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
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
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.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea