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Ian Thorpe: 'I'm not straight'

Channel Ten's airing of Ian Thorpe's interview with Sir Michael Parkinson ended years of speculation about the swimmer's sexuality.

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Coming out – like breaking up – is hard to do.*

Ian Thorpe's sexuality has been the target of speculation and nasty innuendo for as long as I can remember. Now, after years of denials in interviews, an autobiography, a public struggle with mental health issues and the all-round weirdness of Undercover Angels, it seems "Thorpey" is prepared to come out to the world.

"No one knows how difficult it's been for Ian Thorpe to come out as gay other than Ian Thorpe."

"No one knows how difficult it's been for Ian Thorpe to come out as gay other than Ian Thorpe." Photo: Getty Images

Firstly – hurrah! Congratulations, Ian, I'm stoked for you. I'm stoked for anyone who is able to fend their way through the sticky cobweb of sexual identity and arrive at a happy, healthy place where they can be proud of who they are.

Telling my parents was difficult enough; I can't imagine what it'd be like to be in the media spotlight since the age of 14, being subjected to public rumours and denials and jokes for years, and then decide to go on national television. To tell Parky.

(I hope he hugged you afterwards like my mum and dad did.)

Everyone's coming out story is different and awkward in its own way. Like Thorpe, I yelled my fair share of lies through the closet door. For me it was mostly to avoid embarrassment – for others it's to avoid being kicked out of home or being fired or even being physically attacked.  

No one knows how difficult it’s been for Thorpe to come out as gay other than Ian Thorpe. He should be sent nothing but love and support and hopefully the telling of his story on Sunday night will help give mainstream Australia an insight into the struggles the GLBTIQ community still faces.

For those who've heard this news and shrug and casually asks "who cares?", I'd simply answer "15-year-old closeted me". Scared, little, questioning Tom Ballard would have cared a lot if nine years ago he'd seen swimming champion and national treasure Ian Thorpe on the news, proudly identifying as a successful sportsman and a bloke who liked blokes.

And I'm sure there will be thousands of questioning kids tuning in to the interview who will care just as much and who might find themselves a new gay role model.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that Thorpey didn't feel he could do this years ago. I'm disappointed that in 2012 he felt he could write an autobiography that was brutally honest about his suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse yet blatantly untruthful when it came to his sexuality.

It's hard to blame him while homophobia is still rife in the sporting world. The same night the Thorpe news leaked, AFL commentator Brian Taylor casually described a player as "a big poofter", so…yeah.

I'm even more disappointed there are people who take fake girlfriends to the Logies or who stay closeted so as to not to lose sponsors or radio listeners.

Nobody likes lying, but it's not just about that. I don't think queer people in the public eye have a "responsibility" to come out as Thorpe has done, but I think they have an opportunity – an opportunity to use their profiles to make things better for their fellow rainbow humans.

Now the gay cat is out of the gay bag, I hope the Thorpedo is prepared to grab that opportunity with both of his gigantic hands. 

*If, like me, you’re a young man who enjoys the sweet, adult contemporary sounds of Neil Sedaka, I hope you find the courage to come out soon.

Tom Ballard is a comedian and host of ABC TV's forthcoming panel show Reality Check.