Thorpedo and the rewriting of history

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
July 14, 2014 /

Click here to view original /

Just for minute let’s pretend that I’m not substantially icked out by sportspeople revered as role models.

Just for a minute let’s pretend that I don’t fiercely resent this culture’s preoccupation with outing people.

And just for a minute let’s sideline how much I loathe non-vanilla sexuality inevitably becoming a sole defining attribute.

Thorpie, after years of denial, is out. Parky asked it and Thorpie revealed it.

And I think Ian’s bravery is only part of this story.

On most occasions the media asking questions about sexuality is needlessly invasive. Such questions are never asked of athletes who “seem straight” and in my view it’s reprehensible to put any person in a position of having to either disclose their irrelevant private life or lie.

But Thorpe did lie. Over and over and over again.

And here’s my problem.

Much of the post-revelation chatter has focussed on Thorpe’s triumph over adversity, on his new status as a gay role model.

But what about all that went before the revelation? What about the impact of every denial he made prior to coming out?

Have we all suddenly guzzled down the Kool-Aid and decided that the real Thorpe story starts only when Parky says it does?

For me, I can actually hold in my head both the new confession and Thorpe’s many years of naysaying. And these two points sit together uncomfortably.

If he’s a role model for coming out, is he not also a role model for lying about sexuality on the journey to the top?

Is he not also a role model for proving that homosexuality is so shameful in our culture that it’s sensible to hide it?

Is he not also a role model of keeping mum until you’ve got nothing left to lose?

Aside from swimming prowess, one thing that made Thorpe distinct in a sea of other scarcely-interesting athletes is that he modelled a very different kind of masculinity. He did manhood differently and elegantly and showcased that there were innumerable ways to speak as a man, carry oneself as a man, act as a man.

Thorpe introduced us all to a bloke who was physically strong and successful and near-universally admired and who also happened to be softly spoken and interested in fashion and never embroiled in any copshop visits connected to defiled schoolgirls.

I liked this. I think he gave hope to all those people whose sex sits uncomfortably with social expectations.

In the old story, Thorpe was a unique male public figure – so unique in fact that everyone kept assuming he was gay – but he wasn’t and not that there’s anything wrong with that but as he kept saying he really liked both haute couture and women.

Alas, in the Parky revision, the Thorpedo becomes less revolutionary and much more of a stereotype.

Of course I’m delighted that people can choose if – and notably when – to divulge their sexual preferences. Equally I wish the seemingly very-private Thorpe all the very best in his future of being the default talking head in any “gay in sport” story.

I am, however, quietly managing devastation about all those boring years of speculation culminating in many an “I told you so” and the sad loss of a gender diversity icon.

© Lauren Rosewarne