Good on Tom Daley. In coming out, he’s shown more courage than some men twice his age. It’s a monumental announcement, with Owen Jones marking how far we’ve come in such a short time, while elsewhere at the Independent, they celebrate the number of professional athletes coming out of the closet. Yes, it’s a very important day for LGBT people in sport in particular, and in society in general.
But let’s make sure we get the facts sorted.
Tom Daley didn’t come out as gay. In fact, no where in his emotionally raw video does he even mention the word “gay.” He says he’s in a relationship with a guy. He says he still fancies women. He says he’s quite happy, that his father would have been supportive but his family has had mixed reactions, and he says he’s tired of the speculation. He wanted to release an unmitigated message in his own words and on his own terms.
So much for that. The vast majority of the news stories I’ve seen have read somewhere between “Tom Daley Comes Out,” which is a misleading truism, or “Tom Daley reveals gay relationship,” which, of course, implies Tom Daley is gay. In fact, it seems aside from Nichi Hodgson, who beat me to the punch by publishing this succinct piece at the Guardian,, the only person not rushing to label Tom as gay is, well, Tom.
For the gay community, at least, it appears we’ll have all or nothing. Tom’s either gay or he isn’t, and since he likes men, he’s clearly on Team GB – Team Gay Blokes, that is. One internet acquaintance of mine posted a Facebook status defending Tom against those who felt his coming out was nothing more than stating the obvious, encouraging everyone to remember how difficult our own comings out as gay men had been. When I pointed out that Tom hasn’t come out as gay, but as being in a same-sex relationship, I was told to sod off with my “lefty no-labels” nonsense. After all, my acquaintance responded, every gay man pretended to be bisexual in his teens.
A gross generalisation, but a relevant point. Even I was on the “bi now, gay later” plan when I first came out. Telling the world you’re bisexual, to many gay teens, is easier than saying you’re gay because it, at least in my 15 year old mind, creates the illusion you could still have a “normal” life-whatever that means.
But Tom’s not a 15 year old boy. He’s a 19 year old man who has spent much of his life in the spotlight, and has in many ways been forced to mature much faster than myself and many others. His voice may have been hesitant, but it was also confident. He knows his own truth, and we shouldn’t be so quick to assign ours to him out of some misplaced desire for a relevant and relatable cultural touchstone.
To be fair, Tom didn’t say he isn’t gay, nor did he say he is bisexual. As Nichi Hodgson points out, we can only infer his sexuality, as he never clearly defined it. Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t know it himself yet. Perhaps that’s because he thinks it’s none of our bloody business. Perhaps he didn’t think he had to.
But let’s play on the assumption that Tom is bisexual (or possibly even pansexual). He was pretty clear that he’s attracted to men and to women. And, like many young LGBT folks, and many in the wider society, he probably wasn’t aware of the nasty strain of biphobia that courses through the veins of our community.
Yet here it is, as usual.
I suppose for many of us attracted only to one sex, we can’t comprehend how someone could be attracted to both. As Owen Jones points out, though, it wasn’t so long ago straight people couldn’t understand how I could be attracted to other men. Some still don’t. Then there’s the aforementioned notion that bisexuality is nothing more than a gay bicycle with training wheels, that it’s just a stepping stone to full acceptance of one’s homosexuality. That it isn’t real. That it doesn’t exist. Couple that with the assumption that bisexuals are “greedy,” “promiscuous,” and/or “indecisive,” and suddenly an entire sexual orientation is invalidated.
You needn’t look further than representations of bisexuality in mass media. On the current series of Glee, Santana’s new girlfriend, played by Demi Lovato, tells Santana it’s time she should be with a “real lesbian,” dismissing if not discrediting the bisexuality of her previous girlfriend, Brittany. Lady Gaga, whom I don’t defend very often, has been singled out for using her bisexuality as a marketing gimmick, even being accused of making the whole thing up. And when Duncan James came out a few years ago, he was greeted with an onslaught of biphobic abuse.
Bisexual people are either confused, indecisive, not fully developed sexual beings, not part of the gay and lesbian community, or liars. They’re not real people with real lives and real truths. They’re deceiving both themselves and us. In doing so, the fear I suspect many gay and lesbian people have is that they somehow invalidate our own struggle. It’s as if finally coming out as gay is completing a gruelling marathon, and coming out as bi is stopping ahead of the finish line.
This is all hogwash. While I understand the gay community’s desire to have more, not to mention younger, visible role models our youth can look up to, I don’t think it should come at the expense of whitewashing an entire sexual orientation from the public discourse. I don’t think dismissing bisexuality as a phase or a fib does us, as gay men and women, any good. It does, however, do bisexual people a whole lot of bad.
Besides, why can’t Tom Daley be a gay role model while still being bisexual, pansexual, or whatever he eventually identifies as? His coming out is still brave. Given the biphobia that is often tolerated in all segments of society, it is perhaps braver if he has indeed come out as bisexual. It took a lot of courage and a lot of self-awareness for Tom to speak so candidly and assuredly about something so personal at such a young age. He knows his truth. He wants us to know it, too.
I only hope we can accept it.