Look, we all knew Tom Daley was queer as a pair of budgie smugglers anyway, didn’t we? Maybe now that he’s come out, the British media might take him a little more seriously, says Rob ‘The Loose Cannon’ Buchanan.
19 year-old British Olympic diving medalist, Tom Daley has come out queer. Or more accurately by his self-identification, he is currently “in a seriously relationship with a man but still fancies girls”.
Gotten over the shock yet? No, me neither.
I’ve heard many people, both gay and straight, commenting on how irritated they were by the omnipresence of Daley on television. As an Irishman I found it interesting to note the peculiar place he occupied in the British psyche. They usually have a certain blind devotion to their Olympic heroes and Tom should have certainly been at that top of this pantheon. He’s young, and by Christ he’s photogenic. Add to that how extremely pleasant and humble Daley is in interviews, and you should have a recipe for all-out adoration.
But, no – Daley was the subject of a large negative backlash. Yes, athletes in the UK are sometimes objects of parody, but there was often outright ridicule when it came to Tom.
Even the tragic loss of his father, Rob, who died of cancer aged 40 in 2011, seemed to do little to insulate the young diver from the mockery aimed at him. Despite winning bronze at the Olympics, Daley received a lot twitter-hate, which ranged from mild bitching to outright homophobic filth. Some even stooped so low as to say he was a disappointment to his late father, albeit this particular tweet happened to be from a 17 year-old who likely had worse Daddy issues than Tom ever had.
Having lost my own father at around the same age that Daley did, plus being one to frequently parade around in a wet pair of budgie smugglers, I found myself getting quite defensive about the whole thing. The negativity seemed to come from more mainstream sources too. Tom Daley became a byword in the press for a certain ‘type’ of bloke. I remember being more than a little uncomfortable watching Soccer AMwith my mates and seeing the camp caricature of Daley, which bizarrely became a popular weekly fixture.
Of course we were to believe it was all ‘good clean fun’, but I found it curious how such a young, scantily-clad, effeminate boy would be an honourable object of ridicule for burly football fans.
It seems that at the root of the big beef Daley’s detractors had with him was that he was clearly ‘that way inclined’ but was giving interviews about possibly fictitious relationships with female team members. The contradictory presentation of him as a heterosexual heartthrob soured the pitch. It was a type of sexual Uncanny Valley.
The fact is that as long as a public figure hides in a ‘glass closet’, the joke will ultimately be on them. Perhaps Daley’s thousands of female fans were able to overlook the obvious (let’s face it the sight of Tom’s slow-motion slashes in to the water got more than the poolside bystanders wet), but for the rest of us, queer or straight, our Gaydar had zeroed in on him long ago. Sexual ambiguity, even in someone so young, seems to be an itch the public wants to scratch.
The questions that we need to ask now are: has Daley come out now because he is now truly comfortable with himself and his new relationship, or is it to pre-empt some sordid exposé by a newspaper?
And does a public figure, even one as young as Daley, have an obligation to the gay community to come out immediately? Certainly an Olympic sporting hero who was ‘out’ might have made a potent tool to help young people find acceptance both from their peers and from themselves.
Beyond all the innuendo and speculation, let’s not forget that this is a young man who has had unimaginable burdens placed upon him. He has had little time to make many of the mistakes, or experience many of the innocent private joys that young men get to without the world looking at their every move. This is his sexuality we are talking about; it is not something he chose.
This extends far beyond the regular discourse on the privacy of celebrities, who hypocritically try to sell their ‘Reality’ TV lives as a product, while paradoxically playing the martyr when the less desirable aspects of their unguarded personas are exposed.
This young man’s sexuality is not a product. Daley’s courageous and positive comments say it all: “Come spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone who makes me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great.”
Being safe and happy is what being yourself is all about. Welcome to the party, Tom Daley. The joke is no longer on you.
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