On Tom Daley, Bisexuality and Gay Stereotypes

Just a few quick words on British diver and Olympic bronze medalist Tom Daley. Last December he revealed in a YouTube video that he was dating a man, and by doing it in such a seemingly casual way he joined the ranks of, among others, hip hop artist Frank Ocean and actor Jim Parsons. At the time I wrote of how happy I was for him and how his openness could make the coming out process easier for other athletes.

Although much of the media reporting on Daley’s video message at the time said he had come out as gay, it would be probably be more accurate to say that, if anything, he’d indicated that he was bisexual. However, it now seems that he recently told E! Online that he considers himself a gay man. It changes absolutely nothing about what I said about his announcement at the time, and it takes nothing away from the bravery he showed. Lots of people are bisexual, and others call themselves bisexual before deciding that their orientation is better described by the word “gay” or something else. Yes, Tom Daley said in his video that he “still fancied girls”, but his most recent comments doesn’t mean that couldn’t have been true at the time, or that he was something “lying” or “in denial”. While I’m glad that Tom is comfortable enough with himself to talk about how his relationship has changed how he sees himself, the most important point might be one that Daley himself has stressed previously; that labels shouldn’t really matter.

It is well-known that the gay community has had some problems with incorporating the experiences of bisexuals into the story of the movement, and it is disheartening that bisexuality is still looked down upon or in some respects not even recognized as a distinct sexual orientation. But one other interesting aspect of the evolving story of Tom Daley’s coming out was how parts of the media greeted the news that he was dating Dustin Lance Black. I’m not trying to weave a broader trend from the web of tackiness that is the UK tabloids, but the Sun‘s front page a couple of days after Daley’s coming out announcement trafficked in a very specific type of gay stereotyping: “Tom’s love is an Oscar-winning activist… and 20 years older”

The sensationalist exclamation point was the only thing missing, really. There wasn’t so much subtext as just plain text. It’s mostly all there in that telling ellipsis. Poor Tom, a mere 19, must have been seduced by the Hollywood dazzle and power of a man – gasp! – 20 years his senior. The Sun skilfully, if shamefully, dog-whistled about the gay adult who feed on vulnerable younger men, while covering its tracks by simply being true to the genre tropes of British tabloid journalism. And apropos of Dustin Lance Black, the tastelessness of The Sun reminded me of a story about him, Gus van Sant and Taylor Lautner from a few years back. The three of them were having dinner together, and for some reason GQ, profiling Lautner, decided to ask him if the two older men had made a pass at him. This could of course be just a joke question asked by a writer who had a bad day on the job, but the way I (and Dustin Lance Black) read it,  here was that murky stereotype of the predatory gay at play again.

No  matter what your sexual orientation is, you shouldn’t have to endure the thinly-veiled homophobia and just plain ignorance that still permeates much of public discourse. The Sun and others should be called out on it, so that Tom Daley is able to focus on his diving career, as he has said he wants to.

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