Why you Shouldn’t Care that Olympic Hero Ian Thorpe is Gay

Ian Thorpe has come out as gay. Not that you wouldn’t have already seen the millions of news headlines, right? Personally, I don’t care. I didn’t particularly care about his problems with alcohol abuse either. I felt bad for the guy, but well wishes from some stranger weren’t exactly going to help his problem.

I thought ‘who cares?’ or ‘we kinda knew anyway’ would be the standard responses to the Olympic star’s revelations to UK interviewer Michael Parkinson on Sunday. But the majority of media outlets have been telling me that I should care – that Thorpie’s bravery is an inspiration for homosexuals globally.

From the days of the Paris Hilton sex tape, we seem to have developed a strange obsession with what celebrities like to do between the sheets. Celebrities (with the exception of Hilton and others like Kim Kardashian) are famous because they’re good at something. But why does this mean that we have to use them as role models for every facet of their lives? This would be highly problematic if we put everybody from the ‘good guy’ celebrities to your average urinating NRL player on a pedestal.

So, why should we care what Ian Thorpe likes doing in bed – regardless of who or what gender this means? Apparently lots of people are invested in these things. After a quick Google search, I found a list of gay celebrities and their ‘come out’ dates. Yes, people actually keep track of these things.

Personally, I think the fixation on making a media spectacle over someone’s sexuality – even in a positive way – will actually make it harder for homosexuals in the long run. This is firstly because media outings make a bigger deal out of something that should be private or inconsequential to somebody’s talent or celebrity status. In a way, it makes people defined by their sexuality.

I would rather describe Elton John as an exceptional musician who plays the piano and and wears fabulous sunglasses than somebody who’s gay. I just don’t think the nebulous idea of someone’s sexuality should be used to describe them when there is always something more tangible, such as physical appearance or skill. Sexuality is far more complicated than basic labels and it’s not really as black and white as labels like ‘gay’ or ‘straight’.

Constantly hounding a celebrating to fess up about their sexuality (as Thorpe experienced since the age of 16) also has another side effect of adding to the heteronormative myth that there are ‘normal’ sexual preferences – and homosexuality is something deviant or different that needs to be disclosed. Luckily, these social standards can change over time, as Hijacked discussed last week in regard to incest.

I do understand the benefits of Thorpie finally discussing his sexuality in the Parkinson interview. Prominent figures being comfortable saying they’re gay may help the “15-year-old closeted me”, said media personality Tom Ballard in a Fairfax piece today. People say being loud and proud can help change the culture around sport or whatever industry an openly gay celebrity belongs to, and it can perhaps even challenge the culture of broader society. There is something valid about this, but I think the occasional celebrity coming out hasn’t really changed culture – culture has just made it more socially acceptable to come out.

In fact, ‘coming out of the closet’ media parades just give some people an opportunity to reinforce their pre-existing views. The public support for Thorpe on Twitter today feels like a circle jerk of people boasting that they’re not homophobic. I truly doubt any real homophobics will change their behaviour towards homosexuals, even if their favourite swimmer is ready to take on Mardi Gras. As T-Pain said of Frank Ocean: “I know niggas that will not do a song with Frank Ocean just because he gay”. Some industry people inherently care about somebody’s sexuality, others like T-Pain don’t, and this probably won’t change.

Changing the discourse around issues like racism or homophobia is a slow process that takes generations. At the end of the day, views around sexuality will have changed when old homophobes die out and are replaced by a generation of people with generally more progressive views on ‘acceptable’ sexual behaviour. So, can we all just stop making a big deal out of every time someone famous wants to be open about their sexuality? It’s really none of our business.

Note: I am aware of the inherent irony in writing about a celebrity’s sexuality when I’m telling everybody else not to. So let’s all stop doing this… now.

Sam Caldwell

Sam Caldwell attends The University of Technology, Sydney and is studying a BA Communications (Journalism). He is also a passionate debater.

Image: Salle-Ann on Flickr Creative Commons

This was originally published on Hijacked.

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