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Apr 04 2014

No, Tom Daley didn’t just call himself a gay man

Five months after insisting he still fancied girls, Tom Daley, who came out as bisexual last December in an emotional YouTube video, has made a new announcement: last night, the 19-year-old admitted he only wants to be with men and says he is no longer attracted to women, confirming that he is actually gay. ‘I am a gay man now. I’m definitely gay, not bisexual’, he said, attempting to explain his change-of-heart for Keith Lemon on Celebrity Juice.

This paragraph is a collage of statements from news sources within the last two days. The story, invariably headlined something like ‘Tom Daley: I’m a gay man now’, is all over the web. (I noticed it as a trend on Facebook. At the time of writing, it’s the top one.) With any luck, the patchwork above distills the overarching narrative the press has spun.

Articles show similar patterns. Typically, they open with reminders Daley’s coming-out, in which he ‘insisted’ he liked women while dating a man, was barely five minutes ago; they pointedly note his being 19 (bisexuality, of course, is something teenage); they declare him now to have ‘admitted’ to being simply gay, as the glitterati – Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, Richard Lawson – said he would, adding a hundred words or more of gossip-column extraneity.

I’ve felt obliged to write about Daley before, but never quite been able to. As subjects for writing go, he’s always seemed an uninteresting figure – less interesting by far, at least, than a once-bullied, now-adored bilingual queer Olympian should be who lost a parent, was an A-student and photographed Kate Moss and who’s dating an Oscar-winner. I seem to be the only one not attracted to him: the public Daley feels sexless as a Ken doll.

Nonetheless, media’s treatment of him is unsettling – not least its creepy, invasive monitoring of his relationship, an indignity saved usually for royals. This latest headline, clearly, was one the press had ached for months to write in ‘told you so’ self-satisfaction, so nonspecific are the articles below it. Almost none quote what Daley actually said; almost all distort it.

Here is the clip that spurred reports. The entire exchange occurs within the first five seconds.

‘Let’s get right to the crunch here,’ says host Keith Lemon – persona of Leigh Francis, one more straight comic in the David Walliams mould who thinks ‘act queer’ is the fastest route to funny. ‘You’re a gay man now.’ (This is, as has thus far been largely overlooked, a reference to a popular Catherine Tate sketch.)

I, ah…’ Daley replies, sounding a bit uncomfortable.

That’s it.

Admittedly, his diction isn’t clear. A proper journalist’s transcription, and well-known journalists have hired me to give them, would render it simply as ‘[indistinct]’: the second word could equally be ‘agh’, ‘ugh’, ‘yeah’, ‘know’ or something else. Outlets desperate for a bi-now-gay-later scoop seem to have rounded it up to ‘am’ – then delved into wild, opportunistic paraphrase of what they hoped he’d said.

Even if Daley had answered ‘I am’, low-brow comedy quiz programmes on ITV aren’t quite the forum for Q&A on nuanced identities. Plenty who sail like me in vaguely bisexual waters would, I think, have shrugged along rather than correct Francis. We’re encouraged to bow to the binary of ‘gays’ and ‘normal people’, to be unfussy about what we’re called: erasure makes stating bisexuality awkward when it comes as a reprimand.

No, Tom Daley didn’t say he’s a gay man. Nor did he ever use the word bisexual, for that matter – but it’s obvious which one the press prefers.

Edit: For those saying Daley’s reply sounded to them like a clear ‘I am’, hear the isolated audio here.

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8 comments

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  1. 1
    Tom Mayhew

    I agree with most of this post. As someone who also sails in those waters, I agree he may have possibly agreed to it due to nerves about being asked about it so abruptly, under studio lights, on a comedy show where he didn’t want to make himself look stupid. I am waiting for Tom Daley to say himself what his sexuality is. It’s absurd that so many people have jumped on a two word answer to a question on a cheap, awful show, that in the same show had some crap about him being covered in cheese (I don’t watch it, but in my reading about Tam Daley I have read they did this).

    However, to me, it was 100% clear that he said “I am”, to be honest. I think he laughed while saying it, making it *slightly* unclear, but he nods at the same time, which pretty much clarifies it. It always sounded like “I am” to my ears. Even so, there’s the chance he was thinking “yeah, I am in a gay relationship”.

    Or perhaps we are clutching at straws, because we are so sick of the fact that people who said “Tom Daley is gay, he has to be gay because he’s in a relationship with a man” 5 months ago will now think they are right? Maybe we’re just sad to be losing one of very few massively famous bisexual men we thought we had, and the loss of representation – in this way, of all ways – I’ll be honest, if it turns out to be true, I will find it quite annoying and hurtful, I guess. It’s not helpful for the male bisexual cause that we thought he was one of few fighting for.

    But yeah. These are all words, with no answers. Only he has the answer.

    Great blog regardless!

  2. 2
    jflcroft

    I agree with Tom: I agree with the article, that the way this has been reported is bullshit, and indicative of a default suspicion men are met with when they declare bisexuality. At the same time, I think it absolutely clear he said “I am.” Not sure what to make of that, but there it is.

  3. 3
    kraut

    “I am waiting for Tom Daley to say himself what his sexuality is.”

    And pray tell – why should anybody gives a rats posterior about this?

  4. 4
    =8)-DX

    Uh… he actually did say “I am”. Perhaps people not familiar with the accent might be confused. Of course that doesn’t mean he isn’t bi.

  5. 5
    Alex Gabriel

    @=8)-DX (#4)

    His accent is the same as mine. I don’t hear an ‘m’ there.

  6. 6
    exi5tentialist

    Great video. He’s laughing all the way to the bank.

  7. 7
    jimgreen

    Being a Brit, I hope you get the “Gay Man Now” Catherine Tate reference. You really seem to be stretching to make him some poster child for post-gay queer sexuality but you are just as guilty as us regressive “homonormative” “gays” Tom Daley is also a curious choice for radicalism – he is prime example of the “commodified” gay identity that radical queers usually attack viciously. Maybe he is asexual and just likes to give his boyfriend blue balls? Having seen the bareback DLB pics though, I doubt that.

    Give it a rest…

  8. 8
    Alex Gabriel

    @jimgreen (#7):

    Being a Brit, I hope you get the “Gay Man Now” Catherine Tate reference.

    You didn’t read the whole post, did you?

    (This is, as has thus far been largely overlooked, a reference to a popular Catherine Tate sketch.)

    Sigh.

    You really seem to be stretching to make him some poster child for post-gay queer sexuality [and] radicalism

    Please tell me where I did that.

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