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Poking into people’s privacy is rarely admirable

What follow is a somewhat edited version of a comment I left on a Hollywood gossip blog called JJ’s Dirt. As the blog owner decided not to approve my comment (as is indeed his right of course, so no nonsensical bleating about ‘censorship’… it is JJ’s blog and any comments on his turf are quite rightly at his unconditional sufferance. His blog = his rules), so I thought I would post my comment here. As it never saw the light of day, I have slightly expended it to more fully express my views.

I came across the article in a google search for something quite unrelated and saw a short list of people who are purported to be homosexual or bisexual in various so called ‘public’ walks of life in the USA. Although I am utterly indifferent to people’s consensual sexual behaviour provided it is not aggressively thrust unwanted in my direction, I have always been deeply uncomfortable with the self-righteousness of people who ‘out’ others. This was the trigger phrase that moved me to comment and my (slightly expanded) reply follows.

“The failure to come out on the part of figures in the public eye seemingly sends a message that homosexuality or bisexuality is something shameful that needs to be hidden.”

Or maybe they just have the notion that it is none of anyone else’s damn business and that unless they choose to openly discuss their private life, they should have their privacy respected by others when they are not on the job.

If someone is a politician, they are a person controlling the violence backed means of collective coercion and quite reasonably should have no right to privacy whatsoever, be it sexual, social or financial.

Being an athlete or actor/actress on the other hand is just a job, not a public office. Why should your wish to ‘out’ someone trump their wish to perhaps not have what they do in private known? Certainly no one can or should force you to stop this (unless they feel you have defamed them, which is a rather different issue that I am not addressing), but that does not make what you are doing right. Perhaps you define yourself by your sexuality but most homosexual people I know do not, so why try to force them to make common cause with you when they may well feel no affinity with you or your world view at all? It is already the case that in most of the civilised world (i.e. the western world) the law does not prohibit homosexual public displays of affection. You have legal protection against violence directed at you and being homosexual no longer mitigates your legal right not to be assaulted… and rightly so of course.

Moreover by and large you have tolerance socially too, in that people will not take action to try and stop you holding hands with your partner. That is what tolerance means. It is the natural right of everyone to have their consensual behaviour with others tolerated.

However if your ‘comfort’ means it is ‘acceptance’ you want from straight people, rather than just tolerance, well you may ask people for it but you have no right to it and a significant number of people will choose to not accept you. No one has a right to be accepted. As long as someone tolerates you (as they must), it is their right, not yours, to judge you according to their sensibilities.

In short, if all someone does is sneer at you and your partner holding hands in public, deal with it. The world is full of jackasses and always will be. But please, stop poking into people’s private affairs if they do not want them poked into. I do not think what you are doing is immensely harmful but it is neither admirable nor justified.

26 comments to Poking into people’s privacy is rarely admirable

  • Anthony

    Well, let me see. JJ Cowardly doesn’t “flaunt” his sexuality because some Hollywood personalities he suspects might be gay won’t come out. If only they did, life would be easier for him.

    So who made this repulsive, self-absorbed, hybrid chimp-human God of the World?

    Maybe I could stand to see one more new law: privacy theft. And I’d like to see him prosecuted.

  • Well said Perry. One has to wonder that JJ’s motives for his ‘outing’ post were anything more than a way to drum up visitors with a little sensationalism. The fact that he refused to give your comment space demonstrates that he has no interested in a discussion of the ethics of what he did and just wants the ad revenue which the sheeples who visit his site will no doubt generate.

    If he did have a reason other than pursuit of wealth then it may have been enlightening to hear it, but as it is we can only assume that his motives, and possibly even his entire character, are shallow, devoid of merit, and wholly ignoble. By not publishing your comment he denies himself a right to reply on his own website and must throw himself on your tender mercies if he chooses to comment here. I know that you would never be so petty as to reject a comment of his unless it was truly offensive, but it would serve him right nonetheless.

  • Maybe I could stand to see one more new law: privacy theft. And I’d like to see him prosecuted.

