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
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
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.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific