Maybe at times, it is easier to be famous and out | Barbara Ellen

Fame provides a lot of protection for those publicly declaring themselves gay - protection ordinary people don’t have

Oscar-winning US screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk and the forthcoming gay rights TV series When We Rise) has called for more gay sportsmen to come out. Black, the fiance of Olympian Tom Daley, said that young gay people were put off participating in sports such as football because of the lack of openly gay players and fear of the abuse they’d receive.

Black has previously said that he had “no respect” for people lying about their sexuality. This time, he said that he understood why some people found it difficult to come out, but that sports people, such as Daley, and other public figures could inspire people and “save lives”. Black said: “I urge more sportsmen, actors, people in the public eye to come out and dispel those myths, those lies and that shame.”

While coming out is already such a complex, nuanced subject, coming out as a sports person seems yet more vexed. As recently as the end of last year, FA chairman, Greg Clarke, was saying that he wouldn’t recommend that players come out individually, saying that a group of them could maybe do it together at the beginning of a football season. “At the start of the season, everybody thinks it is their season, the crowds are happy, the sun is shining,” he said.

Sounds great – perhaps they could run out onto the pitch holding hands? While Clarke’s interpretation of gay rights is a tad bizarre (it’s all about timing, weather and numbers?), in fairness, he was trying to understand, referring to a study that said that people would support gay players in their own team – Clarke wondered about how they would react to gay players in other teams – and acknowledging that it couldn’t be about insisting that individuals come out.

It would appear that a sports person coming out today still has a markedly more fraught time than, say, an entertainer, but the complexities don’t seem to stop there. For instance, does fame of any kind make coming out easier or harder? Accepted wisdom seems to be that exposure and public pressure make coming out even more stressful for the famous person. Then again, while a celebrity would have a lot to deal with, they’d usually have success, money and fame to insulate them, not to mention public support, which was certainly overwhelming for Daley.

Thus, their personal courage, while admirable and undisputed, may have to be placed into the context of just how useful it is to a “regular” gay person living in a place where prejudice might still reign. After all, their situations would be both similar and different. In that, they have none of the acclaim and protection of the well known, but unfortunately all of the homophobia.

None of this even touches upon the huge psychological and emotional cost of coming out for all gay people. Nor would I underestimate the value of a famous person coming out – in terms of visibility, normalisation, and indeed the education of straight society. It’s just interesting how the visibility of famous gay people is routinely discussed and celebrated, while the essential invisibility of the ordinary non-famous gay person seems barely acknowledged. Except in the context of how “inspired” they’re going to be, which, frankly, seems a little patronising. I’d have thought that another ordinary gay person coming out would mean a lot more, perhaps even save a few more of lives.

Indeed, just as within sport, the experience of coming out for Daley as an Olympic swimmer seemed different to that of, say, a Premier League footballer or a lesbian tennis player, this issue of context seems to spread out to all the other different situations for gay people and myriad ways an individual’s circumstances can have an impact on their experience. While, gay visibility remains crucial, in sport as in life, it doesn’t end there.

At last, that nice young Mr Kim will get a monument

Kim Jong-un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a tree-planting ceremony. Photograph: KCNA/Reuters

North Korea has announced the building of a monument to celebrate Kim Jong-un (and his father and grandfather), on the side of Mount Paektu in North Korea, which is an active volcano and the “sacred mountain of revolution”.

While there have been many statues of his dynastic predecessors, father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather Kim Il-sung, the retiring, self-effacing Kim junior has yet to be immortalised in this way since getting the top job in 2011.

Clearly he has been too busy, judging by all the reports of him secretly (and not so secretly) testing nuclear weapons, imprisoning and/or executing anyone who disagrees with him, not to mention forcing citizens to adopt variations of his hairstyle. So maybe not that retiring and self-effacing after all. However, young Kim has been notably underpowered about building monuments, standing accused in some quarters of slacking on the old “cult of personality” front.

So it’s better late than never when it comes to Kim putting the sculptors to work, celebrating his good self and the “Sun of Mankind” dynasty.

Let’s just hope that the active volcano side of things doesn’t turn out to be a major downer.

So farewell, Mr Potty Mouth...

Jamie Reed: just for once, his lips are sealed.
Jamie Reed: just for once, his lips are sealed. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Outgoing Labour MP Jamie Reed will be leaving on a high, having just come top of a social media swearing competition. In a Top 10 of foul-mouthed parliamentary Twitter-users, mysteriously dominated by Labour MPs critical of Jeremy Corbyn, Reed came first, with Labour’s surely disappointed Jess Phillips trailing in fourth, Ukip’s Douglas Carswell coming in a frankly poor ninth and Conservative Nicholas Soames sharing second place with Labour’s openly dejected Michael Dugher, who tweeted: “I can’t believe I came fucking second.”

Pausing only to ponder, “What is it about Jeremy Corbyn that makes some Labour MPs so angry?”, this all looks like good fun, though commiserations to those who were assigned the presumably arduous task of counting the profanities. Moreover, at the risk of seeming pedantic, I would question whether the word “arse” (deployed by Reed in one of his winning entries) is a genuine swearword or might count as merely descriptive slang.

All these years on from The Thick of It, there could also be wider cultural factors to take into account. In what some termed a comedy, and others viewed as a searing fly-on-the-wall political documentary, there was no doubt that the series made a stirring case for better, more forceful and creative, parliamentary swearing.

Bearing this in mind, one could seriously wonder whether all of the parliamentary Malcolm Tucker-type swearing excesses are entirely natural or could (just sometimes?) be put down to MPs playing up to the Tucker-legend – because, hey, it feels so good. If it’s true that Tucker played some part in shaping a certain kind of “lively” modern political persona, this could be a case of life imitating art imitating life, and, so on, in ever-decreasing circles. Forever.


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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