IAN THORPE IS GAY – YES IT IS IMPORTANT!
In the wake of Ian Thorpe’s recent interview with Sir Michael Parkinson, I have felt compelled to add my voice to that of many others as to why Thorpe coming out as gay is important, newsworthy and why “yes, we should care”. Shortly after the interview my Facebook feed started to show up all Thorpe. Given his previous achievements in the Olympic pool and on the world stage it’s hardly surprising that most people had something to say about one of Australia’s most renown athletes. Now I’ll be the first to admit that the vast majority of my Facebook friends occupy the centre left/left side of the political spectrum, however I was still surprised to see comments from some who still weren’t quite sure why we needed to know in the first place;
“He’s gay, so what”
“Ian Thorpe Comes Out. Like we didn’t already know”
“Why is his sexuality important”
“He’s gay, get over it”
Now whilst I applaud how we’ve now reached a point where many in society (or at least my Facebook feed) are accepting of people’s different sexualities, I feel like people are still missing the point as to why events like this are still important for the LGBT community and indeed the community at large.
For starters, coming out is HARD. I for one didn’t come out till I was in my early twenties and might not have even come out then if certain events hadn’t pushed things out of my control. Trying to figure out who we are and what we want is a journey that (I’m told) takes a lifetime. Dealing with complex feelings such as same-sex attraction during your teenage years can be an incredibly isolating experience. When I was 15/16, and started having same-sex attractions I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t really know what “gay” was. I had no positive gay role models in my life. The only guy who I knew that might be “gay” was someone who got bullied at school because he was different and all I knew was that I sure as hell didn’t want that to be me. So I denied my feelings, put them in a box and shut the lid, didn’t let anyone get truly close to me for fear they’d discover my secret. It’s isolating and lonely.
For kids like me, without any gay role models in their life, having someone like Ian Thorpe, a household name, someone adored by the Australian public and celebrated for his achievements can make all the difference. Even if all it means is that they don’t have to feel entirely alone in the world. Every person in the public eye that comes out as LGBT helps LGBT youths to understand that the feelings that they have are completely normal, they don’t have to be anxious or afraid, they’re allowed to be who they are. I should definitely mention that I for one am immeasurably happier to be “out of the closet” than I ever was inside and that my relationships with my family and friends have definitely improved for the better.
The second point that I feel people are missing in Thorpe’s coming out that I couldn’t quite put my finger on dawned on me while I was watching a TED talk a friend recently recommended to me. The talk is titled “Ending The Straight World Order” by Mads Ananda Lodahl and I urge you to watch it (you can find it at this link http://tedxcopenhagen.dk/talk/ending-the-straight-world-order/). In the talk, Lodahl explains how it’s not just LGBT people who suffer from the idea of white heterosexual normalcy in society, it’s everyone. In a similar vein, Thorpe’s coming out doesn’t just benefit the LGBT community, it benefits everyone. We are all victims of the “normal” in society. Our societies are set up with the straight, white, masculine, heterosexual male at the top. They are the blueprint for “normality” and anyone who deviates from this blueprint is punished, the degree of punishment is based on how far their physicality or behaviour differs from this norm. Women, people of different ethnicity, non-heterosexuals; we all suffer from this idea. Even the young white, heterosexual male suffers from this idea, he learns very quickly to dampen those traits that might be a little feminine or different and be “strong” and “tough” like all the other boys.
Yet we don’t have to be victims, if everyone embraced who they truly were and didn’t feel the need to conform, then diversity within our societies would flourish. People would be appreciated for who they are, instead of judged for what makes them different. That’s why Thorpe’s coming out is important, it benefits everyone, it’s another voice saying “Yes I’m different, and you know what, that’s great”.
– Edward Bishop