Remember Gareth Thomas? The rugby player who recently came out of his own volition and at the top of his career? Well Gareth has popped up again, This time on the cover of Attitude.
This article, along with yesterdays conversation about how some people are bothered when gay men refer to themselves as "straight acting", has spawned a thought process in me about how we select our role models, and more specifically...gay role models. I wonder how they would recieve the news that Gareth Thomas wants to be a role model to young gay people and other gay men in the sports world? Do they also consider him offensive because he backs up the stereotype of the traditional Jock? Not pointing fingers...just wondering..
Everyone has a different interperatation of what strength is. Some find it in the feats of physical ability, some in appearances, some in emotional resilience, and still others find it as a character trait. When chosing role models, all these differing definitions factor in to who inspires us or who we want to emulate.
Personally I think Gareth is awsome....and I admit to having a small crush on him. The reason why I respect him though has less to do with his sports prowess and more to do with his character. I respect the fact that he chose to come out when he was popular, when the choice could actually hurt him, and when it could do some good. That to me took a strength of character that we don't often see in celebrities. I have never seen Gareth play...I don't know if I ever will, but his story has still reached out and inspired me a whole ocean away. That says something.
I have to say...I think my favorite pic of gareth is this one:
Its not pretty ..he looks like a total madman, but its also totally real and it changes peoples perceptions of what it means to be gay. To me, its as awsome as this one:
This one shows the softy thats inside every hard shell....not to mention being unbelievably sexy.
That Gareth wants to be a role model for young gay kids is also a great thing in this day and age. We sure don't have a great deal of gay role models in sports who wish to put themselves in that role. There are lots of people from the sports world who have come out but usually after their career has begun to wind down or they have been forcibly outed(Matthew Mitcham being a notable exception).One I can remember that really spoke to me was body builder Bob Paris. As a teen I used to have his pictures up to inspire. I was scawny and using weights to help boost my self esteem. I desperately wanted to look more like him. It actually shocked me when, years later, came out with his also buff and uber tanned boyfriend. It was another piece in my puzzle of what it meant to be gay.
Going further into our past, our role models were usually singers....many gay men looked up to Barbara Striesand or even Madonna because they embodied qualities of survival and confidence that all of us so deeply need when we have to hide who we are, when we look longingly at lives that society wouldn't allow us to have. We saw what we needed in straight women because we didn't know any faces within the gay community who could show us those same triats...though they were out there.
Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King were some of the first faces to change this dynamic and give us some actual gay people to look up to. Since those days the number of gay people who step up and show the world that awsome things that gay men and women do everyday has increased a great deal. We can look to politics and find out names like, Tammy Baldwin and Barney frank(whatever you think of them). We can look to entertainment and see Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Portia De rossi, Neil Patrick Harris, T.R. Knight and many others. And now in sports we have a growing list of names Matthew Mitcham, Greg Louganis, Bob Paris, David Kopay to name a few...and now add Gareth Thomas to the list. Everywhere you look you can find a gay man or woman doing something awsome ...and even further...Transgendered faces are coming out. This is a far cry from the world I grew up in.
So yeah...I look up to Gareth Thomas, as much for his abilities as the man that he is showing himself to be. He and everyone else I mentioned earlier adds to the spectrum of examples that show us what we can be...and that is without limitations. I don't see in him pressure to conform to any stereotype...straight or gay. I think to put that on this man would be to dishonor what has been a courageous and honorable choice. I hope that his story serves to inspire others as it has me.