    I don’t think that is appropriate as I feel he should be free to do things I find repulsive just as I am free to air my opinion that outing people is repulsive.

    It would be very dangerous for the state to arbitrate this exchange of views… and I don’t feel quite the same degree of animus towards JJ that you seem to, but I do find the intrusively collectivist notion that people have a duty (moreover a duty that JJ feels justified in thrusting upon the unwilling) to lay their private lives open for the benefit of others rather offensive.

  • Anthony

    Well, I did say maybe.

    “Maybe” means: I am enjoying an indulgence. And in my indulgence, I ask myself whether anything might justify such a law, and my answer is, yes, exposing the private lives of these people and forcibly altering their lives to suit JJ does amount to serious interference with those lives, especially if you can demonstrate that said interference does harm.

    My operating assumption is that liberty is not possible without privacy.

    Probably it isn’t necessary to make new law where civil law would do.

    As for my animus, well, let me put it this way. I know the gay community. And it often frustrates me that while we often assume a kind of personal libertarianism, when it comes to public action it is often politically illiberal.

  • Crake

    The difference between tolerance and acceptance (or even “respect”) was also a source of much confusion during the cartoon controversy.

  • kentuckyliz

    There is no constitutional right to privacy. It was manufactured out of whole cloth in Griswold v. Conneticut and is very poor law.

    If there is a right to privacy, it is grounded in property rights. Meaning, buy a house and do what you want at home. You can keep the blinds closed…

    …but how do you keep your sex partners from bragging and gossipping?

    You can’t.

    So just pay whatever social price for the consequences of your chosen behaviors, whatever that might be.

  • Jerome Thomas

    Another symptom of the same confusion is concern that having a sane set of drugs laws would “send the wrong message” as if the main purpose of the legal system was to function as a tool of moral instruction.

    The left, in common with collectivists of all stripes does not acknowledge a private sphere in the sense that libertarians do. If you believe that the personal IS political then there is no area that is offlimits for such coercive nonsense.

    In the United States there is a small but vocal group of african-american female activists that complain bitterly of the dating choices of African-American men and regard Black men who choose to date women as somehow betraying them.

    This sense of ownership over others such attitudes betray is symptomatic of the same attitude.

    Mandrill: The guy running JJs Dirt might be utterly sincere in his collectivism. Collectivists almost by definition see group memberships as immutable, and allpervasive and see the chain of responsibility as flowing from individual to group and from one group to others.

  • Jerome Thomas

    Correction to the above post… The sentence should have read “regard black men who choose to date WHITE women as somehow betraying them”

  • As a gay man I clicked on the Bloglines link to this post with some interest (although I scan much of your other blog output too, of course).

    I tend to share your view on this issue, particularly in the way the list has been introduced. It really is no business of anyone else what people do in their private lives, whether they are ‘public figures’ or people who are not in the public eye, provided of course that they are doing nothing illegal. In relation to homosexuality it seems to me the only jusitification for ‘outing’ someone is if they have made statements which are anti-homosexual and generally hateful toward them – I think it is in that case perfectly reasonable to expose their hypocrisy. I suppose that film stars or other ‘entertainers’ don’t matter so much, except that if they have expressed anti-homsexual views they may be influencing their fans into similar attitudes, so if they are complete hypocrites too then they deserve all they get, and the same is doubly-true of some politicians who have supported anti-homosexual policies, but later been exposed as homosexuals themselves.

    However, if some of the people on the list are homosexual, I am not aware that any of them has ever spoken about the topic, negatively or otherwise, so it seems grossly unfair to me to tell everyone about their ‘secret’ if they are doing no harm. I really don’t want to know.

    On the other hand the issue of holding hands in public, or even having a ‘snog’ should not be comment-worthy either. It’s not something I would personally feel particularly comfortable with, the ‘snogging’-bit anyway if not the hand-holding (and I have done that on occasion), but it should excite no more comment than when a heterosexual couple are ‘getting it on’ in public, quite frankly. Only yesterday I was in a major airport in an English city (not London) and was faced with a young heterosexual couple at an adjacent table in the same airport café who were all over each other and I’d say that whilst it didn’t particularly bother me, it was somewhat disconcerting – just as it would have been if it had been a gay/lesbian couple, but my basic attitude is that I think people (gay or straight) need to be a little more more discreet in their behaviour sometimes.

