An interesting phenomenon has played out as the Pyeongchang Olympics have unfolded. Gus Kenworthy, a freestyle skier who came out after the Sochi Olympics, has become a social media darling and figure skater Adam Rippon an insta-celebrity with his dazzling skating and deliciously odd interviews with NBC’s Andrea Joyce.
Then there’s Johnny Weir, also a strong gay presence at these games for his figure skating voiceover commentary with fellow former Olympian Tara Lipinski. He’s been on the receiving end of heavy gay scorn for his over-the-top makeup, hairstyles and wardrobe. It’s no coincidence that of the three, Weir is by far highest on the flame-o-meter and has also gotten the most hate. Why are we so quick to eat our gender-bending own? Where does this hatred come from?
The mainstream coverage of Weir this cycle has been largely positive. The Chicago Tribune called him one of the “winners” of the Pyeonchang Games and demoted commentator Scott Hamilton praised Weir and Lipinski in a New York Times interview. Weir’s highly informed, evocative descriptions of the skating — he said Yuzuru Hanyu’s gold-nabbing performance is “what angel’s breath looks like” and said Javier Fernandez is “giving us ‘Man of La Mancha’ realness” — has drawn praise. The Lipinski/Weir pairing has been so popular that NBC also used them for the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, the Kentucky Derby and the National Dog Show. They’ve been praised for their chemistry and ability to reach a younger demographic.
But in the far bitchier world of gay social media, Weir has elicited a curious scorn.
“Johnny Weird” (So clever!)
“Tara & Johnny — no chemistry”
“He spends more time on his hair and makeup than Tara.”
“Somebody at the network should have said, ‘Uhhh — no.’”
“Who wore it better” with a Weir screen grab next to Joan Crawford circa “I Saw What You Did.”
“Why couldn’t they have gotten somebody who actually won to call the Olympics?”
What alarms me about the Johnny hate is three-fold. One, it shows that even in the LGBT world, we’re way more comfortable with binary than we are with anything close to genderfuck. Put a drag queen on, nobody bats an eye. Put a straight-acting hottie on like Kenworthy, we lap it up. Yet Johnny makes us squirm. Why?
Two, in a weird sort of way it channels back more viciously the blatant misogyny we see in mainstream culture. The straight, old, white boys’ club hates women just like the cis, white, gay, straight-acting guys hate Johnny who takes such obvious glee in sequins, spangles and glitter.
Third, the curious virulence of it — it’s a lot more than just “he’s not my cup of tea” — is alarming for the same reason closet cases are often the biggest gay bashers: It says more about the haters than the hated.
So what if Johnny is genderqueer? So what if he spends more time on hair and makeup than Tara? So what if he wants to wear necklaces and teased coiffeurs? (Kudos to NBC for letting Johnny be Johnny, by the way.)
Johnny’s sartorial choices hit a nerve because I like a lot of the same stuff. And yeah, I know all the tropes — “sometimes less is more,” “a little bling goes a long way,” “genderbending is fine but let’s not throw taste entirely out the window either.” These are all valid points, but we need Johnny the way we needed the glorious faggotry of yore, whether it was allowed to be out at the time or not (e.g. Liberace, Freddie Mercury, on and on).
Go Johnny go. The world would be an awfully boring place if we all played by the rules.