All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What We Can Learn About Labels From Tom Daley's 'Coming Out'

So, exciting news! For those of you that don't know - Tom Daley has 'come out'! You know that really cute British diver? Yeah, that one... He came out the other week - posted a video online and it was really exciting for so many people around the world. Because of all the media attention, he has probably given lots of people some courage or comfort, and maybe even influenced some to come out themselves. Unfortunately, all the attention also means that there are so many things that people said or did that were negative. Some of those need to be addressed.

Let's start off with the basics- THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HIM NOT BEING STRAIGHT. Daley apparently received a lot of backlash on Twitter in response to his coming out video. People were telling him how horrible it is and that he should be ashamed. One Twitter user commented that he was shaming his country by coming out. As far as I am aware, this was not the majority of responses, but really? If the pride of your country is based off the sexuality of a few people in it, you have bigger problems than a swimmer who doesn't identify as straight.

There is also then the problem of people deciding for him that he is gay. Tom bravely said to the world that he was a relationship with a man, and that he was happy. He specifically didn't identify himself as gay. He even went so far as to say that he was still interested in women, but that currently he is with a man. Twitter, news headlines, Facebook statuses, everyone decided to take that video and call him gay despite his clear decision to avoid the term. This is the most blatant form of erasure and is extremely disrespectful to Daley himself. That is not to say that it is bad to be gay, certainly it is not, but that it is bad to assign a label to someone that is in direct opposition to their chosen identity.

To compound on this last point, so many bisexuals claimed him into their camp as well! Again- Daley did not use that label. Yes, he said he likes women and is currently dating a man, but that does not mean he is bisexual. Maybe he is pay sexual. Maybe he is exploring his sexuality. Maybe he simply refuses to be boxed in by any of the current labels we use. They each come with their issues and it is his choice to take them or leave them as he wills. There are so many possibilities of what he is thinking and feeling, and to put a label on him based on our very limited understanding is ignorant and goes against all the principles of the GSM movement. We have combatted being placed into boxes and having labels assigned to us, yet we do the same in an attempt to claw our way to visibility (not that visibility isn't a serious issue for many communities under the GSM umbrella). It's not pretty and it needs to stop. We can say that he isn't just plain old straight and that should be enough.

Finally, I wanted to use this opportunity to address another of the main responses to not just his coming out, but to so many peoples' around the world. "I always knew you were..." This response is extremely inappropriate. I know those we come out to think that this will comfort us and that, for some this is comforting to hear, but personally, I find it offensive. The response assumes that there is some way to tell who a person is attracted to based on something other than our imparting that knowledge to you. It implies some action - be it our voice, our mannerisms, partaking in certain sports, liking certain activities, etc. show our sexual orientation. It shows that you were willing to make assumptions about us and that you thought you knew some truth about us, despite what we display or identify as.

I know what you're thinking: sometimes we, as friends, do just know! Some people just do really fit the stereotypes! I won't say that either of those are untrue, but I don't think they are as common as we make them out to be. I think we rely too heavily on the stereotypes to form our 'knowing' and validate a suspicion after-the-fact. I'm not saying that everyone is always telling the truth with their identities, I certainly was willingly in the closet for sometime, or that sometimes (or many times) our closest friends might have intuitions and suspicions but to claim some unequivocal knowledge that can only be really known if told is, again, the opposite of what most of our movement values. It values self-identity and openness with identity and, almost above all else, it values not labeling and making assumptions.

Just because I can - here are some more pictures of the adorable Tom Daley:

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