With which one would you rather identify?
Just about everything that can be said about Tom Daley’s announcement that he is dating a guy has been said — my only defence is that not everyone has said it.
For someone whose experiences in closet evacuation were infinitely less interesting but not entirely voluntary I found the way he did it, and the subsequent reaction, hugely uplifting.
Why so? Because confused teenagers now have someone with whom they can identify who isn’t a camp old poof; because he has chosen to do come out at the start — and not the end — of his career, and because he seems completely fine with it.
When I was born, homosexuality was illegal. When I grew up as a schoolboy even to be accused of being a “poof” was to be an outcast. Anything could trigger an accusation. Wearing your school tie the wrong way, being too tidily dressed, liking the wrong bands. You watched what you said.
Homosexuals (a word usually spat out) were people like Mr Humphries on the TV comedy Are You Being Served? They were, in the language of the time, “mincing poofters”. What teenager could admit to themselves that they were like that? Who would put themselves in the camp camp?
We had a teacher who used to call you up the front of the class to read to him. You learned not to stand too close because if you did he would put his hands in your pockets. In that bizarre logic of schoolboys, if you let him do that it meant you were a poof — not him, you — because obviously you liked it.
Even the government decreed you were not to be talked of. Section 28 [of the Local Government Act 1988] restricted what teachers could say about homosexuality. What message did that send to anyone struggling with their sexuality?
So as a confused teenager, what did you do? You lied. You lied to your friends, your family, your parents, but mostly you lied to yourself. And you got so good at lying and so convincing that you achieved the ultimate deception, you believed your own lie.
When people ask “why do gays feel it necessary to make such a thing of being gay?”, the answer is the overwhelming majority don’t. But when someone with as high a profile as Tom Daley says what he did that is a huge boost to those, especially teenagers, wracked with self-doubt about their sexuality. He showed you can be out without being an outsider.
So yes, let’s talk about Tom; he doesn’t get a free pass. It is right that some praised him while others attacked him. Confused teens following the story will have got a good idea of what society thinks of them for better or for worse. And perhaps they can stop lying.