Unlike everyone else in Australia with a microphone or a keyboard, I don’t feel like congratulating Ian Thorpe. The 31-year-old swimming superstar who has won more Olympic golds than any other Australian announced on the weekend that he was gay.
With his broad smile, his size 17 shoes, and 6-foot, 5-inch frame, “Thorpedo” is one of Australia’s most popular sportsmen. When Sydney hosted the Olympic Games in 2000, he was Young Australian of the year.
Speaking with talk show host Michael Parkinson, Thorpe confirmed years of rumours. His parents were shocked but most of his friends were not surprised. “This is something I thought about for a long time. I am not straight,” he told Parkinson. “And this is only something that very recently – we are talking in the past two weeks – I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me.”
Prominent gays and lesbians were jubilant and welcomed him home. An Australian trampolining silver medallist, Ji Wallace, said, “If he is finally comfortable in his own skin, then he’s going to have a much nicer life”. The former head of the Australian Medical Association, Kerryn Phelps, commented, “Ian Thorpe’s journey has been long, but it has only just begun. My wish for him is that he does find love and inner peace and that he can now feel safe to be himself.”
And Thorpe himself told Parkinson, “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man. And I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable, and you can be gay.”
I wonder if the cheering on-lookers have actually seen the interview. Perhaps they are really cheering themselves. They have signed up a superstar to play on the home team – a bit like Los Angeles Galaxy signing up David Beckham. They know that his confession will lead to greater sympathy for homosexuality and for same-sex marriage.
But there was precious little good cheer in the interview. What really came across is that Ian James Thorpe is a terribly damaged and unhappy man. Swimming has destroyed him. With his incredible talent he was being feted as a celebrity when he was still a child. When he became world champion at 15, his father told the media, “I think I’ve just lost my son to the world”. At the highwater mark of his career, winning his clutch of medals at the Sydney Olympics, he wasn’t even old enough to vote.
There was nothing left for him to do. “I accomplished my dream when I was 17,” he told Parkinson. “So then, for me, I could have walked from the sport at that age. And I almost did, I considered it.”
By 19 he was suffering from severe depression and consuming vast quantities of anti-depressants and alcohol.
“I’ll have a drink and I’ll feel better and then y’know this becomes cyclic. You start to drink. You start to self-medicate. I kind of felt that it was unfair that and that I was doing the right thing by taking my anti-depressants and I’m still miserable! And so I tried drinking.”
Even though he was still winning golds, he was seriously thinking about suicide, of swimming out to sea and drowning. At 24 he quit swimming because he felt like a trained seal and could no longer bear the constant publicity. He tried to rejoin the Australian Olympic team in 2012 but failed. As recently as February he was picked up by police after “behaving oddly” in Sydney.
Thorpe was a great teenaged swimmer; now he is a confused and unhappy adult. Two years ago he published an autobiography, This Is Me, in which he flatly denied that he was gay. In his interview with Parkinson, he admited that his “sexual experiences have always been with women”. Whatever that means, Thorpe has obviously had a chaotic emotional life, perhaps with a lot of unhealthy sexual experiences. Now he says that he is telling the truth. Who can know whether that’s true? Probably not Thorpe.
In short, Thorpedo is hardly a poster boy for gay culture. Instead, he is a classic case of the child celebrity who gets chewed up and spat out by the media meat grinder. Emerging from the strobe lights of boyhood into the daylight of manhood, he seems to have found that he had become a product, not a human being. It is a transition that has destroyed many lives — just ask Lindsay Lohan or Macaulay Culkin. So when the medals tarnished, when pain-killers stopped giving relief, when the bottle ran dry, he reached for the gaiety pill.
Now another cynical lobby is using him as grist for its own mill by arguing that he has achieved happiness by coming out as gay. They will ignore his mental health issues. They won’t ask him for which of his many problems is gay the answer. And when they are finished with him, they are likely to spit him out, too. Like others, Kerryn Phelps reminded her readers that Thorpe had been a coward in telling The Big Lie about his sexuality. He can expect more of this from the LGBT thought police.
Why not leave Ian Thorpe alone to fight his demons? The poor fellow just wants to lead an ordinary life free of depression, addictions and emotional turmoil. His ambition, he told Parkinson, is a simple one: “I want a family. I love kids, and I’d love to have a family.” It’s a tragedy that the gay lobby is gearing up to manipulate that simple wish. I wish this troubled man every happiness, but my first wish is that he find a good psychiatrist.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.