Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Tom Daley's dating a bloke: this is why it's news

At the beginning of the week, the ‘news’ broke that English diver Tom Daley was in a relationship with another man.

It really shouldn’t be news at all, but this morning, Daley was still trending in the UK on Twitter, which social media factoid suggests that it is.

Even before last year’s Olympics, a major question for some journalists was whether or not he had a girlfriend.

I do sometimes wonder if the mass media in the UK will ever grow up – or is it just a reflection of huge swathes of the public? Chicken, egg …

It shouldn’t be anyone else’s business who someone dates. It shouldn’t matter – but yet it still does, apparently.

A glance at some newspaper forums over the last couple of days offered a clear answer of why, with a fairly high number of comments in some places revealing a staggering level of ignorance and intolerance.

Then there are other questions. After Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree came out in 2011, at the age of 46, he found that sponsorship deals “suddenly disappeared”.

And while it might be relatively easy to be out of the closet in the UK and the rest of the Western world, it’s far from easy everywhere else.

In Russia, for instance, where the Sochi Winter Olympics will be held next February, legislation has been enacted to stop ‘homosexual propaganda’ – at the same time as passing a bill imposing sentences of up to three years in prison for offending religious believers.

Since theDuma passed the bill, there have been increased reports of attacks on LGBT people. These things are not meaningless.

A recent poll found that nearly half of Russians believe that gays and lesbians should not enjoy the same rights as other citizens.

There have been calls to boycott the Games – but there’s something rather pleasing about knowing that commentator Clare Balding will be sitting in a studio in Russia, an openly gay woman, going about her business of commenting on sport.

It’s a bit of a finger to the bigots, at the very least.

Daley revealed his relationship status in a YouTube video – which meant that he could scoop any gossipy newspaper, and let people know on and in his own terms.

He refused to put a label on himself, and noted that he still fancied girls.

Not that that stopped the speculating.

James Ingham, a “showbiz columinist” at the Daily Star, tweeted: “Hope @TomDaley1994 gets the respect & admiration he deserves for coming out & not any abuse from either side of the fence! #gay #proud”.

Fine as it goes, but why apply a label via the hashtag?

I pointed out: “@JAMESINREHAB He has used no label, but since he still fancies girls, apparently, perhaps it’s more a case of #bi than #gay.”

To which he responded: “We shall see. Pretty much every gay man comes out as ‘bi’ and says they still fancy girls but very few actually are or do ;)”

What will we see and how? Does a married man have to actually have sex with another woman to prove he still fancies women in a general way and is, therefore, heterosexual? Would Daley have to do something similar to ‘prove’ what he has said?

And at the end of the day – why?

One of the things that that illustrates is how, even if we’ve come a long way on sexuality issues in the UK – and other parts of the Western world – people still get confused by bisexuality.

Indeed, as one particular poster on the Telegraph blogs continued to assert: bisexuality is merely an illustration of confusion. It was, so they appeared to think, impossible not to simply be able to choose – as though sexuality has ever been a matter of choice.

Oddly, some heterosexuals, who still claim that to be the case, never seem able toexplain when they personally opted for heterosexuality or how anyone simplychooses who to fancy.

Another poster squealed about the “violent” behavior of the ‘pro-gay lobby’.

Amazingly, when I asked for examples of this violence, nobody could answer – but several people marked my comment down.

Well folks, when you can find examples of heterosexuals who have been bullied or beaten or murdered, by those nasty gays, just for being straight, then perhaps you can waffle on about ‘violence’.

Until then, perhaps you should stop trying to use language inaccurately in order to justify your own attitudes. And just remember: the sky hasn’t fallen in on any country that has legislated for equal marriage.

Although of course, the inbred nutters at Westboro Baptists were quick to take to Twitter to blame last weekend’s Glasgow helicopter crash on just that.

Also on Twitter, human rights activist Peter Tatchell is currently challenging Yusuf Chambers – a young Irishman who converted to Islam and is now a preacher and has been reported as saying that homosexuals should die – to say that in fact he opposes the “Sharia death penalty for adultery and homosexuality”.

Thus far (Wednesday 4 December), Chambers has refused to agree with such a statement.

This isn’t just some obscure philosophical point – there are countries, such as Iran, that execute people for their sexuality and plenty more that imprison people for the same reason.

Oh, the Iranian state might dress it up in language about ‘exploiting young people’, but the truth remains that the Iranian state – and others – murder people for being gay.

Tatchell’s efforts have also attracted a fair few others who are playing the offended game and suggesting he isn’t challenging extremism but being Islamophobic.

You may not like or agree with Tatchell, but he is utterly fair and consistent.

And after all, it shouldn’t be difficult to say that you don’t agree with stoning people to death, now should it?

As only a slight aside, the recent revelation that some UK universities are grovelling before religious fundamentalism by allowing meetings to have segregation of the sexes should be enough to warn people that the dangers of fundamentalisms are remarkably real, even in the UK, in the 21st century. Or so youd hope.

But the fact that we apparently have people in the UK who probably applaud every time Iran hangs gay men for being gay is, along with all the things mentioned above, why Tom Daley’s video announcement is news, why making it was brave and why even in the UK, in the 21st century, coming out is still difficult for many.

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