OPINION - I grew up as a gay kid and Rebel Wilson’s bravery is a turning point


Of all the agreeable reorganisations of old prejudices which followed the fight for LGBT+ equality, the disappearance of “outing” famous people has been one of the most pleasing. Yet here we are, in 2022 — halfway through Pride month, no less — with the strange case of Rebel Wilson and The Sydney Morning Herald. When gay gossip columnist — and sorry, his sexuality is pertinent here, because who sells out their own for 20 pieces of silver these days? — Andrew Hornery gave the brilliant comic actress 27 hours to respond to a story he planned to run, with his editor’s backing, “outing” her new girlfriend, Wilson gazumped the reporter, took to social media and told the story her own way. She became a hero for our times, cementing her comedy chops with unexpected bravery. She outed the very practice of outing, smothering it in righteous shame.

When I was a kid, outings, or variations on the theme, were a regular occurrence while flicking through the paper at the breakfast table. Some previously unremarkable Liberal MP had been caught cruising Clapham Common. What exactly was Justin Fashanu up to off the football pitch? Kenny Everett had started looking “suspiciously thin”. Pass the cornflakes.

Sometimes headlines were written with a wry wink, like Zip Me Up Before You Go Go when George Michael was arrested in an organised sting in the toilets of Will Rogers Memorial Park in LA. But the tone of the revelations was the same. These people didn’t want you to know who they really are. Now that we’ve found them out — “gotcha!” — they should hang their heads in shame.

A tonal shift occurred in the late Nineties, largely instigated by incumbent editor of The Sun, David Yelland, who sensed the public no longer saw homosexuality as something which ought to be shrouded in secrecy, embarrassment and fear. Tony Blair’s Minister for Culture and Sport, Chris Smith, wore his gayness front and centre.

The closet itself had started to look anachronistic. Surely now was the right time to drop the ritual of throwing people out of it? When Boyzone star Stephen Gately asked The News of The World to let him pre-empt revelations about his sexuality they even afforded him the decency of a positive headline. A rotten trend which benefited nobody and reduced an entire community to the stuff of red-faced gossip had been weeded out.

While writing a book on 30 years of British gay culture, I spoke to Yelland about the changes he effected at The Sun. He explained that he had lost his hair as a young man and grown up wearing a hairpiece. On landing a plum job in New York, he decided on his first day to ditch the toupee, to come out as bald. He said in that moment he understood how it felt to remove the fear of exposure. It afforded him an empathy for everyone living under the cloud of a thinly veiled secret.

We all know outing is cruel. By standing up to it, Yelland, Gately, now Rebel Wilson have put nails in its coffin. Wilson has crowned herself Prom Queen of Pride Month. Long may she reign.

In other news...

I fear I may be turning into an Elizabeth line bore, one of a new sub-set to emerge in the past three weeks. While not at the stage of posting artful snaps of the Zaha Hadid-esque roof curvature or glitzy nightlights which bedeck our amazing new line, I can’t deny that I’ve not considered it. Living equidistant between Whitechapel and Liverpool Street stations has put me at premium vantage point for making full use of this new asset. I can wax lyrical to anyone about the six minutes it now takes, Paddington to Farringdon, specifying the speed to the second. Friends teetering on becoming ELBs have christened the new Dean Street outpost of Tottenham Court Road station “The Gay Exit”, given its new proximity to The Duke of Wellington pub and avoidance of We Will Rock You corner. Should anyone wish to out me as an ELB, I’ve got in first.