You could hardly budge on Twitter yesterday without seeing references to Tom Daley’s announcement. Posting a video to his YouTube channel, he told his fans that he’s happy and content in a relationship with a man. As an aside, he also noted that he still fancies girls, but it’s too early to tell whether that was an open declaration of bisexuality, or a half-hearted attempt to prevent his 2014 calendar ending up in the 99p Stores by mid-January. Either way, a nineteen year-old sportsman feels comfortable telling his millions of fans that he’s in a gay relationship. Welcome to the future.
Depressingly, there was a handful of negative reactions, from the kind of people who are constantly obsessing about having things shoved down their throats. They express a calculated indifference to homosexuality, wishing everyone would just carry on behind closed doors (and maybe wear a pink triangle when they go out) but are quite happy to go public with their oral fixation; imagining countless objectionable topics pounding away at their epiglottis, like it’s an East End Boys’ Club punching bag.
There were also loud voices of encouragement, from poorly-worded support "The whole world is behind you, Tom" to the more aggressive "I want your dick inside me." However, by far the most common reaction was a swivelling eye-roll of ironic shock. Tom has been an Olympic hopeful and TV fixture since he was taking off short trousers, and speculation has been rife since before he even developed a sexual identity. Maybe we’re all just getting a little better at identifying proto-gays before they’re fully formed - like seeing a golden-haired child and being able to tell whether they’re going to be mousy by their mid-teens.
These days, there’s really no glory in claiming you’ve got a well-trained gaydar. You might as well boast of your supernaturally accurate sheepdar – “I suspect there are some woolly ruminants in that field over there.” Some kids are gay long before they realise it, or even have the vocabulary to define it. No-one should be in any rush to attach a label to themselves, and I hold out hope that one day, there’ll be no need.
Whether or not anyone can convincingly claim shock or surprise at Tom’s declaration is beside the point. What’s interesting is the general reaction. Daley’s short but heartfelt video message about his new relationship was covered by every major news source yesterday, even though most of the commentary seemed to focus on the fact that the story itself can no longer be considered a revelation.
Nonetheless, Tom Daley is perhaps the highest profile sporting star to make such a statement, so it still warrants a mention. Consider the column issues spent on debating the lack of homosexual visibility in football, or the courage of rugby player Gareth Thomas when he made his own announcement. It’s also worth remembering that, not only is Gareth twice Tom’s age, he’s also twice his size, and more than capable of taking down anyone who dares to voice their disapproval.
So is it news? Well, yes and no. Of course, the notion that anybody’s sexuality might be anyone else’s business should be anathema in a civilized society. And yet, with the eyes of the world trained on Russia, and how Putin plans to manage the reaction to gay athletes at Sochi next year, homosexuality and sport still enjoy a curious friction. Not like that.
So maybe, 'no news' is the new 'news'. The story isn’t that Tom is in a relationship with a man, it’s that this no longer constitutes a story in itself. The media is running a far more meta commentary on how it, and society as a whole, are reacting. After the whole messy feedback loop that the BBC ran around its own Jimmy Savile investigation, we’ve become far more used to news stories about the news. And anyone who argues that it’s none of this is news, but is happy to wade through the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame to find three different picture stories about Kim Kardashian passing a loose stool, doesn’t have an ideological leg to stand on.
No doubt the next wave of coverage will involve controversy-baiting harridans like Jan Moir and Katie Hopkins, deliberately finding as provocative an angle as possible, in the hopes of securing another 15 minute slot on Philip’s couch. While they’re busy mapping out their indignant soundbites, the rest of us can content ourselves in the fact that we’ve evolved sufficiently to raise our opposable thumbs aloft.