What was obvious about Tom Daley?
I would have said that here was a white boy from a working-class background who has great parents, does well at school despite being bullied, dresses casual-trendy and knows how to win at diving.
In other words, he doesn’t conform to the accepted mainstream stereotypes of the disaffected Rebel or the welfare Chav that youthful working-class masculinity is meant to personify. This causes gender and class panic; you can’t have a working-class boy who isn’t a thug or a slob. At least, you can’t have a working-class boy who is straight not be one of those. The furore surrounding David Beckham potentially wearing his wife’s g-string is the classic example of this kind of interstitial class and gender panic.
Alongside the Rebel and the Chav there’s a third stereotype with youthful working-class masculinity that now comes into play – the Nice Boy who is Secretly Gay. He’s the model minority – his role is to make his demonized brothers look even worse.
One of the great contradictions at present is that, while so much research shows that as a society Britain (especially the young) is becoming increasingly tolerant of sexual and gender diversity, there are specific cohort populations (white working-class boys amongst them) that not only remain demonized for their perceived behaviors but there is an expectation that they should conform to those behaviors.
It’s also now a great irony that some of the most rigid enforcers of those social expectations concerning youthful working-class masculinity can appear to be older gay men. I’m actually shocked by the online comments, concerning Daley’s YouTube vid, of many gay and queer men (who I know fought in some cases for their own right to identify as such on their own terms) that “of course, it was obvious.”
I would have said what was obvious about their comments is that the Nice Boy, like the Rebel and the Chav, is a projected and objectified object of desire (and sometimes an abjectified object of fear, but that’s a different piece) regarding youthful working-class masculinity.
The boxes that we place young working-class men in don’t just represent our class and gender anxieties about them. They also enable our sexual commodification of them; a commodification many gay men increasingly endorse as mainstrean gay culture becomes more and indistinguishable from neo-capitalism. The best example of this for me occurred twice yesterday when two different men online (one identifying as queer, one as gay) said separately that “it was obvious” about Daley because of “the Speedos.”
I have no doubt of the erotic potential of the Thug, the Slob and the Boy next Door (who is ONE of US), but the range of identities these offer to white working-class boys are extremely limited. What’s increasing obvious is that many older gay men, while rightly rejecting the stereotypes their own generation had to contend with, fail to consider their own complicity in projecting and eroticising unto younger men (especially those from vulnerable populations) labels that at Tom Daley’s age they would have been as reticent to accept.