Yesterday, Tom Daley, the Olympic medalist in diving from England, came out in a short five-minute video on YouTube.
You’ll note I said, “came out,” which in current parlance can mean several things, but is most commonly taken to mean publicly identifying as gay. Indeed as this article in the Guardian points out, many major media outlets took it this way, describing Daley as having come out as gay. However, if you watch the video, Daley never claims a particular sexual identity (gay, bisexual, or otherwise), but simply says that he is in a relationship with another guy. Indeed, he adds that he still fancies girls and that his relationship with this guy seemingly took him by surprise. What do we make of a statement like this? And is it even our job to make something of it?
There are a lot of reasons that the media have rushed to identify Daley as a gay icon. For one, there’s a shortage of openly out males in top-tier professional sports. Secondly, there is still little place for the identity “bisexual,” especially for men, in the public sphere. As Nichi Hodgson notes in that same article from the Guardian, “declaring yourself bisexual translates as meaning that you are one of just several things: attention-seeking and performative, promiscuous, or gay in denial to appease fans.” Thirdly, and more pragmatically, he currently in a relationship with another man.
Daley is just 19 years old. While some have sorted through their attractions and arrived at a settled identity by that age, many have not. Doubtless he should be given time and space to sort out his own sexuality.
Regardless of what label Daley takes (if any), his video shows the challenges we face when we try and fit individual stories into preconceived categories of sexual identity. Sometimes they don’t fit perfectly. Sometimes the straight guy dates a guy. Sometimes the gay guy ends up marrying a girl. Or maybe they are both bisexual? Simple categories of gay and straight (and even bisexual) as sexual identity labels are often unsatisfactory in describing the diverse circumstances that emerge from the complexity of human sexuality.
Kyle Keating is a M.Div. candidate at Covenant Theological Seminary and teacher of Bible and Theology at a small Christian school in St. Louis, Missouri where he lives with his wonderful wife Christy. He can be followed on Twitter: @KyleAKeating..