Do yourself a favour, Peter

Mandelson cannot be described as out because he will not utter those precious words `Yes, I am'

POSSIBLY THE least interesting thing about Peter Mandelson is his sexuality. I say possibly because we just don't know, do we? Mandelson will neither deny or confirm rumours that he is gay, yet newspapers feel free to say that they know for a fact that he is. The outing of Mandy and the sympathetic treatment given to him by The Sun is the bizarre by- product of the magical mystery tour that Ron Davies took in darkest Clapham. Matthew Parris, a former Tory MP who has since "come out" not only as a homosexual but a wonderful observer of political life, deliberately "outed" Mandelson on a discussion on Newsnight.

For once that truth-seeking missile Jeremy Paxman was not keen to know the truth. Parris has since been described as "sad and bitter" because he could not be openly gay and an MP. This is absolute rubbish as Parris has far more influence now through the media than he ever would have had as a backbencher. What's more the manner in which Parris talked about Mandelson was not so much a militant outing as the kind of conversation that is had by the media, by lobby correspondents, around certain dinner tables every day of the week. Parris presumed to know and presumed that everyone else knew too. This is the way that Mandelson's sexuality has long been discussed.

This position, half in and half out of the closet, is far harder to understand and I should imagine more stressful to live with than either keeping the closet door firmly shut or declaring oneself openly gay. It certainly causes a lot of muddle-headed thinking. For a start there is the terminology itself. How many times I wonder can you be outed and still be In?

Three strikes and you're clearly not out. Mandelson has so far been outed by the News of the World, by Brian Gould, by Edwina Currie, by Oliver James, by The Sun and yet he cannot properly be described as out because he will not utter those precious three words "Yes, I am".

Even more farcical than this, however, people are now turning themselves inside out to tell us that this minister's sexuality is none of our business. "Outing" per se is frowned upon by everyone as something distasteful that only militant homosexual groups led by the likes of Peter Tatchell get up to. I also find this laughable as half the business these days of the popular press involves some sort of "outing". Public figures even in the form of B-list celebrities are hounded until they admit that they are gay or have taken drugs or have a mistress or eating disorder. This, of course, is not called outing but investigative journalism.

The liberal press on the other hand dislikes outing because it maintains it is a gross invasion of privacy. There are many things wrong with outing yet no one seems prepared to put the whole issue into any kind of context. The phenomenon of outing was largely a response to the Aids epidemic. The activist slogan "Silence = Death" was taken literally. It was considered important that the public knew that certain public figures were gay so that homosexuals could not be so easily marginalised.

The process of coming out has become a gay passage of rites, something that heterosexuals never have to got through. It still requires immense bravery and all sorts of people are still rejected by their families and colleagues just because they decide to tell the truth about their sexuality.

Many who profess a belief in equality say that this is a little more information than they need or they complain about the flaunting of homosexuality because they take for granted the heterosexual privilege whereby heterosexuality appears transparent because it is everywhere around us. No one accuses straight people of parading their heterosexuality but that is exactly what happens all the time so that while heterosexuality is public, homosexuality is still seen as an essentially private affair.

While we may congratulate ourselves on more liberal attitudes to homosexuality - and indeed The Sun has made a vast leap forward this week - we should also ask ourselves how such changes come about. Straight people, even those who work at The Sun, do not just turn from raving homophobes to caring, sharing, live-and-let-live liberals overnight do they? No. Prejudice turns to tolerance because many have struggled long and hard to change our perceptions.

All those, over years, who have campaigned for gay rights, for an end to discrimination at work, for equality of the age of consent, all those who have sat up half the night counselling suicidal gay teenagers, or those who have confronted queerbashers, in fact all those ordinary gay people who despite the difficulties have not hidden their sexuality, even if it meant having to leave their homes and families, these are the people who have made a difference.

So too have the public figures who have one by one come out and then gone back to work. We now live in a culture where Lily Savage and Dale Winton are hosts of our most mainstream shows, where camp is an aesthetic that dominates even children's TV, where the reaction to an announcement of same-sex preference is often "We already knew" or "So what?"

Indeed, if Mandelson told us what we already presume to know, the response would be a huge So what? Yet his refusal to come out in some way places him above the struggle. To reap the benefits of a more open society without being open yourself does strike me as somewhat hypocritical. As a master manipulator one feels that this is a case where he has actually mis-read the signals, and that even for a politician honesty may indeed be the best policy.

The counter-argument - that heterosexuals do not have to discuss their private lives so nor should gay people - no longer holds up. At every available photo-opportunity Tony Blair flaunts his sexual preference, shoving his heterosexuality down our throats with pictures of Cherie and the kids. Indeed both William Hague and Gordon Brown have had to quash the rumours about them with visual evidence of heterosexual desire in the shapely forms of Ffion and Sarah.

On the whole, though, we don't really mind what kind of sex public figures have as long as they have it. We are far more perturbed by those who present themselves as asexual such as Ted Heath and Ann Widdecombe. Now if Peter Mandelson were to announce to the world that he really couldn't be bothered with sex of any kind that would be newsworthy.

Yet I cannot say, as others have, that Mandelson would be personally happier if he came out. I cannot say that "the gay community", whatever that is, would embrace him. I cannot say that despite a more tolerant climate some would not say and do nasty things. All I can say for sure is that by not coming out he is not keeping his private life private but he is in fact provoking an extraordinary amount of interest in it.

Matthew Parris has been called "attention-seeking" by Downing Street, yet I can think of no better way of getting attention than Mandelson's strategy of avoiding the issue. If homosexuality were truly accepted then this would be fine - his private life would be private - but we are some way off from that. He is acting as if equality has already been achieved, but it hasn't and nor will it be until there is no shame and stigma attached to being gay.

He is a powerful man who could do much towards ending discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation simply by being honest. That surely would be in the public interest as well as his own because then he could truly left to be get on with his private life.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game