It was Nicholas de Jongh, theatre critic of The London Evening Standard, who kept the “outing” pot boiling this month, with a revelation that was deeply satisfying to those of us who want vengeance on the hypocrites who hurt innocent gay people.
The subject of the outing, John Osborne, the playwright, was, unfortunately, dead and so could not be made to squirm for his sins. Immediately after Osborne popped it, de Jongh observed that the playwright’s homophobia was so vicious and spiteful that it probably represented a classic case of repressed homosexuality. One of Mr de Jongh’s columnist colleagues on The Standard immediately objected to the theory. She said it was unfair to assume that those who voiced strong anti-homosexual sentiments were hiding their own gay feelings. Any denial, she said, just seemed to reinforce the accusation. Undaunted by this criticism, Nicholas tracked down Anthony Creighton, an actor who claimed to have been Osborne’s lover for many years, both before and during his first two marriages. The subsequent interview occupied two pages in The Standard (January 24th) and contained documentary evidence of Osborne’s abiding love for “Mouse” (as he nicknamed the diminutive Creighton).
Here we have John Osborne, the man who had written so extensively and contemptuously about “fairies” and “poofs” turning out to be one himself. The anti-gay lobby in the press must be quaking in their boots at the thought of which other of their cronies might be carrying an invisible closet on their back. It also gave the opportunity for Osborne’s enemies to get back at him. “Johnnie was an actor with a big chip on his shoulder, who could turn a few fine phrases. And he knew a good act when he found it. Bless him. But angry? Butch? Forget it dears. He was just a silly old tart,” wrote Peter Tory in The Daily Express (January 21st).
Lynda Lee-Potter in The Daily Mail (January 27th) rushed to interview Osborne’s last wife, Helen, who told touching tales of the playwright’s final years and exclaimed of the Creighton claims: “It’s absolute tosh. There’s no truth in it whatsoever. He was not John’s lover and hadn’t seen John for more than 30 years. He’s just a pathetic old man.”
Petronella Wyatt, writing in The Sunday Telegraph (January 29th) had the answer to that one: “Miss Lane seems to think that a homosexual affair is like a heterosexual one. Or at least that it is as easy to tell when your husband is having sex with a man as it is when he is having sex with another woman. But that cannot be the case, even when the wife and the husband and the `other man’ are living in close proximity.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (January 28th) also found it hard to accept that Osborne was a “nancy boy”, but he said that it was inevitable that his oeuvre would now be “ransacked for give-away hints”. Nightingale said that if Osborne had, in his plays, “translated homosexuality into straight terms” he wouldn’t have been the first to do so. He tells of Terence Rattigan writing The Deep Blue Sea after a former male lover committed suicide. Because of the law and theatrical censorship Rattigan eventually transformed the lover into a judge’s wife in despair at her failing affair with a young pilot. He also comments that Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is seen as a “camouflaged account of [Wilde’s] own double life” with its telling talk of “Bunburying”. Noel Coward, too, hid camp sensibility in many of his ostensibly heterosexual plays.
Adding to the fun, Tom Lubbock, The Observer’s radio critic, even detected a gay sub-text in One Foot in the Grave. “What puzzles me about this symbol of true-British grumpiness,” he said “and what seems to escape the notice of both the audiences and the other characters, is that Victor Meldrew is surely, obviously, ‘wife’ not withstanding, an outrageous old queen. No?”
Despite the understandable resistance to the news from some quarters, it is generally accepted that Nicholas de Jongh’s initial assessment of Osborne was correct. As Chrissy lley put it in The Sunday Times (January 29th): “Osborne’s prurient fascination with homosexuals, yet outward show of loathing for them, was a classic projection — away from himself, by reviling other people. He found most disturbing in others what he found most disgusting in himself.”
Which brings us to another outing-related topic, that of the Bishop of Portsmouth, one of those named in the OutRage! action last November. The Right Reverend Timothy Bavin has decided to resign his post and join an order of monks. He says, rather unconvincingly, that his decision has nothing to do with his outing. In The Daily Telegraph (January 31st) David Allison of OutRage! is quoted as saying “Instead of deciding to spend more time with his God, it would be far better for the bishop to remain in the Church and help win acceptance for gay clergy. His decision gives comfort to all those who want to drive homosexual clergy out of the church.”
Many of us consider the Bishop’s decision weak and cowardly. It seems even more so when set against the decision of the Reverend Simon Bailey, a young parish priest in Dinnington near Sheffield, who is staying resolutely at his post despite the fact that he is gay and has Aids. He was the subject of a recent Everyman TV programme and his story was also told by his sister, Rosemary, in The Independent on Sunday (January 15th). His decision must have been a hard one, but he says that he was determined not to take the easy way out: “The obvious answer is to resign, so that all the issues would go away. But, of course, they wouldn’t. They remain here and they remain in the church. The church’s reaction is usually to resign and go away. I’d really rather face the issues.”
