Disinformation has been around for a long time, and by the time she was 16, Jane Austen was onto it. She came up with a narrative she called ‘The History of England from the reign of Henry the 4th to the Death of Charles the 1st’. She then made it clear early on that telling the truth wasn’t in her sights: ‘meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, and show my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, and not to give information’. Some of those eminent blokes who wrote history did likewise – this teenage girl was just more honest about it.
One real thing Jane Austen had picked up on, however, was the predilection of King James 1 (1566-1625) for good-looking young men. He was, she says, ‘possessed of a keener penetration [!] in Discovering Merit than many other people’. A notable case was Robert Carr, whom James’s favour made Earl of Somerset. So Austen launches into a charade with the answer ‘carpet’ [Carr-Pet].
And me, when I was 16, back in 1970s Sydney, what did I know about gay sex? Less than Jane Austen. Although admittedly the private life of one of James’s straight predecessors, Henry VIII, had been distracting enough. (The takeaway for a woman – that kind of guy is one you have to outlive…)
Flash forward to 2023, and I hear of a new biography of my friend Gordon’s late partner. This is about the tumultuous life of the Aussie soap star whom I’ll call Steve Dupont. He’d been big in Home & Away from the late 1980s, but was dead by the mid-2000s. Before he’d met Steve, I’d known Gordon at Sydney Uni in the late 1970s.
Gordon was one of two brothers who were close in age and resembled each other considerably, both being tall and elegant. But the other one, Royce, was always very camp in manner. He also had blond hair, which he dyed, and went in for the eyeliner and the lipstick. Everyone thought he was gay. Gordon was always more conventional, and we assumed his sexuality was as well.
Gordon and I used to lie some afternoons on one of the lawns round campus. We’d talk, and drink coffee, and that was all. What a disappointment! There was another female friend of his who, I thought, had the preference. Then we fell out of contact.
In the early ‘80s, Royce married a woman from his old high school, and they stayed together. A few years later, however, I was party to a rather snarky conversation about a gay couple, who turned out to be Gordon and Steve. I was gobsmacked. So it wasn’t the Other Woman…. At least by then, consensual sex between men had been decriminalised in NSW.
There was also no occasion for snarkiness. Gordon had continued to dress conservatively and had become an accountant. In that capacity he had helped out with the complicated financial affairs of Steve and many others in the entertainment industry. Meanwhile Steve had taken the gamble of leaving Home & Away to try his luck in Hollywood. But he was injured in a car-crash, and had to return to Australia. There he got a bit more TV work, without any major roles. It was the drugs that did for him, slowly but inexorably, before he hit 60. Nonetheless the mainstay of his life was Gordon. Although they broke up as partners, Gordon was there till the end.
My penchant for unavailable men? Here’s looking at you, Dr Bloomfield (a helluva lot of looking at you…). But I haven’t made any confident assumptions for a long time about anyone’s sexual orientation. Nor has it ever occurred to me that the priority of gay men, because they are gay, is to groom children for sex. That is serious disinformation. And it’s still around, as we saw recently here with the furore over drag queen story time.
I’ve also heard on the grapevine that Gordon has a new long-term partner. And me? I’m writing a book about Jane Austen.