One of my favourite English assignments at high school was a review of a really terrible biography of Lenin. Instead of chucking that book and reviewing a good one, I gave in to the sheer glee of slamming the fish repeatedly against the inside of the barrel.
The memory of that seminal moment of Schadenfreude came back to me last week, about ten pages into James Robert Parish's Katharine Hepburn: the untold story, a book that came with its own sound-track: sub-vocalised muttering, punctuated by occasional bursts of swearing.
I fell in love with Katharine Hepburn nearly twenty ears ago: what stroppy mannish not-conventionally-attractive brunette teenage girl wouldn’t? And Parish promised me that he was going to reveal Hepburn’s deadly secret: that like the teenage girl who'd loved her, Kate was a closeted bisexual.
Parish’s book, it turned out, was just a pastiche of confident assertions and rumour-mongering that should come with a 'citation needed' tag plastered across the cover. I could have enjoyed even that, if it hadn't been full of prose like this:
He was impressed by this free-spoken, appealing young woman with impressively broad shoulders. On her part, Kit was immediately attracted by this muscular, blue-eyed doctor with his striking bright red flock of hair.
Parish even quotes Hepburn at the start of Chapter One, and I found myself rather wishing he’d listened to her and saved us both three hundred pages:
I had many women friends who were very close to me and if you had that, then people thought your were a lesbian. It didn’t affect me at all, because it wasn't true… It's nobody's business. Nowadays, I'm forced to be interested in a lot of people's sex lives, which I find exhausting.”
And it is, isn't it? Nobody's business? Isn't outing people tasteless and destructive, regardless of whether it's true or not?
I wonder, if Hepburn had been Out voluntarily, what difference that would have made to me. Do the gains from having positive role models place some kind of obligation on high-profile GLBT people? Oh no, a liberal dilemma: time for pinot gris and self-obsessed whining.
I washed the taste of the Hepburn bio out of my brain with John Barrowman's autobiography, aptly titled Anything Goes. It was like reading sunlight. Barrowman describes himself as having been 'mostly known for my work in musical theatre'. Course you were, darling. And a man who can use a sentence like
my first serious gay relationship was with a Spanish flamenco dancer from Cordoba called Paco Perez-Arevelo
clearly isn't a man with too many issues, right? It's a long way from the closet to snogging your boyfriend on stage at London Pride and selling your Civil Partnership photos to OK! magazine. Anyway, we've seen inside his closet and it's full of Barbie dolls.
I have to admit that one of the reasons I like Coming Out so much is that I have the world's least functional gaydar. I've failed to notice the sexual orientation of some of my closest friends. Even the people I occasionally chat to at the school gate are better at spotting queers than I am. They must be, because how else would you manage to tell your children not to look at 'those people'? (I don’t blame them for not spotting me. Bisexuals are the ninjas of the Gay Agenda: you’re not supposed to be able to see us.)
I guess I could just assume that people are straight until they get a same-sex partner, when they're gay. It's a binary state, right? Except for those girls at uni pretending to be bi to get attention. I hear if you pretend to be bi for long enough you get to marry Brad Pitt.
Okay, I have to admit it, I don’t get the 'slagging off BUGs' thing. Is Gay a limited commodity? Will we run out if too many people try to lay claim to it?
Anyway, it's a different world now from what it was in Hepburn's day, right? If people are pretending to be gay for publicity and the reaction to Clay Aiken’s coming out is 'tell us something we don’t know, Captain Obvious', then declaring your gay-ness is practically an anti-climax. It's not like there’s any real prejudice now – unless you want to get married, or adopt kids, or kiss your partner in public without getting abused.
Let this be the day Proposition 8 dies an ignominious death.
Back to Barrowman for the last word:
I remember a conversation I had with Ian [McKellen] once, in which he suggested that he and I should plan a dinner party and invite all the actors who are gay and afraid to come out. We'd make them stay at the table until they realized that they can be successful and gay at the same time.
Who would be at this dinner party? Sadly, too many.