Sunday, May 30, 2010

Homophobia, Heteronormativity and the fall of David Campbell

One of the ever present temptations of keeping a blog is to turn it into no more than a vehicle for venting and rants. It's a temptation I've felt a number of times and I've probably succumbed on the odd occasion too. When NSW transport minister, David Campbell, was outed by Channel 7 over a week ago visiting a gay sex on premises venue in Sydney, I came very close to writing a full on tirade. I really wanted to let loose. After all, what Channel 7 did must have cast an icy chill over all those many people still in the closet, and those trying to live 'discreet' lives as well. And the fact is that large numbers of lesbigay people are still either closeted or discreet. We don't live in a post-homophobia world yet - I don't expect I'll live to see that as a reality even though we've made so many advances in this country and others (but not all).

It seems the 7 reporter, Adam Walters, was determined to get Campbell who is not regarded as the most effective Minister in a State gov't that is itself on the nose and probably well past its use by date (although the alternative doesn't strike me as any much better). And it seems there had been questions raised in Parl't about the whereabouts of Campbell during a recent major traffic breakdown. One of the refreshing things about Australian politics is that there hasn't really been any fixation on the sex lives of MPs as blights politics in the UK and the US. The whole Clinton Lewinsky saga seemed so bizarre and improbable from an Australian perspective while in the UK it seems that the merest hint that a senior political figure has engaged in any sort of sex outside of authorised marital relations has been enough to end that person's career full stop.

In this country however such matters have been mostly off-limits. Certainly all manner of salacious gossip has circulated when various political figures have been having difficult times but generally has never entered the public domain of the media. That's not to say there haven't been sex scandals but nothing like the US or UK experience and certainly nothing like what happened to Campbell. Well almost. We saw something like that back in 2002 with the campaign against Justice Michael Kirby by federal Liberal MP, Bill Heffernan. Prior to that in the 90s, there was Wood Royal Commission into police corruption in NSW which degenerated into a homophobic witch hunt over allegations of paedophilia. NSW State Labor MP, Franca Arena, pushed the campaign which led to the suicide of a NSW judge after she outed him in Parlt as someone who used public toilets for sex with men. Here in Qld, too, I remember homophobia being used by both sides of politics in the 80s again with allegations of paedophilia and under-age sex. Both sides were trying to use homophobia against the other, which led to the State gov't passing legislation they claimed would close down gay bars in Qld. It didn't of course, and couldn't, partly because of the wording of the Act and also because the level of police corruption meant that manner of illegal activities were going on almost in full public view a long as the police got their own payoffs. The further irony was that the then Labor leader (and Baptist preacher), Keith Wright, was subsequently sprung, and went to gaol for, sex with under age girls, after he left State parlt.

Campbell's case is most reminiscent of Kirby's, although Kirby's case relied in part on the ghosts of the Arena campaigns in the 90s. Kirby was the victim of completely false allegations. There were false allegations, or more suggestions that would turn out to be false, with Campbell too but the substantive allegation was that he went to the gay sex on premises venue. And so the issue became Campbell's double life. NSW Premier bought into it and disgraced herself by saying

she was "disappointed and angry" about the minister's behaviour but, as a woman, she was concerned for his family, "his wife in particular"."I would say speaking as a person and a Premier I was shocked, I was saddened, I'm distressed," Ms Keneally said. "As his friend I'm disappointed and angry."As a Premier ... as a woman, I am concerned for his family and his wife in particular and I cannot imagine the impact this is having particularly on his family and on him at this time."She did not think it was acceptable for him to abuse the benefits of his office, his car in particular. She said she did not think that Mr Campbell had previously thought about the impact on his family of his double life. "It is appalling that he lived a lie, and it is appalling that he lives in a society [in which] he feels he has to live a lie," Ms Keneally said.

It is appalling that such hypocrisy can be gotten away with so publicly.

The notion of living a lie, Campbell's double life, became the issue and the justification by 7 News for outing him in the first place. Apparently all his promotional publicity showed him with his wife and family. Acording to Walters, the journo who outed him:

"It's blindingly obvious that since 1999 Mr Campbell has purported to be a family man," he said."He's represented himself to the people of Kiera as a family man, even going to the extent of sending Christmas cards to his constituents highlighting the fact that he is a man of family values."This is about pretence, it's about integrity, it's about character."

