Cristina Odone is a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith. She is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and is a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman. She is married and lives in west London with her husband, two stepsons and a daughter. Her latest novel, The Good Divorce Guide, is published by Harper Collins.
I’m so glad I can have a best friend. Two women can be inseparable. We can live in each other’s pockets, be totally dependent on one another and still be considered sassy rather than Sapphic – Sex and the City, not Tipping the Velvet.
During party conference season, I regularly stayed with my friend Patsy, director of a PR company. Her firm could afford the conference hotel in town; my magazine only stretched to a cubby-hole in suburbia. So it made sense to sleep with her, and even someone whose profession was about image-control knew that two women could share a double bed at the Grand in Brighton without risking anything except a few cracks from men about “any room for me too?”
Had Patsy been advising Dr Liam Fox, though, or William Hague, I’m sure she would have counselled them to book separate rooms for their BFs. No matter how above board their friendships, two men cannot be close. They can be chums and swill lager from the tin as they watch the rugby together. They can have running buddies, and wind up the working week in the pub with a male friend or three. But two men cannot grow close without someone whistling the theme song from Brokeback Mountain.
Apply words such as “inseparable” and “companion” to males, and instantly the suggestion is of a homo-erotic relationship rather than a deep intellectual and emotional bond. Such prurient theorising is not confined to the living: were David and Jonathan in the Old Testament just good friends? Did James Boswell find in Samuel Johnson the perfect subject of a biography – or the love of an older man? And CS Lewis and JR Tolkien – any impropriety there?
Freud, who saw everything in light of repressed sexual urges, has a lot to answer for. So do gay campaigners. They have dragged homosexuality into mainstream culture by arguing that far from being a minority, gays are everywhere: everyone is a repressed homosexual. Their efforts have made homophobia unacceptable – but sadly platonic male friendships, too.