In the flush and fury of Adam Rippon’s explosive breakout post-Olympics in the last month, it is only inevitable that he would be swiftly elevated by many to near godlike status within the LGBT world. Such was the case with the commentary in your last week’s edition, “The Case for Adam Rippon as Our Highest Ranking Gay” by Brock Thompson, proposing that he be coronated as the new role model, or poster boy, for the LGBTQ community and the movement.
I have absolutely nothing against Adam. In fact, I like him, too. Who wouldn’t? I’ve watched him perform for years on the ice, including through the many painful years for him when he had to publicly deny his sexual orientation while sporting long curly locks, a high-pitched voice, some subtle mannerisms and boyish good looks. Anybody whose gaydar wasn’t completely disabled had to have had some sense of what he had to be going through, and thus celebrate his decision to come roaring out of the closet when he finally did.
We can all affirm, I think, that he became a much happier person and a much better skater when he did. On top of that, how much better to find that he has a sparkly, spunky personality to go along with his obvious intelligence and powers of verbal articulation, helping him to do very well on the TV talk show circuit thus far.
But is he our cause’s new “champion,” our “highest ranking gay (American male),” as Thompson proposed last week? Of course, such claims that have fueled the recent media hype around a rumored jealousy thing pitting fellow figure skater Johnny Weir against Adam. This rumor has made it into the tabloids, and while Adam admits there may be truth to it, Johnny has pretty much limited his comments to a gracious tweet congratulating Adam for his recent fame.
Gossips like nothing more than even a faint wisp of a cat fight among high-profile gays, of course, whether or not there’s any substance to it, but for the sake of our community, how can this do any good whatsoever?
As a figure skating fan for years, I recall when Adam turned 18 in November 2008 and Johnny, by then a three-time U.S. champion and Olympian, sent him a birthday greeting. Adam responded with an expression of appreciation and great admiration for what Johnny had accomplished as his role model.
Even in 2008, times were different. Neither Johnny nor, of course, Adam were “out.” Johnny was subject to a lot pressure on the subject but insisted on his right to be himself on his own terms. Still, when Johnny finally came out via his book after his competition in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, it was still years before Adam did.
Since then, Johnny retired from competition, but has carved a remarkable career as an announcer who, teamed with Tara Lipinski, was universally praised for his work covering this winter’s Olympics in South Korea. He was articulate, expert in his reporting, and his edgy fashion statements were just the icing on his cake.
So, without even considering for this argument Jim Parsons, Don Lemon or Tony Kushner as our American male “champion,” why is not Johnny a better choice?
I have to think it comes down to one commentator’s taste in “good looks,” frankly, and that is a sad criterion. Adam may be the flavor of the week for a lot of ogling men, but that’s pretty shallow and doesn’t do justice to Adam, himself. As far as being an outspoken critic of Vice President Pence, well, he’s recanted on that, telling one talk show host recently that he meant he was just too busy to meet the Veep at the Olympics, but hopes to meet him sometime soon.
In the final analysis, Adam has “branded” himself as a run-of-the-mill horny gay male, with his temporal good looks triggering temporarily a heated reaction. This kind of brand doesn’t lead. On the contrary, it leaves everyone who isn’t good enough to rise to his level in the dust. And that goes for supposed gay leaders who pass age 50 still obsessed with what hours in the gym every day can do for them.
On the other hand, Johnny Weir’s “brand” has always been a celebration of his, if you will, weirdness. Whether it has been his costumes or saucy demeanor, his red glove, “Camille,” on the ice or other gestures, he’s always had in mind standing on behalf of all children who see themselves as “different,” often saying as much. He leads because he brings everyone with him.
Johnny was the subject of death threats at the 2006 Olympics because that’s how things were then when he was “out there” for us all, all by himself.
Now, he’s a man with an incredibly accomplished career despite the odds, and I can only say if there’s a champion to be crowned, it’s him. Adam should be so lucky to follow in his footsteps down the road.
Nicholas Benton is a resident of Falls Church, Va. Reach him at email@example.com.