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
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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