Some people call me the “Erin Brockovich of revenge porn” because I fought a misogynistic website and help victims remove their humiliating, nude photos from the Internet. But prior to my clash with cyber-crime, I was a rebel in romance.
I’ve never embraced pop culture’s philosophy about traditional dating roles and the need for game-playing. I don’t believe women are designed to be passive and weak—essentially prey—while male suitors boldly select the gazelles of their choice. I support gender equality and encourage women to persevere, be fierce and actively pursue their romantic dreams, even when those dreams seem outlandish.
I had my own outlandish dream at the age of nine. I hoped to date—when I was older, of course—Welsh superstar and sex symbol, Tom Jones. Naturally, I did not believe this could happen.
Although Tom was 20 twenty years my senior and lived nowhere near my home state of Georgia, I foolishly announced to family and friends that I was in love with him. Mockery, teasing and insults followed. My fourth grade classmates called my crush, “stupid.” They stuck gushy poems (which they signed, “Love, Tom Jones”) into my desk at school and erupted in laughter when I found them.
Home meant more embarrassment. My brother caught me kissing the TV set during Tom’s weekly variety show in 1969 and taunted me, “You’ve got a boyfriend. His name is Sony. Don’t you think he’s a little square?” and “You got mononucleosis from the boob tube. Eww, gross. That’s obscene.”
At sixteen, my romantic feelings for Tom had not vanished and neither had the criticism. My father—who had always described show business folks as “low class and inferior”—seemed to think his own daughter was more inferior. He stared at me and asked, “Why would he [Tom Jones] want to go out with you?”
I did not condemn family and friends for this abject pessimism because I thought they were right. My bedroom mirror convinced me that I was 10 pounds overweight and not-so-pretty. I had an inferiority complex embedded within an imperfect body, trapped within a community of naysayers.
My life changed drastically that summer.
It was the night of my first concert. This was not a Tom Jones show; the entertainer was Jerry Lee Lewis, known for the songs, “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” Following the performance, I was plucked from the audience, invited backstage and asked to join Jerry Lee for dinner. I declined.
However, what ensued was a heart-to-heart chat with Jerry Lee’s friend, JD. This white-haired man infused me with much-needed confidence. He was the Santa Claus of compliments; and I found myself embracing the “I think I can” mindset. JD treated me like his pupil, convincing me that I could land a date with Tom.
“You could go out with him, young lady,” JD said and added a sprinkle of logic. “Of course he’d be interested. After all, Jerry Lee is interested, isn’t he?”
It made perfect sense. If Jerry Lee was interested, maybe Tom would be as well. For the first time, I felt pretty. I was able to embrace my inner peacock. I thanked JD and scurried from the concert hall, ready for my new adventure.
Strategizing seemed integral to success. A person cannot normally approach a celebrity, brush aside gigantic security guards, casually say, “Hey, how about a date?” and expect a favorable response.
So, I plotted. And I schemed. And I plotted some more. I even took Welsh lessons, unaware that Tom did not know the language. Months later, when I was 17, I flew to Las Vegas where Tom was headlining at Caesars Palace.
I spent a full week in tenacity mode. I was like a heat-seeking missile. I sat ringside at Tom’s show. I bribed a bellman to give me Tom’s suite number. I met Tom’s mother. I gave flowers to his parents. I crept through secret passageways in an effort to finagle myself backstage. I sat on the floor outside Tom’s suite, waiting for him. I phoned the dressing room to ask if I could drop by. I even donned a provocative showgirl costume with a feather headdress and “coincidentally” ran into Tom in the hallway. We chatted for five minutes.
Unfortunately, all of my carefully contrived schemes crashed, and I returned to Atlanta.
Although I had failed, I was not discouraged because I had the most important component for success—persistence. I believed—or at least hoped—I was the “little Atlanta girl who could” go out with my dream man... eventually.
I restarted the shenanigans a year-and-a-half later when I was 18. Tom was scheduled to perform in Fort Lauderdale. So, like before, I strategized ferociously. I fasted for 17 days on nothing but water in order to lose weight. I snagged a ringside seat at his show, pretending to be the winner of a beauty pageant. I secured a hotel room adjacent to Tom’s suite. I procured backstage invitations from the theater manager and two musicians.
This time my plans did not fail. Instead, they were unnecessary because Tom, in fact, had his own plan.
He saw me sitting ringside at his show, remembered me from Vegas and asked his publicist to invite me backstage. I fidgeted on a velvet couch in his dressing room while I waited for him to emerge from the back room.
I had waited almost 10 years for this very moment. Insecurity pulsed through my veins. Would I blow it? Would he like me? Maybe I was ugly. Or fat. Perhaps I should have fasted for 18 days. I felt like that 9-year-old child who had been told, “Stop dreaming” more times than there are days in a year.
Tom eventually joined me on the couch, and he recalled what I’d told him in Vegas. I was astonished. He remembered my name, my hobbies and details about my parents. He had truly noticed me at Caesars Palace, and I suddenly realized that my perceived “failures” were not failures at all. They were stepping stones to my fantasy date. They were pivotal moments, lifting me closer to love.
I thought I was in love with Tom at age nine, but I knew I was in love with him that evening. There was never one second of disappointment. Tom was exactly as I’d always imagined. We had dinner in the dressing room, and then a limousine took us to the discothèque, Studio 51.
At Studio 51, Tom snuggled up beside me. His arm caressed my shoulder, and his fingers played with my long curls. He sipped Dom Perignon, and we chatted. I was euphoric, and I felt like a princess until… panic hit me.
I suddenly realized I would have to make a decision that night about whether or not to stay with Tom. I had never had sex and had no idea what I would do when he made a pass at me. It was not a question of “if.” I was certain it was “when.” This was a big step in my life. Would I say yes? Or no? I wondered how “maybe” would play.
I wished I could phone a friend, but that was impossible. I glanced at the shadowy ceiling of the nightclub, longing for guidance from the universe. My brain was in shambles. It was experiencing ecstasy, followed by “freak out,” followed by more ecstasy, followed by another round of “freak out.”
Tom and I left Studio 51 and ended up in his hotel suite. I still had no clue what to do. Tom nibbled on grapes in the dining room, while I retreated to a couch in the darkened living room, staring at a blank wall and hoping for a miracle. Finally, I stood and walked slowly toward Tom, repeating in my head, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”
When I reached him, he asked, “Are you going to stay tonight?” I suddenly knew the answer.
And the rest is history as detailed in my memoir, Rebel in High Heels.