Words: Alastair James; pictures: Ben Owens
Canadian Olympic swimmer Markus Thormeyer says he's "lost friends" over a rise in transphobia in the world of swimming.
Inspired to compete in the Olympics after watching London 2012, the 24-year-old got there in less than four years, making his debut in Rio in 2016. After competing again in Tokyo last year, he is beginning to look ahead to the Paris Games in 2024.
Appearing in Attitude's new-look March/April issue - out now - Markus discusses being an LGBTQ athlete as well as lingering homophobia and transphobia in sport.
On the "super cool experience of representing the LGBTQ community at the Olympics Markus says: "You go to the Olympics to represent your country, but it’s also like there’s an LGBTQ country I’m representing.
"I was getting DMs from people in different countries thanking me. Sport brings people together and seeing it bring the LGBTQ community together makes me happy."
Growing up, Markus would often Google 'gay athlete' and sadly not a lot would appear. After coming out in 2016 he discovered that a lot of athletes would come out after they'd retired referencing Canadian swimmer, Mark Tewksbury.
"Those athletes paved the way so I could come out during my career. I appreciate the groundwork that was laid before me, and I hope I can lay some for others," he tells Attitude.
US college swimmer Lia Thomas has been a source of controversy of late after her success swimming in the Ivy League championships for the University of Pennsylvania, with some (notably conservative voices) questioning the fairness of a trans woman competing against other women.
Thomas has broken several records, which has irked many. Many, however, are supporting Thomas and her ability to compete.
Markus reveals that until recently he thought swimming was a very inclusive sport. But a rise in transphobia, which seemingly appeared out of nowhere, changed that perspective.
"I don’t know where it came from... I feel like I turned on my phone one day and people were saying trans people shouldn’t be allowed to compete. I’ve lost friends over opinions I didn’t know they had," Markus laments.
"It sucks that I can come out as a gay man and trans people are being neglected. I don’t know why some people can only accept certain parts of the LGBTQ community as we’re an entire community. I see how far we’ve come, and I’m grateful, but we still have so much further to go."
Markus has also experienced homophobia himself but it doesn't appear to have fazed him much saying people's opinions "doesn’t really do anything to me," and that people's comments "just go over my head."
He adds: "It just doesn’t make sense. Talk about your own life!"
With this in mind, what advice does Markus have for someone about coming out?
"My general advice would be: coming out is a huge step. It’s scary, but it’s worth it to embrace yourself for who you are. But there’s no clock on it. If you’re not ready, don’t force yourself.
"When I came out, the brain fog cleared, and I was like a new person. I felt happier and more content with myself. And that was reflected in my personal life, my relationships, in my performance — even in university.
"Everyone’s on their own journey and coming out is a very individual thing. So, work towards it, but don’t rush it."
Read the full interview in Attitude's new-look March/April issue, which is out now.