Tom Daley Didn't Come Out As Gay, But The Media Doesn't Care
In a sweet, humble YouTube video released Monday, Olympic diver Tom Daley told viewers that he's happily dating a man. "I didn't want to get my words twisted," he said, explaining why he made the video, which he then tweeted out to fans. "I wanted to put an end to all the rumors and speculation and just say it, and tell you guys," he added. Daley's announcement has been trending on Twitter for most of Monday, and media outlets from the International Business Times to Sky Sports have pointed out that Daley is the most significant British sports star to ever come out as gay — but they're missing the point. At no point during the five-and-a-half minute video did Tom Daley use the word "gay." Actually, he noted: "Of course I still fancy girls. But, I mean, right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier."
Daley doesn't even use the term "bisexual." The diver is careful to not label his sexuality in the video — which, let's remember, he specifically made so that his words wouldn't be "twisted." To label Daley as "gay' is to do exactly what Daley hoped wouldn't happen: twist his version of the truth.
"Come spring of this year, my life changed, massively, when I met someone," Daley said. "And it made me feel so happy, so safe, and everything just feels great. And, well, that someone is a guy." So let's be clear: Daley is in a relationship with a man, but that doesn't mean he's gay. It doesn't "mean" anything, actually, unless Daley chooses to label his own sexuality.
Daley's refusal to label himself doesn't reduce the impact his announcement might have: the heartthrob's fan base is comprised largely of teenage girls (à la One Direction) who dream of dating him. The 19-year-old says in the video that members of his family advised him to keep his relationship to himself: "I told the rest of my family today, and let's just say there are mixed opinions," he recalled. The worry is that Daley's fan base could lapse if Daley suggests he isn't on the market. This is exactly the kind of thinking that holds back Hollywood stars, and public figures in general, from coming out.
It speaks to Daley's character that in spite of advice that he shouldn't go public with his relationship, he made a personal YouTube video for his legions of fans — bypassing the media entirely — because, he says, he wants to be honest with them. "I'm still Tom," he says. "I still want to win an Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 for Great Britain. I am still as motivated as ever to do that, and it would be great to have you guys on that journey too."
Yes, Daley absolutely deserves praise — but not for "coming out as gay." Because he didn't come out as a gay. He went public with his relationship with a man, and there's a difference.
Daley has been labeled "gay," but if he were a woman, he probably would have been labeled "bisexual." Take actress Maria Bello, who wrote a touching op-ed in the New York Times over the weekend about her relationship with a woman. Like Daley, Bello wrote beautifully about the intimacy and joy she shares with her partner, but didn't label herself as "gay" or "bisexual." The ensuing headlines (ours included) said that Bello is "bisexual."
Bello is now known as "bisexual," and Daley as "gay." Yet neither of them used either of those labels when they came out. It's almost like a controlled experiment: one man and one women go public with their same-sex relationship, and the media reacts according to their assumptions about both sexuality and gender.
That Daley was labeled as gay speaks to our culture's lack of tolerance and understanding of bisexual, queer, and otherwise pansexual men. Both Bello and Daley have chosen not to label themselves. They are in love with a person, and are choosing not to conform to a specific sexuality. It's a shame that our headlines insist on pigeonholing them.