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Richson: Tom Daley in the gray area

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | DECEMBER 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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The nature of structured language is to define things, to put things in boxes; this is how we function and communicate as a society. We assign meaning to certain words, and thus labels to people, things, feelings, and so on and so forth.

For example, I often feel an abnormal amount of anxiety when I cannot tell if a shirt is dark navy or black. Why? Because as superficial and ridiculous as it may sound, I just need to know. The label is pivotal to how I view things … in this case, what pants I choose to wear. But I digress.

Just a few days ago, British Olympic diver and heartthrob Tom Daley shocked the world (or didn’t at all, depending on your presumptions) when he posted a YouTube video that explained his prior hesitations to expose his private life and the new change of heart that spurred him to make the video. He expressed a newfound sense of safety and happiness in his life, which he has found in dating a male.

The video has since amassed more than 9 million views, and I’m fairly certain that some straight girls across the globe probably shed a few tears. However, what is interesting about the video is that Daley never explicitly says, “I am bisexual.” He says he still “fancies” girls (so precious and so British), but currently, has found happiness with a male. And I applaud Daley for this.

I don’t view Daley’s lack of blatancy as a way of skirting around the issue; anyone who watches the video will see he was as candid and genuine as can be … granted, the accent doesn’t hurt. But this wasn’t a contrived press conference. Daley is just a guy sitting on his couch.

“In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be doing this video because it shouldn’t matter,” Daley laments, nailing an important and unfortunate truth about modern society. We love labels, the black and white, because we are lazy. Understanding and acknowledging and working with the gray area would just be too much work, wouldn’t it?

Daley acknowledges that some people will be angry with his announcement. To exist in the public eye is to have loyal fans, and some may inevitably feel betrayed, as if they were kept in the dark for some time or even lied to. This is because people expect labels. Daley wasn’t being coy in keeping his private life from his fans, he was merely trying to figure out that gray area for himself.

To iterate Daley’s point, it would be great if we existed in a reality where a prominent athlete grappling with his emerging sexuality wasn’t newsworthy. But for now, it is. Daley did an excellent job navigating what it means to be an honest public figure without feeling the pressure to conform to public norms.

Maybe someday, Daley will date a female again. Maybe he will continue to date males. Does it matter? No. Does it change his athletic ability? No. Will it change how people view him? Probably.

Tom Daley is to some people what knowing whether my shirt is dark navy or black is to me. It absolutely doesn’t matter, but for some annoying reason, people just need to know. Hopefully, someday this label inclination can change.


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