Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

In or out or gay or not: Are we really bothered?

Australia's Channel 10 rattled and fizzed with trailers promising news about swimmer Ian Thorpe's sexuality
Australia's Channel 10 rattled and fizzed with trailers promising news about swimmer Ian Thorpe's sexuality

Sometimes you only realise how far you've travelled when you turn around and see the distance behind. This felt true this week as Australia's Channel 10 rattled and fizzed with trailers promising news about swimmer Ian Thorpe's sexuality.

Don't you dare miss it. Earth-shattering news about Ian Thorpe's sexual preference on the way. He could, perhaps, be gay.

To our eyes, it felt quaintly yesteryear. A previous time, not too long ago, but certainly the past, where gay was something that needed a frank and formal explanation.

I am frequently proud to be British, but it felt amplified trying to imagine Thorpe's 'secret' upstaging any other segment on The Graham Norton Show. "I've had sexual feelings for a man," Thorpe could shout, while Joan Rivers walloped Will Young over the head and Louie Spence gazed on doing high kicks.

I'm not so blinkered as to claim Britain has left homophobia behind, but there's been a hulking shift in how bothered we are by whose bedroom floor one leaves one's pants on.

Yet, increasingly, I feel the next stage for 'civilised' Britons will be to accept that for millions of human beings 'sexuality' is such a fluid, ever-fluttering concept that there's no point in these public declarations of 'out' or 'in'.

In Thorpe's case, for example, he had been seen with a string of girlfriends, been "dogged by gay rumours", has been in rehabilitation for depression and now wants to speak candidly.

At the moment, rational, liberal thought still seems to say, "Look, we're totally fine if you're gay, but can you just be 100% gay, or at least openly identify yourself as bisexual", so we can write 'the openly bisexual star' beside your quotes to spice things up?"

I'd also beg for special clemency for the people who are roaringly, blatantly one sexuality, but won't talk about it, often for the most obscure personal reason.

"But why won't that celebrity admit they like women or men? They have a duty to on behalf of anyone else on earth less privileged who feels similarly." Good Lord, what pressure? Trapped in a personally made prison, with the human race demanding you be a poster boy and role model.

My rule of thumb with being in the closet is, as long as you're not spending Sundays thumping a Bible about Sodom, or weekdays in the Commons reducing LGBT funding, I'll respectfully await your return ticket from Narnia – if, and not when, it comes.

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