five minutes I was following a beautiful arse. My eyes were locked on it. I must have looked like a little puppy dog, abandoned by his owner but still faithfully following, largely due to the magnetic attraction of this bum.
I think what made it more attractive was that its owner certainly knew it was an attractive bum, and was showing it off to its best. However, I have a suspicion. You see, some bums look great and then, when you grab them, your fingers sort of sink in, horribly. They're all soft and squishy, rather than firm and nice. I bet his was like that.
When you're in your thirties, your school days feel very distant. It's only the memorable things that you remember, like the day that the roof blew off one of the buildings, or the embarrasing time that you gave a humorous presentation where nobody laughed.
I had fun at school. I'm not going to deny that. But I was never popular. I wanted to be. I wanted to be famous as a wit, I think, given that I was never going to be famous as a sportsman, or as 'one of the lads'. I found my niche through being musical, or knowing something about computers, or helping out in the library. But I was bullied for most of my time at school, and a large part of that was to do with sexuality.
Even before I knew that I was gay, or might even be curious, I knew that homosexuality was a joke tag used by schoolboys to humiliate other schoolboys. Being gay was a "bad thing", and so I was determined not to be gay. When quizzed about my sexual history by my peers (aged 14), I lied. Badly. I invented a one night stand with a friend of a relative from another town. Something untraceable. But blatantly false.
When changing after gym and hearing someone shout "Look at the size of that cock," my head turned automatically. I can still feel the embarrasment caused by the laughter of my peers. They'd caught me. I was gay. But back then, I didn't allow myself to be gay. It had to be a natural curiosity, nothing more. I retreated even further from the rest of my generation.
But, I had friends. I'm not going to deny that. A lot of the time was great. I formed some close friendships. And I even had a crush. And when that crush decided that he wanted to move on and reclaim his own life (for whatever reasons - I couldn't actually find out), I was gutted. I wrote bad adolescent angst poetry about it - my first case of changing genders of individuals to hide the truth.
Because back then, I cared about what my peers thought.
Well. I should have written about this on Friday, but for some reason I decided to lounge around on the sofa and eat green curry instead. In fact, I've now almost forgotten about it, which says something.
I came out to a work colleague on Friday.
Now, that's not a big deal in itself, really. A few know already. Principally people who it was important to tell, or people like my former tenant, who is gay himself. And I told my HR department a couple of weeks ago, and bless their cotton socks, they didn't bat an eyelid. I know that these people have told some other people, with my permission. But Friday was the first time I used the words 'well, actually...' to someone I work with. Face to face. In a pub. She was slightly drunk, I was completely sober.
And - no surprises - it went very well. She was hugely apologetic, and worried that she'd made me feel awkward at any point in the past, and then she got most of the history of my love life out of me. Hopefully she'll spread gossip, because it takes a lot of effort to get up the nerve to come out to anyone who has presumed you're straight - no matter how confident you are of their reactions.
But when I walked home, I walked on air.
I'm not a political creature, in general. I know what I like, I know what makes me comfortable, but at the same time I realise that I'm not the only person in the world. I'm prepared to believe that as far as economic and welfare policy goes, there are no easy answers that suit everyone, and hence they're matters worthy of being in the political arena.
I just thought that I would mention that, as there is an area of legislation that I feel I could get involved in, perhaps even by accident. I can see myself taking a stand on gay rights, probably extending to issues involved with common-law marriage and other forms of co-habitation, as the bulk of issues are the same. There are a few reasons why I keep thinking that I should get involved in this. First off is of course self interest. The more I become comfortable and established in my lifestyle, the more I am aware that the status of my relationship in the eyes of the law is very much a second-rate status, a nod and a wink and say no more about it.
I'm also very aware of the fact that I have a lot more freedom to express my relationship than I would have done had I been born twenty or thirty years earlier. People fought for that. I appreciate the work that they did. So don't I owe it to them to carry it on?
Ultimately, though, I don't believe that sexuality should be a political issue. It's not the role of the state to be a guardian of morality. If it was, then every politician would be a paragon of virtue. And not only is that patently untrue, it's almost impossible to define. Ultimately, what I do in my bedroom doesn't impact on your life (unless you're in there with me, or watching on close circuit television, which would be kind of creepy). I'm not destroying the fabric of society. I'm not trying to undermine marriage or promote the breakdown of the great British Empire. All I want is for the law to reflect my domestic circumstances over issues like inheritance, pension funds, that sort of nonsense.
I firmly believe in this. Admittedly mainly for personal reasons, but nonetheless, there needs to be some sort of recognition of gay relationships in the context of other common law relationships. I'm currently critically aware of this because of the whole house buying situation, and the fact that Mr Twinky's life and mine are now so tortuously intertwined that the sudden loss of either of us would leave a mess of loose ends flapping in the wind.
I'm not after ceremony, not after the pomp and rigmarole of a marriage. I don't want God's blessing on our union, although if He wishes to give it I will accept it gracefully. But the state should not be in a position where it must devalue any relationship.
I think that on Friday night, I discovered the relatively gentle end of a side to gay life that I hadn't really imagined. The London night club scene.
I'm informed that the place we went to was the more gentle end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, I was astonished by the amount of flesh on display compared to say, Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, if someone takes their shirt off in a club, then most people laugh...
There's an understandable row over a sexual orientation study that states that research "shows some people can change from gay to straight, and we ought to acknowledge that." Apart from the fact that I have to worry about people who want to study the issue in the first place, and apart from the fact that money would be better spent investigating why anyone would want to do this, there are some very dodgy conclusions here.
It seems like a lot of work to change people's sexual orientation. Not dissimilar to brainwashing, I suspect. Of course it is easy to corrupt innocent heterosexuals and convert them the other way. But I don't think that anyone has done studies on that, just made up a few slogans.
In my experience, the men I know who have 'turned gay' later in life almost all tell stories about how they've actually been gay all along, and just not realised for a variety of reasons, mainly to do with peer pressure, and the misrepresentation of homosexual men in the media. No miraculous conversions, just moments of clarity that bring whole lives in to focus.