Ian Thorpe is not a hero. The fact that he has told the world that he is gay does not make him brave.
Everyone has sexual feelings – it is part of being human – and we all choose to deal with those feelings in our own unique way. For most people this is a very personal and private issue and they do not tell others how they express their sexual feelings. How many of us are aware of the sexual lives of those with whom we come into contact? Unless we are some kind of voyeur then we will only know information that has been volunteered. Most people do not give out such details to perfect strangers and choose to keep their sexual lives to themselves. This is a perfectly natural thing to do and is consistent with sexual activity itself which for the most part takes place in personal and intimate circumstances.
Most homosexual people choose the same course as most heterosexual people and keep their sexual behaviour as a private matter. They may never tell a soul or they may tell only a few people who are close to them. This is their choice and it is a perfectly reasonable choice to make for people of any orientation. Some people do choose to expose their sexual behaviour to others and some celebrities expose either their heterosexual behaviour or their homosexual behaviour to the world. Only they know their reasons for this. We cannot assume that everyone who does so is doing it for good reasons. We cannot assume that every gay person who 'comes out' has pure motives.
They may do so because they cannot withstand the pressure of those others who have come out and who want them to join the group to 'support the cause'. They may do so because they are insecure about their sexuality and want to hear lots of affirmative responses about being gay as a result of their disclosure. If they are a celebrity they may need to keep their name in the spotlight for financial or egotistical reasons.
Similarly we cannot assume that every homosexual person who chooses not to come out is in fact hiding and lacking in freedom. Many have congratulated Ian Thorpe on achieving his 'freedom'. The corollary is that all those who have not come out are somehow enslaved and victims of society's oppression and discrimination of homosexual people. They may simply be keeping their private lives private.
One of the accolades heaped upon high profile people who disclose their sexuality is that they become role models for young people. This sends a message to young people which says that they are brave if they come out and cowardly if they do not. Perhaps it is those who do not succumb to peer pressure or insecurity about their sexuality or their need for fame and fortune that really are the strong ones. Many young people become confused and even depressed about their sexuality and in the case of homosexual people there is the added pressure to expose a part of their life which they have every right to keep to themselves. It is not the issue of sex which creates their problem but the issue of standing firm in the face of peer pressure – a problem which probably permeates other areas of their life as well.
Ian Thorpe may well have good reasons for declaring his homosexuality to a national TV audience. Perhaps he even believes it will make life better for homosexual people but that is his particular belief. He has every right to act upon that belief but other high profile sportsmen may believe that a person's sexual life should remain private unless there is some compelling reason to expose it. Each will act accordingly but it is misleading and manipulative to suggest one choice of action is brave whilst the other is weak. They are just different approaches based on different opinions and until one opinion can be unequivocally proven to be the right one it is wrong to appeal to the emotions of the public by declaring one as brave.
Such appeals based on emotion are the province of those who are insecure in their own actions. Many of those who resort to this response are not at peace with their own 'coming out' or even their own sexuality. If they want society to change its attitude to homosexuality then they need to present viable arguments why it should do so. Society should only ever change its ways because it is reasonable and logical to do so and not because it has been emotionally manipulated into it.
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