    You may not wish people to ‘thrust’ their homosexuality in your face, but I quite frankly don’t particularly wish to have people thrust their heterosexuality in my face either, but you rarely hear people talking about that, it’s usually a perfectly-innocent gay couple holding hands or having a hug in public that attract the flak. I don’t want to see poeple of ANY sexuality being overtly sexual in their behaviour toward each other in public.

  • guy herbert


    Generally, hear, hear. However, I don’t agree with this:

    If someone is a politician, they are a person controlling the violence backed means of collective coercion over others and quite reasonably should have no right to privacy whatsoever, be it sexual, social or financial.

    There are persons other than politicians who control the means of coercion, or attempt to. Do you consider their privacy void?

    My criterion is that anyone is entitled to privacy save to the extent that they are trampling on the rights of others or where their private conduct is or would be forbidden to others under a policy they wilfully enforce, promote or advocate.

    Thus if the former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, James Anderton, who ordered his officers to seize copies of the Sun newspaper as an “indecent publication”, were publicly revealed to have an extensive collection of pornography (I have no reason to believe he does), I would find it difficult to have any sympathy for him in his embarrassment. Al Gore’s carbon-footprint is a legitimate matter for public interest, as is George Monbiot’s, because they want to restrict others’. But their sex-lives aren’t.

    We all here go round advocating policy changes – but mostly we are specifically not for restricting other people’s freedoms so what we choose to do with our own is legitimately private. A politician is just someone who tries to determine government policy, so if professional politicians are fair game under all circumstances, then so are you and I.

  • Jerome Thomas

    Bill: I broadly agree with you in regard to people being overtly sexual in public unless its in a place where that kind of thing is to be expected like a late night bar or nightclub

    However overly affectionate people is not a problem I want “Society” (ie government) to address at all.

    You mention a double-standard held by many people in regards to public displays between heterosexual couples as opposed to gay couples.

    I agree that this doublestandard exists

    Once again, however I have no interest in having any publically funded body address this ‘problem’ in any way shape or form beyond ensuring that people are not subject to violence.

    People have the right to be narrowminded bigoted assholes.

  • Statist socialists are rightfully condemned for the attitude that their plans for the lives of those around them are more important, more valuable, than the plans actually held by those around them.

    Outing someone for private non-criminal, non-aggressive behaviour is just more of the same: it’s an arrogant, presumptuous, self-serving, anti-individualist assault based on the idea that other lives are mere tools for the achievement of one’s own wishes.

    “The failure to come out on the part of figures in the public eye seemingly sends a message that homosexuality or bisexuality is something shameful that needs to be hidden.”

    The person being outed may have an entirely different view, which is why JJ said “seemingly” instead of “is”–and JJ’s still willing to play with other people’s lives based on that assumption. In other words, JJ is just another thug.

  • llamas

    Funnily enough, he proves his own point.

    In the past, when being gay was ‘something shameful that needs to be hidden . . ‘, ‘outing’ someone was not something you did lightly. Or at all. The social pressures were so great that you risked either a) a huge lawsuit, with every chance of losing a nd losing big or b) having the suicide of your victim on your conscience. Both outcomes regularly occurred, with various UK tabloid newspapers making what amounted to a sport of dancing as close to actionable words as they could – and often losing. For example, Liberace – who pretty-much defined the ‘flaming’ stereotype – sued the Daily Mirror in the ’50s for the most veiled suggestions about his preferences and won an absorbent amount of damages and a full retraction.

    Nowadays, the ‘revelation’ that this-or-that person is gay is a giant yawn. Most people really could care less. And that in itself pretty-much gives the lie to the suggestion of ‘something shameful that needs to be hidden . . . .’. Nobody’s particularly ashamed of it anymore, noone goes very far out of his or her way to hide it. There’s openly-gay folks in all walks of life, noone gives a hoot, mostly.

