A love letter to our favorite American Olympic figure skater, who's been glitter-bombing his queer brand of wit and wisdom all over Pyeongchang.
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“Adam Rippon is the first out gay American Olympic ice skater” should no longer be a shocking or controversial sentence. It is 2018, marriage equality has been a federal right since 2015, and even in these hate-spewing times, most Americans still support LGBT rights.
That does not diminish the importance of America being represented in Pyeongchang by Olympic champion Adam Rippon. Like his predecessor Johnny Weir, who was in the glass closet during the apex of his career, Adam Rippon is unabashedly queer. He does not hide under a pretext of “being a regular guy.” He’s a figure skater. He’s wearing Swarovski-covered costumes. He plucks his eyebrows. He proudly swishes, he sashays and shantays. He’s fierce. And with this virulently bigoted, homophobic administration—especially a vice president who has supported the use of federal funds for gay conversion therapy, and amid a terrifyingly and increasingly emboldened bigoted voting bloc, Adam Rippon is the gay superhero America needs right now.
Adam Rippon’s importance is not just limited to the words he speaks or tweets. He puts queerness front and center. He does not temper his behavior in front of the relatives. He does not care what you think. Adam Rippon’s queerness is loud, brash, and necessary. His queerness is not content with merely holding hands in public; it is full-on French kissing with its boyfriend in a Tom of Finland leather outfit at the San Francisco Castro Street parade.
LGBT people have traditionally capitulated to middle-American bigots’ comfort levels, representing themselves as straight-accessible, but Adam Rippon’s queerness is pointedly in your face. He tweets savage lines like: “While you were busy being heterosexual, I studied the blade.” He doesn’t stay quiet while his homophobic uncle rants at the dinner table—he fights back. We’ve seen this as Adam Rippon proudly uses his international platform to call out Mike Pence’s homophobia—and publicly refuses Pence’s invitations to meet with him.
Rippon brings the cattiness, the attitude, the fierceness typically confined to RuPaul’s Drag Race, gay clubs, and gay best friends across America, live to millions of people’s living rooms.
With Weir serving up commentary to prime-time viewers while wearing his outlandish Hunger Games–inspired outfits, and Rippon on the ice, swanning and swirling and twirling, so far, the 2018 Winter Olympics is the gayest television event I’ve watched in my lifetime. It is nothing short of revolutionary to have an out gay man dressed in glittering, sparkling outfits commenting on an out gay man skating masterfully in glittering, sparkling outfits.
Adam Rippon is important because Adam Rippon is a celebration of male beauty, and not just the macho kind with six-pack abs, hard bodies, and masculine haircuts. He is a celebration of male femininity, of gender role upheavals. Adam Rippon’s beauty tells you: Yes, you can be a man, you can be strong, you can be powerful, you can have an amazing ass, and you can be pretty and elegant and graceful. And queer.
Adam Rippon’s stardom shifts the male gaze from the woman to the man. We can all be bisexual watching Adam Rippon skate. Straight men and women can look at him and appreciate his grace and beauty, his eyebrows, his power, his regal posture, his butt. We can objectify him—but he is ultimately in control. He has invited us to look at him, to see him, to know him for who he really is.
To the bigots and homophobes still wanting him to stay quiet and “do his job” or saying they “hope he fails,” Adam Rippon sees your bigotry. And he doesn’t cower. Instead, he takes a cue from This Is Spinal Tap, and cranks his queer meter to 11. He is a “glamazon bitch ready for the runway.” He asks for Xanax and a drink and gives a shout out to Reese Witherspoon on television, and brags about his own physique on Twitter: “I HAVE A UNIFORM AND ITS MESH SO EVERYONE CAN SEE MY HOT BOD AND THERE ARE NO QUESTIONS TO MY ATHLETIC PROWESS.”
He talks about gay hook-up app Grindr, he contours his face with makeup, and tweets about the shirtless, oiled Tongan Olympian (“OUR GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD”). He sings a Rihanna song and then skates to it. He calls his routine a “trashy dance club” number, because in his gay, gay world, trashy” is fun and fun is good. He jokes about being a member of the gay mafia, admits to bleaching his teeth, and poses with drag queens on the rink. He brings “receipts,” a phrase now quoted in American newspapers in response to Mike Pence’s claim that Rippon was spouting “fake news” regarding the vice-president’s well-documented homophobic record.
Every time Adam Rippon throws shade at his detractors, he doesn’t just bring queerness to the world at large, but upends every norm that has been part of the staid, hypocritical, and homophobic figure-skating community, a sport so prudish, a Canadian pairs couple changed a lift after it was dubbed “too risque.” Though it has all the trappings of a tacky Vegas revue, the figure-skating world regards itself as high art, akin to ballet. Adam Rippon has popped the cork of skating’s shaken-up Champagne bottle and sprayed sparkles and foam all over the ice.
Sports and queerness have always had an uneasy alliance. In macho sports like football, it has a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. There has only been one out active professional NFL player, Michael Sam, and he was cut from the team before the season started. There have been scant few out athletes in the NBA and MLB.
And though figure skating isn’t considered a macho sport, it has been just as bad at keeping its athletes under lock and key. During the height of his career, Weir skated right up to the edge of the closet—he described himself as “princessy,” dubbing his costumes as “a Care Bear on acid,” wearing boas to press conferences—without officially leaving it. The 2014 Winter Olympics were held in a country that had just ratcheted it up its already vicious anti-gay laws, and as a result pushed many of the athletes to speak out … but later. Weir, though long out of the spotlight, attempted to gain a spot on the team, simply so he could use his platform, carving a path for Rippon today.
There are now other out gay Olympic figure skaters, like Canadian gold medalist Eric Radford, and undoubtedly there were many (closeted) before him, including Brian Boitano, but to watch figure skating is to believe that all these elegant skating men are straight, all those dancer partners, heterosexual men who happen to possess exceptional grace. Adam Rippon tears that heterosexist veneer from the ice, and shows you how much of what we see is built on a lie.
Here is a truth: Adam Rippon’s free skate on Sunday during the team competition was one of the most beautiful figure-skating routines I–and many others—have ever witnessed. As he careened from one end of the rink to the other, gliding and spinning and jumping, I was moved by his near-perfect performance. He didn’t score the highest because he left out his biggest jumps, but it didn’t matter: The world was watching a gay man live his best life and celebrating him. And that is absolutely fabulous.
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