Michael Stevens examines the headlines made by Phillip Schofield’s affair and sees the homophobia and ageism adding up.

Phillip Schofield was vaguely on the periphery of my radar as a former Kiwi, now English, TV personality who had recently come out in his late 50s.

His career is now shattered because he lied about having an affair with a male colleague while he was still married to a woman. But in true British tabloid style, this was a “much younger” colleague, and there has been an intense focus on the age gap – about 40 years – implying that this in itself is a terrible sin. The young man must have been swayed by Schofield’s power; it was grooming, and it was simply wrong for someone his age in his role to have an affair with someone so much younger. The idea that the younger man simply found Schofield sexually attractive is seen as absurd.


But is it?

There is sometimes a fixation on age gaps that strikes me as bizarrely Victorian, thin-lipped, and puritan. In 2017, the former English rugby player, Stanley Smith, then 26, announced that he was marrying his (then) 60-year-old partner of 6 years. They had met on a dating site, presumably when Stanley was about 20. That also caused a bit of a ‘He’s too old – he’s too young for him’ debate. It is ageism. It is bigotry.

But the entire point about an age of consent is that we assume that by that age you can consent. And you don’t need to get anyone else’s approval. You know what you like, and hopefully, find who you want.

The idea that gay men are out to recruit children is a long and deeply insulting theme. The idea that older gay men are predators out to corrupt innocent youth has been used against us for centuries and is again now. And it’s not true.

As a young gay man, I slept with a variety of men of a very wide range of ages. Of course, it was all illegal then; there was no age of consent for gay men – but I knew what I wanted and went for it. I was nearly always drawn to older men, in their 30s or 40s, or older. I was jumping into bed with them happily. I consented.

We even saw evidence of this ageist bigotry at Auckland Pride this year, when at a ‘speed dating’ event it was announced that nobody over 25 would be allowed to speed date anyone under 25 – for “their safety.” What danger were they in? The claim that this was about purported safety is particularly repellent coming from a Pride event. They were repeating the old, disgusting, and dangerous lies that have been used to persecute gay men for centuries.

What Schofield did was, in his words, “unwise but not illegal,” and I agree with him there. Sex at work is risky, especially if you’re in a senior role. Definitely unwise, but that is all. Did you know around 40% of people meet their spouse at work? So even though it’s risky, it’s happening.

Ultimately, wise or not, two adult gay men chose to have an affair. One lied about it, probably out of panic when he realised how it could look on a tabloid front page.

Schofield might have done something wrong to his wife and family by having the affair and lying about it. But beyond them, who cares?

Age is just a number, and nobody has to justify who they are attracted to. It’s nobody’s business but theirs.