You would have had to have been living under a rock for the past week to escape the various Ian Thorpe-related headlines. News broke earlier in the week that he had recorded an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson – with Channel 10 setting the hype machine in motion: that he would finally be addressing his much-speculated sexuality.
Almost every news website across the internet weighed in on the story week. I could add a different hyperlink to every word of this sentence, taking you to a new one.
This has all culminated to the news that has broken overnight: yes, he is gay.
The opinions expressed across this coverage have been diverse, varied and sometimes very eloquent – other times a desperate grab for web traffic, with click-baiting headlines that have pushed the limits of credible journalism. Either way, it’s been a media shitstorm.
It’s a topic I’ve wanted to weigh in on for a while. The more I tried to sit down and get these words out – the more I came to realise that the speculation surrounding his sexual orientation is indicative of a much wider problem in current societal paradigms.
I am prepared for the valid and fair criticisms that, in writing this piece, I am contributing to the problem. I didn’t leap into writing this the second news broke about the Parkinson interview. I didn’t feel right doing that. I took the time to really consider what I wanted to say. It’s something, as a gay man living in a world gripped with such rapid social change, that I feel compelled to say.
So why has it bothered me so much?
Society seems to hold some unfounded sense of entitlement to that ‘AHA!’ moment. You know, the ‘I KNEW IT!’. Like correctly identifying somebodies sexual orientation affords them a reward. It’s become a twisted game, a sport – and it absolutely has to stop. We will never be able to move forward as a nation that values all of it’s citizen as equal if this sort of fervent speculation is going to continue to be filed under ‘BREAKING NEWS’.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled whenever news emerges that someone in the public image has gone public with their sexuality. Take Tom Daley, for example. That was a pretty heartwarming moment – not so heartwarming was the the barrage of headlines that enveloped Daley – and that also is set to completely grip Thorpe’s life for the immediate future.
It’s enormously encouraging to have high profile LGBT figures in the spotlight, and each person who steps out of the closet takes an enormous leap towards promoting acceptance among a wider group. It’s a very thin line to walk, and it’s one that’s found in the discourse surrounding such news. People are loudly wondering why it has taken him so long to announce this – and it is genuinely frustrating to be faced with the reality that it’s still deemed as ‘an announcement’ that must be made. Like there’s a crack team of PR experts analysing this decision from a million different angles.
What’s it going to take for people to understand that who someone sleeps next to at night is not fodder for gossip? It’s enormously personal – and something that one will only make public when they feel ready to do so. Trying to force someone out of the closet is not only petty and mean-spirited, but it’s incredibly dangerous for the mental health of those involved. The effects on those in the public spotlight are multiplied tenfold.
Ian Thorpe has come out, and guess what? It’s entirely his own business. He has done nobody a disservice in keeping this part of his life a secret. I can’t stress enough how enormously frustrating it is to read this media coverage where people can’t even fathom how he kept this a secret. These people, more often than not, are the ones who have absolutely no idea how it feels to be in that position.
Coming out is terrifying. There is absolutely no way to describe the process; the complex set of emotions that are involved – unless you’ve actually gone through it yourself. Doing it when you’re one of the most well-known names in the country? I cannot even begin to imagine how much more difficult that must have been.
Thorpe has demonstrated an enormous amount of bravery in making this aspect of his life public. In doing so, he’s shown that while we might not be there yet, but we’re certainly getting a lot closer.
WORDS: HARRISON CARTWRIGHT
If you need someone to talk to, you can contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. Other great resources include Twenty10, a community-based not-for-profit that provides a safe-space for gender-diverse teens, and the It Gets Better project.