Why Olympian Tom Daley’s Coming Out Matters
British Olympic diver Tom Daley has revealed he is in a relationship with another man. While there are some who might shrug their shoulders at this news, there are a number of reasons why his high profiled sports star coming out matters.
Tom Daley Says He Couldn’t be Happier in his Relationship
In a heartfelt video which has garnered international press and has more than 4.5 million views, Olympic bronze medalist Tom Daley revealed on Monday, December 2 that he is in a relationship with another man.
Says Daley in the video:
“In an ideal world I wouldn’t be doing this video because it shouldn’t matter. But recently I was misquoted in an interview and it made me feel really angry and frustrated and emotions that I’ve never felt before when reading anything about myself. For me honesty is something I really do believe in. I’ve always been honest. I may have been vague in some of my answers but I’ve always been honest. One thing I’ve never felt that comfortable talking about are my relationships. It’s what I get asked, even if I’m doing sporting interviews, it’s: ‘Do you have a girlfriend? Who are you seeing?’ All that kind of stuff.
“I’ve been dating girls and I’ve never really had a serious relationship to talk about and now I feel ready to talk about my relationships. Come spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone and it made me feel so happy, so safe, and everything just feels great. And, well, that someone is a guy. And it did take me by surprise a little bit. It was always in the back of my head that something like that could happen but it wasn’t until spring this year that something just clicked. It felt right. Like I said, my whole world just changed there and then. Of course I still fancy girls but, I mean, right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier. It feels safe and it really does feel right.
You can watch the full video below:
In a perfect world, someone revealing who they love wouldn’t matter. Yet, at this point in time, Daley’s comments do have a real impact.
An Olympian with His Career Ahead of Him
There are a few British sports stars who are out. Perhaps most high profiled among them until now being rugby retiree Gareth Thomas.
However, Daley joins a select few, including Olympian gold medalist boxer (and bisexual) Nicola Adams, Paralympian gold medalist Lee Pearson, and England and Surrey cricketer Steven Davies, who have come out or came out with their careers very much still ahead of them. For a sport star, this is no small thing.
After fellow Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham came out as gay during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he received a great deal of praise, not least of which for his record breaking dive that earned him an Olympic gold. One thing he found in short supply, however, was sponsorship. Other gay athletes have also said that there are certain opportunities that being open about their sexuality could cost Daley, for instance sponsorship from various European interests such as those based in Russia.
Daley, however, has chosen to come out anyway to help erode the still surprisingly firm taboo of openly LGBT athletes. There are other important facts here, too.
The Problem of Bi-Erasure
Anyone listening carefully to Daley’s statement will note that he does not say he’s gay. In fact, he doesn’t give himself any label. Thankfully, a number of mainstream media news sites got this news right, using headlines like “Tom Daley Reveals he’s in a Relationship with Another Man.”
Some, however, rushed to get out the slightly misleading “Tom Daley in a Gay Relationship,” and the outright fabrication “Tom Daley Comes Out as Gay,” or versions thereof.
The fact is, if anything can be inferred at all, Tom Daley actually came out as bisexual — and the distinction does matter.
While bisexuality in women is largely tolerated (though remains under-represented), there are a number of people — straight and gay — who think that bisexuality in men simply doesn’t exist.
The reasons for this anti-bi prejudice aren’t exactly clear. This bias may in part be due to a faulty 2005 Northwestern study that claimed there was no evidence male bisexuality exists. That study has been retried and the results showed that bisexual men really do have a physical reaction to both male and female sexual stimuli; this of course says nothing about emotional relationships, but does at least go some way into clearing up that error.
The fact that several tabloids and even some LGBT community sites actually fudged the facts of Tom Daley’s coming out, whether knowingly or entirely by mistake, labeling him gay, has caused quite a bit of controversy. And it should. Bisexual men and bisexuals as a group are often left out of the discussion.
For this reason, Daley’s coming out carries even more weight than it perhaps otherwise would even if Daley himself has not identified in any particular way.
Anti-LGBT Slurs and Tom Daley as a Role Model
Unfortunately, Daley has received a number of anti-LGBT slurs as a result of his coming out. The Huffington Post details some of the social media comments here, but the slur “f*ggot” features heavily.
Daley appears to have brushed off these hateful and childish remarks though, focusing instead on all the positive statements that have followed his decision to come out about his relationship. He has thanked his fans for their support and, while there has been a lot of vitriol, it has largely been outshone by the support Daley has received.
America’s Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD both praised Daley’s decision to come out. Pop star Kylie Minogue even tweeted him saying he is “inspiring and brave,” while sports stars from around the world have noted that in the relatively still heterosexuals-only world of sport, Daley’s announcement is a big deal.
People are now touting Tom Daley as a role model for young LGBTI-identifying people, and his not engaging with the slurs has only served to emphasize his positive messaging.
In fact, this is probably why Daley’s coming out (and being label free) matters most: at 19 he really is an example of someone who chose to be open about their private life to stop media speculation and characterize this as no big deal. For those facing anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in our schools, or those who just have concerns that being LGBT in sport means they cannot achieve their dreams, Daley’s story is especially meaningful.