A couple of weeks ago, a nation sat down to watch their televisions and enjoy an evening of cynical observations, self-depreciation and mild self-loathing. London 2012 kicked off and Britain was ready for a cock-up of international standards. It would be a naff opening, transport would grind to a halt, London would be in chaos, it would probably rain quite a lot and a host of unforeseen circumstances would conspire to ensure that everything inevitably went pear shaped. Of course, there was the odd cheerful idiot thinking it was all going to be brilliant, but they were bonkers. Examples of British eccentricity. They probably did rambling or something, or ran charity jumble sales. They certainly lived with cats. Lots of cats. They were always excited at such things. They’d soon see the shambles. Oh yes.
Irritatingly, it didn’t quite happen that way. Very early on in the Danny Boyle masterpiece (as we’ve come to know the opening), a nation of cynics were converted and the already annoyingly cheery optimistic folks were lifted to a plane of bliss akin to a 60s guru floating on a magic carpet of drug-induced delight. It wasn’t just good, it was bloody brilliant.
Then there was London, a city which felt pretty good. The weather was glorious for much of the time and the gentle buzz of Olympic happiness kept everything bobbing along.
I’m still holding out some cynical hope that the pink sand strewn around London may in some way trigger skin complaints and a spate of litigation, or the prospect of the Spice Girls whizzing around on taxis could be a nod of self-mockery too far, but it looks like I’ll be disappointed. It looks like the games will be a success. Not just in sporting terms, but in terms of showing the world and ourselves that modern Britain is a place at ease with ourself. Confident in who we are, and both optimistic and ambitious for the future.
Add into this heady mix of a nation bemused to be at ease with itself, we throw in the athletes themselves. It’s telling that we seem excited not just by amazing Brits, but a Jamiacan runner in the form of the awe-inspiring Usain Bolt, alongside a host of athletes around the world. Then there’s ‘Mo’ (is a surname needed?), and of course ‘Tom’.
Ahh, Tom. Surely the nation’s favourite? A nice guy, with an amazing and powerful personal story, and a body that evokes a lustful desire among many that suggests Daley should be careful who he gets into a lift with. Young Mr Daley has curiously been positioned in the BBC media as a ‘teenager’, and the BBC soundtrack that accompanied a video of him sang of a ‘child in his eyes’. Yet, despite this attempt by the media to re-position Tom as a child and thus make any ‘naughty’ thoughts about him verboten, a casual glance of Twitter would demonstrate they have failed.
It’s not just me with a rather evident weakness for Tom, a range of high-profile journalists, celebrities, academics and unknown rampant homosexuals are rather fixated on Tom. The outpouring of homosexual lust is itself a fascinating development. Gay men are reminding the world via social media that homosexuality isn’t just about a propensity for stylish wedding planning, it’s about bonking members of the same sex.
Although some might seek to define Tom as ‘metrosexual’, it’s not merely desire that motivates the ‘gay’ men fascinated by Daley, it’s a belief that he is himself gay. Not just camp, or ‘gaying it up’, but an authentic homosexual. People point to his camp mannerisms, his tendency to wiggle his bum when walking from the pool to a showers (which some uncharitably have termed a ‘mince’), and his fondness for camp music. For straight credentials, folks point to his Cheryl Cole calendar and his promise last night on Twitter, that he would DM her to fix up some private diving lessons. As women go, this is one rung down from Kylie Minogue in the butch-stakes.
Daley does indeed seem to play to his image. His fondness (apparently unique among competing divers) to spend significant periods between dives looking seductive under the pool-side shower led to me branding to these moments as ‘shower porn’. Here I use porn in the legal sense – images designed primarily to create arousal. The ease with which shots are available on the web suggests I wasn’t alone in noticing.
Whether Daley ever finds himself being bonked into oblivion by some chap in the not-to-distant future is largely irrelevant. Daley is and probably always will be a homosexual in the minds of many. He’s an example of identity being formed in isolation from sexual acts. When we say Daley is gay, it’s not merely wishful thinking. After all, whether he is gay or not makes rather minimal difference to the chance of most of us discovering whether Tom really is the much believed power-bottom some regard him as. Yes, there is perhaps a sense of ownership, claiming him as ‘one of us’, part of the clan. A cute homo to inspire a generation. After all, look at Matthew Mitcham, comfortably gay and camping it up with aplomb in the Aquatics Centre last night.
No, we believe Tom is one of us. Not quite in the Tom Cruise stages of alleged denial but at the point of eager discovery. This creates ridiculous pressure on Daley. An experimental mutual masturbatory session with another guy would leak to the tabloids with depressing predictability. So too, an appearance on Gaydar or a furtive visit to Plymouth’s gay scene. Coming out for Tom is extraordinarily difficult. Never mind coming out to a wider population, coming out to himself is next to impossible. The formative experiences that can confirm, or define identity are next to impossible.
Thus, whether he is or is not gay, we may not know. He may not ever know either. So, we are in all probability locked in this dance of believing that he is with roughly the same certainty that we know we’ll probably not know.
At a time of apparently transformed legal sexualities, it is perhaps worth noting these cultural barriers that remain not only in seeing somebody else’s sexuality but in coming to understand our own.