Recently, Tom Daley announced that he is in a very happy relationship with someone he loves. That person, he told us, just so happens to be a man.
Now, in an ideal world, this information wouldn't have made the news headlines. Why? Because someone's sexuality simply wouldn't be a big deal. However, Tom's announcement did make headlines and I'm incredibly pleased to say that most people showed the young Olympic medallist nothing but support. The same can't be said for a Mr John J Jones. It's fair to say that Mr Jones wasn't supportive of Tom's new relationship and he decided to voice his displeasure in a letter to Tom's local paper, The Plymouth Herald. The paper had run a story in which they praised Tom's honesty and wished he and his partner well.
Here's John J Jones' response:
The newspaper edited out the "lots of love and hugs" bit at the end, obviously.
I read that letter and I blinked a few times and then I read it again. And again. And even after the third time, I am still sitting here, frowning and shaking my head in disbelief.
The trouble is, John J Jones is not alone. There are plenty of homophobes out there. Plenty of nasty, twisted folk who believe that only their idea of "normal" can ever be right. Still, to me, Mr Jones has - for now at least - become the face (albeit a face I've never seen) of homophobia and for that reason, I've decided to make this blog entry an open letter. John J Jones may never read it and even if he does, I'm certain I won't change his mind. But hey, it's nearly Christmas, so it's worth a shot...
Dear Mr Jones,
I read your letter in The Plymouth Herald with interest. Such interest, in fact, that I felt compelled to reply.
You refer to Tom Daley's statement that he's in a relationship with a man as an "appalling confession." Here's the thing, Mr Jones. I am appalled at the idea of living in a world in which anyone views a person saying they're in love with a member of the same sex as a "confession," as though they're admitting to a crime. Homosexuality hasn't been illegal since 1967 and frankly, it shames us as a society that it was considered an offence before then. Far more "appalling" than Tom's sexuality, is the idea that he shouldn't speak out about it. That he should perhaps stay silent. Why is that? To protect the oh-so-fragile feelings of homophobes? Those same people who care so little for the feelings of others that they write letters to newspapers, suggesting that gay people make them feel physically sick? You can't have it both ways, Mr Jones. If you're allowed to be so horribly offensive - and thanks to freedom of speech, you are - then you must accept that you are also open to being offended by those who hold opposite views. Your feelings cannot be protected when you have no consideration for the feelings of those whose love you refer to as "perverted" and "absolutely abhorrent."
Interestingly, you refer to being gay as a "lifestyle." To me, that implies that you believe there's some sort of choice involved. This is a common misconception, eagerly snatched upon by homophobes seeking to justify their views. Wouldn't it be easier for you to pour scorn on gay people if we could suggest that they choose to be attracted to those of the same gender as themselves? The fact is, being gay is not a choice. It's simply the way a person is.
I suspect that you're not a person open to reason and whose views are so stubbornly held that nothing I say will sway you from them, but please allow me to break it down into simple terms for you...
I am right-handed. I didn't consciously choose to be right-handed. In fact, if I had had a choice in the matter, I'd want to be left-handed, because who doesn't love the term "southpaw?"
I hate mushrooms. I didn't make a conscious choice to hate mushrooms. At no point in my youth did I think: "Aha, all of my family love this particular vegetable; I must endeavour to hate them in order to make mealtimes that little bit trickier for everyone else."
Pictured: Something that makes ME feel physically sick.
I am also straight. I am a woman who is attracted to men. You know what, though? I never made that choice. I never woke up, one sunny morning and thought: "Hmm, the day has arrived for me to pick a sexuality. BOYS! I choose boys."
Did you? Are you really telling me that you consciously decided one day: "I must be straight, because being gay is disgusting?" Because I would argue that if you ever did make that decision, it's not borne from your real feelings, but from a duty you feel obligated to fulfil. The truth is, not one of us is able to freely choose which sex we are attracted to any more than we're able to choose whether we're born with blue eyes or brown. It's just a part of us. We're born that way.
I suppose your counter argument would be that if you realise you're gay, you should make a choice not to act on it. So here's a question? Do you have any idea how soul-destroying it would be to feel forced to live a life in which you have to hide your true self? Let's have a think about how that would go...
