On Monday, 19-year-old British diver Tom Daley took to YouTube and revealed to the entire internet that he had a boyfriend, joining a growing list of famous people (and many athletes!) who have publicly come out.
Watch him come out at 2:11, then listen on until 2:39.
Just two days before Daley, Maria Bello came out in a New York Times "Modern Love" column, demonstrating again that celebrities publicly coming out and being treated to Internet fanfare seems to be routine now. Flavorwire's Tyler Coates even wondered if coming out is no longer a "big deal."
But Tom Daley's coming out is a big deal. It was a big deal for me. It was a big deal for young people across the country, across the world, who saw that brief moment of hesitation in his video when he says, "Well, that someone ... was a guy."
Why was it a big deal? Because throughout the video, not one single time did Daley label himself. Not as "gay," not as "homosexual," not as "bi." He went with d) none of the above.
"I met someone and it made me feel so happy, so safe. And that someone was a guy. Of course I still fancy girls, but right now I'm dating a guy. And it just feels safe, and it just really does feel right."
And when I finished watching the video, when its subtle message sank in, I nearly started crying.
Over the past 10 years, my own sexuality has evolved immensely. In high school, I became an avid gay rights supporter — but no, I was straight. I put extra emphasis on that. Not even bisexual, just straight. That's how it was for years. I was straight. Never bi. It's not that my desire for women was secretly lurking in the back of my head all those years; it was that the people I had crushed on or slept with for most of my life had been mostly men. Then, as I neared the age of 19, that began to change.
It took me heavily making out with four girls, and having sex with two to start to realize that "straight" and "heterosexual" no longer fit. But did "bi"?
In a perfect world, maybe. But though "bisexual" literally means "attracted to both sexes," I spent most of my youth seeing peers associate "bisexual" with this:
... In other words, "women making out with each other just to make men horny." To hell with that association. Bisexual, as far as I could tell, was also seen as synonymous with "sexually confused" or "sleeps with anyone, is a little slutty." You can bet I didn't want to be associated with that, either. Beyond that, even, I didn't want a label. I didn't want people to see me go from "Andrea" to "bisexual." Nothing about me had changed. I still was who I was.
When it comes to sexuality, we can be obsessed with labeling people, designating them as one or the other. "Everyone needs labels!" I heard left and right from several peers in college, some of them even from the "queer" community itself. "We survive on labels!" When I signed up for a profile on OkCupid, it asked me to label myself as "heterosexual," "gay," or "bisexual." When I say I lost sleep thinking about what to choose, I am being completely and utterly frank.
I wanted to search for both men and women, but the discomfort over labeling myself as anything other than "heterosexual" was daunting.
There is a safety that comes from not labeling myself. I'll concede that. "Heterosexual" feels like a lie but "bisexual" feels like I'm putting my emotional and physical safety out on the line — not an unusual thing to think, considering the number of hate crimes and prejudices individuals in this country face for their sexuality.
But sexuality is messy and complicated. You cannot force it into a neat little box. By not forcing myself into any boxes, I was finally able to come forward and accept myself for me — attracted to women, attracted to men, attracted to whomever I wanted to be. And when Tom Daley came out in that video simply as "having a boyfriend," he legitimized the idea of no-labels love in front of the entire internet.
Yes, many news outlets immediately stamped the word "gay" onto Daley's coming out story. Yes, even Gay Star News rushed to call him "bisexual." But many millennials pushed back against those same media outlets.
So far, Daley has 9,000,000 views and 83,000 comments on his YouTube video. I'm crossing my fingers that the eyes behind each one of those 9,00,000 views are connected to a brain that has at least come one step closer to realizing that sexuality is not a multiple choice question, but an (optional) "fill-in-the-blank."
I know I'm not alone in feeling this way about labels. This couple BuzzFeed profiled three months ago feel the same way. Laci Green, the feminist of YouTube fame, said, "The chances of any label 100% describing you? Pretty low!" Autostraddle blogger Riese wrote an amazing defense of using your self-determination to label your sexuality (or not). Even Scarleteen, a sex education blog for teenagers and people in their 20s, is now stressing that labels only mean what you want them to mean. More than ever, our generation is figuring out that labeling others is old-fashioned. Only we are in charge of what we define ourselves
If we don't use labels, is "coming out" still going to be a big deal? Yes.
In his video, Daley said he doesn't think coming out should be a big deal — but he's well-aware it is going to be. That is why he filmed the video in the first place.
To me, coming out is a big deal. Because as I write this, I wonder, What would my father, who once said he wouldn't stand to see any of his daughters marry another woman, think if he read this? How about my relatives, most of whom still believe the perverse stereotypes of same-sex relationships? What will they think? Will my grandmothers still look at me the same way? Will I still be allowed to play with my younger female cousins?
What will the comment sections here at PolicyMic say? What will Twitter say? Will I be called brave? Will I be called a dyke? Will people say, "I don't get why this is such a big deal for you"?
Only time will tell. Internet, show me what you've got.