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article imageOp-Ed: Ian Thorpe ends ‘big lie’, now comfortable saying ‘I’m a gay man’

By Mathew Wace Peck     Jul 14, 2014 in Sports
Ian Thorpe, Australia’s most-decorated professional swimmer, has ended years of what he refers to as the “big lie” of his life, having finally come to terms with his sexuality to say out loud, “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man.”
Thorpe came out as gay in an interview with the British chat-show host Sir Michael Parkinson, which was broadcast on Channel Ten in Australia at the weekend.
In many ways it’s understandable why Thorpe has continued to deny he was gay, given that he was first asked the question by a journalist when he was just 16 years old. As he grew through his late teens and into his twenties, the question kept being asked; and Thorpe kept denying it.
Now 31, the five-time Olympic gold medallist says the lie just snowballed. “What happened was, I felt that the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity and a little bit of ego comes into this,” the Guardian reports him telling Parkinson in the interview. “I didn't want people to think that I had lied about everything.”
However much people argue that a gay person should be open about their sexuality, how many can honestly say that at sometime in their lives they haven’t denied it when asked? Despite the slow change in attitudes over recent decades, our world is basically homophobic. It’s still very much the case that most people, either consciously of sub-consciously, take the default position that someone is straight.
Lots and lots of gay women have grown up being asked if they have a boyfriend. Lots and lots of gay men have grown up being asked if they have a girlfriend; every time, having to make the decision to either lie — by saying simply “No” instead of “No, I’m gay” or “No, I have a boyfriend.”
The same thing applies to the other oft-asked question: “Are you married?” Of course, with so many Western countries now legalising same-sex marriage, the answer to that question is becoming so much easier. But simply saying “Yes” isn’t just avoiding the inevitable it still leads to the next almost inevitable question will: “What’s her name?”
So its easy to understand exactly what Thorpe meant when he told Parkie that the lie became so big — that he couldn’t see a way of stepping back from what he’d already said.
Ian Thorpe of Australia swims in the men's 100m butterfly  in Tokyo on November 13  2011
Ian Thorpe of Australia swims in the men's 100m butterfly in Tokyo on November 13, 2011
Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP/File
But this sort of thing is, at times, common to everyone, gay and straight. How many times have any of us thought (or been told to), “Stop digging”?
However, for a sportsman in Thorpe’s position, it can be argued that the pressure is more intense, as Barry Taylor, President of the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association highlights. He told Ninemsn: “For many elite athletes they are told not to come out because it will be a death knell in their career. When you’re an athlete and you need money and sponsors you make certain decisions [but] the debate needs to change to why is it that sponsors in the corporate world feel it's undesirable to represent out gay and lesbian athletes?”
In Thorpe’s case, when asked the question this time, he replied to Parkinson, “I’m not straight and this is only something that very recently — we’re talking in the past two weeks — I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me.”
Thorpe said that although his mother had been shocked to find out her son was gay after all, his friends were less so, and, crucially, everyone had embraced him, for which he was relieved.
"I’m a gay man now"
“I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man," Thorpe told Parkinson, adding that he didn’t want other gay people to feel as he had growing up, emphasising, “You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”
However, Thorpe revealed how painfully aware he was of the homophobia in society and at his all-boys’ high school in Australia, and how he’d been verbally abused in public, by complete strangers yelling out, “Faggot” and “Poofter” at him.
Inevitably in this increasingly social-media-directed age, as the interview was broadcast, Ian Thorpe’s name began trending on Twitter, with the comments posted being overwhelmingly supportive. Men and women and people from the sporting world, straight and gay, welcomed his decision, agreeing with Thorpe’s hope that his honesty about his sexuality would help young gay people and gay athletes.
Among words of encouragement were ones from ex-footballer and Match of the Day anchor Gary Lineker, Savage Garden front man Darren Hayes, openly gay Olympic gold-winning diver Matthew Mitcham, who hoped his fellow Australian would now be able to find peace, singer Ricky Martin and rugby-playing legend Gareth Thomas, who himself came out as gay a few years ago.
Thomas tweeted, “Never question http://it.Support it. A happy man today.#Thorpedo.x,” while Lineker wrote via his Twitter feed, “Well done @IanThorpe on your 'coming out'. Look, mate, it was a brave and right decision. Good luck to you.”
Gary Lineker tweeted, “Well done @IanThorpe on your 'coming out'. Look, mate, it was a brave and right decision. Good luck to you.”
The swimming champion also admitted that a part of him had worried that Australia wouldn’t want its champion to be gay. “I am telling not only Australia, I’m telling the world that I am and I hope this makes it easier for others now.”
Of his previous denials, he says, “I’m a little bit ashamed that I didn’t come out earlier, that I didn't have the strength to do it […] the courage to do it, to break that lie. But everyone goes on their own path to do this.”
Public eye
Surely, no one can disagree with that. Every individual gay person has to decide when the right time is to come out. It’s never going to be easy and it’s going to be different for everyone.
It can be hard enough admitting to yourself that you are or could be gay, harder to coming out to others and incredibly hard to do so if you’re a young person very much in the public eye.
But times are changing — gone are the days (in some countries, at least) when newspapers sort to publish vile stories about gay people, as can be evidenced by yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph calling Thorpe’s decision to come out as gay as a “momentous and deeply brave act”.
And if Thorpe had had any lasting reservations about dissing the “big lie,” he’s clearly buoyed by the response it has received, tweeting his thanks to those who have sent good wishes: “To Everyone who has sent a message of support I sincerely Thank you!”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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