As Marieke Hardy points out:
While it may come as a shock to Walters to realise that family men on occasion sleep with women other than their wives, visit prostitutes, and - yes - have sex with other family men, the fact is this does not preclude them from being loving fathers, caring partners, and upstanding members of society. Sometimes they're even police ministers.

I agree with Hardy but I'm also struck by the way the debate shifted from straight out homophobia (I won't hold my breath waiting for similar stories about Ministers being sprung with prostitutes or other extra-marital hetero relationships) to heteronormativity. In other words, Campbell isn't performing marriage, family and even heterosexuality properly and so his constituents need to be made aware of that so that he can be driven from public life.

Hardy also shows how the heteronormative shift was not confined to straight commentators but was also picked up by gay commentators trying to defend Campbell, in particular, Sydney radio newsreader Geoff Field. Field wrote a piece in Sydney's Daily Telegraph in an attempt to defend Cambell or at least to try and counter the homophobic baying over Campbell. The title says it all - "Stupid and morally wrong but an absolute tragedy" Certainly a tragedy but where the stupidity, let alone the moral wrongness? Field is determined to prevent the story turning into a gaybashing exercise, which is highly creditable, but he does so by further bashing Campbell to reinforce the regime of heteronormativity responsible for Campbell's 'double life". He says:
First and foremost I feel sorry for the former police and transport minister's family and friends. I also feel for David Campbell himself, although many of you believe he deserves what he gets. I understand that train of thought, but this man was obviously living a double life which has now been exposed to a hungry media baying for blood. Don't get me wrong, what he did was stupid and morally wrong. Not only does he have to deal with his family, he also has to deal with the full force of the media. I hope this doesn't turn into a gay bashing exercise by certain people, because what he did was wrong whether it involved going to a straight or gay sex club. I just hope there is some way that those people directly involved can get their lives back together without even more suffering. Before you condemn this man, are you perfect yourself? I'm not saying he should be allowed to get away with this, without any consequences, but let's not allow this to turn into a titillating, salacious gay scandal....

But it already is. Campbell resigned once the story was out, no doubt to spare him and his family being subjected to further prurient scrutiny but the story is a salacious gay scandal involving sex on premises venues.

Sex on premises venues are a feature of contemporary gay life. They are safe and private compared to the public toilets and parks and out of the way places where men would meet for sex in the past. Beats and sex on premises venues are and have been frequented by 'family' men as much as by anyone else. In many cases they do so because the regime of the closet required they lead a double life. I don't know whether that was Campbell's situation or whether he and his wife had worked out a different sexual arrangement. One of the 'rules' of marriage has been sexual exclusivity, the ownership of the other's body. In the past it was male ownership of the woman's body and her womb in particular, marriage is after all about guaranteeing the patriline. But over the centuries such sexual exclusivity, monogamy, has been extended to both parties, at least in theory. But it's origins lie in the control of the womb and its products by the male.

The sexual revolutions of the last few decades have meant that many couples are living marriage differently with more open (but not public) (hetero) sexual arrangements. On the homo side, many long-term same-sex relationships are likewise more open in their sexual arrangements and always have been. Some types of same-sex relationships really don't fit the monogamous marriage model at all - and nor should they. Geoff Field publicly 'married' his partner, Jason, back in 2005 and so, no doubt, subscribes to the heteronormative mythology of the institution of marriage. But the heteronormative model allows no place for David Campbell to start with (and maybe not even for Geoff Field). So rather than reinforcing the heteronormativity, and the homophobia that derives from it, it would be better to argue for an affectional plenitude and a plurality of relationship types.


  1. Hello, Michael,

    Would you mind putting up a headshot of yourself on the catalogue site Goodreads, that we might complete your profile there? It's the source from which I get the feed for this blog.

    Better still, in fact, why not presume that noble appellative "Goodreads Author," that the likes of your humble servant might better gauge your reading tastes? Inspired in part by Sodomy, I've taken just lately an increased interest in your bailiwick.


  2. Hi Rodney, I'll check it out and thank you for your interest