Tom Daley is gay! The ridiculously tanned, ridiculously toned, young gay icon has revealed he has had a boyfriend for months. All the guys across the world who may have watched the Olympic diving less for the pike position and more for Daley’s tiny speedos can rejoice, as his heterosexual teen girl fan base cry into their goggles.
Except, actually, he isn’t gay, or at least hasn’t said as much. Daley’s admittance is far from revelatory. Aside from the fact many people seem to have reacted to the public announcement with “about time”, this coming out is not a giant leap from a closet, as he maintains that he still “fancies girls”. Posters can remain on bedroom walls – you may still have a chance. So why is the word ‘gay’ being splashed everywhere? Why are media platforms treating his message as a definitive move to George Michael and Stephen Fry’s team?
Well, partly because we as a society just love to fit people into neat little boxes, especially when these boxes can be fit, tanned and frequently nearly naked. From the age of 14, when Daley stepped up to the board and dived into public consciousness, his sexuality has been questioned. Some may say this was jumping the gun somewhat; pressure to publicly define and out yourself long before you’ve started sixth form seems a little unreasonable. Yet from the start this was what we wanted – a clear label for this public figure.
Bisexuality seems to be a problem – far too fuzzy a concept for the society that likes clean lines and solid demarcations for everything. Maybe this attitude will be forced to shift soon, as a recent survey revealed that the amount of women aged 16 to 24 who’d had a lesbian experience has quadrupled in the last 20 years. However, this increased sexual fluidity has not extended to the male population yet. Perhaps it is down to the pornographically popular image of girl-on-girl – for male pleasure rather than their own – that has made bisexual or gay experiences more socially acceptable for women, but in any case boys don’t seem to be able to experiment in the same way. Boy bisexuality is still seen as ‘a phase’ or a refusal to fully leave the closet. ‘Look, he does diving, not rugby, he must be gay’ seemed to be a widespread thought process underlying Tom Daley’s sexual definition. His confession that the partner he is currently happy with is male has allowed for a collective resolution, a stamping of ‘homosexual’ and a sealing of a box that had previously remained frustratingly open.
But maybe this determination to define and sort is actually, in Daley’s case, no bad thing. The team Daley has entered is a small one – gay sportspeople are not usually so openly forthcoming. Fully out, successful, proud role models for young gay people, of either gender, are hard to find. The dominant image, across almost all sports, is still one of suppression, persecution and barely veiled homophobia. The support shown almost across board to Daley, and his example of a happy, successful relationship while in the public eye, are invaluable, especially in the face of revelations about enforced, homosexual initiation rites in Manchester United’s football squad. The admittance made by David Beckham that he was forced to pleasure himself, while looking at photos of male players, has revealed an oft assumed, but rarely discussed, culture of humiliation at the heart of sports’ industries. Embarrassing in itself, Beckham’s initiation was given a homosexual aspect, to apparently increase his degradation. Appearing gay, even for a short period, was clearly laughable and unthinkable – a source of shame. The changing room still seems to be a space of machismo laddiness, where homosexuality has an extremely quiet voice.
The fact that Tom Daley even felt the need to pose his relationship status update as a confession shows our society still has a way to go when it comes to acceptance. But, as the most successful, prominent sportsman to publicly announce his gay relationship, he has challenged the heterosexual whitewash. If only more young sportspeople would take the plunge.