Thursday, May 22, 2008

Arc of A Diver

I was seventeen, struggling with being gay in a world of judgment and anger, and Greg Louganis was my idol. I grew up in Southern California, and the 1984 Olympic Games were the most exciting thing that I had ever experienced. Of course, I went into Los Angeles to walk around Olympic Village, hoping like crazy that I just might run into Greg as he walked around signing autographs. Right. Like several million other people in LA weren’t wandering the village for the very same reason?

My crush on Greg Louganis started long before the Olympics came to LA I remember seeing pictures of him taken during diving competitions, and I swear I felt my heart beat faster. Oh, the innocence of youth and the feeling of a real, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned crush. In my bedroom I had pictures covering every blank space, from rock stars (a whole wall of Go-Go’s stuff alone!) to movie stars to professional athletes. But, I and I alone knew which pictures really mattered, and believe me, the ones of Greg really mattered!

I didn’t know why then, but I felt an overwhelming empathy with him. He was always so soft-spoken in interviews, and it seemed almost like he lived in a sad world all his own. Unlike so many other athletes who whine and yell and scream and blame everyone else for their bad performances, Greg always had an air of style about him. To a teenager head-over-heels in love, Greg Louganis was the epitome of class and dignity. The three meter board he stood on might just as well have been a twenty foot pedestal, for in my young eyes he could do no wrong.

Now, though, I am an adult, and my eyes have seen a lot in the last eleven years. I have seen lovers come and go, friends slip away, and one hero after another become what in truth they always were - regular human beings. My once idealistic standards have given way to a more realistic perspective. Sadly, there are no perfect heroes in this imperfect world. Still, at the jaded old age of twenty-eight, I must admit I still have a crush on Greg Louganis. In fact, I still have him up on that pedestal, carrying himself with that same sense of class. In a way, I guess I have even more respect for him now than ever before. Before, I thought he was perfect. And, at that point in my life, I needed something like that to look up to. Now, I realize he was never perfect. He had doubts about his ability, he had problems with a relationship, and his self-esteem was so low as to be virtually non-existent. It’s odd, but I guess we had more in common than I could have ever imagined.

And what of the news of his HIV status? What of the class act now? Well, I am happy to report that not all of my childish beliefs turned out to be untrue. Greg Louganis is living proof that there are heroes in this world. They may not be perfect, and the “S” on their capes may be a little frayed, but they are heroes nonetheless. In coming out both as a gay man and someone who is HIV positive, Louganis is again a role model. To the young men and women who are still struggling with their sexuality, he is the embodiment of a survivor. What he went through may have been more or less than what each of us have gone through in our lives, but Louganis did it all with millions of people watching. Some pressure, huh?

In talking openly about his HIV status, Greg Louganis is putting yet another face to what too many people would prefer to keep faceless and nameless. He is another voice, one that will be heard, calling for a strengthened commitment to AIDS research and treatment. In coming out like this, he is again a hero.

As for my crush, I am not ashamed to say it is even stronger now. He is every bit as handsome, every bit as charming, and ever bit as impressive. The difference is that I fell in love with an image of Greg Louganis when I was a child, but I am even more overwhelmed by the reality of the man now that I am an adult. Perhaps a little hero-worship is a good thing, after all.

P.S. Greg, if you happen to read this, how about lunch? I’m still hoping for that autograph.

(Originally published in Southern Forum, April 1995)