Here’s a quick quiz:
Which of the following responses to someone coming out as queer [gay/lesbian/bi/trans] is homo/bi/trans/phobic?
- Ok, but why are you telling me?
- You can do whatever you want, but I just don’t know about it.
- You’re disgusting and sick
- I will love and support you whatever you chose to do, but my beliefs say you’re debased
- What about my grandchildren?
- That’s fine dear [internally “OMG what are our relatives going to think?”]
- Enough already, there are queers everywhere, what’s the big deal?
Answer? All of the above.
One of the things about disclosing your sexuality, or even, as in Daley’s case, speaking about who you’re dating without naming your sexuality, is that it is an experience that shouldn’t have to happen. In an ideal world. But it is still necessary, and this is something many straight people will never experience, and thus perhaps never understand. Most people assume you are straight, unless you have a stereotypical queer attribute. The burden of this unquestioned assumption is on queer people. And it’s not a nice experience. However, the burden should be on straight people to show that they understand the difficulty of being in the closet, coming out, and that they are supportive: not to erase the difficulty by saying ‘well, gay people can get married now so what’s the big deal?’ I experienced (and continue to experience) many people’s silence in response to saying I was bisexual – which, even if they did care, feels like they don’t understand the difficulty coming out can be. Hundreds of years of society’s prejudice around homosexuality isn’t diluted immediately by gay marriage being passed, or the idea that ‘it’s ok to be gay now, so why are all these queer banging on about it?’. A law doesn’t automatically change people’s attitudes. Queers still get bullied at school [99% of LGBT teenagers hear homophobic language used in schools, and 84% find this distressing in some way], same-sex couples often don’t feel comfortable holding hands or kissing in public, and homophobic attacks still occur in the UK frequently [http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/11/05/uk-man-who-forced-victim-to-drink-urine-in-homophobic-attack-has-jail-sentence-lengthened-by-3-years/], families often still wish, secretly or not, that their children won’t be queer, and LGBT people still fear telling their loved ones that they aren’t straight.
Therefore, a young famous sportsman discussing his dating preferences openly IS NEWS. There are only very few ‘out’ sports men and women, and this is not because there aren’t any! Daley’s video is therefore a hope giving display of honest bravery that is a real encouragement to young queers who are struggling to come to terms with their own sexualities. As Owen Jones says [link below], it was still illegal in 1980 to be homosexual, and sports stars were unable to speak freely about their sexualities. He goes onto say that Britain has changed over the last 20 years – and it’s amazing that many have responded with love and support. But this doesn’t mean coming out isn’t necessary. It just means its a little more acceptable.
There are two responses which need to be distinguished.
One says ‘This shouldn’t be news, but the reality is that it is, let’s talk about why’ and the other ‘This isn’t news, I wish people would talk about something else, Tom Daley’s sexuality is none of our business.’
The first attitude longs for an ideal and equal society where having to disclose one’s sexuality won’t any longer be necessary, because the ‘assumption’ will be that everyone is accepted. However, it is still necessary and that this necessity is one of social justice. Daley himself recognises that he shouldn’t have to do a video to explain to his fans that he’s dating a man, but the reality of society is that he does, and has, therefore we must ask why. And it’s quite simple really: if someone feels it is necessary, to disclose their sexuality, to escape the pressure, fear and distress of ‘being in the closet’ – then who are we to say ‘you don’t need to do that?’ And the media storm proves that society isn’t at a stage where it isn’t news. But is this surprising when many in religious organisations still believe that it’s sinful? There is a direct correlation here between society and the religious attitudes. The second reason is that there is till a stigma attached to not being heterosexual, and coming out challenges the ‘heterosexual dogma’ of society.
The second attitude affectively wants to brush questions of sexuality under the carpet, keep them private, and not admit that they are politically relevant. It’s a disavowal of the difficulties queer people face in everyday life by not having the privilege of being straight. Try walking down the street with someone of the same gender holding hands: see what type of response you get – try to put yourself in a queers shoes.
But if Daley’s video helps one young queer not feel like they must self-harm today, stops another planning their suicide because they’ve seen it’s ok to be queer, or helps a teenager apologise to their queer friend after abandoning them when they came out, isn’t it worthwhile? Isn’t the desire to end discrimination, oppression, violence worth a media storm that sometimes gets the focus wrong? Is this really replacing ‘more important issues’ going on in the world? I think that hate crime, mental health, suicide and discrimination are pretty important issues really.
This is a chance to be an ally! Show your support, rather than thinking it’s irrelevant.
[And this isn’t even to mention the question of bisexuality that has been erased from the discussions of TOM DALEY IS GAY – but another day perhaps].
More reading for the interested…
Bisexual: a label with layers http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/fashion/Tom-Daley-Bisexual-LGBT.html?_r=1&