Another sporting star came out at the weekend. How good it feels to say that almost mundanely, like I’m reading out cricket scores or recounting a chicken-pox outbreak at the local nursery.
The fact is, of course, that Rugby Union star Sam Stanley’s decision to come out in an interview with the Sunday Times is anything but mundane. Coming as it did just a fortnight after the coming out of another rugby player Keegan Hirst, you could be forgiven for thinking this was no big deal, but if anything, Sam’s decision to tear up his Narnia passport is even more compelling.
It’s clear that, like Keegan, England Sevens player Stanley has been trying to come to terms with his sexuality for years. Hirst married and had a child while he wrestled with his glittery demons, while Stanley went for a different kind of repression – he had a gay relationship, but never told anyone about it. Even though, in a way, it was in plain sight.
His big reveal may have come this weekend, but Stanley has been carefully peeling off the layers for all to see for some time, via his Instagram. While it’s not exactly a surprise that nobody noticed – social media is, after all, about looking back at your own posts and interacting with only a few others, no matter what people might tell you – Sam’s relationship made barely a ripple until he himself decided it was time to come clean and put it in black and white.
And yet the most refreshing part of Stanley’s coming out is not that he’s shaking the mainstream by its shoulders and changing its perceptions of both sportsmen and gay men, oh no. It’s his boyfriend. Sam Stanley is eschewing the doe-eyed, lithe youngsters who would no doubt sleep on a bed of nails to do his bidding and has, instead, fallen in love with Laurence, a friendly looking, older man who may not be able to drop and give you twenty but would certainly stand by and applaud gently while you did.
When Tom Daley set up his camera, plonked himself on his Union Jack cushions and told the world he liked boys too, there was a powerful tsunami of goodwill. Fast forward a few newspaper headlines, however, and the revelation that Tom Daley was not puckering up for a fellow 21-year-old but instead a buff, experienced film director almost two decades his senior and, from certain quarters, the warmth quickly evaporated.
Coming out alone wasn’t enough – the Olympic bronze medallist had to live up to the gay fantasy too, and scores of young men in their early to mid twenties – and beyond, let’s face it – were outraged that not only had Tom gone and worked all this out for himself, he’d gone off and done a bunk with someone old enough to be his gymslip dad.
Dustin Lance Black, of course, may have had the undesirable advanced years, but he did at least have the six-pack and buns of steel – not to mention other attributes he may or may not have displayed in some unfortunate photos doing the rounds of the internet. Sam’s domestic setup, however, is a glimpse at the real face of gay relationships.
It’s not uncommon for younger guys to seek out the comfort and experience of a couple of generations up when they first come out, whether socially or physically. Many dismiss it as sleazy but age is just a number and, when it comes to coming out, we all start at zero – no matter how far along our personal timelines we are.
Isn’t it somehow reassuring that the rugby union centre has foregone the Instagram-ready cliché of dating his own reflection, a matching pair to cause ripples of excitement wherever they go on the gay circuit or to stay in and spend nights in front of the fire counting each other’s abs?
Instead he’s got himself a man who’s been though his own journey – Laurence himself was married and had children before coming out – and hasn’t spent his entire life deep-throating protein shakes and seems all the more comfortable in his own skin for it.
Sam and Laurence go on holiday together, attend Bette Midler concerts together, go out and have a good time, and they look hopelessly, beautifully in love.
Those in glee at Sam’s coming out hope it will spur on more sportsmen to be role models and vacate the closet for good, and while that wouldn’t be a bad thing, my main hope for this is that we remember gay relationships come in all shapes, sizes and ages. It may be longer than a fortnight before we coax another rugby player out to boogie underneath the glitterball, but if we can grant a bit more visibility to our older and – dare I say it – cuddlier gay brothers then Sam’s struggle will not have been in vain.
Sam Stanley’s big reveal isn’t just a victory for closeted sportsmen or gay men hungry for a masculine, ‘everyday Joe’ role model. It’s a sweet win for those of us gay men who feel a little pushed aside by the chiselled cheekbones, jutting hips and oh-so-smooth complexions of your average gay bar – sometimes those of us with a few more miles on the clock get the guy. Dreams don’t belong to the young after all.
So, youngsters, don’t howl at the moon that your magic youth couldn’t snare you a strapping lad like Sam – feel cheered that one day, if you’re extra lucky, you might actually get your hands on a Laurence.
Image: Ealing Trailfinders