    What this joker is trying to do is assign himself and/or gay people generally the mantle of victimhood and ‘specialness’, and herd them all neatly into a single bloc. But being gay just really isn’t that special anymore.



  • kentuckyliz:

    So just pay whatever social price for the consequences of your chosen behaviors, whatever that might be.

    Indeed. And that includes outing people, which I do not think should be illegal but rather socially unacceptable. Much like racism in fact, which I also think should not be illegal, but rather socially unacceptable.

    Bill (Scotland):

    You may not wish people to ‘thrust’ their homosexuality in your face, but I quite frankly don’t particularly wish to have people thrust their heterosexuality in my face either

    Indeed, that is exactly my point… I do not what people thrusting any behaviour in my face intrusively.

    Guy Herbert:

    There are persons other than politicians who control the means of coercion, or attempt to. Do you consider their privacy void?

    Yes, pretty much.

  • From Guy: There are persons other than politicians who control the means of coercion

    That’s a pretty undefined statement. If I was a gun owner (or a hammer-owner) for example, I could be construed as controlling a means of coercion.

    So, with respect, Guy: who are you referring to, for example?

  • Sunfish

    Normally, I’d say that ‘outing’ other people is bullshit and for normal people it is.

    And then there are special cases. My state, back in 2006, had two ballot questions. One was an amendment to the state constitution which would have banned anything other than “one-man/one-woman” marriages. The other would have legalized “civil unions,” marriage-lite basically.

    One loud activist voice in favor of the one and against the other was a pastor from one of the churches in Colorado Springs, New Life I think it was. Anyway, the guy’s name was Ted Haggard. And he went on and on about the kinds of immorality that would come from letting gay people marry, etc.

    And then it came out (so to speak) that he would meet with a male prostitute and smoke meth. Haggard insisted that there was no sex involved, only massages, even though he was meeting an admitted male prostitute and paying the guy. You can decide for yourself what you want to believe.

    Was it fair to out Haggard? I think so.

  • Jerome Thomas

    Uhmm.. Maybe Haggard had a moral issue with gay marriage but not gay prostitution?

    Seriously though I suppose it would be possible for socially conservative gays to be against gay marriage, although I haven’t heard of any such cases. I see no reason why such people should necessarily be outed.

  • Laird

    I want to return to a comment made earlier by kentuckyliz: “There is no constitutional right to privacy. It was manufactured out of whole cloth in Griswold v. Conneticut and is very poor law.” That’s a common argument, but not precisely accurate. I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether or not Griswold v. Connecticut is “poor” law (although it is the law). However, while it is true that the Bill of Rights contains no explicit “right to privacy,” the Bill of Rights was never intended to be a complete catalog of all of our rights. Indeed, many of the Framers actively opposed passage of the Bill of Rights because they feared (correctly, it would seem) that such a list of “favored” rights would come to be seen not as merely illustrative but as exclusive. It was always understood that there were other, unenumerated, rights equally deserving of protection. I submit that a right to privacy is probably first on that list, for without it many other rights are of questionable value.

    Sunfish, in regard to your story of “outing” Rev. Haggard, I agree that it was “fair” in context, and in all probability he is an outright hypocrite. However, it is certainly possible for someone to engage in homosexual activity while opposing the formalization of homosexual marriage (“lite” or otherwise). In our society the concept of “marriage” carries a host of legal implications, and one could have a principled objection to extending those to homosexual unions even while indulging in an occasional such dalliance oneself.

  • darkbhudda

    I always find lists of bi and gay celebrities who are “in denial” amusing. Most of them are wishful thinking rather than based on fact.

  • llamas

    Off-topic, but I see Sunfish is here –

    Sunfish, your thoughts on this, if you please:


    The T-shirt issue, not the other questions about DNC’08.




  • Anthony

    Thank-you, Laird, for your wise point on privacy and the Bill of Rights.

    I think what you say is right, and those who doubt it might consider this.

