Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Everyday gay gold medallist

One of the genuine upsets of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was Matthew Mitcham's win in the 10m platform diving. As someone who knows nothing about diving, I could nonetheless recognise a case here where someone needed to do a perfect dive to get the gold medal, and he did it.

The other notable thing about Matthew Mitcham's win was that he was apparently "the only openly gay athlete at the Games". So the evening news featured Mitcham hugging his mum, hugging his coach, and hugging his partner Lachlan. What was striking about this for me was just how everyday this all seemed. This would seem to be a big change in the culture we usually associate with the Olympics and with sport generally.

The key word here is not gay but "openly". He was almost certainly not the only gay athlete at the Games, and most likely not the only gay Gold medallist. But among the 200+ nations at the Olympic Games, there are very different degrees to which one can be open about their sexuality.

In the longer term, this may mean something in China, where there is a very long march indeed for recognition of gay rights and same-sex relationships. Picture this:
  1. You're gay in China, with all the secrets that must entail;
  2. You're watching the Olympic diving;
  3. You're expecting the Chinese diver to win;
  4. An Australian diver wins with a near-perfect dive;
  5. He's gay, and he can be open about it.
Its often from the everyday that longer-term changes happen.


Joey said...

The provinces might be slow to catch up, but Beijing and Shanghai are the queer epicentres of China. You'd be surprised at how open the cities have become. Beijing's annual queer film fest is always quite the hit.

Terry Flew said...

That's very interesting. I have heard that about Shanghai - less so about Beijing.

Change tends to come first in cosmopolitan cities around the world.

I would guess that 'open' still remains pretty relative. A Chinese Olympic gold medallist would still be reluctant to be known to be gay, but that may start to change as well.

Scarlett said...

It wasn't too bad even 20 years ago.At BFSU, it was whispered around campus that one master student was involved in a "gay orgy". The police got quite a shock when turned up at the scene. The student didn't get into trouble and was let go.

One Australian visiting professor at East China Normal University from Charles Sturt University used to giggle about two foreign students being the Chinese janitors favourites. The women thought the two guys were really loving and friendly to each other as they always come and go together and often walk hand in hand. He reckoned that the women didn't know they were gay. I wasn't so sure.