I never thought I’d say this, but I feel a little sorry for Alan Jones. He’s spent his entire life rigorously avoiding the question of his sexuality, and now everyone’s talking about it. And his friends like Professor David Flint are right to make the point that a public figure’s sexuality should not necessarily be up for discussion. The debate between David Marr and Andrew Bolt on The Insiders yesterday left me more torn than I would ordinarily expect to be where those two individuals are involved, because it occurred to me that for once, Bolt might have a point.
And that point was as follows:
Listen, it’s the linking of the constant “nudge, nudge, wink, wink that he was with boys” with Masters actually admitting he has no proof at all of anything improper. If this happened to anyone else – this linking of being gay with being a pedophile, you would be the first, like I was when (Liberal senator Bill) Heffernan attacked Michael Kirby I was there saying this is disgraceful. You should be here attacking this kind of stuff.
It’s certainly true that many people make a strong association between homosexuals and pedophilia. I once heard Fred Nile argue at Sydney University that the age of consent should be higher for homosexual sex, as it was at the time in NSW, to protect young boys – his clear implication being that there are more problems with pedophilia amongst homosexual men. It was a disgraceful exercise in “nudge nudge, wink wink” of the kind Bolt describes, where Nile never actually came out and said, but constantly implied, that gays were inherently deviant, so can’t be trusted around young men. (That law, fortunately, has now been changed – for which we can largely thank John Brogden.)
The initial excerpt about Alan Jones’ sexuality, and his relationship with young boys while a master at the Kings School was certainly a little, shall we say, racy. So, were Masters’ tales of showers and love letters an exercise in “nudge nudge, wink wink”, or a legitimate piece of journalism?
Firstly Masters cannot really be accused of sensationalism. The excerpt as a whole read as extremely balanced, and makes the point repeatedly that there was no evidence of sexual contact.
But Bolt does Masters’ work a disservice by arguing that this is an attempt to destroy Jones via mere innuendo. The examples Masters has identified go well beyond that. They’re presented calmly and with balance, but they are, in places, concerning. No parent would want their children, of either sex, showering with teachers, or receiving love letters from them. Our education system now goes to enormous lengths to prevent such behavior.
Given what Masters found – and the speculation that has always surrounded Jones anyway – his behavior is a fair question for the writer to investigate. If he had committed criminal actions, then surely his audience would have a right to know, wouldn’t it? That Masters ultimately finds no smoking gun is a point that should actually exonerate Jones, not implicate him.
But a far more convincing argument in favour of making these revelations is given by Masters and Marr, who link Jones’ sexuality to the way in which he exerts influence. The Age reported that “Masters says Jones, 65, hides his homosexuality in order to retain his much-feared audience power base, which he uses in secrecy to influence ministers, including the Prime Minister.” Marr said “It is is an explanation for his strange character, his love of secretness.”
And the exercise of that influence is certainly worthy of some hard questions, especially to those who indulge him. Tony Abbott and Morris Iemma seem like eager puppies in the humiliating excerpt published today. (How on earth is Tony Abbott simultaneously at the beck and call of Alan Jones and George Pell, incidentally?) Exposing the remarkable extent of Jones’ influence-peddling can only be good for our democracy.
Sure, Bolt is probably right to suggest that some may read “teacher, gay, boys”, as he puts it, and assume Jones is a pedophile. But if they do, that is not the fault of Masters or his carefully written (and excerpted) work. That assumption ultimately reflects the individual’s own prejudice.
And this ever-present risk that his conservative audience would assume the worst if it was aware of his sexual proclivities is at the heart of the tortured existence that Masters describes, and explains why the excerpts make me wonder if I shouldn’t feel sorry for Jones. What a terribly unhappy existence it would be to constantly fear that if your allies and fans knew who you really were, or who you really loved, they would shun you.
There can be no better example of this than Jones’ relationship with John Howard. Jones is the PM’s close ally – the MC at his celebration dinner for 30 years in politics. But under Howard, gays are second-class citizens whose relationships are given a substantially lower status than heterosexual ones, as a recent article by Adele Horin illustrates. So why wouldn’t Alan Jones fear, subconsciously at least, that the PM would shun him if he revealed his sexuality?
I am speculating here, of course, but a life of shame and secrecy is not something anyone would voluntarily choose, is it? It’s a lonely existence. Jones has never been seen in public life with a male partner, and the conservative sphere in which he moves would probably not be comfortable if he did. And if his pals don’t treat gay relationships as equal and normal, why would Jones give anyone evidence that would lead to them rejecting him?
The excerpts from Masters’ book portray Alan Jones’ life as tragic because he is helping to perpetrate a worldview that denies who he truly is. And while I don’t care for his opinions, or the way he exercises his influence, I can’t help but recognise the pathos of the predicament Masters describes.
Jonestown hasn’t even been published yet, and it already might have shattered Jones’ precarious “don’t ask, don’t tell” existence forever. It’s too soon to say whether his audience will turn against him. I hope it doesn’t – it wouldn’t exactly reflect well on our society. But if it does, Jones will partly be responsible, because his approach of avoiding the issue means that he hasn’t ever challenged or encouraged his audience to be more tolerant.
This exposure may ultimately have some upside, though, or perhaps even come to seem like something of a relief. From now on, Jones can be assured that his friends and listeners, and all those who come to pay him tribute, know most of his secrets, and are with him anyway.