Not all straight people understand the importance of coming out. Photo: Getty
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Why coming out matters

Your sexuality is an important part of you, and no one should be allowed to diminish that.

This week, Slate’s advice columnist Emily Yoffe (Dear Prudence) advised a bisexual woman not to come out. According to Yoffe, within the context of this woman’s happy marriage to a man, her sexuality is irrelevant, and even slightly icky. She compares coming out as bi in this situation to announcing to your family, over Thanksgiving dinner, that you’re into plushophilia (sexual attraction to cuddly toys). Suggesting that bisexuality is on a par with wanting to hump a Beanie Baby is, in itself, hugely offensive. But this is just one element of a damagingly shoddy piece of advice. Here’s my own advice to Yoffe’s “irrelevant” closet case:

Dear Irrelevant,

I’d like to start by saying that you’re not. Your sexuality is an important part of you. I’m not making an assumption here. It clearly matters to you enough to seek answers about it from an advice columnist. You mentioned in your letter to Dear Prudence that you had only recently admitted to yourself that you’re bi. It’s such a shame that, for so many of us, sexuality is still something with which we have to “come to terms”. Perhaps it wasn’t easy for you to accept that you’re attracted to women, and for that you have not only my sympathy, but, I’m certain, that of LGBT people all over the world.

And unfortunately, “coming out” still exists. So far, you’ve come out to your husband, which is admirable. I’m glad to hear that your sexuality doesn’t matter to him, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t matter to you. In fact, it matters to him so little that he’s asked you not to come out to anyone else, because he sees it as immaterial. I’m so sorry to say this, and I’m sure you’re perfectly aware of it, but it seems to me that he isn’t (yet) entirely accepting of you.

This probably isn’t deliberate. Not all straight people understand the importance of coming out – why would they? When you’ve gone your entire life without having to think about the social and political ramifications of who you prefer to sleep with, you may not realise that sexual self-acceptance is even a thing.

I know from personal experience that keeping your sexuality to yourself is hard. It’s not tricky or a mild annoyance – it’s full-on difficult. A bit like trying to hide a fridge. How would you go about hiding a fridge? I don’t even know. However you did it, it would probably be a lot of effort for the negligible reward of having successfully hidden a fridge.

So, I’d say this: having to hide fridges is oppressive. If your bisexuality feels like a big part of who you are, then talk about it with whoever the hell you like. Tell them you belt out Tegan & Sara songs in the shower; that Charlize Theron in lycra was the only good thing about Prometheus – whatever you want. Celebrate yourself.

Coming out as bisexual is important, even for people in hetero relationships. And I’d urge you to show your two kids that no one should have to conceal their sexuality. You’ve said that you’re committed to your marriage, and everyone should know that you’re no more likely to leave your husband for a woman than you are for another man. It just so happens that you’re bisexual, and that isn’t, as Dear Prudence would have you believe, a fetish. It may not be something you’ll ever act on, but it’s still something to be cherished.

Wishing you the best of luck, whatever you choose to do,

Eleanor, lesbian

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

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.