We live in strange world, don't we? On Monday, British Olympic diver Tom Daley posted a YouTube video in which he revealed that he is dating a guy:
Within minutes the clip had been shared around the world, and within the hour numerous blog posts had popped up discussing the relevance of his announcement: Was this really news? Does anyone really care? Didn't we all assume Tom was gay anyway? We had the obligatory Buzzfeed roundup of negative tweets in response to the video, followed by the obligatory Buzzfeed roundup of positive tweets in response to the video. Kylie tweeted at Tom. Tom retweeted Kylie. Stephen Fry tweeted at Tom. Tom replied to Stephen Fry. Lady Gaga tweeted about Tom. Tens of thousands of others read, shared and favorited the exchanges. As of this post's publication, Tom's original tweet had been retweeted over 70,000 times and favorited by over 84,000 people.
Twitter (and social media in general) has completely changed the way we find out about news stories, comment on them and discuss them. What a lot of people failed to understand was that although Tom Daley posted that message on a video sharing website, he didn't do it for Lady Gaga or Stephen Fry or Kylie Minogue or me or you. He did it for himself.
Unlike Tom, when I came out almost 12 years ago, I didn't have Facebook, Twitter followers or a legion of adoring fans to consider. I told my close friends, family and people I worked with, and the reaction I got was great; in fact, I couldn't have asked for better. I told people I'm gay not because I felt that it was my duty to let them know but because I did not want to continue living a life that wasn't really mine. Of course, by being open and honest with those close to me, I was able to build closer bonds with people, because I felt that I wasn't hiding anything anymore.
Tom Daley's life is a life in the public eye. We have seen him grow up on our TVs and computer screens. We've read about him in magazines and cheered him on at London 2012, where he picked up a bronze medal. You may remember the awful Twitter trolling that took place at this time, when someone tweeted at Tom saying that his father (who had passed away from cancer) would have been ashamed of him for collecting only a third-place medal. Vile. Inexcusable. Just awful.
Tom is 19 years old. Anyone who has been through the process of realizing they're somehow different from their friends and questioning their sexuality knows how difficult it is. Some people find it so emotionally challenging that they choose to ignore it and lead a life that suits those around them. Others come out. At a young age, Tom has also had to deal with the death of his father, which can completely derail some people. The death of a parent becomes a defining moment in your life, with all other events taking up a place either before or after. Tom may very well have been struggling to understand his feelings toward men at the time of his father's illness and death. Or he may not have struggled at all; I know that for some people that process of self-realization isn't as earth-shattering or as traumatic as it is for others. Either way, the fact that he has now decided to be open with his friends, family and the public is something that we should either respect or keep quiet about.
Many people, upon hearing that Daley is now dating a guy, predictably threw around the "in other news the Pope is Catholic" line. Whatever we thought about Tom Daley before Monday in regard to his sexual orientation, no one can say that they "knew he was gay all along." No one can say this because Tom himself hasn't even come out as gay, something else that a huge number of people don't seem to want to accept. I've read many comments suggesting that he is making his coming out as gay easier by utilizing the "bisexual" label. But Daley didn't use the words "gay" or "bisexual" in his video, so who are we to create gaps and then proceed to fill them in ourselves?
I think that Tom Daley's video is a beautiful, honest, personal, inspiring and emotional 5 minutes and 26 seconds. He told us on YouTube because, whether he likes it or not, his profession dictates that he have a personal profile. The fact that some people feel that they have the right to disrespect someone who has decided to share something so personal confuses me. Some people have once again asked why people still need to come out. The reason is simple. As long as society assumes that someone is straight until they know otherwise, people will have to come out. Tom Daley could have come out by doing a magazine interview, holding hands with his boyfriend in public or writing a book. It doesn't matter how he did it; he did it in the way he wanted to, and in my opinion he did it really well.
I'll watch this video again and again, because I think that the words Tom uses are perfect. He refuses to label himself (he says he still likes girls), but he is open about feeling safe and happy being with a guy. I know how hard coming out is. I know how hard losing a parent at a young age is. Neither experience is easy. And so for that I wholeheartedly take my hat off to Tom Daley for being such a brave man. He may not realize it at the moment, but as well as making his own life much easier, his maturity and honesty have also just helped thousands of other people too.