Sympathy for All

I have huge admiration for Gareth Thomas, the Welsh Rugby legend and ex-Lions captian. Rugby is the most macho of all sports (assuming one chooses to ignore the strong homo-erotic undertones), and he is the only openly gay man involved in the sport in this Country. Isn’t that incredible? I’m not sure quite what percentage of the population is gay, though the 1 in 10 that gets bandied about regularly seems a reasonable place to start; this certainly makes the fact that Thomas is the only homosexual top-flight rugby player a statistical impossibility. He should therefore be lauded for his decision to make known his sexuality, even though it’s fair to say that he did wait until his International career was over before telling the world. He also represents a fantastic slap in the face for all those who maintain the homosexual stereotype that begins with Kenneth Williams and ends not so far away with Charles Hawtrey.

As a sport, rugby perhaps has a more enlightened following than the nation’s other great passion, football, and Thomas has been embraced by the rugby community for his courage and honest approach. This says much about the change in public perception over the last 20 or 30 years. Here’s a story from the 1950s about how such revalations were treated: Alan Turing was one of the greatest minds of the Twentieth Century, and the man whose breaking of the German ‘enigma’ code may well have shortened the war by one or two years. He was homosexual, and was offered the choice between chemical castration and a prison sentence for his ‘crimes’. He took the former, and committed suicide soon afterwards. There’s no direct comparison to be made, and it’s clear that prejudice exists wherever you care to look for it, but we do live in ever more elightened times, and the story of Gareth Thomas is generally one to applaud.

My take on this story altered slighty when I read an interview with Thomas in The Observer last Sunday. The article was essentially a good-news story, and focused jointly on the courage of Thomas and the magnanimous nature of the rugby fraternity. It also extolled Thomas as a positive role-model, a trail-blazer and an inspriational figure, all of which are undoubtedly true. His twitter account is unfailingly positive, and reveals a man with a real lust for life. The story does have a more tawdry edge to it however, and one that the article glossed over with a couple of short sentences. With such an inspirational story, why bother dwelling on the fact that Thomas’ sexuality was apparently the worst kept secret in rugby, the fact that he married (and has children with) his childhood sweetheart despite his feelings for men, and that his hidden homosexuality led to many ‘illicit encounters in Soho bars’?

This last revelation was brushed off with the statement that he was ‘horrified at cheating on his wife, whom he loved deeply’. Really? Not that deeply, surely. I can’t imagine much sympathy for him were he to have been discoved having illicit encounters in bars with women, no matter how much he professed to have been ‘horrified’ by the experiences. I’m sure it’s not an easy conversation to have, but the idea of the ‘I still love you, but actually I’m gay, and therefore I cannot remain married to you’-type conversation would surely be less hurtful that the ‘I still love you, but actually I’m gay, and I made sure of this fact with regular sweaty sex sesssions in Soho, and therefore I cannot remain married to you’-type conversation. I’m all for enlightenment, tolerance and understanding the emotional journey, but one can become too ‘right-on’, and in one’s desperation to appear liberal and forward-thinking, it seems that we can lose sight of the fact that there are other people’s feelings that need to be considered. The Observer article was a pretty shabby piece of journalism, written in a completely one-eyed way. I agree with almost all of the sentiments, but it’s only telling the part of the story it’s interested in, and the part of the story that leaves out the mucky bits.

Sexuality is something that we cannot, and perhaps should not have to, control; but my sympathy on this occasion lies with Mrs Gareth Thomas just as much as with Mister. ‘She now lives in Spain’ was a far as a biography of her got to. Well I’m glad that’s cleared up.