Five tips for the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ about coming out experiences

Opinion

The Sydney Morning Herald has confirmed that actor Rebel Wilson’s decision to share the news that she’s in a same-sex relationship was probably triggered by their requests for her to comment on her personal life.

Personally I’ve never asked someone if they wanted to ‘come out’ in print, but in the past I have helped a few people who wanted to share information about their personal lives and sexuality with our readers. My approach has always been to be supportive when they ask, but not to bring up the issue myself.

The Sydney Morning Herald has confirmed that they approached Wilson about her new relationship with  designer Ramona Agruma, and surprisingly in an opinion piece published in the newspaper – chastised Wilson for not sharing the news of her relationship on their pages.

Instead Rebel Wilson made an announcement about her new same-sex relationship via Instagram, and allowing every media organisation in the world to report on what she posted.

There’s a lot to unpack in the piece from the Sydney Morning Herald, but here goes.

Everyone owns their own coming out experience 

For some people coming out is a simple experience, and they’re surrounded by accepting and supportive people. For other people it’s a stressful and traumatic experience that can see them lose friendships, family and important community connections.

For most people coming out is not a one-off experience, it’s something we have to do over and over and over. I last came out on Tuesday, when I was applying for a bank loan and the team member asked how long my wife and I had lived in our current house. I informed them that my husband and I had lived in our residence since 2002, my mortgage had been with them the entire time.

Thankfully people in Australia today people are able to come out at younger ages and most often find a welcoming environment, I’m hopeful that these young people don’t have to suffer the same level of stress, self-hatred, fear and discrimination I felt for the first 26 years of my life.

There are also older people who come out later in life having previously reserved information about their sexuality , people who never come out, and people whose life changes – and they find themselves entering in new relationships. Whatever their decision, their coming out experience belongs to them.

If Rebel Wilson chooses to announce her new relationship with a plane flying a banner over Bondi beach, then a newspaper has not been cheated, gazumped, sold short, or lost the rights to Wilson’s story – it was never yours to start with.

Homophobia is alive and well, even in Hollywood

The suggestion that Hollywood is a space free of homophobia is definitely questionable. Once queer actors publicly share their sexuality they are often no longer cast in romantic heterosexual roles, often confined to playing gay best friends and villains.

Kate Winslet, Rupert Everett and Billy Eichner have all recently spoken about homophobia in Tinsel Town. There’s certainly more LGBTIQA+ characters in Hollywood stories across both film and television, and increasingly they’re being played by queer actors too, but there’s also a lot of evidence that these characters are more likely to be peripheral characters, and still more likely to come to a sad or deadly end.

You don’t know what kind of homophobia anyone has experienced

The newspaper says because Rebel Wilson is a woman in her forties and has publicly identified as heterosexual in the past, so it is unlikely that she has encountered overt or even subconscious homophobia.

That’s a lovely thought, but the complete opposite could equally be true. As a teenager growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney in the 1990’s Wilson may have encountered a huge amount of homophobia. She may have been exposed to any number of homophobic encounters. You would have no idea of what she may have experienced.

How someone treated their previous relationship is no indication of their current relationship

The newspaper suggests that because Wilson had been public about her previous heterosexual relationships, she should expect a similar level of openness about her current relationship.

Someone might have shared their five favourite sexual positions with their previous partner, they might have given you a tour of their home, they might have been willing to chat to you about their pets, it doesn’t mean they have to share the same information about their next partner, or even share the same information the next day.

This is how consent works.

So much for that apology

In 2016 the Sydney Morning Herald apologised for outing all the people who were arrested at the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Many of them were outed to their families, lost their jobs, were kicked out of their homes.

The editor of the paper at the time said that while that was standard journalistic practice back in the 1970’s, it was in retrospect regrettable, and would not occur today.

Elements of the opinion piece are a complaint that Wilson opted not to share her coming out story with the newspaper, suggesting they had made a mistake by approaching her for comment, does this mean in the future the newspaper will start outing people without asking?

The actions of the newspaper today undermine the power of their previous apology.

Graeme Watson
Co-editor OUTinPerth

Update: 12-06-2022 3:40pm Bevan Shields, the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald has responded to criticism of the newspaper’s approach saying it had they had never intended to ‘out’ Rebel Wilson when they approached her about her same-sex relationship. Shields says the subsequent opinion piece from writer Andrew Hornery was not a standard news story, but an opinion piece offering readers insight into Wilson and her PR team.


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