When I was young, an ‘outing’ meant a day out. A trip to the seaside perhaps, or the zoo. Later it came to mean the practice of revealing the secret sexual orientation of a public figure.
At the UK general election in 1987, I acted as agent to a Liberal Party candidate. There was speculation about the sexual preferences of the Conservative incumbent. Although the man would appear in the constituency at election times with a glamourous female in tow, the rumours persisted. Several of our party workers wanted us to refer to these suggestions in our election literature. I refused, as did the candidate. We argued that what he got up to in his private life did not effect his ability to carry out his duties as a public representative. We would, we believed, win the seat on the strength of our policy proposals. As things turned out, this was not to be.
I used the incident in my novel Transgression, reversing the situation so that the Tory MP, on being faced with possible exposure of his inappropriate behaviour towards women, responds with the threat of exposing his Liberal opponent’s homosexuality: “What do you suppose the good citizens of Topford would make of the idea of having a shirt-lifter for an MP?”.
My book is an exploration of the changes in attitudes to sex and sexual orientation that have occurred over the past 70 years, through the experience of 4 fictional characters, one of them the MP.
A few years later the real MP admitted his homosexuality after having been ‘outed’ by Murdoch’s despicable rag, the ‘News of the World‘. He lost the seat to Labour in the 1997 landslide.
As a footnote to this story, I was given a rare insight into the insensitivity of some older members of the British Conservative party when a Tory Councillor related a story against his local party chairman. This was supposed to have taken place at a party meeting shortly after the 1987 election. The MP had, at the time, a black PA (also gay). Both were present at the meeting. The chairman gave a speech thanking party workers for their efforts, concluding with special thanks to the agent whom, he claimed had ‘worked like a n***er’.
Tell me how changes in the way we view matters of gender, sexuality and race have effected you.