Monday, 2 December 2013

Tom Daley: Label-Free

I know, I know. Tom Daley's announcement that he's in a relationship with a man will fill enough column inches this week to reach to the Moon and back (twice). "Isn't he brave?" "Isn't it about time we stopped caring?" etc. etc. And there will be article after article about the difference between homosexuality and bisexuality. Plus, of course, you'll have the homophobes on social media (or "trolls" as the media will erroneously call them) who will I'm sure get a column or two devoted just to them. Just look at them go already.

So before tomorrow's papers are published I thought I'd just get in my own little comment. I don't need to say the above, because it is all so predictable as to be irrelevant. But what I do what to discuss is Tom Daley's distinct lack of labeling himself. Though some were quick to label him, such as Pink News briefly identifying a man who likes both men and women as gay, he did not do so himself.

It might seem strange that someone like me, who openly calls himself gay, would be so happy to see someone NOT refer to themselves as "gay" or "bisexual". I remember the very moment I first accepted my sexuality. My first thought was "I'm gay". It was a powerful talisman, a way to ward off the demons of some imagined future homophobia. Some people like to say "I don't define myself by my sexuality". Not me. I was happy, proud and overly eager to label myself and consider my sexuality an open and shut case.

But life is so much more complicated than labels. And "gay" is definitely a label that no longer says what we want it to say.

I'm not just thinking of the campaign to keep gay "gay" launched by Will Young and, ever conservative, Stonewall. Their aim to stop the evolution of language is not just doomed to fail because its nigh impossible to do that, but also possibly because "gay" no longer does what it says on the tin.

I feel like I've straddled two distinct periods of "gay culture". When I headed out on to the scene at the age of 14 (but the height of 6" so easily avoiding those ever vigilant bouncers) there was still a bit of secrecy about the whole affair. Gay bars were listed in the back of Gay Times, some with instructions on how to get in (Ring the Doorbell). There were gay clubs here in Kent that were hidden out in the countryside where no one not in the know would find them. Gay bars were GAY bars and woe betide anyone else trying to get in (due to my height and choice of rather butch dates, I was often counselled by wary bouncers that the establishment was a gay bar *wink wink* *nudge nudge*). And then I met Jim and I stepped back from the scene. And whenever I've put my head back into it, I've found it radically different. Gay guys who'd never heard of Section 28. Heterosexual people taking over the bars (my Mum even tells me about her trips to what was Folkestone's gay bar). Bars closing and cruising moving from set defined spaces to mobile phone apps. It is a whole different world.

Mark Simpson wrote on this phenomenon in "End of Gays". It really is a revolution and it is still going on. It pleases me to think that young guys today can just "be". They don't need to label themselves, they don't need to limit themselves with labels.

Tom Daley has stated he's in a relationship with a guy. But he's said that if things changed in the future, so be it. That seems so much more realistic than pretending relationships can only be based on some rigid unchangeable sexuality. Sexualities do change. And relationships can transcend sexuality. The world is a complicated place and labels can just over-simplify things to the point that they just cause confusion.

All power to Tom, and shame on those who want to label him. If he decides to label himself in the future, so be it. But for now Tom... just be who you are.


Paul Walter said...

Very well said

Paul Walter said...

From Twitter: