Olympic Figure Skating Analysis
He's here, he's Weir
By Dan Wetzel
, Yahoo! Sports | February 16, 2006
– Ah, let's see, how should I phrase this one without getting into trouble?
OK … so, if there was, per chance, the need for a closet to be involved in Johnny Weir
's personal life (hypothetically speaking, of course, although, judging by 99 percent of the American public's perception of him there would not be said need) don't you think it is rather remarkable that he has never come out of it?
If, of course, there even is a closet. Oh, and, for the record, not that there is anything wrong with that. Or anything else. But, well, ah, let's just say …
"If Johnny Weir isn't gay, then I'm not gay," said Jim Buzinski, founder of outsports.com, a gay sports web site, on Thursday.
Thank you, Jim, for bailing me out here. (For the record, Jim is gay.)
Johnny Weir has rocketed to become the most popular and talked-about male figure skater in years. And it is not just because of his skating – which, unfortunately, he didn't display in a poor performance here Thursday where he finished fifth.
He's a national phenomenon because of his flamboyant ways, even if he isn't officially gay. Few people seem to care what he really is; they just like the showmanship that makes Elton John look straight.
It's the dandy outfits. It's the rhinestones. It's the Louis Vuitton bags. It is the prancing ways. It's the fact he describes himself as "princessy," says things such as "I felt like the prettiest flower at the pond" and wears a single red glove.
"I call my glove 'Camille,' " he said at the national championships. "Two Ls."
Know any straight men who would say that? How about admitting Christina Aguilera is their idol? I am less convinced Wilt Chamberlain was straight than I am that Johnny Weir is not.
"NBC's segment was titled, 'He's Here, He's Weir," noted Buzinski, a pun off the "we're here, we're queer" gay rights slogan. "Wonder what they were trying to say?"
Buzinski notes that you'd have to have the worst "gaydar" on earth not to sniff this one out. The beauty of it all is that the lack of subtlety is why he so popular.
"He's hysterical," said Buzinski, whose website has been overrun with Weir talk. "He's so out there. Gay people love the guy the way they always love divas."
Straight people do too. I (since we are discussing it) am heterosexual, but feel quite comfortable saying I love the guy. He's colorful, fun, entertaining. We need more characters like him in sports.
"Tony Kornheiser, who is the least gay human being on the planet, loves the guy for who he is," said Buzinski.
But, why, then is Johnny Weir not officially gay? He's declined to answer the question, even on his personal website
"I don't feel the need to express my sexual being because it's not part of my sport and it's private," Weir writes. "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 its cover, ever. I am who I am, and I don't need to justify anything to anyone."
This would be a reasonable explanation, except on every other subject Weir is like a 13-year-old girl at a slumber party – no secrets. He talks about everything. He says anything. He seems to relish it.
"He can't [come out] because he will deal with repercussions from judges," claims Jon Jackson, a former skater and Olympic-qualified judge, who is the author of the book "On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels and How Top Skaters Get Screwed."
"I've seen it," Jackson said Thursday, "And it goes beyond (prejudice) from straight judges. (It includes) gay male judges who have their own sexual identity threatened if a gay skater does something feminine."
Jackson, who again for the record, is also gay, says the figure skating establishment in the U.S. encourages skaters to stay in the closet by making it known they want their athletes to be straight because it believes that is what the public wants.
He estimates that 30 to 40 percent of elite male American skaters are gay. But in what Buzinski calls "the gayest sport," there hasn't been an openly gay American skater since Rudy Galindo came out in 1996.
"It is U.S. Figure Skating's mindset that it is not good for skating," said Jackson. "It is what Tonya Harding dealt with. If you are not a perfect lady, it hurts figure skating's image. If you are not perfectly manly, it hurts figure skating's image. But if there was ever a sport [where] it wouldn't matter, it is this one."
U.S. Figure Skating denies those accusations.
"We are not commenting on the book because it so baseless," said Lindsay DeWall, spokesperson for the organization. "I don't think [sexual orientation] is any of our business. A skater is free to be whoever they want to be publicly and privately."
This brings us back to Weir, who despite missing out on a medal, will return to the States as one of the Olympics' most popular and publicized athletes. He is a hero to the gay community – "We love him," said Buzinski. He is popular in much of the straight one, too.
He seems like a natural for Leno, Letterman and who knows what else. He may not get mainstream endorsement deals, but he isn't likely to fade away. Besides, he is only 21 and promises to be back for the next Olympics.
By then, perhaps, we will have gotten to the point where closets, if there are any, no longer matter. Although, judging by the Weir phenomenon, I think mainstream America is closer than ever.
Either way, here's hoping Johnny Weir, whatever he is, hasn't changed one single bit.