Monday, 2 December 2013

Catholic response to Tom Daley [UPDATED]

Tom Daley's Youtube video appeared initially in a certain isolation from other media coverage. The day after it was posted, the more popular print newspapers in Britain provided stories that named, or at least suggested the name of, Tom's boyfriend (the Evening Standard seemed to lead the way with this report).Today (6th December) sees advance coverage of Tom's appearance on the Jonathon Ross Show, due for broadcast on Saturday.

One can certainly welcome the extent of support that Tom Daley has received during the last few days. The one thing that cannot be justified in any way at all is a campaign of vilification directed against Tom - though there would appear to have been some of this alongside the massive support for Tom. Part of the narrative of these days is the relative balance between how these different responses have played out, particularly in the electronic media.

However, I do wonder whether the narrative that we can now see is quite the same as it looked when Tom Daley's video message was first posted. In the video, Tom makes a passing reference to "rumours" at the same time as he indicates that he is now ready to talk publicly about his relationships in a way that he was not ready before. [In the reports of the Jonathon Ross Show, Tom refers to feeling trapped and alone before making his news public, something that has since been overcome. This suggests a different type of readiness to talk about his relationships than that suggested in the video post.] There appears to be a hint here that Tom sensed that the story was about to emerge into the public domain at some point. Posting the video has given Tom a much greater control over how the story has emerged - as he said in the video, he wanted to be the person to tell his followers/fans. And the coverage of his appearance on the Jonathon Ross Show also shows a competent handling of the news media.

In the light of the above - which is not intended as a criticism of Tom who, as a person in the public eye, is entitled to manage a news story in the way that is best for him - I do feel that the narrative has changed in some respects from what it was when the video clip was first posted. Tom has continued to talk about his relationship in terms that, as I suggested in my original post, are not an adequate expression of what the word "love" means in its truest and most objective sense. This is not to challenge Tom's integrity, or his courage, in making the statement that he has made. I think he has communicated justly where he is; and many another person would have expressed themselves in a similar way.

But I think we can legitimately see this articulation of his relationship as being part of the narrative, and we are entitled to engage with that part of the narrative (without it being seen as in any way as an attack on Tom or a manifestation of homophobia). As tigerish waters post pointed out, from a Catholic point of view, there is a an understanding of what it means to love another person that is deeper than its aspect of how one feels about the other. And a Catholic contribution to the current discussion will be precisely an articulation of this deeper understanding.

In so far as any response is going to be one to Tom Daley as a person, a Catholic will be happy to support him, as they would support the dignity of any person. At the same time, however, in so far as it is going to be a response that is a response to the narrative in the media, it will want to offer a different content to the meaning of the word "love".

tigerish waters has posted a very considered response to the news that the Olympic swimmer Tom Daley is dating another man.

Catholic response to Tom Daley

It is certainly legitimate to recognise the courage it takes to make an announcement of this sort; and it would be quite wrong to react in a way that makes a personal attack of any sort on Tom. Such a reaction would constitute a failure in charity if nothing else.

And yet, something nags at the back of the mind.

According to the BBC report:
Gay rights campaigners Stonewall tweeted: "Moving and inspiring video from @TomDaley1994. A role model for thousands of other young people." 
At the very least, we can suggest that this tweet of support is not disinterested.

Again, according to the BBC report:
 "In spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone, and they make me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great."
What follows is not to comment on the genuineness of the feelings expressed here by Tom Daley. But for others reading these words - those for whom Stonewall are suggesting that Tom might be a role model - is "everything just feels great" really an adequate defining of what is meant by the love of one person for another? Is love really so completely subjective and without permanent objective content as these words suggest?

Do read tigerish waters' Catholic response to Tom Daley.


Paul Keyes said...

As someone who enjoys the reflective nature of your blog, I can sometimes detect just a hint of unintended homophobia around your discussion of sexuality. Perhaps I could gentle suggest this is the product of your limited experience of persons with this sexual orientation? It sometimes feels like the starting point to how you approach these issues makes many uninformed assumptions. I was waiting for the rabid backlash against Daley's comments in the blogosphere but didn't expect to see it featured in yours (albeit in a more restrained and polite manner)!

I get the feeling that what you are trying to express is your discomfort or unease at Daley describing the feelings from his same-sex attraction. After all it is one thing to state you are something in an abstract way and another to describe it as an emodied reality. I find Tom's expression 'everything feels great' to be a kind of 'it just felt right' comment. If you watch the video clip he actually struggles to find the words here, and he genuinely appears to be a sensible and responsible young person. Nowhere does Tom give the impression that he is promoting a 'just do whatever you like / feels good' philosophy - in fact, I would say he gives quite the opposite impression. I would say that he has taken his time and discerned his conscience with appropriate anguish and showed himself to act soberly with great thought and care.

Anyone who has found love, will know that it really is a such a strong and powerful feeling that you feel great - just read the psalms or the Song of Songs. The church teaches that all love ultimately comes from God, and Cardinal Hume taught that this is also the case even between same sex persons. I was impressed by Tom's personal integrity and resilience, and his honesty at not wanting to 'live a lie' on so many levels. Please note, nowhere does he speak of, or suggest, sexual behaviour not should that be assumed or implied in our responses to what he has said. We would never make such an arrogant assumption about an opposite sex young couple in the same circumstances.

I would genuinely be interested in your reply. Peace.

Joe said...


Thank you for your comment, in which I believe you make some very useful additional observations to my post. [I also appreciated your reference to the "reflective nature" of my blog - this is something that I do try to achieve, and I am pleased that my effort to be reflective is appreciated.]

I do have an experience of working alongside persons with a same-sex orientation, which I certainly valued (and, at the time, indicated that to the particular colleague concerned). I had explicit confirmation at the time of the mutual respect that we shared.

I would be absolutely mortified if my post were to be seen in any way as part of a "backlash" - and I tried very hard to word it in such a way that it could not be interpreted in that way. Similarly, I do find your use of the word "homophobia" to describe the content of my post (qualified by the words "hint" and "unintended" which in the context I appreciated) difficult to accept. I would hope that a sense of charity towards those of different life style is clearly detectable in my post.

Stepping back from the specific context created by Tom Daley's video post, I do think there is a legitimate question that can be asked about the objective content of the idea of human love - and I thought tigerish waters' post did this well. This was why I felt it worthwhile to draw attention to her post. As tigerish waters points out, this is a discussion in the public domain. I do not believe, given my experience referred to above, that my post can be reduced to considerations of my own "unease". Perhaps that is more for me to consider and judge than others? I am responding less to Tom Daley's video itself and more to the way in which the BBC report(and in all likelihood, others) presents it - and in that respect I think your account of Tom's video makes a very useful addition to my original post.

I think your observation in the last paragraph of your comment - that we should not assume or imply sexual activity on the part of Tom Daley - is useful.

I hope, Paul, that you find this a fair response and a contribution to a dialogue, rather than what might be termed a "reply".

Anonymous said...

Zero say
I think I read that Tom Daley is a Catholic

Joe said...

Zero: I haven't been able to check that.