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Peter Roebuck's sad legacy

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If only they could all be so proud.

If only they could all be so proud.

I feel sorry for gay blokes - not in a pitying, condescending way, and certainly not every gay man.

There are plenty of gays who annoy me - particularly the vicious, snippy, Carson Kressley wannabes who think they can slag off the world and get away with it because they're playing the part of the stereotypical bitchy queen.

But my heart goes out to the men and boys who struggle with their homosexuality, who live secret lives because their family or colleagues would not accept them if they came out.

It must be gut-wrenching: it's hard enough liking yourself when the world is merely apathetic to you, let alone if people despise you just because of who you're attracted to.

Every erection is an occasion for shame.

I saw an interview recently with a high-profile designer and nearly fell off my chair when he mentioned his "wife". The bloke has always struck me as being camp as a row of tents, and my gay mates assure me I'm on the money.

However, the man in question married to ensure harmony with his tradition-minded family, leading a double life when away from the marital home.

He's not alone. I'm sure you can think of a famous sportsman, TV personality, musician, even a friend, who maintains the facade of heterosexuality fearing career or family reprisals.

The recent suspected suicide of revered Fairfax cricket writer Peter Roebuck highlights again how there are still men, in 2011, in queer old Sydney of all places, who feel humiliation about their sexuality (and this is assuming Roebuck was gay, a fact no-one has yet unequivocally proved).

Yet we wonder why gay men are sometimes so unforthcoming?

After his death, London's Sun newspaper made the allegation Roebuck had "groomed" a 26-year-old Zimbabwe man who had accused him of sexual assault - a term usually reserved for sex predators who prey on the under-age.

Despite much innuendo, not one person has come forward with proof that Roebuck was a paedophile, only that he allegedly had a thing for young (adult) guys.

If Roebuck did sexually assault the guy, it cannot be condoned. However, if a 26-year-old man approaches an older man on Facebook trying to win his favour, and the man, as Roebuck allegedly did, asks the young guy to "bring a stick in case I need to beat you", I'd suggest he's very naive to not know there's a flirtation happening.

Change the gender equation, so Roebuck had a thing for young women and we'd be saying, "Ah, yup, like half the men in the world."

But still we get characterisations like this from the Herald Sun, which described Roebuck as "a dark soul who waged a war within over his sexuality".

Or this unsubstantiated slur from an Indian commentator: "While steering clear of under-age boys, Roebuck manoeuvred himself into a position of authority with an assembly line of young men."

Sounds a lot like Hugh Hefner to me, or any number of rich dudes who like to bed much younger women, luring them with the trappings of power.

Which is not to condone either behaviour, it's just the stench of homophobia vapours off so much of the reporting done on Roebuck since his suicide and that still informs a lot of the mainstream world's view of homosexuality.

"It's weird."  "It's dark." "If you like men, you must also like boys."

It also makes harmless flirting a very dangerous pastime for gay men. As one friend told me: "You cruise by making eye contact, reading body language trying to get close enough to a bloke to read his sexuality. It's a minefield; you can still get bashed or even hung on a barbed-wire fence."

One of Roebuck's sympathisers wrote in the Herald that "he fought to reconcile himself to his flaws, and it was the central drama of his life".

And this is what makes me sad.

Sexuality is not a flaw, nor should it be the central drama of anyone's life.

It just is.

 ❏ Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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