When I was a teenager, the most high-profile coming out that I can remember was George Michael. He was arrested by police for cruising in a Los Angeles public toilet. While the sting operation and attitude towards gay men is a separate issue, the fact remains that his public admission of homosexuality was triggered by being caught in the most unflattering of acts.
The message sent to my young brain was that this is what gay men did, they hid in the dark and they engaged in anonymous promiscuity. If my own mind felt that way, making me even more confused than I already was (I had no desire to trawl lavatories looking for penis), I can only imagine what it did for society as a whole.
The most recent celebrity to come out was Tom Daley, someone worlds away from where George Michael was a decade ago. My initial impression was one of cynicism, calendars to shift and private life be damned. I’ve had an opportunity to mull this over, now that the Twitter barrage and front cover tabloids have quietened. Whatever his decision may have been to admit his being in a relationship with a man, I’d like to only concentrate on the impact and outcome, none of which is negative.
A nineteen year old boy who seems to revel in his stable and comforting family life, reveals to the world via a low-key video from his home that he is in a relationship with a man. He does not feel the need to label himself, he is not prompted to avoid scandal, and he is in what I can only hope is a monogamous and loving relationship. The world reacts overwhelming by wishing him well, and if the only quibble we can find is some media sources labelling him as “gay”, we’re not in an altogether awful place.
We need more Tom Daleys in this world, and less George Michaels. If we are really trying to prove that we are just as normal, boring, and in need of love as everyone else, it is Tom Daley who is setting the example. There was a time not so long ago, when the papers seized gay headlines like no tomorrow. It was synonymous with deceit, with dark and evil practises. It was married men picking up teenage boys for money, members of parliament choking themselves on plastic bags and yes, singers being caught in toilets. A killer was far more terrifying if the word “gay” could be attached to the front. “Gay affair” was much more titillating. It is morbidly funny in a sense, that in the recent Reverend Flowers scandal the tabloids found more to play with regarding his appetite for crystal meth than his appetite for rent boys.
We have more Tom Daleys in the world however. They are you.
Sometimes we spend so much time looking up at the stars we forget to see where our own feet have led us. The change in the world has not been one of sudden impact. It has come from the millions of us out in the reaches of life, struggling every day to just lead a normal life. To have the courage to come out, and live in the light. To kiss our respective others in public, and hold their hands on the street. To walk into work every day with a head held high, refusing to be labelled as a monster, or a pervert.
Nobody remembers the names of the Stonewall rioters, or the people who have donated, volunteered, campaigned and protested to change legislation, to change hearts and minds. Nobody knows the names of those who have been thrown into jail, who have been tortured, who have lost their homes and their families and their very dignity to be who they are. I am still in awe of anyone over the age of 50 who managed to never marry and keep a dirty secret, or who found the strength to escape that life and come out. I don’t know all their names, but I have nothing but respect and love for them.
Tom Daley’s announcement was a milestone in LGBT history, but don’t forget the millions of faces that have preceded him to get him where he is today, where I am today, where you are today. I smile to think of the millions of faces that come after Tom Daley, who will live an increasingly better life than those that came before.
Most of all, don’t forget to look in the mirror once in a while. Don’t forget the influence you have on those around you, the responsibility you have towards those around you.
The hero that you are in your own life.