This week, former X-Factor contestant Rylan Clark openly criticised the public reaction to Tom Daley’s coming out, saying: “It is still hard to come out… but what about people like Alan Carr, Gok Wan, Graham Norton and me – people who are on TV who have never hidden their sexuality? What do we get? We don’t get recognition.”
Oh Rylan, I thought, you’ll do anything for a headline. After all, in the formulaic industry of reality TV, Rylan’s whole purpose on the X-Factor was to get headlines. He was the comic relief; the weirdo with no talent; the guy who entertained us with his delusions of grandeur… Rylan garnered tabloid headlines, promoted the show and kept people watching. That was his job.
And yet, while Rylan was supposed to be flavour of the week, for some reason, he seems to have endured beyond his natural shelf life. In turn, our fascination with this fact has kept him in the public eye. So what is it that has kept Rylan Clark in the limelight? And does the fact that he is a camp, talentless caricature invalidate his right to speak about matters that don’t involve the X-Factor or Celebrity Big Brother?
Ok, so let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way. Yes, Rylan is exhaustingly narcissistic, shamelessly desperate for attention, and has, as yet, failed to exhibit any discernible skills or talents which justify his level of fame. Indeed, he said himself: “I wanted to be famous. I didn’t care what for.” And you sort of have to respect his honesty. But as was insightfully observed in the Guardian, Rylan Clark isn’t just the questionable token comedy act. His campness might be loud and glitzy, but it hasn’t managed to conceal the fact that he has a quick wit and intelligence to go with it.
This is exactly why, when I heard Rylan criticise the response to Tom Daley’s coming out, that I paused and found myself thinking, doesn’t he have a point? Of course, it’s great news that Tom Daley feels comfortably sharing his sexuality with the world. He’s a popular role model; kind, considerate and friendly, scandal-free (so far) and in touch with many people, especially younger ones. But the cynic in me also questions whether there would be nearly so much fuss if he looked less like Tom Daley, Olympic athlete and gay icon, and more like… well, Rylan Clark.
But despite Rylan’s valid point, headlines are subtly loaded against him; even within the gay media. I saw one which read: Rylan wants same attention as Tom Daley for being gay. But what he actually said is that he didn’t get that kind of attention, so why should Tom Daley? It’s a subtle difference, but it’s an important one; the first suggests jealousy, the second nods to a desire for a different kind of equality. The fact that Rylan is ridiculed (even indirectly) for speaking his mind, should tell us that even within the gay community, we are not always happy for people like Rylan to perform outside their predetermined roles.
The narrow-minded stereotypes we are fed by the mainstream media about how gay people are supposed to look and act is so pervasive that even the gay community itself cannot shake it. And the reason nobody dishes out congratulations to the Gok Wans, the Alan Carrs and the Rylan Clarks out there is because they fit perfectly with the flamboyant, bitchy gay trope. It’s precisely because they’re open with their sexuality that they will never receive the same kind of adulation for it as somebody less flamboyant, less ‘typically gay’, like Tom Daley. And that’s not right. It also hints that, after years of speculation about his sexuality, the world isn’t really that bothered by Daley’s coming out. Although they might be saying ‘well done’, I’m starting to think that what they really mean is ‘I told you so’.
It is tempting to suggest that Rylan’s remarks about Tom Daley are nothing more than a jealous cry for attention, but that would be too easy. Perhaps, from the self-proclaimed fame monster, there is an element of truth to this, but it’s hardly enough of a reason to invalidate his opinion entirely, even if it is just with subversive, undermining headlines.
But when Rylan says: “I’m just upset that in 2013 someone coming out is still such big news.” he’s right. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read: ‘brave Tom comes out’ and frankly it makes me wince. Perhaps it was brave for him to come out, but to define it by its bravery rather alone suggests that there is something shameful in it, and there isn’t.
Nonetheless, congratulations Tom Daley, we’re very pleased for you. But give Rylan his dues too; if not for being gay (after all, who cares?) then for having the guts to say what he thinks without sugar-coating it. He might be a fame-hungry media whore, but at least he’s a fame-hungry media whore with a pair of balls and, I’m starting to suspect, a brain to go with them.
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