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Would I really have wanted to grow up like Peter Sinclair?

Fri 10 Aug 2001 In: True Stories

So, Peter Sinclair is dead. But amid the oodles of print-space devoted to obituaries, the TV compilation clips, the radio segments, the talk-back callers paying tribute, the 'G' word is suspiciously missing. Am I going to be amongst the few to say it? Peter Sinclair was gay. New Zealand's most respected TV presenter, the Internet columnist, the novelist, the potter, the radio show host, was gay, not that you'd know it from the media-coverage. There hasn't even been that coding that often comes at the end of obituaries for closeted gay men, you know, the 'He never married' or 'He was a life-long bachelor' type of thing. The silence is pretty deafening. And it parallels the silence in Sinclair's own life. The man whose recent newspaper columns took the average reader of New Zealand to the previously unacknowledged brinks of death, with columns in praise of morphine, examinations of hospice-care and all the paraphernalia of an approaching demise, was completely silent about his sexuality. He could die in the public gaze, but it seems he could not live openly. Should it matter? Is all of this unseemly? After all, it was his private life and if he wanted it private, who am I to prise open the coffin-lid? But it really does matter that Sinclair was silent on the subject. And it matters that the media, too, are silent. First of all it is a condemnation of a society that it can create an atmosphere where someone can feel that he has to keep silent on the issue. The closet as we all know is crippling. The silences and evasions and the general air of embarrassment are not healthy. Imagine being an individual whose life was latterly public, but who feels obliged to be silent about the one thing that really made him who he was. Sinclair's life encompassed the most turbulent years of New Zealand homosexual history, from the deep grey closet of the 1950's, free-wheeling love of the 1960s, the liberation years, the fight for equality and human rights. But here was a man who made no public comment on the issue, ever. This is like having an impassioned All Black fan who never admits to having seen a game or ever speaking about a game or a team or even acknowledging the team exists. The only media-reference to Sinclair's gayness occurred in the tribute in Wellington's Evening Post: 'Sinclair was courageous too. He was gay, and at the same time there was no protection in law for sexual preference.' Courageous? Sorry! Why was he courageous? For continuing to breathe given his homosexuality? Was he courageous for never, ever, ever saying a thing about it? Even a very late coming-out in his twilight years, given Sinclair's position in New Zealand society, could have made a difference. It could have helped ease the very situation that led Sinclair to this silence. So in a way, this silence is also a condemnation of a man, known as a thinker, known for his public profile, for the fact that he could continue to be silent, even when the social atmosphere had changed. I know teenage gay boys that are more honest than Peter Sinclair, who struggle to lead their lives honestly and openly but I do not see them being praised and elevated to sort of belated sainthood. Is New Zealand media and general public in fact praising Sinclair for never, ever letting the 'G' word escape his public lips. And after all, it is not that New Zealand doesn't know he was gay. I suspect that everyone, I repeat, everyone, who has read or heard one of the obituary tributes has privately thought the word 'gay'. Some may have even considered marmite jars.  Peter Sinclair was a gay icon. The urban myth that he was taken to Auckland Hospital to have a marmite jar removed from his rectum is a symptom of this. Every schoolboy knew that story and it was current for 20 or 30 years. And for every gay schoolboy, Sinclair was an example. He was on TV. He was urbane, intelligent, and debonair. He was smooth. He was well-regarded. He wasn't a simpering, lisping figure of fun. Maybe as a teenager, in Sinclair' s heyday, I too wanted to grow up like him. But all of this was in spite of himself, because Peter Sinclair never got to drive a sports car through Ponsonby Road, with the warm wind in his hair, leading a Hero Parade. Peter never pushed the envelope of himself or this country. He was a silent void in the heart of things. And this should be taken into account. I see a man crippled by the anti-homosexual bias of his times, but I also see a man unable to free himself, even at the end. I see the media in their current orgy of tributes continuing to generally keep this unhealthy silence. Every Nana, every listener of his radio shows, every reader of his columns, every recollector of his TV programmes, should be publicly reminded of who Sinclair really was. And he was gay. His gayness was him and his silence on the subject is significant in New Zealand at the beginning of the Third Millennium. How many more crippled lives must we create before we all can be free? And I mean crippled. I don't mean differently-advantaged. So, in retrospect, would I really have wanted to grow up like Peter Sinclair? I don't think so.     David Herkt - 10th August 2001

Credit: David Herkt

First published: Friday, 10th August 2001 - 12:00pm

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