The private pleasure we take from observing public pain

Suzanne Moore on sex in the news, again

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IT'S NEVER easy to write when you are in handcuffs but I'll just have to do the best I can. You see, much to my shame, I have been arrested for committing a lewd act in a public place. I just couldn't help myself. I saw the headlines and was overcome with the desire to read every single sentence I could about a certain Mr Michael and his unfortunate affair in a public lavatory somewhere in Beverley Hills. I needed to know what Elton John thought, what Boy George thought, what female readers of the Sun thought, what the childhood friend of George Michael who had a pretend wedding with him when she was five thought, what the shrinks thought, what the police thought, what gay groups thought ... and I admit it I just got carried away.

I became visibly aroused even though there were other people present. Nine pages in the Sun, five in the Mirror never mind all the rest. They were asking for it. It's not really my fault is it? In my defence all I can say is that this is a mutually consenting relationship. I want salacious details and boy does everyone else get off on giving it to me. Staring long and hard at the vital picture of the actual cubicle in which the lewd act occurred, I assumed that I could just be left alone with these filthy secrets. Now, I suppose I can't. I have to be outed as a parasite, a voyeur of this whole sordid tale of the coupling of fame and sex in the twentieth century.

George Michael. Gay? Scoop of the century to some perhaps, though I'd say he's dropped more than a few hints in the past myself. Designer stubble anyone? Certainly it fills in the time and space while the media waits for the outcome of that unsexy old Irish peace process. Not only gay but prepared to seek illicit thrills in public toilets. Wonderful. Not just gay but actively cottaging. Brilliant.

Depending on what side your bread is buttered, this all proves something. Either George is really deeply gay and has done this subconsciously to be outed and once forced out he can live happily ever after in the community of gay loveliness. Or George is deeply confused and did this disgusting thing in a lavatory because he cannot come to terms with being gay as he is a tortured artist who worries about his record sales. Or try this for size. Maybe George is gay for about five minutes at a time. Maybe his sexuality is as ambiguous as he has always claimed. Maybe sex in a toilet with a stranger is really much better than sex in the missionary position with a woman. And so what if it is?

Sex is a messy business but gay sex is sometimes as straight as you can get. After the confusion you come out of the closet which is very, very good or stay in it which is very, very bad: not only for yourself but for all other gay people. Well, that's the script anyway and it works for some but maybe not everyone. I thought actually that George had come out of the closet anyway when he talked about his relationship with Anselmo Feleppa, his Brazilian "soulmate", but perhaps he snuck back in when I wasn't paying attention.

Clearly it is a matter of national urgency that he now tells us exactly what he is. Just as we need to know whether the President's penis is straight or bendy, that jumbo jet engines hide the noise of "sex sessions" among adulterous army officers, that Grant has gone back to Della, dumping Anthea, that Hewitt is a cad and should be hung for treason. The private lives of the rich and famous are public property.

The private lives of B-list celebrities like Anthea Turner are up for sale too. Indeed many would say she and Della have sold themselves profitably to the highest bidder.

The private lives of the unfamous are also up for grabs. As Kilroy tries to sex up his shows, having watched a few episodes of Jerry Springer, then it's confession a go-go. Everything is permitted. In public. In front of a camera. What he said to you one night over the phone. What you did with him in your sister's house. What happened when his wife walked in. What happened when you found that he was a she. What your mother said to his mother. Let it all hang out baby. Express yourself. Repression is wrong. Honesty is right, no matter who gets hurt, who ends up looking stupid. No one remembers the best line from Pulp Fiction: "That's a little bit more information than I need right now."

There is really only one other thing to be said here, and it should have been said to George Michael, just like it has to be said to the media. Put it away darling. We really don't want to see it. Run along. In order to say this however one has to mean it and none of us mean it in our hearts because we feel somehow that we have the right to see everything. In an increasingly visual culture seeing is believing. Is Diana dead? Show me pictures of the body. Did George Michael do it? Show me pictures of the toilet. Does Robin love Gaynor? I want pictures of the secret wedding. Every story is a show-and-tell session and every star who wants to be a star as much as George Michael wanted it knows the deal.

He controlled his image fanatically, even acknowledging that his sexual ambiguity made him seem more fascinating, more sexy. Mysterious. Enigmatic. Elusive. There are good words if you want, as he once wanted, to be as famous as Michael Jackson. They up your asking price, make you seem a little out of reach. A little bit exciting. If your image is one of deliberate ambiguity, if you, as John Lennon sung, have "to hide your love away", the reality has to be more dull. There are only three boxes you can tick here: gay, straight, bi-sexual. I'm afraid it's that limited when it comes down to the basics of which parts of your body you rub against which parts of another body.

Have we become so sexually jaded that we can only have this kind of virtual sex through other people? Are you genuinely shocked when we find that yes, in fact, our sex symbols have sex. Does that ruin our fantasies? We want to be them and possess them and when we can't, we take great comfort instead in stories about how miserable and lonely our symbols of sex might be.

Free George Michael. We are guilty. Not him. Send the man who has seen close friends die of Aids, who has campaigned for Aids charities on an Aids awareness course, if that makes it all morally justifiable. Or free yourselves. It's already too late for me. For George's case looks like a clear case of police entrapment. The rest of us, all the suckers who lap up every vicious scrap about the rise and fall of a mega-star, are also victims of entrapment. And you know the really sick thing? We pay for it, we yearn for it, we even enjoy our own degradation. Why keep it in the closet any longer? Why not just come out and say that our private pleasure comes from public pain, that we are all part of the lewdest act in the world?

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