(Tom Daley in Houston a few days ago, with new found boyfriend Dustin Lance Black holding back in the background.)
Mystical Grace - I'm engaging in a bit of hyperbole here, linking to my previous post about the disarming and candid 'self-outing' of young Olympic diving star, Tom Daley a few days ago. Most of the fanfare and hoopla has died down by now, to the relief of many readers of UK papers, who were becoming slightly irritated by all the attention, and the numerous articles day by day. Nonetheless, putting aside one's reservations about the current obsession with celebrities and their intimate lives, the disclosure of teen Tom's relationship with another man caused shock waves across the athletic world and was a genuine 'event' of some significance for the LGBT community. Some of the most sensitive reflections were posted in the Guardian newspaper, with numerous comments spanning the full spectrum from heartfelt gushing support to nasty homophobic jibes (in the minority, thank the Lord). Only Tom Daley, I think, could manage to make the jibe "Gay Boy" appear to be a compliment, something sexy, charming and fashionable.
I followed the case with some interest because I'm currently writing a novel with a young gay teen love story at its heart (modeled on the lives of several of my students). So anything of a gay teen love element draws me in, ever hungry for verisimilitude in my own writing. (Hard to be in touch with the vibes of the young when you are 70 years old). See a bit of gossip from the Daily Mail here.
And so it was that I was thoroughly charmed by Tom's story of 'love at first sight,' his first encounter with his new partner, Dustin Lance Black, an encounter that turned him around and upside down and led to his recent disclosure of same sex attraction. Unless Tom is being disingenuous, the story does seem like a remarkable coincidence, too much so to be chance. Is there an element of divine whimsy at work here, a loving providence leading two souls together at just the precise moment.
For in fact, Dustin Lance Black is not only an Oscar winning screenwriter (for Milk), he is also a prominent LGBT activist. Tom claims that when he saw him from across the room at a party, he did not know his name or his identity or even "if he was gay." The fact that Tom used the 'gay label' in that sentence during a spontaneous interview is revealing. He does know how to use labels when convenient. He felt an irresistible force drawing him towards the older man, but was too shy to speak to him directly. So he jotted down a short note with phone number and winky face and slipped it into the notes Black was carrying. The next day Dustin Lance texted him and the two have been together ever since.
Quite romantic and if true, quite astounding as well as a coincidence. There are moments in our lives when grace manifests itself in a clearly sensible way, illuminating with a sense of interior warmth and attractiveness a particular person within our horizon or a moral choice to make or a city or country or profession we feel drawn to. The Spirit moves where she will. Taking this story at face value (there are others who claim friends of the couple arranged to introduce them), then, it means that one of the world's great teen athletic celebrities was drawn unwittingly to seek out one of the western world's most prominent gay activists, precisely the caliber of man who would be able to steer young Tom through the ordeal of coming out as a major teen celebrity. Was providence at work here in a loving and compassionate way? I would like to think so, since the impact of this story on gay youth has already been considerable. A moment of mystical grace leads young Tom Daley to his first romantic gay partner.
However, there are the nay sayers within the gay community and some catty rather amusing gossip as well, much of it dissing Lance, as he prefers to be called, as a chicken hawk and predator of the young with a history of going after teens. There are even salacious details emerging about his previous sexual peccadilloes. It's all a bit nasty, but it does inject a dose of reality into the glowing, rosy story.
Yet, I prefer the original version, unsullied by suspicions and innuendo. As one commentator in the Guardian noted, the story of Tom's outing so moves us because we feel we 'know him so well', due to his candor and honesty over the years. He feels like one of the family, if not a son, then a beloved nephew or distant cousin for whom we have some concern and care. I trust his basic honesty in accounting the manner of his meeting his new love - he saw him from afar without knowing his identity or sexual orientation, felt inspired to make the first move, and found himself to his great surprise, falling heedlessly and hopelessly in love. Such are the mysteries of providence and the Spirit of Love who moves through our hearts in mysterious ways, healing all of the dark corners and crevices where fear lurks and festers, bringing to light all of the dark motivations and expunging them, so all is light and love and peace.