Taylor Swift, 2014’s “secret lesbian” of choice. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
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Let this be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian

It’s 2015. Let’s just let women do stuff.

Have you ever noticed that no one’s ever rumoured to be nice? Or rumoured to be an accomplished Scrabble player, or rumoured to smell like tulips and pie? People are rumoured to be fart fetishists, UKIP supporters and, as of last year in particular: lesbians.

In 2014, everyone who was anyone was a secret lesbian. But just the right amount of secret. I.e. not too secret to stop the rumours from seeping into public consciousness. While the most noteworthy secret lesbian couple of last year was undoubtedly Taylor Swift and someone I’m supposed to have heard of called Karlie Kloss, I was told by at least seven stoked lesbians that the likes of Cheryl Cole and Mel B are “one of us, one of us”.

But I find it hard to believe that this secret lesbianism isn’t at least a little bit contrived. Let me explain. A lesbian is a woman who is only sexually attracted to other women. A secret lesbian is a (famous) woman who has been papped in some moderately adult situations with another woman, while vehemently denying that she’s into anything other than dicks. Many, many dicks.

For this reason, I’m hoping that 2015 will be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian. This wouldn’t have to mean an end to adult situations between experimental/bi-curious/sexually fluid women. Those things are all lovely. What I’d like to see banished to the realm of UGG boots and burgers served on pieces of wood is all the speculation.

Admittedly, this will involve some effort on my part. There are two rather different groups of people interested in lesbian rumours: lesbians and homophobes. While former are cheering, “One of us”, the latter are sneering, “One of them”. In the middle is a sizeable chunk of the population who could not give less of a shit, and I think they have the right idea.

There’s a Hebrew phrase, loshon hora, which basically means nasty gossip. It’s the exact loshon hora-ness of lesbian rumours that I think we badly need to ditch. If there are rumours about a thing, that thing is most likely sordid or at least a tiny bit gross. If you think lesbianism is either of those things, I’m not sure why you’re reading this.

There’s a huge difference between lesbian visibility (something we could do with some more of) and smirk-forming headlines about clandestine boob-fondles between women who “seem” straight. When anyone is outed by the media, the overriding message should be, “I’m L, G, B or T and that’s great”, rather than, “Those pictures of me touching my friend’s butt mean nothing… or maybe they don’t.... what are you trying to say? Hm? Hmmm?”

So, if I believed in new year’s resolutions, maybe mine would be to stop feeding into loshon hora about supposed girl-on-girl action. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having a residual interest in who is and isn’t a lesbian. But it’s 2015, guys, let’s just let women do stuff.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.