Imagine a young man, realising that he has feelings for other men. Imagine that - as you would probably like think he should - he decides he can tell nobody about these feelings and he must never act on them. Think, just for a second, how incredibly isolating that would be. How ashamed and afraid that young man would feel, knowing he was keeping what he viewed as a terrible secret. Who wins in that situation? Not the young man in question. Maybe you would consider it a "victory," but at what cost? Think of how depressed that young man would undoubtedly feel; trapped, living a lie that he believes there is no way out of. Perhaps he would fall in love with another man and he'd tell himself that he could never act on it. Even if the object of his affections made it obvious that he reciprocated those feelings. So now, that's not just one, but two young men who are miserable. To be willing to inflict such pain and loneliness on a person purely because allowing them to live a life true to themselves offends your sensibilities is more disgusting than any homosexual act ever could be.
Although (thankfully) we are now living in a much more tolerant society, gay people are still subjected to terrible abuse and marginalisation. And why? Because people like yourself cannot accept someone living - or loving - in a way that is different to you. Are you married, Mr Jones? Then I'd like you to stretch that imagination of yours as far as it'll go. Imagine that your relationship with your wife is scorned by all who meet you. Think how you'd feel if, upon doing something as simple as speaking about your love for her, people responded by saying they were appalled by your perversion. That your relationship made them feel physically sick. Imagine how it would feel to have people deny you the same rights that they take for granted, simply because they feel that your relationship is somehow abnormal.
I'm asking you, John J Jones, to stand outside of yourself. To step, for the briefest of moments, into another person's shoes. To consider for a second, how it would feel to be endlessly persecuted for something about yourself that you did not choose.
Let's consider Tom Daley. Now, Mr Jones, you didn't provide an age with your letter, but I'm going to assume that you're older than he is. Tom is 19 years old. He has fallen in love and he knows that the fact that his partner is male will ruffle the feathers of homophobes and that he might encounter abuse. And yet he has decided "no." He won't allow the small-minded vindictiveness of a petty minority to prevent him from being true to the man he is. In speaking out with such touching honesty, Tom has shown that it's okay to be yourself. That being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. He has given hope to young men and women, struggling with their feelings. He has done that in the face of abuse from the likes of you, Mr Jones - a grown man, attacking a nineteen year old boy, because you think being gay is, well, a bit "icky." Can you not see how utterly ludicrous that is?! What does it make you? A homophobe. A bully. What right do you have to condemn an entire group of people based on nothing but their sexuality? None. What justification do you have? Religion? Well, in that case you're talking about beliefs. And I believe that it is you who is wrong in this instance, Mr Jones. Not Tom Daley and not The Plymouth Herald.
It's wrong to abuse, mock and shame an entire community because they differ from you.
It's wrong to actively express anger that a newspaper hasn't joined in with your condemnation of a nineteen year old boy, who was probably already nervous about speaking out and who would have been grateful for the support of the media in his home town.
It's wrong to gleefully wish failure on that publication for no reason other than the fact that they wouldn't print abuse about someone who is barely into adulthood.
Take a long, hard look at yourself, Mr Jones. Ask yourself: Who is truly sickening? A person who realises they are sexually attracted to others of their own gender, or a person who expresses genuine rage that the media hasn't attacked a nineteen year old boy who has committed no crime?
You don't have to like gay people. If your belief is that being gay is unpleasant or wrong, then we live in a world that allows you to hold that opinion. But to vocalise it in a manner that is tantamount to bullying is fairly disgusting really, isn't it? You might wish to paint Tom Daley and other homosexuals in a negative light, but what sort of light do you think your vitriol paints you in?
You are not judge and jury, Mr Jones. Try looking beyond yourself and thinking of what you're actually wishing on people: Mockery and abuse. A life in which they can never express themselves without fear of ridicule or hatred. A life in which their romantic or sexual feelings cause them shame and depression. Is that truly what you wish for? If so, there really is something abhorrent, here. And it's not Tom Daley's sexuality.