Monday, 2 December 2013

Something I want to say...

Today my Facebook newsfeed has been full of reaction to Tom Daley’s announcement that he’s in a relationship with a man. My own reaction was to not want to react. Really, the news is inconsequential. Olympic sports men and women fall in love and embark on relationships all the time. It has been quite stunning to see that people, gay and straight alike, still feel the need to make A Big Deal out of what is ostensibly the common event of two young people falling in love for the first time.

It’s this reaction that has made me react, rather than the announcement. For me it’s highlighted just how far away we are from two fellas getting together not being A Big Deal. Depressingly, there will of course be the social media trolls who fling homophobic abuse at Daley. But that, at least, will come from people so painfully stupid, you can almost disregard it. On the other end of the spectrum there’s the hundreds of messages of support: “It doesn’t change anything,” and encouragement: “You’re so brave,” that people are posting. Mostly this is beautiful and will no doubt make Daley feel relieved and able to move on with his life. 

But there’s also something a little bit sad about it all. Of course it “doesn’t change anything”. So why do we feel the need to say so? Because we’re both consciously and subconsciously aware of just how much prejudice exists in the world towards two adult human beings of the same sex falling in love and having a relationship. It’s also sad that what Daley has done really is still a brave thing to do. Coming out, telling people you like others of the same gender romantically and sexually, is a terrifying thing, something people who identify as straight are incredibly lucky to never have to go through. To confess (confess!) to something that has the potential to generate all manner of awful reactions in people is an extremely hard thing to do.

Especially if in doing so you seem to confirm people’s pre-conceived ideas about you. Most depressing is the “Told you so!” rhetoric that’s flying about. So you “knew he was gay” all along, did you? Just like you did Wentworth Miller? Or Ben Whishaw? No. No, you didn’t. You made assumptions about Daley based on pre-conceived ideas about gay men that were fed to us by society the media as we grew up, and generally continue to be so. You didn’t know anything definitive about Tom Daley’s sexuality until you watched his YouTube video today. Really, you still don’t.

And that’s one of the more inspiring things about Tom Daley’s announcement. Not once did he use the words ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ – still now he refuses to indulge the insistent speculation by labelling himself. Like Frank Ocean last year, he focused on what is the most important element of the story – he’s fallen in love with someone. Given the constant speculation about his sexuality, it’s an amazing achievement that Tom Daley has not allowed his status as a public figure to get in the way of or direct the development of his personal life. He has refused to be defined by what people say about him. He’s given himself time to work it out himself on his own terms, public opinion be damned. 

I endured constant speculation about my sexuality at school, which I also never responded to because 1) I was terrified of them not understanding and 2) I didn’t really understand it myself. In coming to terms with being attracted to the same sex, we’re dealing with feelings that no one talks about – not our parents, teachers or friends. We have to work it all out on our own. Often we’re strong enough to do that; sadly sometimes we’re not.

Daley’s (and Ocean’s) method of discussing sexuality and love without labels instils some hope amongst the depressingly inevitable reactions. It has encouraged a slightly new way of talking about same-sex relationships. Because Daley hasn’t explicitly said he’s gay or bisexual (“I’m in a relationship with a man… but I still fancy girls”), the media have had to talk around it somewhat. With Ocean, they quickly lapsed into calling him gay or bisexual: out of laziness, or habit. Now they are presented with another high profile figure saying “this has happened” but not defining himself by it. He’s painting a picture, much like Ocean did, of a more fluid, “let’s just see what happens” sexuality than is easily described by the labels ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’. It almost feels like the first steps to a world so beautifully described by (heterosexual) Hunger Games actor Josh Hutcherson recently:

"I have this dream that one day, my kid's gonna come home from school and be like, 'Dad, there's this girl that I like, and there's this guy that I like, and I don't know which one I like more, and I don't know what to do.' And it'd just be a non-issue, like, 'Which one is a good person? Which one makes you laugh more?'"

He went on, adding to the growing rhetoric about fluid sexuality: "I would probably list myself as mostly straight. Maybe I could say right now I'm 100 % straight. But who knows? In a fucking year, I could meet a guy and be like, 'Whoa, I'm attracted to this person.' I've met guys all the time that I'm like, 'Damn, that's a good-looking guy,' you know? I've never been, like, 'Oh, I want to kiss that guy.' I really love women. But I think defining yourself as 100% anything is kind of near-sighted and close-minded."

Which is exactly how I feel about my sexuality. Except the other way around. I use the word gay to define it because it’s the shorthand we've been given to talk about it. Yet I'm not particularly comfortable with the word. I still hate saying it when trying to define myself to people – I always try and let people know my preferences in a more organic way. It’s partly because of internalised homophobia, caused by being brought up in a homophobic society. But also the word gay comes with a huge pile of baggage from the previous generation, a whole host of crass stereotypes, many of which I find difficult to relate to. And now the current generation have added a whole new layer of baggage by using it to mean rubbish or bad. Thanks for that.

Slowly (very slowly) it feels like we’re coming around to the idea of sexuality being a grey area of our lives, something not so easily definable. Personal experience, anecdotal knowledge and the odd bit of media coverage tell me that people are becoming less afraid to explore their sexuality. Straight male friends are messing around with other fellas, gay male friends are sleeping with women now and then. I have one female friend who seems to get over an ended relationship by going to the other sex. Which is quite a way of saying ‘fuck you’.

So, despite the crushingly inevitable reactions to Tom Daley’s relationship with a man, his announcement provides yet another sliver of light at the end of the long tunnel. When we get there, hopefully we’ll find a warm, new world where we’re not ‘gay’, or ‘bisexual’, just head over heels in bloody love.