And in the unlikely setting of a Yorkshire pit village homosexuality and Aids have been brought to the community and, despite expectations, the parishioners have responded admirably. But they responded admirably only because they were not relieved of the obligation to do so. By backing down and running away, Bishop Bavin has let the Anglican homophobes off the hook.
Before leaving the issue of outing (which I imagine will flare again quite soon if Peter Tatchell’s threat to “assist” a few MPs from their closet is carried out), we may once more see examples of that strange double standard that the press specialises in. Every newspaper in the land, without exception, condemns outing. “Homosexual terrorism” they call it. “Spiteful witch-hunting” they call it. That’s when OutRage! does it. But what are we to make of the front pages of The Sun and The Daily Mirror (January 19th) which both ran the headline: “Peter Lilley Nephew is Dying of Aids”. Or The People and the News of the World (February 5th) which announced on their front pages “Gay peer dying of Aids”.
Is this not outing par excellence? How come we don’t have thunderingly righteous editorials in The Times about “tabloid terrorism” or The Guardian lecturing us about “persecution by periodical”? Oh, but of course I forgot, when Fleet Street does it, it isn’t outing, it’s “investigative journalism”.
The Daily Express (January 17th) published an ICM opinion poll to find out how attitudes to “sex and life” had changed in the years between 1969 and 1995. The same questions were asked this year as were asked 25 years ago. One of them was “How do you feel about people who fall in love with members of their own sex?” In 1969 24% said “revulsion and disgust” while in 1995, 54% said “tolerance”. To the question “Have you ever felt any attraction towards a person of your own sex?” 12% answered yes in 1995, while in 1969 only 2% had answered in the affirmative.
Meanwhile, another ICM poll on a similar topic, this time for The Sunday Mirror (February 5th), revealed that 11% of men and 10% of women “fantasise about making love to a member of the same sex”.
Then The Independent (January 23rd) told us that a Mintel survey had found that “61% of 16-24 year olds feel homosexuality was acceptable compared with 48% in 1989.”
Progress, it seems, is slow but sure.
Natalie Wilson and her partner Denise are now probably the most famous lesbian mothers in Britain. For some reason, probably financial, they took the story of their baby (achieved with the help of artificial insemination and a gay male friend) to The Sun. When the baby was born, the paper returned to do a follow up and this was duly published on January 18th. The women appear to have co-operated quite happily with the paper and the report was, in the main, factual.
But if these women thought that by giving their story voluntarily to a tabloid they could somehow keep control of it and preserve their dignity, they were sadly mistaken. “It is a grotesque parody of decent family life,” thundered a Sun editorial over the page from the photograph of the happy couple and their baby Ellesse. “A child cannot flourish emotionally and spiritually in a home where the bedroom is shared by two women (or two men, for that matter). That is not what Nature intended.”
And what of the gay man who provided the sperm that made the whole thing possible? It seems he chose to give his version of the tale to The People. The resulting feature (January 22nd) had a photograph stretched across the front page of “outrageous Silvio Gigante” in full make-up and wearing some kind of dish cloth round his waist. “What a tosser!” was the charming accompanying headline. So, was The People any more sympathetic to this naive trio? “Wherever possible children should have a mother AND a father, which is the family unit nature intended. To come into the world via a yoghurt pot and syringe with the help of a gay man is not natural.”
The Daily Mail (January 18th) chose to emphasise the fact that the women were both out of work and living on benefits (and, presumably, the occasional hand-out from News International). They also brought the Jesus-in-jackboots brigade goose-stepping out to comment. General Synod member Rev David Holloway said: “Some children born this way resent their mother’s lover as they grow up. Others are tempted to turn to homosexuality because of the role models they are given.” (The fact that every study ever conducted into this phenomenon has proved the opposite to be true is of no interest to Holloway or his ilk.)
Mary Kenny, on the other hand (Daily Mail January 23rd) thought that far from causing an affront to “family values”, the women were actually paying them a compliment. By aping the traditional concept of “Just honey and me/ and baby makes three,” Denise and Natalie were demonstrating “an historic rejection of ‘gay values’”. She says: “Today, the trend among self-declared homosexuals… is the yearning to be ordinary, respectable, even suburban — to be seen as ‘normal’ and in so many cases to share in the most acceptable way of everyday family life, complete with children. In that sense, the yearning for ordinariness is part of the rejection of the exotic difference of ‘traditional’ homosexuality.”
You’ve got to give Mary Kenny some credit for her amazing capacity for self-deception. Either that, or her ingenuity in taking the needs of some gay people and presenting them as a total sea-change in homosexuality. Given that her audience (Daily Mail and Sunday Telegraph) is, for the large part, totally ignorant and uninformed about homosexual lifestyles anyway, she is unlikely to be contradicted, however barmy her theories. Ms Kenny is, of course, a fanatical Roman Catholic, and this shines through in everything she writes. It does mean, however, that if the truth doesn’t correspond with her beliefs, then that truth is not true and has to be subjugated. I can’t make my mind up whether she is a ruthlessly clever propagandist or just pathetically deluded.