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Monday, December 2, 2013

Why we DIDN'T "all know" about Tom Daley's brave announcement

Today is another big day for LGBT+ visibility in the media as British Olympian-cum-TV presenter Tom Daley announced via a very personal YouTube video that he was dating a guy and “couldn’t be happier”.

Within minutes, social media exploded and Tom’s name was trending worldwide on Twitter.

The level of media interest is unsurprising to say the least. Both Robbie Rogers and Jason Collins hit the headlines in the UK when they came out as gay earlier in the year, despite the fact that they were hardly household names here before they chose to do so.

Like it or not, Tom Daley is a superstar in the UK. He was a world champion diver at the age of 15, won two Commonwealth gold medals a year later and added an Olympic bronze to his haul at London 2012. The second series of his so-bad-it’s-good (but it’s still kind of bad) television show, Splash!—where Tom mentors ‘celebrities’ in how to jump off a platform whilst wearing outfits not always within the realms of public decency—is due to appear on ITV in the New Year.

I think it’s fair to say that, along with his unquestionable sporting ability, the reason for Tom’s stardom is the fact that he’s a physically impressive human being. I am unashamed to admit that even I—a Kinsey-6 lesbian (according to a test I took one time when I was slightly inebriated)—feel a little bit light-headed when I see him standing at the top of a diving board in those teeny tiny trunks.  I mean...

Moving on...

Curiosity in the private lives of those who are in the public eye is natural. We feel like we know people because we see them every day online or on our TVs. They sing to us in our cars as we drive to and from work. They are part of our lives and we want to get to know them better. But we don’t really know them and we are in no way entitled to know any more about them than they feel comfortable with.

Personally, I wish that everyone who identifies as LGBT+ would come out. I believe that if the true frequency of it was actually known, so many of the arguments and laws written against us would be impossible to maintain. But this isn’t a perfect world and there are many reasons why people choose not to disclose their sexuality or gender identity. If you happen to be a celebrity who feels unable to disclose, that leaves you in a perilous situation. The tabloid media have been known to give these individuals the ultimatum of a ‘coming out’ interview with their esteemed outlet or being publically ‘outed’ without consent as an alternative. The example of this that I remember most vividly was in 1999, when The Sun newspaper gave that very choice to Boyzone’s Stephen Gately.

As was also the case with Stephen, many of the reactions I’ve read about Tom Daley today are that he has somehow stated the obvious and that everyone already knew.

Now, I know that with every big news story the trolls come out from under their bridges for a bit of a day out in the sunshine. But this feels different. There doesn't seem to be as many of the usual homophobes out saying that Tom’s sick or disgusting or going to hell (though I'm sure there are some). The vast majority seem really supportive of his statement. But I find the fact they all thought it was so obvious a bit of a difficult one to process. Especially since, in my own social media feeds at least, a lot of these comments are coming from gay people themselves.

I personally believe that there is some merit to the notion of people having ‘gaydar’. As someone who identifies as a lesbian, there have been many instances where I have had an instinctive feeling about someone and it has proved to be right. Sometimes I find out almost immediately and sometimes those people come out years later. Sometimes it seems that I get it completely wrong. The point is, we all have gut feelings about things; that is only natural. But it is absolutely not anyone’s place, particularly not on social media, to use those presumptions as validation of facts until the individual concerned verifies it themselves in their own time. And it certainly should not be used as some kind of power or ammunition against that person to make you look clever.

It’s not that I don’t get the joke. It’s just that I don’t find it funny.

Physical and personality traits can be indicators of someone’s sexuality, but there’s no checklist. I know plenty of effeminate, straight men who have success with women that I can only dream of. I know a good few women who play football and hate high-heels who are exclusively attracted to men. These kinds of characteristics are pretty much irrelevant to who we will fall in love with.

The LGBT+ community proudly fight against the prejudice and stereotypes that are thrown at us on a daily basis. So can we please start becoming a good example and stop perpetrating them against ourselves?

Thankfully, the vast majority of reporting on Tom’s video today has been overwhelmingly positive. Mainstream media outlets such as the BBC and even the Daily Mail have written factual, non-sensationalised accounts of his story. I was disappointed that Pink News, a leading online source of LGBT+ interest stories, led with the headline that he had come out as gay, despite Tom categorically stating that he “still fancies girls”. Thankfully they listened to their readers' feedback, quickly made an edit and issued an apology.

I hope that Tom bathes in the outpouring of love and support that has been directed towards him today and I hope that every single LGBT+ person; young or old, out or not; bathes in it too. Times are changing and so is society. Today has been a great reminder of that.

I have no doubt that, as well as breaking a few hearts (including mine) by announcing he’s happily in love, Tom’s five minute video will help so many more people than he probably will ever know and potentially save a few of those lives too.
Thank you, Tom, for being so brave (okay, and thanks for Splash! too!).

You can follow Julie Price on Twitter: @JuliePee