Rebecca Sparrow: "Can we all stop obsessing over Ian Thorpe's sexuality?"

Ian Thorpe’s interview with Michael Parkinson is being marketed as a ‘tell all’.






I’m feeling a little confused.

I’m confused about the reaction to the news that Ian Thorpe has done a tell-all interview with Michael Parkinson which will air on Sunday night.

I’m confused because people aren’t talking about hearing the former Olympian talk about his meteoric rise to fame, about the years he dominated swimming, his infamous rivalry with Pieter van den Hoogenband, his volunteer work in Australia’s indigenous communities, his recent admission that he has suffered from crippling depression or more details on that post-operation infection which has put an absolute end to any hope of a Thorpedo comeback. All these topics are fascinating, deeply personal and newsworthy.

And yet nobody cares about them.

Because it’s Ian Thorpe. And all anyone apparently wants to ask Ian Thorpe is: Are. You. Gay?

I’m sorry but I don’t get it. I don’t get why it matters to so many people. I don’t get why in 2014 someone’s sexuality is still the most important or newsworthy thing about them.

WHY DO WE CARE? What possible difference does a person’s sexuality actually make?

But today I’m feeling a little alone on this. Because I live in a country where people DO care. They care a lot. It’s the first thing that comes up whenever his name is mentioned. Everyone wants to know if Ian Thorpe is heterosexual or homosexual.

And their reasons for wanting to know this deeply personal piece of information are varied. Here is a sample of some I’ve heard today:


“As someone who is gay, if he is, I think he’s doing himself a disservice by hiding it. I think it’s the fact that he’s evaded the question for so long is what makes it so interesting.” -J,24

Here’s what Bec wants you to consider: IT’S NONE OF YOUR FREAKING BUSINESS.

“I care about Ian Thorpe’s sexuality for two reasons. One, I think it sends a message that being gay is shameful, that he’s hidden it for so long. Two, I think it would be really exciting if he came out because it would send the opposite message – that society is ready for one of our most famous athletes to be openly gay. Every time that happens in America, which it has a couple of times, there’s a surge of appreciation from the LGBTQ community.” – T, 45

“I just want him to finally admit it. I think that’s what’s making him depressed.” – L, 30

“I’m doing that weird attachment thing where I care about a stranger/celebrity’s happiness, and I hate to think that this man, who has been a hero of ours for so long, has had to hide this huge part of his life and identity for so long because he’s scared of what might happen if he’s honest.” – P, 32

A lot of those reasons sound fair and even noble and caring. They do. And when we cloak our curiosity about someone’s sexuality by talking about our concern and admiration for that person it can nearly sound reasonable.

Nearly. But it’s not.

Because here’s what it boils down to:  IT’S NONE OF YOUR FREAKING BUSINESS.

Whether Ian Thorpe is gay or straight – it’s irrelevant to what he has achieved and what he’s given to Australia by way of national pride. It’s irrelevant to how fast he was in the water. How he handled fame so young. How he deals with his life post-swimming.


“But but but … He’s depressed because he’s gay!” hypothesise some people in a desperate attempt to justify their curiosity.

Um, thank you Dr Phil but unless you’re the Thorpedo’s counsellor, I’ll ask you to kindly shut your cake hole.

“Um, thank you Dr Phil but unless you’re the Thorpedo’s counsellor, I’ll ask you to kindly shut your cake hole.”

We cannot keep banging on and on about the rights of the LGBTQ community and the prejudice they experience in one breath only to disregard those very same things when it comes to discussing one of Australia’s greatest athletes.

You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to campaign and support gay rights and then ghoulishly discuss and dissect whether someone is or isn’t gay. That goes against everything that we are campaigning for: that sexuality DOESN’T MATTER.

You gonna talk the talk about equality for all? Then walk the walk, people.

I don’t know what the hell is going to be said on Sunday night when Ian Thorpe sits down for a chat with Michael Parkinson. What I do know is that the subject of Ian Thorpe’s sexuality is the least interesting thing about him whether he ‘reveals’ anything or not.

And we need to give the poor man some privacy, some dignity and some respect. He’s answered the question a hundred times. Stop asking it. It’s none of our business.

Do you think Ian Thorpe being gay is a matter of public interest? Do you care?