On a night out before Christmas, someone from my class who had read this blog asked what I made of Gareth Thomas coming out. I could make very little of it really. Obviously, it is a good thing for young gay men and boys, particularly in Wales, that someone people look up to, in a sport with no other openly gay players, has now said that he is gay. But he meant very little to me. I hadn’t heard of him till this was news, and even writing this, I had to check that I had his name right. In primary school, a lack of interest in sport was something that often separated me from every other boy in the class, and I’m not going to become interested now just because one of the players is gay.
Something about the story, though, did re-occur to me. Talking about it, people worked on the assumption that he had denied his sexuality, hidden it from himself or others. Unlike Dónal Óg Cusack, the Cork hurler who came out earlier this year, Thomas had been married, according to Wikipedia, to his childhood sweetheart. One commentary I read assumed that without the institution of the closet, this could all have been avoided. No one can be sure about this particular marriage, but I’m not sure if we can be certain of that. There are degrees of obviousness to individuals, and not necessarily determined by societal pressure. It’s quite possible to be in a perfectly tolerant society, with no disadvantage to being known to be gay, but for someone to come out late enough, having allowed others to work on the assumption that they were straight, without personal dishonesty.
Suppose forty or fifty years down the line, if practically no Western liberal democracy had any prohibition on gay couples marrying, if it was perfectly normal in society’s eyes to be gay, there would be boys (girls too, of course, but it’s easier for me from my point of view to refer to boys) who at a young age would realize that they’re gay, and that would be grand. But there could still be those who think they might be gay, but then notice some girl and feel attracted to her. This could go on for many years, and with every girl he liked, and could imagine forming a relationship with, probably with only the immediate short-term in mind, it could feel real. He might go out with a girl for a while, with quite a genuine feeling of attraction, a pattern reinforced by the greater number of girls than gay men in most groups of people, before eventually realizing that in the long-term, he would rather be with boys. Even after that point, he might still feel the occasional attraction towards girls, but be less likely to act on that.
Alfred Kinsey, after years of interviews, devised a simple scale, with 0 as heterosexual and 6 as homosexual. Most of the population are at 0, with a varying distribution at other points. In a future society unprejudiced on this point, we could assume that most 5s and 6es would always be known to be gay. The 4s would probably still be a little slower to settle down as gay. And there would still be those 3s, people who are genuinely bisexual. There is not a simple binary distinction between those who are gay and straight.
I think people would implicitly appreciate this subtlety, that with no societal pressure, it would not be a case of someone lying to himself or others if it was late enough that he came out.
Consider two late nineteenth/early twentieth-century writers. E. M. Forster (1879–1970) was unmarried, and was probably never likely to marry. Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), on the other hand, was married with two children before he met Robert Ross and became actively gay. Presumably before that point, Wilde had noticed his attraction to the male form, but had not felt it so overriding that he would not marry. Of course societal attitudes, but it made more of a difference in some people’s case than others.
And so today, between the clear closet of earlier times, and an ideal unprejudiced future, and in many circumstances closer to the latter, we should not presume that all those who are gay are equally so, and those who come out later than others are necessarily living a lie.