Monday 11 April 2016

In defence of John Whittingdale

Life imitates art, but when it does so it's unsettling. I'm in the process of writing a novel in which the protagonist publicly defends the practice of BDSM. That provides a degree of safe distancing; I am not my protagonist and, in any case, hardly anyone reads my novels so it wouldn't be a great deal of exposure.

I don't normally write publicly about my sexuality, and I am also not someone who's entirely comfortable defending Tories. However, let's start.

A couple of weeks ago in a press interview, Kezia Dugdale said, in simple, dignified terms, that she had a female lover, and this was published without sensation. The press had known the fact, apparently, for years, but no-one had thought it appropriate to 'out' her. Her privacy was respected, as it should have been. In the days after the interview was printed, the Scottish press and the Scottish chattering classes congratulated ourselves at how much we'd grown up as a nation, that we no longer saw someone's sexuality as a matter for public discussion.

John Whittingdale is a Conservative Westminster politician, not a Holyrood Labour one. Like Kez Dugdale, he isn't married to anyone else. Like Kez Dugdale, he has (allegedly) a single lover with whom he has had a moderately long term intimate relationship. Like Kez Dugdale, the press has known of this for some years. And, as in Kez Dugdale's case, the press have, with simple dignity, respected his privacy as they should.

One single journalist, James Cusick, no longer employed by any paper, has decided to break ranks and spread what amounts to salacious gossip.

John Whittingdale's lover is, according to Cusick, a young woman called Olivia King. She is, allegedly, a dominatrix by profession; from her pictures she reminds me very much of a dominatrix friend of mine of whom I think highly. The implication Cusick wants us to draw is that Whittindale is a masochist. There is actually no reason to draw this implication; many people who work professionally as dominatrices do not 'bring their work home', and may have completely different relationship dynamics in their private life.

In any case, it's precisely none of our business whether or not John Whittingdale is a masochist. What consenting adults choose to do consensually in the privacy of their own homes is their own business and no-one else's. Not ours, and not journalists' either. Most especially, it's none of James Cusick's business.

If Olivia King were transgendered, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were male, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were black, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were blind, this would not be a legitimate story. If she were a ballet dancer, this would not be a legitimate story. This is, in fact, not a legitimate story. One person choosing to make what on the evidence presented appears to be a warm, settled, moderately long term relationship with another is not a story. If an MP chooses to take his partner to the House of Commons New Years Eve party, there's absolutely no reason why he shouldn't. Everyone has the right to make the consensual relationships which suit them.

When I was a young man in Scotland, homosexuality was illegal; I knew people who were sent to prison for their sexuality. Now that I am old, the majority of the leaders of Scotland's political parties are - openly - gay, and no-one thinks anything of it. Only one form of consensual sexual expression between adults is still illegal. It's still illegal to hit another person, who invites it, for mutual pleasure. The BDSM community is the last minority whose sexuality could still - in theory at least - lead to prison. And it shouldn't be.

Human sexuality is extremely complex. It's extremely deep. It is fundamental to our beings, to our identity, to who we are as people.  To prevent someone expressing their sexuality consensually with a partner of their choice is to cripple them. We should not do it.

John Whittingdale may be a Tory. He may be a member of a government which I do not hesitate to call evil. He may be guilty of all sorts of things which are of legitimate interest to investigative journalists. But his sexuality is not one of them.

We're grown-ups now, not adolescents sniggering behind the bike sheds.

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