    Just as the U.S. Supreme Court found that the right to bear arms could be shown to go back, not only during, but also before the founding of the United States, and in fact was taken for granted, domestic privacy has also been shown in Lawrence to go back very far and to have been taken for granted. It seems that the state did not always attempt to enforce private morality, as the modern state wants so much to do.

    It is really a fairly recent inclination that seeks out reasons for denying human choice and action.

    Meanwhile it is perhaps worth remembering that the various states within the U.S. often do specify a right to privacy, as California does, and where I live. This reinforces Laird’s point about unenumerated rights, because, as Madison said, again taking matters for granted:

    “We have seen that in the new government as in the old, the general powers are limited, and that the States in all unenumerated cases, are left in the enjoyment of their sovereign and independent jurisdiction.”

    This does not mean, for example, that if no right to privacy is mentioned in the Bill of Rights no right to privacy exists.

    It means that what does not contradict those “general powers” may yet to be enumerated.

  • I think saying “the Constitution says I can do x” must be seen as nothing more that a purely practical tool. Right are secured using practical tools, be they legal constructs or firearms.

    But rights do not spring from tools such as laws, they are inherent and (take your pick) natural, God given or moral theories that spring from our ability to reason (personally I chose the later). I have rights regardless of what the law says. Good laws help me secure them, bad laws infringe them.

  • guy herbert

    Ron Good,

    So, with respect, Guy: who are you referring to, for example?

    I gave two examples: a chief policeman, and media advocates for particular state policies. In general anyone who has discretion over policy and access to the power of the state to enforce that policy, or who if they don’t directly control it advocates the application of state power in a particular way, ought to be subject to their own rules. The public has a legitimate interest if someone who desires to impose rules on others doesn’t live by them.

    As a part-time lobbyist, I fall into that category myself. I don’t think my rights are automatically void therefore pace Perry. I advocate more protection of individual privacy; my desire for personal privacy is not inconsistent. But any imbecilic politician or commentator who addresses the same subjects with “If you’ve not done anything wrong, then what have you got to hide?” can’t expect much sympathy from me if their personal history and habits are publicised.

    (Note my position is the reverse of the vulgar ad hominem presumption of our post-modern world, and the cant of the official universe inhabited by the Standards Board for England: that one’s personal preference or interest invalidates one’s point of view on policy and only formally recognised ‘experts’ or uninvolved ignoramuses are entitled. On that model, my personal desire for privacy taints my willingness for it to be granted to others, and the only people who are entitled to expect it are those who don’t claim it, and proclaim themselves to have nothing to hide.)


    Why void?

  • You didn’t do a very good job initially of explaining what you meant Guy (as another commenter also intimated) but I see what you mean now.

    My position is the closer you are to being a person who controls the means of collective coercion, the more I think you alienate a lot of your rights to privacy… an MP is fair game in all aspects of their life and frankly would love to put publicly accessible CCTV and microphones in the homes of every government minister so anyone who wants to can find out what the bastards really think. Then again, maybe best not to give them ideas what to do to the rest of us.

    I think a lobbyist on the other hand is a very long way indeed from having actual control over the power of the state’s truncheon and so correspondingly I think they should still have more social expectation of privacy. Actually politicians and ‘civil serpents’ with direct force-backed regulatory power at their disposal, on the other tentacle, are people trusted (for want of a better word) with the actual direction of force backed regulatory law and the more direct the access to that power is, the less privacy is justified.

    A lobbyist on the other hand is just expressing an opinion. Big difference.

  • Sunfish

    Jerome and Laird: You might be right about whether Haggard thought that paying for sex was more moral than if he had just married the guy. I can’t see into his head.

    I don’t see the objection to gay marriage, though. If I had to suffer then dang it, so should they. (And now I’ve made Haggard’s argument for him)

    I probably shouldn’t admit to seeing the humor in the shirt. It’s in terrible taste. Funny, but I wouldn’t admit to saying so. (And now, prepare for someone to shout “MELON LOVE YOU DOG-SHOOTING JBT!!1!one”)

  • If he railed against homosexuality in general, then he’d be a hypocrite. If he had ‘married’ another man elsewhere while railing against it, he’d be a hypocrite.

    In this instance? I dunno.