Tyrone Grima, founder of Drachma, was born in October 1976. His sister, 13-1/2 years older, was involved in the fashion world which entailed contacts with a number of gay men. Even though the gay scene in Malta was still underground in the 1980s, Tyrone was raised in a family that was aware of and knew persons who were gay.
Tyrone’s education was in a Catholic school. His interests in school were languages and history. He decided to focus on languages. He attended an all-boys high school and had little interest in dating girls then. He began to think he might be bisexual. His first significant relationship was with a girl he met when he began college. He started participating in activities with the Society for Christian Doctrine in his early teens, but stopped that by the age of 17. Tyrone started developing an interest in theatre—telling stories and acting—in these years. He was fascinated by religion although not always deeply involved. He did not feel comfortable playing sports with his friends.
At university he focused his studies on French and theatre. In the evenings he took classes at a drama school. His second year there he won a scholarship to study in France for a month. During his time there he made friends with a Belgian man. They corresponded frequently and the man came to visit Tyrone in Malta a year later. Tyrone had finished his degree and was considering joining the Franciscans, a vocation that had fascinated him as a child. They enjoyed a week summer holiday together. On the penultimate night the friend came out to Tyrone, indicating that this was the first time he had revealed his sexual orientation to anyone. Tyrone responded with a confession that he identified as bisexual. They both acknowledged feeling a strong attraction for the other. Coming to grips with this new and different relationship was difficult for Tyrone. He had just started work as a teacher. He was experiencing much general anxiety. He decided to visit his friend in Belgium over the Christmas holidays. Shortly after his arrival there Tyrone was hospitalized with what was diagnosed as a heart attack, but was actually an anxiety attack. He spent several days in the hospital…with no insurance. So this proved to be an expensive learning experience. By Easter the communication with this Belgian friend had broken off. Tyrone grieved over this breakup.
Tyrone taught at a primary school that was run by the same congregation as the school he had attended. After two years there, he spent a year in the U.K. studying drama therapy. He continued studying in Malta for a teaching degree for which he qualified in 2001. He received credentials as a drama therapist in 2002.
Tyrone had some brief relationships during this period. He spent a lot of time thinking about spirituality and sexuality. Was it OK to be gay and Catholic? If he was bisexual, did that mean he should act out as heterosexual to be in good standing with God? This was a constant point of confusion for him during his 20s.
Around the age of 24 he was working as a primary school teacher and also a part-time drama therapist. He then began thinking again about the Franciscan vocation. While he didn’t feel this call, he also thought it was something he should explore. So he started a two-year postulancy. This involved spending evenings—after work—at the convent to get a taste of life there, but spending the weekends at home. He felt conflicted about being there and also over increasingly strong feelings for men. Toward the end of this two years he met an Albanian who was living in Malta and also exploring a religious vocation. They soon grew into an intimate relationship together and Tyrone decided to leave the Franciscans. His friend had to return to Albania but soon returned to Malta so the two of them lived together for a year. Tyrone once again found himself not feeling totally comfortable in this relationship and broke it off after a year.
Following this, Tyrone focused less on relationships for a while in order to get more involved in theatre. It was not possible to pursue a full-time professional acting career at that time in Malta. He did have an experience teaching drama to children and discovered he had skills and interest in directing. He started a drama club for adults who were learning French—in their meetings they would act out scenes in French in order to practice the language. This continued for four years. Tyrone submitted a scene for performance in a national theatre festival. It was accepted and this experience brought new contacts for Tyrone in the professional theatre scene in Malta. Since 2005 Tyrone has spent much of his time producing and directing plays.
