*Taylor Lianne Chandler recently came out as having been born intersex and as Michael Phelps’ girlfriend. And while neither of these statements by itself is particularly interesting, together they become gossip fodder.
The fact that it becomes a story when a decorated Olympian (allegedly) has a girlfriend who doesn’t fall neatly into one of the sex/gender categories society likes to use is a reflection upon society, not Chandler. On the other hand the fact that we know any of this starts with her.
There is something about those in the periphery of celebrity that turns the average person off. Perhaps it’s because we all generally recognize the talent that it takes to become a successful entertainer. And yes athletes are entertainers. But those standing next to the entertainer in the photo ops are not talented. Or at least their talent is not something the public appreciates. The jealousy these people generate is real and makes the public not want to hear from them most of the time. At the very least Chandler fits into this category of people in the public eye because of the person next to them instead of because of their own ability.
This feeling of distaste is magnified if it seems like the person doesn’t really belong. This is where the Phelps-Chandler situation becomes a bit more interesting. Chandler has been speaking as if she is/was Phelps’ girlfriend. But with no confirmation from him (he’s been in rehab for the past few weeks) she has been defending her portrayal of their relationship. Putting personal information into the public sphere is hardly ever a good idea. And any goodness is dramatically decreased when it seems like a ploy to boost one’s profile. The fact that Chandler has felt the need to defend the idea that she and Phelps are/were dating is evidence of the public’s (understandable) dislike of her modus operandi.
The twist comes in that Chandler also announced her reality as an intersex person. Although our society has made strides regarding homosexual Americans, there is probably still a hump we need to get over regarding intersex folks. This discomfort could end up making Chandler a victim of prejudice as the story plays out. This would be unfortunate for two reasons: first, no one should be subject to bias based on their personal biology; second, there is a perfectly good reason to dislike Chandler – going back to her handling of her (alleged) relationship with Phelps.
If Chandler is believed then she let Phelps know about her biological reality prior to letting the rest of the world know. And this is a good thing. At some point in a relationship people generally start revealing intimate details about themselves to their potential partner. That would include things like “I had surgery” or “I can’t have children,” things that might make Phelps seek out a different companion. That isn’t bias, that’s incompatibility. Dating is a contact sport and sometimes you’re going to get hurt.
Telling the rest of the world that you let your (alleged) boyfriend know about your biological reality is not part of the standard dating procedure. As much as I would applaud Chandler for telling Phelps, I would jeer her telling everyone else. My negative reaction multiplies if this were part of a plan to curry sympathy from the public in an attempt to guilt Phelps into staying in the relationship.
Being treated like everyone else means being called out for sharing too much information. And I’m sure being treated like everyone else is what Chandler would want.
So keep your business to yourself.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.