The past was deeply homophobic. It drove would be out gays, lesbians and bisexual people deep underground and now is their time to walk, heads held high into the light.
When I used to volunteer for an LGBT+ helpline, our extensive training outlined how to help young people navigate their coming out experiences at college or how to tell mum and dad that, actually, they weren’t a daughter but a son. We were told that we’d get a lot of these types of calls, but in reality, every shift I volunteered for, I would have at least one, if not two, men of a certain age, grappling with the fact that they had lived a life of lies.
The story these men would tell would have a regularity to it… They were out walking the dog and another man in the bushes piqued their interest, or while browsing porn online they stumbled upon the GAY button and it opened the floodgates.
“But why now?” would be the question…
“What about AIDS?” would often be another question.
Their concern would also be couched in terms like, “but I’m not gay, I have a wife” – although further conversation would reveal that they had been in a sexless marriage for the best part of twenty years and even when they were in the throes of passion, they felt it never “really clicked”.
Men in their 50s, 60, 70s and 80s grew up with intense social and legal pressures to be normative.
It was illegal to be gay in this country until 1967. The AIDS epidemic hit the gay/bisexual community hard from the early 80s. The World Health Organisation only declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1992 and the patriarchal nature of our world means only a certain type of man makes it to the top.
It must have seemed safer to stay in the closet.
The idea that Phillip Schofield would have had a hint of the success that he’s enjoyed during his career had he come out during his time in the Broom Cupboard is to be dismissed right away. You can imagine the Daily Mail and Sun headlines now.
The societal changes to reflect the legal and health changes has taken decades and, worryingly still isn’t fully ingrained.
Every day, hundreds of mostly unreported homophobic hate crimes happen on the streets of the UK. We only hear of a few of them, which leads people to have an overriding sense that “everything is okay, nothing to see here”.
It’s not true.
Back to the phone room, at first when I was taking these calls from men in their 50s and above what I got was a sense of self-loathing, uncertainty but excitement. Something had been uncorked. The genie was out and it was never going to be stuffed in again.
At first, I was surprised that the number of calls I’d answer – in amongst the “wank calls” (that’s another story), but with each shift, I began to understand that these men all hailed from a truly toxic age. They felt they had to be strong, get married, father children and provide. The only time you could cry and not be called a poofter was when England lost the World Cup.
Our issues as a community haven’t just started. It’s been decades. Actually it’s been centuries in the making.
I also understand that someone coming out after 30 years of marriage doesn’t just affect one person. Spouses are often forgotten in the blaze of support that can surround someone’s coming out. It must be incredibly lonely for them. Their emotional response must feel very limited, less they are seen as a homophobe.
We need to find tools to help both people. The person coming out and the person feeling that their entire adult life has also been a lie.
Phillip Schofield isn’t the first man to come out later in life. He won’t be the last and instead of the hype that surrounds that revelation, maybe we need to question why they felt they needed to wait so long.