During his dramatherapy training Tyrone had experienced an exercise in which he had to tap into a deep personal experience and play that out concretely. Tyrone had discussed his mixed feelings about sexuality and spirituality in psychotherapy and also with a spiritual director. These thoughts germinated inside him and finally led him to try to create some type of support group in Malta where one could explore spirituality and sexuality. In 2004 Tyrone contacted the coordinator of MGRM (Malta Gay Rights Movement), Malta’s only LGBTQ group at the time, to ask for assistance in starting such a group. They agreed that MGRM would announce and publicize meetings and Tyrone would facilitate. The group met five or six times; attendees were closeted and discrete. Attendance at the gatherings declined and Tyrone wanted to put it to rest. However, MGRM wanted to continue the LGBT religious group and suggested Tyrone work with Mario Gerada as convener of the group. And they decided to move the gatherings into persons’ homes.
A priest asked to meet with Tyrone and Mario and he offered them a room in a house where they could have meetings regularly. As the group slowly decided to become more public, they invited gay British theologian James Alison to come and speak with them in 2007. In subsequent years, the group invited other prominent spokespersons to come and speak to them about Catholic faith and sexuality, including Jeannine Gramick and Margaret Fairley.
Tyrone’s involvement with the LGBTQ group fluctuated, depending upon what else he was doing in his life. During one gathering—of three to four persons—the group opened a Bible to a random page and read a passage. It was Luke 15 and Jesus’ story about the woman and the lost coin. The group thought this story was relevant to their lives—finding something lost, i.e., coming out, and celebrating that. The lost coin was called a “drachma” in the story, so the group thought that would be a fitting name for them.
In 2007 Tyrone moved up to teach in secondary school and in 2010 was appointed assistant deputy of the Primary school of the college for the next five years. Tyrone wrote the first LGBT play in Maltese, Michel, in 2008 and directed a performance of it. He started also writing short stories and books, publishing one of the first LGBTQI novels in Maltese in 2013. The novel was based on a brief, but important relationship he had in 2008.
In January 2013 Tyrone went to a Drachma gathering in a coffee shop where Christopher Vella appeared for the first time. Tyrone’s first impression was that Chris was intelligent but somewhat self-absorbed. They met again in April at the launch of a book written by a Drachma member. By early summer Chris had become the coordinator of Drachma. In October Chris attended the performance of a play Tyrone was directing. Two days later Tyrone received a long email from Chris with much praise and positive reflection on the production. This sparked some interest in Tyrone. He decided to go the next Drachma meeting and was disappointed when Chris did not stay around for a social time afterwards. In November, Tyrone connected with a man from England and agreed to go visit him over the Christmas holidays. In early December Chris invited Tyrone to meet for coffee. On the drive back home Chris shared with Tyrone that he would like to have a special friendship with him. Their first date was dinner in a nice restaurant and a walk along the cliffs on December 19th. This was a confusing time for both of them. Chris had never had a relationship with a man and was considering Jesuit life, while Tyrone was traveling to see a man in England. Yet they continued spending time together and their relationship blossomed. A year and a half later Tyrone agreed to move into the home of Chris’ parents with him. They were married on April 8, 2018.
In 2011 Tyrone started studying for a doctorate in spirituality. In 2014 he took a position as Government Director for the Institute for the Creative Arts. He actually served as the headmaster of a postsecondary school of arts. While the salary was good, Tyrone did not like the position and left after three years. He saw a notice of a position as the Head of Residential Care at a home for homeless persons. This was the same building where Drachma had been invited to meet publicly a few years earlier. He enjoyed this work providing support for the homeless young persons and migrants who reside there. He earned his doctorate in December 2018.
Tyrone recalls a turning point in his life being in a session with a spiritual director in 2009-10. The director shared the observation that, “I think that although you are bisexual you are attracted to being in relationship with a man.” Tyrone asked him to repeat this and then began crying because it was a profound realization for him. For the first time he could affirm being an LGBTI Catholic who needed to be in relationship with a man. Helping others find this realization and to integrate spirituality and sexuality was the key reason for founding Drachma.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from an interview with Tyrone Grima and edited by Grima.)
Biography Date: August 2019
Malta | Drachma | Vella, Christopher | Artist/musician/poet | Activist (religious institutions) | Catholic (Roman)