Essay

Out? In? Or Past All That? Johnny Weir's Fancy-Free Skate

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2006

A figure skating fan from Moscow, writing in to Johnny Weir's Web site, asked ever so delicately the one question sportswriters and the figure skating community have mutually skirted every four years for decades now -- a question put more bluntly in an early-'80s new wave hit written before Weir was even born:

Johnny, are you queer?

"People talk," Weir answered. "Figure skating is thought of as a female sport, something that only girly men compete in. I don't feel the need to express my sexual being because it's not part of my sport and it's private. I can sleep with whomever I choose and it doesn't affect what I'm doing on the ice, so speculation is speculation. I like nice things, and beautiful things, so if that is the only way people are determining that I swing one way or the other, then to me, that's sad. You can't judge a book by it's cover, ever. . . . I am who I am, and I don't need to justify anything to anyone."

In last night's long form program at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Weir placed fifth, failing to win a medal. Things had looked so much better Tuesday, when Weir confidently skated the short program to a second-place standing. Something happened; the psychological monster that occasionally ruins all routines got loose, and Weir kept making mistakes. I am who I am. The sureness that oozed from him seemed to vanish, and the 21-year-old stomped out of the rink.

"I never felt comfortable in this building," he told reporters. "I didn't feel my inner peace. I didn't feel my aura. Inside I was black." A diva after all.

And, oh, the mouth on him -- such anathema to the clinched, Boitano-esque platitudes of what must be one of the most neurotic sports (if not the most) in Winter Olympicdom: There was the time he called a competitor's routine a "shot-of-vodka, snort-of-coke" performance, which went down in his permanent record with officials. (Tut-tut.) Or when he said his mother was "probably getting drunk right now" after he won a spot at the U.S. Olympic team.

He grouses, he self-deprecates, he effuses, he blogs: After a news conference at the national championships in January, he wrote: "I still think it's crazy that I get a press conference, and I like to perform for the media just as I would for an audience. I don't put on a happy face . . . I can just chill with the press and be myself. The next morning the papers came out and all of a sudden I was causing a stir because . . . I was wearing a chinchilla scarf that someone thought was a boa.

"First of all, boas are so out. Secondly, I would never wear a boa to a press conference."

But still this is not a man who will say whether he is gay.

One of the privileges of modern celebrityhood is a comfort zone between fabulousness and outness, and it is here that athletes, pop stars and actors who seem as if they might be the slightest bit gay go to live.

The safest refuge is to equate being gay with a set of sex acts only and not address it as part of an identity. Whether Weir is gay or not has little to do with his skating, at least on the surface of things. There's some common sense behind the argument -- that the world doesn't need to know he's gay, and need not ask, either. When you were 21, you probably didn't want to tell the press all about your sex life. (Forget for a moment all the straight and gay 21-year-olds telling the world plenty about their sex lives, usually on their blogs or MySpace.com profiles.)

Advocacy groups such as Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays must be dying to get to know Johnny, if he's actually gay. And if he's not, what an ally he'd be anyhow, for here is a fine example of what to do with your fey little boy, whom you love so much: Adore him.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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