I remember being angry when Ian Thorpe retired. I saw Thorpe’s retirement as a betrayal not of Australia’s absurdly high sports spending (I’m not exactly a rabid sports fan), but of money unspent on culture, the arts and other gay stuff. Stuff I could get into.
In hindsight I realise I was part of the very reason he was retiring. Reaching international success at a very young age, Thorpe has now said he struggled to cope with his life no longer being his own. Wins and losses, not to mention his private life, had become public property, but absolved of any public responsibility. If he wins, people can be happy, if he doesn’t, people can blame him.
Public ownership apparently extends to his sexuality. Long-standing gay rumours have been consistently denied, and when Thorpe began giving a slew of interviews for his new memoir, the question was bound to arise.
Watching an interview with the ABC’s Leigh Sales last week, I sat, poised to take offense. But what followed was a patient man giving an intelligent, thoughtful response to an offensive question.
Thorpe said he had answered the question many times before, and refused to say the words “I’m not gay”. He acknowledged that although he disliked these constant intrusions into his private life, this particular media obsession left him in a difficult position; he doesn’t want to upset anyone by getting angry about it or overly defensive, but still he doesn’t like accusations he’s lying.
That’s what rumours like this are: accusations. Even as queer people gain acceptance and representation in mainstream media, the “gay question” continues to be used as a weapon by gay and straight media against anyone who doesn’t fit our ideas of what’s normal.
I do think whether or not someone is gay matters. The more of us there are out there the easier it will get for all of us. But we need to take people at face value, and let them do things in their own time. After all, it’s their lives.
NFO: You read more by Benjamin Riley at SouthpawSlug.