Una Mullally: Olympic athletes’ sex life is their own business
Daily Beast article far more distasteful than a silly pitch about randy Olympians
“The Olympics is also now taking place in the context of a very visual social media that obsesses over body image, fitness, gym attendance and healthy eating.”
It can be difficult not to objectify the amazing Olympic athletes fulfilling their ambitions in Rio right now. They are faster, higher, stronger, than the rest of us. Their physical prowess is stunning, their bodies perfect. They are the best of us, and given the human propensity to admire physical beauty, it can be easy to fall into a trap of admiring them as specimens of human perfection, rather than people. When the Olympics comes around, there are endless photoshoots in magazines fetishising Olympic bodies, as if those bodies exist for us to admire, rather than looking at how they do because that person has trained and trained for their body to become the best it can be for fulfilling its sporting tasks. Olympians obviously don’t have amazing bodies to be attractive, but for the sake of being faster, higher and stronger.
The Olympics is now taking place in the context of a very visual social media that obsesses over body image, fitness, gym attendance and healthy eating. People post pictures and videos of protein-laden meals, workouts and their results, and appraise each other. Gyms are populated with muscular men and women who previously wouldn’t have looked out of place on an Olympic stage. But in fawning over Olympians’ bodies – as we do with our peers and fitness heroes on Instagram and Snapchat – we dehumanise them. Mix this with a voyeuristic interest in athletes’ sex lives, and things can go very wrong.
Perhaps some of the roots of Hines’s article, which ended up focusing mostly on the gay dating app Grindr, are in the urban myth that Grindr crashed in London 2012 as Olympians were arriving Many male Olympians are gay, and Grindr did crash, but it turns out there wasn’t a correlation between the two.
But the other roots of Hines’s piece are in a media that sees homosexuality as a cheap joke. “I got three Grindr dates in an hour in the Olympic Village” was the headline, and the author basically outed athletes by including identifiable descriptions. Hines even detailed one athlete “from a notoriously homophobic country”, as if being gay and being from a homophobic country might indicate some kind of hypocrisy.
The article was disgraceful, and the Daily Beast has since apologised for it and removed it from their site. What the article did do, in its short lifespan, was amplify a type of conniving and snide titillation that actually keeps athletes in the closet in the first place. And it’s very different to bait heterosexual athletes about their sex lives, considering the many discriminatory societal attitudes, policies, laws and criminal punishments that still exist across the globe related to homosexuality. Same-sex sexual contact remains a criminal offence in 74 countries, that’s 40 per cent of the world, and is punishable by death in 13.
The article was also representative of a media that fails to see LGBT figures as private people, and has a tendency to assume access to personal aspects of their lives. The media is, for example, obsessed with the coming-out story. Interviews with LGBT people often begin with the interviewer asking when they knew they were gay, or when did they come out, or when did they tell close family members; all highly personal questions that would never have their equivalent asked of heterosexuals. Straight public figures are rarely asked when they had a sexual awakening or lost their virginity.
What is telling, and satisfying, is the backlash the Daily Beast received – and the fact it has apologised. As the openly gay Tongan swimmer, Amini Fonua, who is competing in Rio, tweeted: “Imagine the one space you can feel safe, the one space you’re able to be yourself, ruined by a straight person who thinks it’s all a joke? No straight people will ever know the pain of revealing your truth, to take that away is . . . I can’t. It literally brings me to tears.”
You cannot scream for people to come out without acknowledging the context within which they exist. While public figures remaining closeted can be frustrating for the LGBT community, the politics of outing can very quickly get nasty, and the rumour that circulates around a public figure can be a hotspot of gossip and insinuation, which often can be causally homophobic in nature. Perhaps outing a person is only justified if he or she is work- ing against LGBT rights and if drawing attention to such hypocrisy is genuinely in the public interest – if you can ever reason that the details of a private life is really ever in the public interest. For now, let’s admire athletes for their achievements, and leave their private lives out of it.