The 2016 Summer Olympics have certainly been interesting. From the insane speed of Usain Bolt, to the Olympic Village not being ready to house its athletes, to the Olympic diving pool suddenly turning green and, finally, to the false robbery allegations from Ryan Lochte, there has been plenty to raise an eyebrow about. Unfortunately, the British newspaper The Daily Mail found a rather homophobic way to look askance. The incident in question involved two divers from Team Great Britain who'd just won a gold medal for synchronized diving. Chris Mears and Jack Laugher, clad only in speedos, had the temerity to hug each other after their win was announced.
Now look, I'm a gay man. I appreciate the male physique and, yes, seeing two fit, barely-clad Olympians jumping on each other hit a certain carnal nerve. But I am also an adult, and can put away such feelings with the understanding that, sometimes, when a team works hard, perseveres, and their dedication pays-off in an Olympic gold medal, yes, they might just embrace. That's a moment to step back and appreciate it for what it is: athletes reveling in their hard-won victory.
Britain's Daily Mail decided to use Laugher & Mears' celebration and exuberance as an opportunity to attempt to put the guys back in their (perceived) place. Their headline read:
Steady on chaps! Britain's victorious synchronised divers hug for joy after winning gold - while China's bronze medalists settle for a manly pat on the back.
You can see the shaming on full display there. Instead of the British newspaper cheering-on two of their own who just placed first in an Olympic event, the powers-that-be decide it was a better use of their resources to remind us and them that real men don't hug. Definitely not an embrace while dripping wet wearing only a speedo. That's a big no-no. Why couldn't they just have just patted each other on the back like those manly Chinese divers (who placed third, by the way)?
We're looking at a nexus of homophobia and western unease about the relationships men are supposed to have with one another. Never mind the fact that both Mears and Laugher identify as straight. We've seen how difficult it is for gay men's affections to be tolerated in our society, it's like people don't know what to do if two heterosexual men show affection for each another. I think such outward protestations belie an insecurity of one's own self, so whomever wrote the Daily Mail headline may want to look in the mirror.
Another aspect of cultural sexuality that relates to Chris Mears and Jack Laugher has to do with the freedom they feel regarding their bodies, and who appreciates them. Both men have posed for gay magazines in the UK, and without much clothing. Compare this with US athletes. Can we ever imagine a scenario where, say, Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte would pose for an American gay publication? It would seem unlikely. But the real question is: Why?
Why do British heterosexual males feel more comfortable connecting with their homosexual fan base than their American counterparts do? Despite that, why are British publications uneasy about seeing two straight men clasp in celebration? Why all the hang-ups? One would think we're beyond all that by now.