Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The ever so slightly weird cult of Tom Daley

It's a slightly unfortunate time to write a blog on Tom Daley being the target of dubious attention, given the genuinely horrible nature of some of the stuff aimed at him yesterday. But though it pales in comparison, nevertheless, I felt the need to get something off my chest about the 'bigger than Jesus' like popularity of Daley in the gay world.

The poor boy only had to show his face at the opening ceremony on Friday and my Twitter feed exploded with gays seemingly experiencing a sort of collective orgasm; my phone all lit up with friends letting me know quite what they’d like to do to him. Maybe this is just representative of the people I’m friends with or follow, but I can’t remember many days passing where I haven’t seen people trading speedo pics of him. Even outside of the Twittersphere; I was out in Soho on Saturday night and I could barely shuffle five yards without unwittingly eavesdropping on a conversation about him.

Far be it from me to piss on everyone’s chips, but does anyone else find all this a bit, well, weird? Is it just me that feels a bit queasy over it? It’s not just ogling per se, its how merrily explicit a lot of it is; I wouldn’t consider myself particularly prudish, but even I’ve been pretty shocked by how graphic and unabashed a lot of ‘Daleymania’ is!

Don’t get me wrong, he’s pretty ‘n all, and he seems like a lovely guy. But, for one thing, he is painfully young. I mean, he’s barely pubescent. This is a boy who, picking a song that “reminded him of being twelve years old”, chose Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ (Yes! The one released in 2007!). This is obviously less pressing an issue when it comes to the twinky types who lust after him, although even on this I think there's something to be said (more on that later). But, judging from Twitter and my own personal experience, a lot of the people engaging in this seemingly endless Dutch auction of inappropriateness are old enough to know better, to put it mildly. One of the guys I was out with on Saturday - a 40-year old man (in a relationship!) - had a picture of him as his phone wallpaper/screensaver! That's odd.

Part of this is undoubtedly because a lot of gays have convinced themselves that he is “one of us” and therefore somehow tantalising attainable – there are allegedly ‘doubts’ (mostly cast by gay men) over his sexuality, although point out that he reportedly has a girlfriend and the sincere haste with which this is insisted to be a cover story is a bit creepy (“I’ve analysed every word of what he says about her, and I can tell you it means nothing” a friend sniped at me recently). But even if he is a homo (doubtful), does that make people in their 30’s or 40’s publicly leering over him ok? If so, would you think the same of a middle-aged man ogling an 18 year-old girl? And don't cop-out and wibble on at me about 'power differentials' - there is clearly a power differential between an older man and a barely-adult male.

Even outside of the age issue, if polite society, at least, places limits on the leering of straight men, why do none of these seem to extend to us gays? If (or when) a straight man you knew started tweeting or banging on in a bar about how they'd like to fuck this or that female swimmer - what would your instant reaction be? If you move in more civilised circles, i'm guessing someone would probably sound a note of discomfort, at the very minimum. If you object to any boundaries on such issues - gay or straight - then fair enough, but if you don't it seems mildly hypocritical to enforce them for straight but not gay men.

It's also noteworthy that the vast majority of Daleymania is focused on his physique ("those abs" et al!), and is a symptom of a wider trend. To much an extent, the worship of him represents and reinforces a worship of a very particular ideal of beauty: tall, lean, young, short-back-and-sides, muscularised, sculpted abs, no trace of hair or fat anywhere in sight etc. I cannot remember a time when this ideal was more ubiquitous in the gay world than now: in promos for bars, on gay dating websites (I know one guy who won't go near another guy if he doesn't have big arms!), in the gay press, the lot.

In this respect, Daley is positively identikit. To be honest, to my eyes he resembles something more belonging to Madam Tausades than endless pages in Attitude. It's just so dull. But that is my view, obviously, and tastes vary. People don't consciously choose what they find physically attractive. Nonetheless, this view of beauty has not always been as dominant among gays as it is today, as research documents - it is not necessarily given or natural. Much of it is driven by porn, for instance.

I'm also not sure that its overwhelming dominance is particularly healthy, or rather that it goes without consequence. A recent study by the YMCA, Succeed Foundation and academics at UWE Bristol found that gay men are much more predisposed to suffer from anxiety about their body image than straight men. The APPG on Body Image's report this year found similar, citing gay men's greater propensity to chase "unrealistic beauty ideals". Unsurprisingly, eating disorders remain consistently higher among gay men. Interestingly, backing up the earlier point about boundaries, the YMCA study also found gay guys far more likely to engage in "body talk" - speech that reinforces the particular standard of attractiveness I mentioned above - than straight men (91% to 77.4%). You don't have to be a genius to draw the dots together.

I'm not arguing that gays suddenly developing a suspiciously avid public interest in synchronised diving will on its own drive a mass of homosexuals to the toilet bowel with two fingers down their throat. Neither am I leading the charge for a re-introduction of Victorian sexual values (I've no wish to see pictures of Tom Daley's ankles, for one). All i'm saying, I suppose, is would it hurt if we were a bit less predictable once in a while?