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Out? In? Or Past All That? Johnny Weir's Fancy-Free Skate
Let him prance around in whatever he likes, practice triple axels on roller skates in the driveway, and marvel at his tastes and abilities. Tell him it doesn't matter what the kids at school say. Tell him he can do whatever he sets his mind to. Teach him about honesty and self-criticism. Let him find himself. He might possibly grow up and reward you, not only with infinite gratitude, but with the sort of success that comes from sheer force of will: an Olympic medal, someday, or some cute thing he bought from Fendi in duplicate -- one for you, and one for him.
These are all things Weir's mother, the equally outspoken Patti, did.
She raised a kid who would grow up to nickname himself "J. We" and "Tinkerbelle" and tell Sports Illustrated that his only other ambitions right now are to own an apartment in either Chelsea or Soho and start his own fashion line. At home, in Quarryville, Pa., bullies at the rink would shoot hockey pucks at Johnny while he practiced, Patti Weir told the New York Times. "I raised him to speak his mind, even if it's about me," she said.
Weir has done what so many oddballs, gay or straight, raised by understanding mamas and papas in the sticks, have done -- he became a cultural omnivore. He loves hotels, he loves high fashion, he loves being in the world as opposed to shutting himself off. He's learning Russian. He names his costumes. He is complicated, self-aware to a maximum degree, and he loathes being misunderstood.
Among those who've really examined and thought about the inherent psychological battlefield of figure skating (Is it sport or art? Farce or glory?), there is a tacit understanding that no amount of practice and perfectionist tendencies can cure the neurosis of self-deprecation. Even though skating has been called the gayest sport, it sure doesn't want to be thought of that way.
"There are some moves such as laybacks and spirals, that are more frequently done by women and considered effeminate on men," writes Lorrie Kim on Outsports.com, which covers gay athletes. "Obviously, skaters like to include their strongest moves in their programs, but a male skater who is strong in these moves knows that to perform them is to risk prejudice."
Jon Jackson, a skating judge and author of the recent tell-all "On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed," told Outsports: "They really feel that they have to present themselves as a 'passable' masculine skater. They don't want to be the skater that hurts figure skating's image and TV contracts.
"Until you're fully comfortable with who you are and have complete confidence in yourself, you can't express yourself on the ice," said Jackson, who is openly gay. "This holds them back."
To watch Johnny Weir this week was to believe the problem had been licked.
NBC worked very hard to make sure we in the mainstream got the message anyhow, in its highly stylized mini-biography of Weir, which aired just before he skated so beautifully Tuesday and came in second to his idol Evgeni Plushenko.
"Most of all, [Weir is] a man comfortable with himself," the narrator explained. Then came what seemed to be a staggering quantity of little clues. (Which were helpfully illuminated the next day in online gossip chat and deconstructions. "Seriously, you can't help but love the crap out of Johnny Weir," swooned Gawker.com. "Unless, of course, you're completely homophobic.")
"I've been raised to be outspoken, to have my own thoughts," Weir said, as the camera slowly caressed his lithe body and alabaster face. He was sprawled on a couch, Calvin Klein Obsession-style (though fully clothed). "I know that a lot of people, especially the more Republican-style people are very afraid of what I mean to the sport and what I'm going to say, what kind of revolutionary crazy things are going to come out of my mouth. And you know, good for them. They should be scared. I'm a real person. I do real things."
The real thing he was seen doing next was driving in his car, listening to Christina Aguilera on the radio. The message rings clear:
Mamas, let your babies grow up to be figure skaters.