When I think of Ian Thorpe, I think of an amazing athlete. An Australian who deserves our good wishes and to have his wishes respected.
I don’t believe that just because you’re good at sport you should be held up as an icon and designated a role model. Nor do I believe that just because something about you is “different” from the normal standards set by the lowest common denominator that you should be forced to be an inspirational example and lead the way.
By which I mean to say that just because you’re gay, there is no need for you to be a spokesmodel and gay activist. It’s not up to anyone else to cast Ian Thorpe in this role either.
There seemed to be a few different schools of thought around the Michael Parkinson-Ian Thorpe interview recently aired in Australia.
Many believed it was their right to know if Ian Thorpe was gay or straight. The media interview was advertised ad nauseam with statements along the lines that Ian Thorpe would finally speak about “the question all of Australia wanted to know”. I’m paraphrasing because I kept changing channels whenever I heard it again. And again.
Many more, myself included, felt that it was irrelevant to know whether Ian Thorpe (or anyone else for that matter) was gay, straight, bisexual or even asexual. We didn’t want to know the answer. Knowing the answer would make no difference to our opinion of Ian Thorpe. We wanted to live in a society where such questions never get asked, because the answer isn’t need to know information.
It simply doesn’t matter to me. I simply don’t care whether he is gay. I simply don’t care whether he is straight.
But before I get misunderstood, let me clarify. I don’t care about the answer because it makes no difference to my opinion about Ian Thorpe as a public identity, private person or amazing athlete. Knowing the sexual identity of someone makes absolutely no difference to my opinion about them.
That doesn’t, however, mean I don’t care. The reason I don’t care is because I do care. When I say I don’t care, I’m not shrugging my shoulders and going “whatever”. I’m slumping my shoulders in despair that the fact of sexuality is still such a major issue.
I care deeply. I care about the hell that Ian Thorpe has been through over the years, being hounded about his sexuality. He was first asked this question as an up and coming 16 year old swimming champion. Asking 16 year olds about sexuality, unless you’re their parent or doctor, is just entirely inappropriate.
I care that a vulnerable older child, on the cusp of manhood, did not feel safe to talk openly about his sexual identity. As he became an adult, he continued to feel unsafe. So much so that he admitted in his interview that he has only recently accepted that he is gay himself. That he denied his sexuality even to himself.
There is a third school of thought, which has been expressed by public identities who have publicly identified themselves as gay. They believe that it is wrong to say that you don’t care whether Ian Thorpe is gay or straight, as they care. They care very much indeed.
They believe that if such a famous and well respected sportsman had come out in public, had stood up and declared that he was gay, that it would have helped them considerably.
I believe this is entirely true. But surely it is up to Ian Thorpe to decide if he wants to fly the flag. His decision, surely, if he wants to be held up as an example? Perhaps he didn’t want the extra pressure of being a gay icon or spokesmodel for the gay community.
Just like the writers of the opinion pieces I have read expounding on this school of thought, perhaps he wasn’t confident to tell those closest to him, let alone deal with the spotlight that would descend upon him as an athlete of worldwide fame.
I am not insulting Ian Thorpe, nor am I belittling the cause of gay acceptance in our society, by not being bothered about him publicly declaring his sexuality.
The statement “the question all of Australia is asking” is just 1800 Wrong Wrong, www.wrong.com and Wrong Street, Wrongtown. It implies we have a right to know. We don’t. And that is why I don’t care. I don’t care because I actually do care.