DESPITE making headlines around the world when he came out publicly as gay in 2005, there was never a moment Olympic trampoline silver medalist Ji Wallace actually realised he was gay.
“I don’t have that Hollywood story where I sat down and thought, ‘I’m gay’ – it’s always been assumed and told to me,” he tells the Star Observer.
“I don’t like labels and I don’t like being described in any particular way.”
A fear of being labelled is one of the reasons Wallace waited until after his debut at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney before announcing his sexuality to the world.
“I didn’t want to be the gay trampolinist, I wanted to be Ji – the trampolinist who happens t be gay and happens to be going bald at 39,” he says with a chuckle.
“It’s a small part of the larger story of who I am.”
Although he can’t remember ever being inspired to become an Olympian, Wallace’s mother often shares a story of him sitting transfixed watching the games when he was three.
His love of trampolining in the backyard developed into a serious talent, which ended up leading him to becoming the youngest Australian member to represent at an elite competition.
“Lots of travel, lots of friends, lots of success,” he says.
In 1996, Wallace won the world championships and then in 1998 was accepted into the Olympics gymnastics team.
“It just happened I was at the top of my game,” Wallace adds.
“I was 19-20 and I was able to really handle that transition, and that one opportunity to make history… to represent Australia at my sport’s debut to the world.”
Wallace left home, moved into a friend’s garage and started sleeping in his car.
He had no money, and went from working and living with family to having no emotional support and just having his dream.
After his win and the Olympics, Wallace returned to normal life with little to no drama.
“It was such a high, the vibe of the Olympics was spectacular,” he says.
“I caught a taxi home and nobody was there. The dishes weren’t done, my bed wasn’t made… Going from having this superstar time to back to normal.
“I didn’t struggle with it because I have this mindset that if I am choosing something, I am choosing everything that comes along with it. I am not going into anything with false pretenses and expectations.”
Coming out to the world as gay was a smooth process for Wallace, and announcing that he was HIV Positive in 2012 was no different. He announced it in a letter to the Star Observer.
“I had a tough childhood, financially. It was tough to be accepted at school, I had a lot of bullies… I came from a religious extended family, I could hear those conversations and disagree with them but couldn’t eloquently,” he says, reflecting on his second coming out.
“It hasn’t been rough, I’ve developed a bit of a thick skin.
“I know (backlash) is there, but if you go hunting for a bad story about yourself on social media, you’ll find it. Why put myself through that? Does it help me?”
With sports stars coming out of the closet at an unprecedented rate, Wallace says he was not under the same sorts of pressure others, like Ian Thorpe, are.
“Even back then in 2000 it was not the norm (for sports players to come out) but I’m certainly not the first,” he says.
“I didn’t face the backlash people from the 50s-80s faced. I’m just part of the growing story, the snowball effect for people to realise it’s possible to do it and have a positive outlook on the experience.
“I’m not a multimillionaire sports player, I’m not sponsored. When Ian Thorpe came out, I was asked for a quote and I said, ‘he had millions of dollars to lose, I didn’t.’”
While Wallace can see the importance in sports players coming out, he believes it should be their choice when they are ready.
“Everybody has their own story, if they want everybody to know – it’s up to them,” he says.
Even after announcing he was HIV positive to the public through the media, Wallace made the conscious decision to be up front with his playmates.
When he first met his husband Shaun in 2012, Wallace disclosed his status on the first day.
“I told him that I had something to tell him, he said ‘what you’ve got a boyfriend?’ and I said ‘no, actually, I’ve got HIV’,” Wallace remembers.
“He goes, ‘oh is that all’”
The pair have been inseparable ever since, and got married about three months after their first meeting.