Though he no longer lives in Tampa, author Daniel Vilmure has written a novel that parallels the undercurrent of intolerance infecting the politics of his hometown.
Toby's Lie, the second novel out for the 29-year-old Tampa native, employs the character of Toby Sligh, a 17-year-old high school student confronting his homosexuality. Despite the inevitable repercussions, Toby wishes to take a male date to the prom. And while Toby's Lie is more an exploration of personal politics than of the legislative kind, the theme complements the Hillsborough County Commission's recent elimination of the human rights ordinance, the county's 4-year-old ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
This, however, was not Vilmure's intention when he began writing Toby's Lie several years ago while teaching at Hillsborough Community College. According to Vilmure, who, like his character Toby, is gay, homophobia was never a big problem for him living in Tampa.
A Tampa Jesuit alumnus, Vilmure, who recently moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans, returned to Tampa after graduating from Harvard and Essex universities. As well as teaching at his alma mater, Vilmure taught at the Academy of Holy Names, the University of South Florida and HCC. He was active in local theater and for a brief time was film critic for the former Creative Loafing.
A big fan of former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman, Vilmure says, "I'm surprised they voted down (the Human Rights Ordinance)."
"To be really honest," says Vilmure, "I've never experienced homophobia in my life." According to Vilmure, his experience with repression has been internal rather than external. "I think when you're gay you repress yourself. This is what I was trying to work with in Toby's Lie. A lot of the resistance he's getting is in his head. That's one of the things you experience when you're in the closet."
Like Vilmure when he was a teenager, Toby attends an all-male Jesuit school in Tampa, but that is where the similarities end. "The territory is familiar. Just like my first book (Life in the Land of the Living), it's set in Interbay Tampa. But Toby is a lot hipper than I was _ I was so far from confronting my sexuality at his age. The rest is completely fictional _ really nothing like I went through."
And while Vilmure graduated in '83, Toby's Lie is set squarely in the '90s, with references to Crystal Pepsi and AIDS, which looms large in the foreground _ known mostly as the mysterious "gay cancer" when Vilmure was a teen.
"Silence = Death" is one of the more powerful themes dealt with in Toby's Lie. Though Vilmure feels that the majority of people are "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," on a social level and internal repression is the most insidious aspect of homophobia, "it doesn't mean the community is going to welcome you with open arms."
_ Helen A. S. Popkin