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Sunday 13 July 2014

Ian Thorpe: "I am Gay." Parkinson interview quotes

And so, tonight… the interview everyone is talking about.

Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe spoke to UK interviewer Michael Parkinson.

Photo: Channel Ten
There was much talk less than 24 hours before about Ian's revelation: about his coming out as gay. The masterstroke behind that revelation's timing - one day pre-screening - ensured social media was abuzz with talk about Thorpe, and that we would ultimately tune in.

I was glued the whole time. I was truly mesmerised by the raw honesty and beautiful words spoken by Ian. I admired this man before, but now… I am enamoured with his honesty and filled with pride and joy for him for what he has done for his mental wellbeing, and for countless young men and women struggling with their sexuality. The interview coincides with Ian's recent signing with Channel Ten, in his role at commentator for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

The key statements from tonight's interview are rather breathtaking.

I typed like mad throughout (and watched it back again and again to capture all the key sentiments from him), and here are some of his most emotional, eloquent, engaging quotes from the interview. Check back in here for the clip.

Although much was said by Ian on the night, much emphasis was placed on how he would answer the question about his sexuality. He's what Ian said:

“I’ve wanted to [come out] for some time but I couldn’t, I didn’t feel as though I could. The problem was I was asked at such a young age about my sexuality… and I didn’t know at that age, I was too young, and so the answer was no.

“Then I carried this… I was telling people it was inappropriate to be asking a child such questions, and also it’s not appropriate for that question to be asked of anyone.

“I felt that the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity and a little bit of ego comes into this. I didn’t want people to question well… have I lied about everything?"

Interestingly, Michael replied: 

"Well you did lie about it..."

"Yes I did. Everyone did."

'Everyone' included Ian, his 'people', his advisors, the swimming body/ies associated with him. Interesting. No wonder Ian felt compelled to keep the story up for so long… one must truly feel for him.

THIS is the thing that struck me the most about this much-talked about Ian Thorpe interview: these two,  almost inaudible words, when Parky questioned keeping this 'lie'. "Everyone did," said Ian.

This is the saddest part of it all. That his 'people' advised him to keep quiet about it. It's NOT shameful to be gay. It's shameful that society deems it to be shameful. We have a looong way to go, and it starts with that bullshit, derogatory casual homophobia you hear. It's our collective responsibility to stop it when we hear it, and say to the person who says it, "Yeah, that's not funny or cool, and it's hurtful." 

Just because YOU don't know someone who has tried to commit suicide because they found it hard to come out to family, it doesn't give you the right to be a dick about gay people. For everyone saying "who cares" or "this is not news" consider how many young gay people Ian Thorpe has helped through this interview.

Thorpe continued:

“I’m comfortable saying I'm a gay man, and I don’t want young people to feel the same way I did. You can grow up and be comfortable and you can be gay.”

Thorpe then goes on to tell of his experience in telling his family and friends:

“I was concerned about the reaction from my family, my friends, and I’m pleased to say in telling them, especially my parents, they told me they love me and support me. For young people out there, know that’s usually what the answer is.

“My friends were more like ‘OK, you know, fair enough’, and they said we had some suspicions. I needed my friends first. I told them first.

“Telling my parents and close people, they reflected and they said: "It’s not like you’re a different person, but a happier person"… a person they remember.”

Thorpe then describes his anger about the young age he was asked about his sexuality.

“I had anger about this because I felt I shouldn’t have been asked about it. if I wasn’t asked, I feel as though I would have been much younger when I came out about this. I wouldn’t have lived a very different life, but I could have been proud of the fact - yes, I’m out.

“I was already living somewhat of a lie in my life because I was trying to be what I thought was the right athlete by other people’s standards. I wanted to make people proud. I wanted to make my family proud and my nation proud of me. Part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay.”

How heartbreaking is that? To feel a whole country might reject you.

“I’m telling not only Australia, I’m telling the world: I am gay.

“I hope this makes it easier for others now. I know that people don’t care about this, and I’ve made it a bigger deal than it needed to be and if I had answered this simply it would have been a lot easier on my life. People will criticise me, some won’t like the idea, others may applaud me for it. But it’s me.

“I’ve been so caught up in this, but I am looking forward to being able to get on with my life, to not have any secrets, and know that it’s all out there. I’m a person who doesn’t just go in there and tell everyone everything about myself. I don’t feel comfortable doing that. This is one thing I’m now comfortable with, and it’s out there and we get on with it.

Thorpe tells of his disappointment in himself for not coming out sooner:

“The only thing is I am a little bit ashamed of is I didn’t come out earlier, that I didn’t have the strength to do it, the courage to break that lie. But everyone goes on their own path to do this, and I don’t want the struggle to be so hard for other people.”

A key topic Thorpe talked about (and also did so in his 2012 book, "This Is Me") is his bouts of severe depression. He said during the interview with 'Parky':

“The only reason you’ll get out of bed is to use the bathroom. I’d go through the kitchen because I knew I had to eat…and just find something so I didn’t have to leave the house.”

He adds about his suicidal thoughts: “There’s a difference in thinking about suicide and then actually contemplating suicide.”

In the end, he said he “couldn’t do it to them [family and friends]“.

Thorpe revealed he wants a family, too: 

“I want a family. I love kids and I’d love to have a family. I have a wonderful nephew and a beautiful niece and I’d like my own family. I think I’m a lot closer to that happening now."

Parkinson asks Thorpe about his relief, post-interview:

“Not yet. I have to wait for this to probably go to air. When everyone sees this, that’s when I can breathe out. That’s when I’ll be happy with this, when people have heard it from me. You know, I look at my life. I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve made good choices with my life, and I think I’ve got back to one of the core values which is most important to me: my honesty and integrity.

“This is one thing that I value more than anything else, and I’ve just offered it to people.”

He most certainly has.

Channel Ten said about the interview on their site:

Ian Thorpe is Australia’s most decorated Olympian, one of Australia’s favourite sons and a sporting legend around the world. 

Sir Michael Parkinson CBE will explore the private and sometimes troubled world of Ian Thorpe OAM.
Ian has made the brave decision to be himself. With no question off limits, the master interviewer will examine the good times and the bad, the triumphs and the trauma that Ian has faced throughout his life.
Sir Michael said: “Ian Thorpe has always been near the top of my list to interview. The reasons are obvious. Not many athletes can claim to be the best of all time. Ian can.
“The story of a boy who was a teenage World Champion, conquered the world and then seemed to give it all away is a fascinating and intriguing one.
“His fight against depression offers a unique insight into the darker side of celebrity and success. What fascinates me most about Ian is that apart from the very beginning of his career, he never seemed to enjoy and celebrate his success. It will be interesting to find out the reasons why,” he said.
Network Ten Executive Director of News and Current Affairs, Peter Meakin, said: “This promises to be an absorbing encounter – a sporting hero with a fascinating story, paired with an interviewer whose reputation is deservedly legendary.”
Affectionately known to many as Thorpedo, Ian broke 22 world records and won five gold, three silver and one bronze Olympic medals. He has also collected 11 World Championship titles, 10 Commonwealth Games gold medals and nine Pan Pacific titles.
Outside the pool, Ian has pursued a number of ventures showcasing his passion for charity work media, art, fashion, food and travel. Ian’s recent projects include This Is Me, as well as a feature documentary entitled The Swimmer.

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