Support 100 years of independent journalism.

3 December 2013

We should say to Tom Daley “good for you, you smug git”

There’s no doubt that Tom Daley's coming out is marker of just how far we’ve come in terms of LGBT visibility, but it highlights how far we still have to go.

By Eleanor Margolis

There’s always a story. Coming out is never a case of, “One day I started dating someone with the same genitals as me, then I ate some chicken and went to bed.” Some people come out to families who shun them, some people come out to unsupportive friends, and some people come out via YouTube video, not just to those who know them personally, but to the entire world.

On Monday, teenage Olympic medallist Tom Daley came out as bisexual. When I last checked, his “Something I want to say…” video had just under two million views. In a five minute broadcast, Daley announces that he’s in a relationship with a man and is extremely happy. The message is overwhelmingly positive, so why did it make me sad?

I have nothing but respect for Tom Daley. Have you seen the guy doing that jumping headfirst into water thing? He’s really, really good at it. In fact, here’s another five minute video of him, doing what he does best while just so happening to be a man who fancies men. Interestingly, this has been a big year for gay athletes. Former Leeds United winger, Robbie Rogers became one of football’s very first openly gay players in April. He was followed in May by American basketball player Jason Collins, who made history when he came out.

Women, of course, have a much stronger history of being openly gay in the world of running, jumping and hitting things with sticks. From Billie Jean King to Nicola Adams, sporting lesbians are hardly a rarity. But in the drainingly macho realm of male sport, coming out is still hazardous. So it’s no surprise that Daley is only one of the first few British Olympic athletes to do so. And of course, he subsequently had to endure the usual turdy deluge of abuse from some sentient beings who just about qualify as human. Probably.

Every time someone high profile comes out, millions of LGBT people are reminded of their own coming out “stories.” We’re told, yet again, that our sexuality is repugnant to so many people that we need to tread carefully wherever we go. That the question of our queerness is an issue that needs to be “dealt with”. Coming out is a process so often blighted by shame and stinking of apology. Unfortunately, we’re forced to “come out” if we want to be open about our sexuality, but when we do so, we pander to homophobes. In a less groaningly hateful world, we wouldn’t come out as LGBT; they would come out as bigoted.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

You’d have to be pretty callous to think that Daley’s video is anything other than incredibly brave. There’s no doubt that it’s a marker of just how far we’ve come in terms of LGBT visibility. That is to say, we’ve gone from having no LGBT male athletes to having some. At the same time though, it highlights just how far we still have to go. At this stage, a public figure in a same-sex relationship makes the news. The actual news. That thing where they report wars, revolutions and genocide. Perversely, a more enlightened response to Daley’s announcement that he’s in a happy same-sex relationship would be, “Good for you, you smug git.”

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

I hope that athletes continue to come out. I hope that Daley, Rogers and Collins have instigated something massive, loud and rainbow-coloured. But, most of all, I hope that one day no one will give a shit.