So Tom Daley has made the announcement that he is in a relationship with a man. He talks about how it makes him feel happy and safe. This is really where the discussion should end right? He's in a happy relationship, he feels safe, end of story. It shouldn't really be anyone else's business. But unfortunately, in today's celebrity obsessed culture, the private lives of anyone who's in the public eye are seen as up for discussion, especially when it comes to something like sexuality. Daley's revelation has led to a media storm with many media outlets labelling him as gay.
And here's where my problem is with this whole discussion: Daley doesn't use any label in the video. The language he uses seems deliberately chosen to avoid any form of labelling of his sexuality. Either that or he feels that he hasn't settled on one yet. Regardless of his reasons, the media has mostly fallen over themselves to declare him a new gay icon. Even LGBTQ news site Pink News labelled him as such before rapidly changing their headline to 'Tom Daley: 'I'm dating a guy and I couldn't be happier''. They did also issue an apology for their original headline but it still stands that people were very quick to label him as gay.
So why is this? Surely if he's, as he states in the video, in a relationship with a guy but still fancies girls that would make him bi or pansexual? If we're going to label him at all, why not use the correct one? Sadly, this is something that is common. Many bisexual celebrities are relabelled as either straight or gay, with Freddie Mercury, Virginia Woolf and Lady Gaga being just a few examples. The representation of bisexual people in popular culture is laughingly poor. In the Stonewall study Unseen on Screen out of 127 hours of TV surveyed, only five minutes and nine seconds were dedicated to portrayals of bisexuals. Five minutes and nine seconds. In comparison, gay men got four hours and 24 minutes and lesbians 42 minutes of screen time. In the grand scheme of things that's still a shockingly poor amount of time but compared to how long bisexuals get? It's an eternity.
We've all heard the stereotypes about bisexuals. They're either confused and will decide on being straight or gay (an extension of this is the closeted argument that being bi is simply a step on the road to coming out fully) or they don't exist at all. They're greedy and promiscuous. I myself have been on the receiving end of this when a guy was chatting me up in a club. He backed off on finding out I had a boyfriend but when it came up in conversation that I was bi immediately turned around and asked, "So you will sleep with me then." Following on from this is the idea that bisexuals are carriers of STDs between the hetero and homosexual communities. Bisexual women are often asked if they'll participate in threesomes with straight couples simply because of their sexuality. Some people are told that they are reinforcing the patriarchy by participating in heteronormative as well as homosexual relationships. They are told that they are traitors if they move from a gay to a straight relationship. Finally, most people are told that it's simply a phase, that they'll make up their mind (usually to be straight) eventually.
Bisexuality is very much a real thing, as is pansexuality. It is possible for people to love more than one gender. And bi erasure is also, unfortunately, a reality. And it's a huge problem within our society when you look at statistics to do with mental health and sexual violence in relation to bisexuals. In terms of suicidal thoughts, one Canadian study found where 7.4% straight men have them and 25.2% of gay men, 34.8% of bisexual men suffer from these. As for sexual violence, it's estimated from recent studies in the States that almost half of bisexual women have been raped with 75% being subjected to sexual violence of another form. Those figures are shocking. And we can't just ignore them and pretend they don't exist.
How Tom Daley choses to identify himself is his own private business. How the media decides to label him is not: we should all be concerned about bisexual erasure within our society. It is real, and it is effecting people's lives in a big way. Imagine if every time a straight or gay person shared their sexuality they were told that they didn't exist, that they were simply wrong about how they understood their own identity. I recognise that for a lot of gay people this is a reality but in a more progressive society such as the UK, is it really that difficult to understand that a person can want to be with a person of any gender?