Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, Mark Tewksbury
Synopsis: In public, Mark Tewksbury has always credited the 1976 Olympics as a major inspiration for his becoming an Olympic champion swimmer, but in fact, it was wearing a towel-turban in imitation of his grandmother and swimming in her condo pool that first sparked his love of swimming. Intimate and endearing details such as these are what provide Tewksbury’s story with relevance beyond the famous-athlete-fights-and-overcomes-his-personal-demons story. Granted, Tewksbury covers all the usual challenges faced by performance athletes-the sacrifices, the post-Olympic depression, the intense glare of the media spotlight-but it is his private sojourn as a gay man, from coming out of the closet to visiting his first gay bar (“it was like being in another world with fashionably dressed people drinking cocktails from martini glasses”) to entering his first sexual relationship (an ongoing, three-way relationship with a male couple) that will resonate with the reader. Despite the “Gay Jock” subtitle, the book is accessible; Tewksbury comes with all the tics and quirks of your everyday gay man wrestling with his sexuality, and later, with the complexities of finding a partner and dating. A thoughtful, moving narrative that inspires as much as it entertains.
*Available in e-book format
Review by Gerry Burnie
I doubt there is a gay person out there who can not relate to Mark Tewksbury’s autobiography, “Inside out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock” [Wiley, 1 edition, 2007]. That is, until he was propelled into international prominence with his 1992, Olympic gold medal performance in Barcelona, Spain; one of only seven gold medals awarded to a Canadian that year.
Until then his story is almost pro forma. Included are his family and his generally unhappy childhood, his early same-sex infatuations, the prevailing fear of exposure—yet being centred-out as gay, anyway; proving, I suppose, that the ‘closet’ has see-through walls at times—and the mindless abuse he suffered on account of it. Through it all, however, his will to achieve never faltered, and it is this that makes his story truly inspirational.
Another inspirational aspect is his steadfast ability to remain true to himself, i.e.
“I gazed around the room slowly. The best swimmers from Russia, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Germany and France were in front of me. And I was different. I was the fag. And in that moment I owned my truth completely. I thought, `If these guys knew how hard it was for me to get here, they wouldn’t believe it. They have no bloody clue what I have been through. Or how strong I am.'”
Having said that, however, the second half of the story is both informative and redundant respecting the International Olympic Committee and its politics; given what was known even at the time when the story was first published in 2007. Likewise, the discord with the Gay Olympics, GayGames & OutGames came as no surprise. Sexual orientation does not preclude ideological differences, personal agendas, pecuniary influence, and rabid infighting. In this respect it conforms quite congruently with the wider community.
Albeit, that is the reality of Mark Tewksbury’s experience, and for his part he can only be faulted for trying to crowd all of this into one story. Nonetheless, I can enthusiastically recommend this story as an inspiration for aspiring, gay athletes, and a challenge to similarly oriented, marquee athletes to do the same. Four and one half stars.
See the story behind the story of my in-progress novel, The Brit, Kid Cupid, and Petunias