JOHNNY, BE BAD! (We Like You Better That Way!)
The Wild, Wild World of Johnny Weir
Even when he was very young skater in training, Johnny Weir still found time to be a rebel… but in his own way. “I didn‘t experiment with drugs but rather my identity. My new favorite catchphrase was ‘Fabulous!’ and absolutely everyone in the world became ‘honey’ as I became freer with my personality.”, he declares in the fourth chapter (appropriately entitled “Enfant Terrible”) of his new book, “Welcome to My World” (Gallery Press, 263 pages).
Twenty-six year old figure skater Johnny Weir shouldn’t have to prove himself as an uber-athlete. He is a 2001 World Junior Champion, three-time U.S. National Champion, 2008 World Bronze medalist, and two-time Grand Prix Final Bronze medalist. However, it’s a low down dirty shame that even in 2011, we can’t seem to get over the titillating question of “Is he or isn’t he?“ with our celebrities. You know what I mean. When a star crosses over into the voyeuristic world of pop culture, like our Johnny, we often neglect to recognize the sheer discipline and moxie (not to mention talent) that it takes for an athlete to rise to national prominence in the first place. We sadly prefer to concentrate on their personal lives. The self-styled, self-proclaimed diva (and occasionally self-described “bitch“!) addresses the “gay” issue head on in “Welcome to My World“ (In Chapter 6, he reminisces, “I had never felt anything even close to love at first sight since watching Richard Gere in ‘Pretty Woman‘ at the tender age of six.”) However, he definitely does NOT make his sexuality the focus. It’s more of a “Whatever…” kind of attitude… and, in fact, it seems that the problem was not so much Weir’s sexual preference but rather his struggle to maintain his fierce sense of independence and individuality in the still-conservative world of professional sports. Yes, that means figure skating too. Weir admirably, however, brings up some decades-old debates: Should a high-profile personality and feel “obligated” to come out? Another issue which will surely fascinate readers (who are unfamiliar with the Weir-described “incestuous” world of figure skating) is how even in what many regard as “the gayest sport in the universe“, there was an undercurrent of conservatism: Weir tells us, “Female or male, skaters are supposed to represent a sanitized ideal, like a figurine atop a child’s birthday cake. The result is that homosexual skaters are terrified of announcing or showing any signs of their sexual orientation since the judges, many of whom are gay themselves, will hold it against them… One had to act like a man. On skates and in sparkles”. Later on, Johnny recalls how Mark Lund, the openly gay founder of “International Figure Skating” magazine, criticized Weir on TV for his gender-bending performance of “The Swan”, opining, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think he’s a representative of the community I want to be a part of… And who designs these outfits?“ Meow! He lavishly praised the more “masculine” skater Evan Lysacek (the subject, incidentally, of a gay rumor or two himself).
Johnny’s book is a memoir of his childhood to the present day. It was a so-called “very weird childhood“, Johnny tells us, but one that was refreshingly free from conflict or drama. (He is still close with his parents.) Weir made an early choice to concentrate on skating over riding horses. It wasn’t a slow, steady rise to representing the U.S. at the Winter Olympics, however. It was more of a zigzag, with ecstatic rises and (literally) crippling falls. It was hours, days, weeks, and years of training, and moving, and changing coaches… while enjoying an occasional tomato for dinner. This was all happening during Weir’s early 20’s, when the star also had to concurrently compete with the usual growing pains, peppered with being heckled for being “different” as a teenager and young adult. Along the way, we learn some interesting things about Johnny: He has had a lifelong affinity for Russian culture, even teaching himself the language. He boasts rock star status in Japan. And a big boost to Weir’s visibility and popularity came thanks to, of all people, Perez Hilton. Perez heavily hyped a YouTube video which showcased Johnny at one of his best moments: a collaboration with two other skaters called The Marshalls Showcase. Along the way to success, Johnny faced the unique challenge of trying to maintain his individually, dating all the way back to childhood (At age seven, he defied convention by putting streamers on the handlebars of his bike, usually territory reserved for girls.). Later on, nboth U.S. skating officials and the the media were “:shocked” at both his androgynous appearance and his renegade sense of style. In one chapter, he reveals how his costume and Christina Aguliera-inspired hair (called “disrespectful” by one official) were criticized. In retrospect, the thought of all those uptight culture vultures searching Thesaurus.com for new words for “flamboyant” must make Johnny happy…)
Now out of the closet, the media can stop the tired question of– to borrow from a campy hit 1982 song by Josie Cotton– “Johnny, Are You Queer?” A far more interesting question would be: How can the colorful media prince balance being a skating prodigy and being a rising fashion icon and New York City full-time socialite? A socialite, incidentally, who is currently working overtime. Weir tells the stories about sitting next to Lady Gaga’s mom during a Gaga concert, and hanging out with his icon, Sarah Jessica Parker at the “Sex and the City 2” premiere. It can’t be easy to hit the ice for practice at 5AM after being up till last call at a club in NYC‘s meatpacking district. With the shelf life of a figure skater being cruelly short (He declared in his book that he had a “career crisis” at age 15 and felt, at the ripe old age of 21, that he might be all washed up.), Johnny is facing an exciting yet somewhat uncertain future. Will skating be part of it? He had already declined to participate in the 2010/2011 season. But, lest we forget, Weir is only 26 years old and has enough creative energy to reinvent himself again and again: whether it be as a fashion designer, a singer (His song “Dirty Love” reached #1 in Japan.), or the creator and performer in a big, splashy Cirque de Soleil-style show. Put another way, anything where Johnny can just be Johnny… which is the role that he plays best. In “Welcome to my World”, Johnny Weir does tell his own story, and his writing is often as colorful and self-indulgent as his fashion sense. But even as he gets pretty personal (He speaks about his first love, and even the loss of his virginity in a chapter called “Razzle Dazzle“), there remains an aura of mystery about him. Which is how I’ve always preferred my celebrities!