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Being caught out and brown

September 5, 2016

When I first saw the Keith Vaz  piece I felt the absence of the News of the World keenly for the first time. It has been so long since the last hidden camera scandal. It was a bit like smelling something you used to eat as a child that you hadn’t thought about in years. Gossip! I remember that. It used to taste so good.

Complete with totally irrelevant commentary (though the fact he had paid off the mortgage on his flat was the most obscene part for me),  the blurry pictures of his rotund older body against the younger male’s (fully clothed of course) reminded me of how immovable these stories become once they are sensationalised. Vaz’s name is unlikely to be parted from from this.

For me, the most interesting part is the commentary. I have read mostly sympathy for him. It was not a sting – he had used the sex workers before – they went to the Mirror after recognising him – but he was still set up. He didn’t break the law. He clearly stated he didn’t take drugs. And he more than likely comes from a family and community that would have showed intolerance to his homosexuality, if he is gay.

Which for me is the most interesting part. Whatever he identifies as, he obviously had an urge to have sex with men that he felt the need to satisfy with sex workers. That doesn’t necessarily mean he loves his wife any less, nor has any less desire to engage in a hetero-normative family life. Let’s face it, you can’t get more hetero-normative than Stanmore. Incidentally, why does the MP for Leicester East have a main home in Stanmore?

In any case, I would suggest the picture of the long suffering, closeted Asian male may not be applicable here. Let’s not jump to culture bashing because we voted for equal marriage. In Vaz’s formative and adult years, British society would not have encouraged coming out either.

When I heard the audio, I heard a man who wouldn’t change a thing. He was having a great time! A high profile, a good salary, two properties, two cars, two children and, crucially, two lives. All enabled by his privilege.

I am reluctant to position him as a victim. Some people genuinely  want to go out, engage in same-sex activity, then come home to their wife or husband to watch prime-time television and read stories at bed time. Why should living as an ‘out’ gay or bisexual man be his choice just because it was more available to him in a Western country? Is it not acceptable to decide you like both paradigms and create a life that allows you to engage in the two? The ‘undercover brother’ phenomenon is consistent with this.

The familiarity and charm with which Vaz handled the encounter makes it sound like he may be in that camp. I am not saying there are no victims of cultural prejudice – people forced into heterosexual unions because of the pressures of faith or family. But let’s not immediately place him as a victim because he’s brown. Our cultures are not that far behind western ones which are hardly trail-blazing on gay rights. I think he was a perfectly happy man in both worlds. We might call others liberated, why not Keith? His only crime was secrecy. And who isn’t secretive, on some level, about sex?  I bet he is tormented only by the fact he has been caught.

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