Ian Thorpe talks coming out with Michael Parkinson
World champion swimmer Ian Thorpe has come out. The Olympic medallist told UK interviewer Michael Parkinson, “I wanted to for some time – but I didn’t feel as though I could”.
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“The problem was I was asked at such a young age about my sexuality… I went to an all boy’s school and I hate that it’s thought of as an accusation – but if you’re accused of being gay, the first answer is ‘no’ and then you get ready for a fight. I didn't know at that age – I was too young – and I didnt know.
"Then I thought about it, and the next time I was asked, I said it was inappropriate to be asking a child those kinds of questions. Also it’s not appropriate for that question to be asked of anyone.”
When questioned further by Parkinson as to why he finally decided it was time to come out after lying about his sexuality for so long, Thorpe told the interviewer it had begun to seem a matter of integrity.
“What happened was I felt the lie become so big that I didn’t want people to begin to question my integrity," Thorpe said. “And a bit of ego comes into it. I didn't want people to think I had lied about everything.”
Parkinson asked whether it was shame that kept him quiet for so long, to which Thorpe answered, no he was comfortable saying ‘I’m a gay man’.
“And I don't want young people to feel the same way I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and be gay. It was about the reaction of my family, my friends. And I’m pleased to say in telling them especially my parents – they told me they love me and support me – and [I’d like] for young people to know that usually that is what the answer will be."
Asked if his family and friends were surprised by his confession, the answer was yes.
“They were shocked – my mum literally said she was shocked. My friends were a bit more – OK fair enough – we had some suspicions. But they were great."
When Parkinson wondered if hiding his sexuality contributed to his depression, Thorpe smiled: “I don't think it is the real cause – but I think it hasn’t helped”
“It’s something I will now need to work on with my doctor,” he said, “as I was trying to live a lie. I was already living somewhat of a lie by trying to be this idea of the right athlete.
“I wanted to make people proud - my family proud and my nation proud. Part of me didn't know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay. But I hope this makes it easier for others now.”
Parkinson suggested people will love Thorpe no matter what, and the swimmer acknowledged in the end he didn't think people would really care about his sexuality.
“I know that people don't care about this and I have made it a bigger deal than it needed to be. And if I answered this simply earlier it would have been a lot easier on me People will criticise me – others may not like the idea – others may applaud me for it – but it’s me…”
With his sexuality finally out in the open, Parkinson suggested Thorpe would finally be free to start a new life.
“I’ve been so caught up in this, I’m looking forward to getting on with my life. To not have any secrets – it’s all out there. I am a person who doesn't just go out and tell everyone everything about myself – but this is one thing I now feel comfortable with… Nothing has changed.”
Thorpe said his reluctance to come out hinged on a number of reasons – one of which was the homophobia he encountered in sport and the outside world
“[There was] Not one main reason. But you hear things. I heard a lot of homophobic things and I was subjected to homophobic insults – people in the street would call out poof or faggot. You hear these remarks and you hear things around people’s careers – their marketability. It kept me in this lie – it became a convenient lie for me. I didnt want to be gay – but I still was gay at the end of the day. And I was scared what people’s reaction would be."
Thorpe said if there was one thing he could do differently it was perhaps come out sooner…
“The only thing is I am a little ashamed I didn’t come out earlier that I didn’t have the strength to do it – the courage to do it.”