Gay or straight? That’s Ian Thorpe’s business
Gay rumours hurt more than just Ian Thorpe, writes Troy Chiodo-Gurr.
He’s won 5 Olympic Gold medals, more than any other Australian. He’s held 17 world record titles. He was the youngest Australian to ever compete at the Olympics. He’s battled depression and career-crushing injuries, and on Sunday night with Michael Parkinson, Ian Thorpe will finally discuss the rumour that he secretly sleeps with dudes.
Oh, wait, did I say finally? I meant again. He’ll have to deny it again.
Thorpe first told the world he was straight in 2000, and for the last 14 years he’s had to repeat himself. Every twelve months he has to explain himself to the public again, tripping over his exceptionally large feet to reword the Seinfeld denial (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”) hoping that this time it’ll finally be put to bed. So prevalent is the rumor it’s even mentioned on his Wikipedia page, and he himself had to address it in autobiography.
“The thing that I find hurtful about it is that people are questioning my integrity and what I say. That’s the only part I find hurtful, that this is something I would be embarrassed about and that I would hide.”
But that won’t stop the world from asking again. Sure, it’ll be couched in ‘How do you deal with the rumor?’ but the intent is snare a good headline, or vainly hope he trips up and breaks. Is this the moment? Will Parkinson finally get it out of him? The world holds it breath.
The world should just exhale. The world should quit speculating like it’s sport. The world needs to learn that no means no. You say it once to clarify, but after that, it’s just harassment. Either he's a) straight, or he's b) gay and he doesn't want to or feel comfortable going public. And that's his business. For anyone to put pressure on anyone to come out is not what the gay community - or even the wider community - should be about. Coming out should be on your own terms, even if you’re coming out as straight.
It’s unfair and it’s small to reduce a man to his sexuality. We rally against people who do the same thing to us, while secretly whispering to one another that we know someone who knows someone who knows for sure. If our parents or employers asked us every 12 months to explain, yet again, whether we were really gay, we’d be kicking asses and taking names. We’d be demanding they stay out of our private lives, and be justifiably outraged that they just don’t seem to get it. We’d be marching and Tweeting and storming the gates, while in reverse, Thorpe has to humbly choose his words and apologetically confirm that he likes the ladies. Where’s the equality in that?
Yes, the gay community needs role models, but role models who are dragged kicking and screaming out the closet through innuendo and pressure aren’t role models, they’re gossip victims. ‘Persistent gay rumors’ are because the media won’t let it out of their teeth, and people have been reduced to a headline.
And hey, he might have been a good role model for us. For many years he was Australian’s most popular Australian and we could have used him in our corner if we’d treated him better. He might have been marching proudly as a straight man at Mardi Gras if we hadn’t frightened him into keeping his distance. He might have been a strong advocate for gay rights, but we were too busy having fun with the rumor. We should have standing in front of him and beside him and telling the media to back off. He’s straight. That’s great. Get over it.
It’s become embarrassing not just to Thorpe but to us. The more we allow the media to publicly grope him for a salacious story, the more trivial, the more detrimental, the more pained being gay becomes. The more the assumption that being gay can kill your career is exemplified. The more being gay sounds like a secret. The more it appears that this is our fault. Is hounding him doing us any good?
We’re better than this. We’re more than who we sleep with, and allowing the public to play the is-he-or-isn’t-he game, the more homosexuality appears as a novelty. It’s time we took the high road, and who knows who might follow?