When anti-gay bigotry is just another lock on the closet

Is it surprising that those obsessed with gay sex may have a fondness for men?

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Being gay is now apparently so fashionable, even homophobes want a piece of the action.

The latest esteemed recruit to the now cliched 'bigot-partial-to-a-bit-of-man-on-man-romping' club is Alan Chambers, the head of Exodus International. He led this grouping of 260 churches which preyed on vulnerable people – ironic, given that’s what homophobes think gay men do – by offering them pseudo-therapy to “turn” them straight. Chambers’ quacks exploited the feelings of guilt and shame that torment some gay men, a twisted “treatment” that mental health experts argued could trigger depression or even suicide.

Chambers has now apologised for the “hurt” he’s caused, admitted his “therapy” was a sham and – surprise surprise – confessed he had “conveniently omitted” his “own same-sex attractions”. “The land of the free and the home of the brave is morphing into a homosexual haven,” he once proclaimed; now we know he probably silently added “I wish!” Oh for a glimpse into the undoubtedly eclectic internet history of members of the bigoted-but-secretly-rampantly-homosexual camp: a mixture of spittle-flecked fire-and-brimstone speeches on YouTube and videos of oiled-up former Soviet soldiers who want to turn the Cold War hot, no doubt.

Chambers is not my favourite outed bigot; far from it. That accolade goes to ­disgraced evangelical Ted Haggard, once a familiar fixture in America’s fundamentalist ranters’ circuit: a highly well-paid gig, incidentally (it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the gates of Heaven, but the Lord will always make the odd exception). Haggard was a leading backer of a Colorado amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2006. You can see why that might have wound up Mike Jones, the male sex worker he’d been having sex with on a monthly basis for three years, who retaliated by outing one of Time magazine’s top 25 US evangelical preachers. If you’re going to get a bit sloppy with your interpretation of the scriptures, you might as well go the whole hog, which probably explains why Haggard added taking crystal meth to getting jiggy with a member of the same sex.

And there’s Bob Allen, a former Republican Florida state representative, who had a sterling record in voting against giving those damned sodomites any rights. So when he offered to give a plain clothes officer head for $20 in a park toilet, he had an excuse: the policeman was black, Allen was scared of black people and “didn’t want to become a statistic”. Have you just been outed as a gay man cruising in public? Racism is here to help!

Us Brits have our own burgeoning closeted bigot culture, too. At last year’s Stonewall Awards, I was forced to devote my speech to criticising Ruth Davidson, the gay Scottish Tory leader who berated the gay rights’ organisation for having a “Bigot of the Year” award. But maybe she had a point, because the winner was none other than Cardinal O’Brien, who would have been more appropriately awarded the title “Hypocrite of the Year”. O’Brien, you see, had berated gay ­people as “captives of sexual aberrations”; homosexuality was a “moral degradation”; same-sex relationships were “demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved,” he claimed. These are the sorts of comments that do damage to those struggling with their sexuality, not least those in O’Brien’s flock. And then – shock horror – O’Brien was forced to resign after being accused of ­unwanted sexual advances to other men, ­accepting that his “sexual conduct had fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.” Whoops.

It’s not surprising, perhaps, that those who spend their lives obsessing over what two men do in the bedroom may have a certain fondness for the male form. Studies bear this out: one found that homophobic men were more likely to get turned on by gay porn than non-homophobic straight men; another in last April’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that bigots could be those who “doth protest too much.” That isn’t to mock them – in a “ha ha how ironic you’re afflicted with gayness too”, sort of way – but a sad fact about what inner torment can do.

Indeed, it is tempting to pity the likes of O’Brien, Chambers and Haggard: like many bullies, they are victims, too. Despite great strides made by the LGBT movement, we still live in a homophobic society where being gay has a certain stigma. What a tragedy that there may be countless closeted gay women and men trapped in loveless sham relationships, inflicting misery not just on themselves, but leading a trail of emotional destruction. I know of a man who left his wife after 12 years: a sad waste not only of his life, but of hers, too.

I grew up at an easier time to be a gay man than it had ever been, though still a society whose laws treated LGBT people as inferior. In my early teens, I used “gay” as a term of abuse. All my friends were straight men who I feared would struggle to accept a gay man as equal. Being gay seemed somehow sordid, dirty, frightening. When gay men appeared on TV, they seemed to be one-dimensional camp clowns. The image of supposed “normality” you grow up with – having a wife and two kids – is abruptly snatched away as teenage hormones whisper unavoidable truths. I had girlfriends until my early 20s. I originally took the wimp’s option of coming out as bisexual, which ruins it for genuine bisexuals who get taunted for being “bi now, gay later”. When I came out, a girl excitedly suggested we could now go shopping. I hate shopping.

For both homophobes and the closeted – which, we’ve established, can overlap – LGBT people can be a frightening “other”, defined by crude exchanges of bodily fluids. In truth, it’s as much about love as it is for anyone else, with all the excitement, terror, anguish and joy that goes with it. If “cures” are needed, it’s for the bigotry that traps so many LGBT people, with symptoms ranging from misery to hatred. Chambers can get on his knees and grovel – or whatever else he fancies – but this struggle for social acceptance has a way to go yet.

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