When I worked on the problem page at Woman’s Own, I was astonished at the number of letters that came from women who had discovered, sometimes after decades of marriage and several children, that their husbands were gay. Often they were in a state of profound shock, insisting that they had never had any suspicion about their spouse’s secret inclinations.
Judging by the number of times this particular problem still crops up in agony columns, there has been little change over the years. The Sunday Mirror’s doctor, Mark Porter (who has taken over from the late, lamented Marje Proops), was proffering advice to a “secret gay afraid to tell his bride-to-be” (November 24th). Then Deirdre Sanders on The Sun heard from a woman who had discovered that her fiance “admitted a gay fling with another man two years before we met” (November 21st) and wondered whether it indicated a poor prognosis for their intended marriage.
Of course, we’ve recently had a very high-profile example of a gay man who didn’t come out until after the marriage vows had been taken. When Michael Barrymore proclaimed his homosexuality, he left his wife Cheryl, but eventually returned to her. And that’s the other thing I found out about mixed marriages (one gay spouse, one straight): people can be incredibly accommodating to new circumstances. Friendships blossom where once there had been resentment, companionship continues, even though sex doesn’t. So, when a gay man marries a straight woman, it doesn’t inevitably spell disaster. (Interestingly, The Sunday Mirror has started a feature on making anagrams from famous people’s names. “Michael Barrymore”, they discovered, rejigs as “I’m a merry bachelor”.)
But what about those wives whose husbands are dogged by rumours of homosexuality? How certain can she be when she is required to pooh-pooh these speculations?
There seemed to be little doubt in the mind of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of Klosters. Her husband Prince Andrew’s sexuality has been the subject of rumours for years now. And not just within the gay community. Giving interviews on US television, promoting her so-called autobiography, it seemed inevitable that Fergie would find herself quizzed on the topic. And so it came to pass when she appeared on The Diane Sawyer Show. “Because the Prince has not been seen with other women, therefore he must be gay?” asked the chat show hostess bluntly. “Oh right, yeah,” replied Fergie, “I really love that. There’s absolutely no chance he can be gay. A lot of people believe that’s true – and it is categorically not true.”
The following day her remarks appeared on the front page of The Daily Star (November 14th) as: “I Know Andy’s No Pansy” (with a strange sub-heading “Ooh, aah, he’s no Brendaah”). Inside, the paper continued to phrase its headlines in this curious, football terrace-style language. “Andy’s Too Randy to be a Dandy”. The paper insisted that he had been “linked with lovelies” such as Koo Stark and lots of others who you’ve never heard of. And to categorically prove that he is heterosexual, The Star said that the Prince “once famously revealed his crown jewels by whipping off his swimming trunks in front of three girls.”
The rumours about Andrew had begun, said the paper, when his wife took an HIV test in 1986. Buckingham Palace was forced to issue a denial that the Prince was HIV-positive after rumour circulated on the Internet. The Daily Star says: “It sparked the rumours about Andrew’s sexuality and newspapers – including The Daily Star – began to receive tip-offs from people claiming to have evidence about the Prince’s private life. Some, claiming to be highly placed, said the Palace would announce that Andrew had a serious illness. Others said they had solid information that he was gay.” None of this seems to have yet come to pass, but there was a particularly fetching picture of the Prince judging a drag competition aboard his ship in The Daily Mirror.
Another public figure who has been similarly hounded with persistent rumours about his sexuality is Peter Lilley, the Social Security Secretary. He also found his wife coming to his defence in an interview with Hello! magazine. Foolishly rising to the question “People have said that Peter is gay. Does that upset you?” Gail Lilley said: “I’ve heard the rumours about Peter, but there’s nobody less remotely gay than my husband. That’s the funniest thing yet because I know it’s not true I just think it’s silly and I laugh.” She agreed that the rumours were probably a spin-off from the fact that he is childless.
There was alarm in the Tory party at Mrs Lilley’s undiplomatic blabbing, and Carole Sarler in The People (November 24th) commented: “Senior party figures are apparently alarmed by Mrs Lilley’s unwise remarks, fearing that to even address the issue is to make people feel that there is no smoke without fire. Besides, says one anxious Tory grandee, this could now ‘become the latest fodder for the comedians scripts’. He need not worry that anything is about to change for the worse. In the comedy clubs that I frequent, the comics have been making merry with this rumour for more years than I can remember.”
Indeed, The Sunday Telegraph’s weekly “Table Talk” feature (“the week’s news – as digested at a dinner party near you”) said that “jumping firmly on the bandwagon, Dinner Party wives publicly declare their husbands to be straight as dice. As is usually the case with such unprompted declarations, the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” (Next week no doubt the Sunday Mirror’s anagram editor will realise that “Rt Honourable Peter Lilley” can, coincidentally, be rearranged into… no, I’d better let you work this one out.)
Another politician who round himself in a similar position once was Jeremy Thorpe. His tragic tale was rehashed by Channel 4 in its Secret Lives programme on November 18th. The Independent also took up the tale in its November 13th edition, telling the story of the once-influential politician who had become embroiled in a homosexual affair with an unstable young man who then tried to bring him down. The affair with Norman Scott began in 1961, but Mr Thorpe didn’t marry his second wife until 1973. Was she aware of his homosexual romps? Perhaps we should send a reporter from Hello! round to find out. Whether she did or not, Thorpe managed a very effective cover-up of his secret gay life for many years.
Perhaps there is a lesson for modern-day politicians somewhere in here: closetry — which is a particularly nasty form of lying because it harms other gay people by perpetuating the myth that homosexuality is shameful and must be denied — can bring terrible consequences when you’re eventually found out. It is also a form of wife-abuse.
I wouldn’t have thought it was so bad for pop stars, though. All the same, George Michael can’t bring himself to say one way or the other. In an interview with The Big Issue magazine (ripped off by The Sun before the magazine hit the streets), Mr Michael comes over as monstrously narcissistic and self-regarding man. (Indeed, “George Michael, singer” is an anagram for “G: him sincere large ego”.) However, the part of the interview that interested the tabloids was the bit about his sexuality. As The Sunday Express (or, as we now have to call it The Express: Sunday) put it: “To be gay or not to be gay? That is the question which George Michael cannot answer.” Or will not. “I think everything about me has always been ambiguous,” said the great artiste. “Although my sexuality hasn’t always been completely clear to me, it was never a moral question. I’ve never thought of my sexuality as being right or wrong. To me it has always been about finding the right person. The only moral involved in sex is whether it’s consenting or not… Anyway, who really cares whether I’m gay or straight? Do they really think they’ve got a serious chance of shagging me or something?”
Boy George, forever a thorn in Mr Michael’s apparently much-desired flesh, threw out this challenge to the great sex symbol in his column in The Daily Express: “George says he has nothing to hide and that he has never considered his mysterious sexuality to be wrong. If that’s the case, then why can’t he get it past his lips?”
Mr Michael explains that his obfuscation about the gender of his preferred bed partners is really a career consideration. If he can maintain the ambiguity about his sexuality he can fascinate both men and women, and then everybody is happy. Except those of us who find him absolutely repellent, of course.
And still in the mad world of pop, we return to Michael Jackson who has, since we last communicated, been married and separated again. “Is there anything Michael Jackson won’t do to make us think he’s normal?” asked The Express when the marriage to Debbie Rowe was announced. The paper cast doubts on the veracity of Mr Jackson’s intentions when we were informed that Ms Rowe was carrying his child. “Is the man this desperate or are we being unfair?” asked Jane Warren, the Express’s reporter. “Could it be that he has a genuine desire to be linked in the eyes of God to the mother of his child? The only comment I can offer is: watch this space.”
Well, we did watch that space and within days it was announced that the two were separating. “Michael Jackson’s pregnant bride issued an amazing statement last night,” reported The Sun, “declaring: ‘I’m not a lesbian.” Apparently she felt bound to make the statement after American reporters started to raise doubts about her heterosexuality. Her attorney said: “It is beyond the bounds of decency to suggest anything like this. There is absolutely no truth whatsoever.”
Oh, and just another little note for the anagram editor of The Sunday Mirror. Did you know that “Michael Portillo, as MP” makes “I’m a male trollop, chaps.” And “Prime Minister John Major” comes out as “Ja, strip John, I rim more men”.
Interesting, isn’t it?
QUOTES OF THE MONTH:
The new-look Daily Express, desperate to attract new readers, seems still to be attractive to the old-style ones, if this reader’s letter is anything to go by. One Geoffrey Lindley from Dorset wrote in calling for a ban on the sale of mistletoe. “Bearing in mind the current Aids epidemic,” he reasoned, “it is highly irresponsible for anyone to sell merchandise that encourages people to act in a debauched and immoral fashion. The habit of kissing beneath the mistletoe is not simply an innocent act and often encourages intoxicated folk to indulge in casual sex.” We’ve obviously been going to the wrong parties…
George Michael comes out. Well, no, not really. His world exclusive interview with The Big Issue magazine was a masterpiece of studied ambiguity. “My sexuality is no one’s fucking business,” he declares, reasonably enough, before talking about it at length. “Even though my sexuality hasn’t always been clear to me,” he waffles on, “it was never a moral question. I’ve never thought of my sexuality as being right or wrong. I’ve wondered what my sexuality might be but I’ve never wondered whether it was acceptable or not to me…” That’s quite enough, thanks George. Don’t call us…
Jane Seymour’s TV son has been caught snogging another man. A picture in The Daily Mirror showed Chad Allen, who plays Seymour’s son in Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, “smooching in a swimming pool with a man.” A “startled” onlooker at a “lavish Hollywood party” said: “Chad suddenly put his arm around Jason and kissed him… [they] could not stop kissing and touching.” Chad will not be surprised to learn that he has been dumped by his girlfriend.
They’ll get you innuendo. Derek Laud, prospective Tory candidate for Tottenham (where he faces the impossible task of unseating Bernie Grant), is black. He is also, The Observer wants us to know, a close friend of former Tory MP, Harvey Proctor, “who was forced to resign his seat in 1987 after admitting gross indecency with rent boys.” And he’s close to gay Tory MP, Michael Brown, “with whom, it was reported, Laud shared a home and for whom he worked as a research assistant.” And? Oh yes, Derek Laud is “a confirmed bachelor”. Which means, presumably, he will never marry…