Tom Daley and the bisexual question
There are (hardly ever just) two sides to every story. So here are some thoughts on why we shouldn’t label Tom Daley as bisexual, and then why it’s important to keep the idea of bisexuality around in the discussion of sexual orientation.
Tom Daley’s recent video is super brilliant. He says he’s met someone, feels really happy and safe with them, and…oh, it’s a guy. It’s brave, honest, and inspiring. And the honesty continues – when he adds, ‘of course I still fancy girls.’ He doesn’t use gay or bisexual to define his sexual orientation – which I think makes him even braver.
Before I get going, a quick note on the patronising attitudes of ‘well duh!’ or ‘I always knew’. WHy do people feel the need to affirm that they were right about something when the question of sexual orientation becomes an issue. This type of response is not really what the person sharing wants to hear. It makes someone’s coming out, about you. It also (usually) confirms some stereotypical gender norms which we think identifies sexuality. ‘I always knew’ meaning ‘You’re not as ‘masculine’ as a straight man’ or ‘you look like a dyke.’
So, whether or not we thought we knew about Tom Daley, I’d like to ask why so many people jumped up and said ‘Tom Daley is GAY.’
Firstly, if you make any suggestion in society that you might like people of the same sex, you’re automatically labeled gay. And if you say you still like women too, they think you’re lying. It just proves how strongly other sexualities are erased, when someone says they also like women, and people are still saying Daley’s gay. It’s a general problem of people not listening and thinking they know more about your desires that you do. It’s a type of cultural imperialism.
But pointing out that gay people aren’t the only people who fancy people of the same sex is not having a go at gay people, or trying to marginalise them: it’s trying to find a voice for other sidelined groups. Similarly, the phrase ‘coming out’, without any specification as to what or how you have ‘come out’, is ambiguous, and is assumed to mean that you have ‘come out as gay.’ The phrase is loaded with meaning before being used and associated with homosexuality. Another way that other sexual orientations are erased. All those who shouted “Tom Daley comes out as Gay” didn’t hear, rejected, or assumed he was lying when he said ‘of course I still fancy girls.’ [Daley’s video isn’t necessarily a ‘coming out’ video, but that’s another discussion!]
Regarding the idea that he’s lying, those such as Dan Savage fuel this type of idea. He says that lots of gay people use being bisexual as a step to soften the blow of coming out as gay, therefore lets ‘wait and see’. He doesn’t think we can take young people’s word for understanding their own experience. And yes, it can be confusing. But support doesn’t come in the form of a label to help steady this confusion – unless the label seems right to you.
But Daley stresses his desire to be honest, so why would he make such a courageous step and chose to lie about this? We have to take him at his word and show a bit of respect, before telling someone what their sexual desires mean. Even if he decides later that he’s more into men, or only into men, why can’t we leave him to have his bisexual phase. [Bisexuals are now screaming at the idea that bisexuality is just a phase, as this idea is often used against bisexuals to imply they will end up being hetero or homo, whereas for many, bisexuality is a life long reality. However, for some it can be a phase, so let’s not be so rigid as to erase the experience of some out of fear that it implies something about our own.]
Interestingly, Dan Savange hasn’t taken his usual line with Daley. He actually said that, ‘The bisexual community gains a high-profile, doe-eyed spokesmodel.’ It’s an improvement for sure. But again, he appropriates someone’s experience and forces a label on them – Daley never used the term bisexual, so how can he be a spokesperson?
The simple rule of this is, just listen to what someone says, and don’t let your fear of the unknown force you to name someone else’s experience.
However, even though Tom Daley is not bisexual, for the simple reason that he hasn’t said he is, I do think it’s important recognise that his experience sounds more like bisexuality than homosexuality. Same sex attraction shouldn’t be a blackout clause for different-sex attraction, and the inclusion of the term bisexual into the discussion over Daley’s sexuality is important. If it wasn’t there, it would be another case of erasing bisexuality and acting like it didn’t exist.
There is a simple and quick jump from ‘Daley hasn’t used the word gay’ to let’s not name his sexuality’ which reinforces the idea that bisexuality doesn’t exist. It kinda of feels like the language of bisexuality is so unavailable for people that even if their sexual orientation fits this description, we move straight onto saying that we shouldn’t use a label. And while I’ve argued for this above, there is still a part of me that feels like the resistance to bisexuality persists in this attitude. It’s a subtle form of biphobia.
Biphobia can be described simply as ‘an aversion towards bisexuality.’ This aversion can take many forms, from stereotypes, disbelief and erasure to name a few. Here are some examples of biphobic responses to bisexuality:
‘There’s no such thing as bisexuality’
‘It’s a phase’
‘You’re just trying to get attention’
‘Yeah, every is bisexual though. What’s your ratio from men: women?’
To men: ‘No, you’re gay dear’
To women: ‘You just want more men to think you’re hot’
‘I don’t trust bisexuals’
So yeah, it would be easier not to have to deal with everyone’s preconceived ideas about bisexuality, and might appear easier just to be hetero or homo. But let’s leave a bit of space for those who are neither, and avow that we do have a word for that, before bypassing the reality of bisexuality. Even if Tom Daley didn’t use it, doesn’t use it in the future, the issues is a much wider one. Can we perhaps start to listen to people when they speak about their sexuality? Could we begin to avow that bisexuality exists, for (cis and trans gender) men and women, independently from whether Tom Daley is or is not bisexual?
Other interesting articles in relation to the taboo of bisexuality and going beyond identities
Why we shouldn’t rush to define Tom Daley’s sexuality, by Nichi Hogson: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/02/tom-daley-bisexual-sexuality-diver-relationship-man
Bisexual: A label with layers http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/fashion/Tom-Daley-Bisexual-LGBT.html?_r=1&
A new way to come out, by Joe Stone: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/03/tom-daley-new-way-to-come-out
Biphobia: it goes both ways, by Robyn Ochs, http://www.robynochs.com/writing/essays/biphobia.html
For an interesting Radio segment on going beyond (bi)sexuality with Marcus Morgan see the World at one on Radio 4, 38:45 minutes in http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03jp7by/World_at_One_04_12_2013/