Tom Daley coming out was a defining moment in my gay youth - his gold medal is another
Why the Team GB diver's victory was a gold-medal moment for the entire LGBT+ community.
When Tom Daley came out, I was fifteen, sat on the sofa with a friend, eagerly watching as he poured his heart out on YouTube. The video was only five minutes long, but in the coming days, I would find myself watching it over and over again.
Then, five months later, emboldened by his honesty, I came out too.
I first watched Tom Daley dive during the 2012 London Olympics, where he was essentially the poster child of Team GB. He was unable to bring home gold that year, but he positively stole the hearts of the nation. Everyone at school discussed his body, his sweet smile, all while I stayed eerily quiet, as not to draw attention to myself.
I felt strange, almost alien as I came to terms with my sexuality. That feeling of isolation is something most queer people are unified in having experienced.
But a year later, still firmly hiding in the back of the closet amongst old winter coats, a lone Haribo, and a forgotten scrapbook, something changed.
As I sat watching Daley's video, a mental checklist was being ticked in my own mind. Having not had other gay people present in my life, this was the first time I was forced to cross-reference my own feelings with those of another.
As he approached those dreaded three words, his eyes glistening with tears on the precipice of falling, my own eyes darted to his union jack pillowcases. I feared, should my eyes meet his, I too would cry and give up the secret I had guarded with such ferocity.
I was living at home, and though my family was far from the type to hurl homophobic abuse at people, the ever-looming fear of being rejected dictated so many facets of my life.
"Something just clicked, it felt right," Daley said in his coming-out video.
He wasn't a character or a clumsily assembled stereotype; he was just authentically himself. Daley was brave. Not only was he coming out to his friends and family, but he was also doing it to the world, something which at the time could have had very real ramifications for his career.
But for me it hadn't clicked, although it was there and very present, it didn't feel right at all. However, in May of next year it did, and finally, everything that the diver had said aligned with my own perspective. Finally, I too felt brave.
Daley's career skyrocketed, a reminder that the belief that coming out could be a death sentence for those in the spotlight, simply isn't true, in some circumstances, anymore.
Daley married director Lance Black in 2017, and a year later they welcomed a baby into their family. Though I paint myself as an unapologetic loud mouth, we all have those nagging voices in the back of our minds. For me, Daley's story was a reminder to tell those voices to shove it.
Daley's journey came full circle on Monday when he finally secured gold at the Tokyo 2020 games.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) July 26, 2021
His victory alongside teammate Matty Lee was that final reminder, despite the continued fight, we are winning. This was his fourth appearance at the Olympics, and though the country had their fingers crossed for him, for gay people his win was so much more than a medal.
During the post-win press conference I was no longer an adult, but that fifteen-year-old boy all over again.
"I feel incredibly proud to say I am a gay man, and also an Olympic champion," Daley said.
"I feel very empowered by that because when I was younger I didn't think I was going to achieve anything because of who I was."
This time he was unapologetically gay: no stuttering, just pure authenticity. He owned his sexuality like he owned his victory. Though I may be older, and some would say wiser, Tom Daley's words still make that 15-year-old inside me cry, though this time with happiness.