Tom Daley, and forgetting the components of LGBT+

Photo: Jim Thurston Via Wikimedia
Photo: Jim Thurston Via Wikimedia

So I woke up this morning to the news that British Olympic diver Tom Daley is in a happy relationship with a man. This is great, not just for Daley, but for LGBT+ athletes and for young LGBT+ people everywhere. It’s nice to have another role model with an admirable sporting career who also just happens to be a guy who likes guys.

What isn’t so great is the Media’s reaction to Tom Daley’s coming out.

A raft of newspapers, journalists and celebrities alike have taken out the branding iron, and decided to box Tom Daley in with the word “gay.” Splattered across the internet is “Tom Daley comes out as gay”, “Tom Daley is in gay relationship”, “TOM DALEY IS GAY.”

But Tom Daley isn’t gay.

In his coming out video, Daley explicitly stated that he is attracted to women as well as men. For some, the seconds between watching the video and sending a tweet is too much to handle. The sheer amount of characters inspires a terror so strong it produces selective amnesia. Attaching a picture is too great a burden to carry, embedding a video even worse.

“TOM DALEY IS GAY!” the world has screamed, together, in blind panic. Or perhaps he isn’t. Perhaps other identities exist. Perhaps we don’t live in a world of polar opposites. Of gay or straight.

The ‘B’ in LGBT+ stands for something real and important, as does the + sign at the end. Too often, our media forgets that bisexuality is an identity in its own right. Too often, journalists ignore that some people choose not to define themselves by one small word. We slap the “gay” label brazenly on to people who may not have claimed it for themselves. It’s degrading, demoralising and ignorant. It makes us feel safe, to place people in tiny boxes which we can easily talk about. And sadly stepping outside the prescribed guidelines is too often dismissed by the LGBT+ media too. Pick an identity and stick to it, we are told.

If branding Tom Daley “gay” weren’t bad enough, then the language used to “support” his decision is another kick to the proverbial head. People have been quick to question why he didn’t come out earlier. Journalists have claimed his decision is a tactical one, he wouldn’t have got as many sponsors if he had come out earlier. The word “waste” pops up time and time again. Seemingly his relationship is a grievous loss to heterosexual women worldwide.

In a world where one of the only openly gay footballers to date, Justin Fashanu, hung himself, in a world where we have the winter Olympics being held in Russia, a country which is outrageously against LGBT rights, in a world where every day LGBT people are subjected to abuse, Tom Daley’s decision is nothing but brave. We should be applauding those who makes the decision to come out, especially someone of such high profile. Snipes at why Tom Daley came out “so late” (as if coming out has a sell-by-date) are unnecessary and cruel. Speculation about his reasons are worse, his decision is a strong one no matter what else.

So, congrats Tom Daley on the boyfriend, and congrats for standing up and making such a tough decision.

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