OUT ON THE ICE: PART TWO

For decades, skaters have been pushed to play into narrow gender stereotypes on and off the ice, leaving LGBTQ+ athletes feeling like being themselves wasn’t an option –– but not everyone was going to stay silent.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Hey everyone — this is the second episode of a three-part story we’re calling “Out On The Ice.” So, if you haven’t listened from the beginning, go back to part one and start from there.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Previously on Blind Landing…

MARY LOUISE ADAMS: No amazing male athlete ever was really capable of changing the reputation of the sport.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Once figure skating got the feminine label –– of being a, quote, “girls sport” –– there was no going back. For decades, there’s been this stereotype about male figure skaters being gay, but that doesn mean the ice rink has always been a safe space for queer people.

RANDY GARDNER:  I compartmentalized a lot of stuff … and it wasn’t a great thing but I had to do it.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): In part one, we explored how figure skating earned its reputation as a “gay sport” and took you through its most-deeply closeted years, up until the early 90s.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And that …. that’s when the closet doors started to crack open.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): I’m Ari Saperstein

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): and I’m Chris Schleicher

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): And this.. Is Blind Landing.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): “Out On The Ice”: Episode Two

ARCHIVAL AUDIO: 

Welcome to our continuing coverage of the 1996 US Figure Skating Championships.  Later tonight, we’ll have the men’s short program, and that will set the stage for our coverage …

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): The year: 1996. The place: San Jose, California. The event: The US National Figure Skating Championships. And the skater that everyone is talking about, the one who has a shot to win gold, is the last person anyone expected…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

… and in his seven previous appearances here at the nationals, he has never stood on the medal podium. Trying to do that for the first time, from San Jose, here is Rudy Galindo.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So Chris — who was Rudy Galindo, and why was it such a surprise that he was in contention to win the 1996 Nationals?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Back in ‘96, he was just a skater on the outs who had never made the men’s podium at nationals, and had faced setback after setback in his personal life…

RUDY GALINDO: My mom was in and out of the hospital because she was sick with mental issues. My dad was gone … and my second coach Jim Hewlett, and my third coach Rick Inglesi passed away.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): This is Rudy from an interview he did with The Skating Lesson podcast … and as you can hear, leading up to 1996, Rudy had lost two coaches, his dad, and his brother in the span of a few years … and it all coincided with a skating career that was, quite frankly, sputtering to an end. Rudy was 26, which is ancient by figure skating standards. He had never made the men’s podium at Nationals. I mean, in seven appearances at the event, he had placed 8th, 10th, 11th, 8th, 5th, 7th, and 8th. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So basically, it sounds like you would not take the Vegas odds on Rudy Galindo.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): He was a longshot, to put it mildly, and by 1996, Rudy had stopped training, and was ready to retire. He was making ends meet as a skating instructor at the local rink… so as Rudy tells it, it was kind of a fluke he ended up competing that year.

RUDY GALINDO: I was coaching classes, and riding my bike because my car broke down, and I just remember riding back and forth and teaching some of my sister’s kids. …  and I just remember getting off the bike and looking at … they had put up the poster and it said ‘San Jose Nationals.’

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): It just so happened that the 1996 National Championships were being held, for the first time ever, in Rudy’s hometown. 

RUDY GALINDO: … and I thought, Oh, that would be fun for all my friends and my family to actually come and watch me. I had talked to my sister. I’m like, “Should I try to go for that nationals since it’s in our backyard, basically?”

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And with Nationals in his backyard, Rudy figured… what the hell. Why not give it one more go…

RUDY GALINDO:  I just remember training really hard, and just being focused and not having any pressure on me. You know, that was the one thing that was really good for me, was… I didn’t think I could win. My mindset was like, no big deal… 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Rudy Galindo went into the 1996 US Figure Skating Championships with nothing –– and I mean nothing –– to lose…

RUDY GALINDO: I was eighth the year before, and there was no – I wasn’t in the media guide… there was nothing…. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Not in the media guide? What does that mean?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): As in US Figure Skating wasn’t even advertising or promoting Rudy’s presence at the ‘96 nationals, because it seemed so unlikely that he’d medal. And as Rudy’s getting ready for the competition, right before the ‘96 Nationals this book comes out, Inside Edge by Christine Brennan –– and in it, Rudy talks about being gay, not knowing he’d still be competing by the time the book got published. So by skating at the ‘96 Nationals, without planning it or thinking about it, Rudy ends up being the first openly-gay US figure skater. 

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

INTERVIEWER: He is the first US male competitor to come out of the closet. Word is it’s hurt him with the judges, even when he’s skated well… 

Do you feel like your sexual preference was in the back of their minds? 

RUDY GALINDO: Oh definitely. I always felt that there was some discrimination. 

DERRICK DELMORE: He was representing something that was completely different, you know, than anything I had really seen as acceptable skating, you know, male skating in the US. So that was … that was really, really special for me. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): This is Derrick Delmore. Derrick was just a teen, still in the closet, and it was his first time competing at the senior level. And he was taken aback by how good Rudy looked in practice, wondering to himself: Could this guy really win?

DERRICK DELMORE: Well, I had been watching him in practice all week, and he looked like he couldn’t miss. He was, like, so consistent and it looked like he was just loving every minute of being out there.  but… it was like, but what are the judges going to do with this? What are the officials going to do with this? Because— is he going to be rewarded for this, or are they going to give it to someone who fits the mold of what they’ve been preaching to us for all these years?

ARCHIVAL AUDIO: 

Todd Eldridge leads at this point, and Hollander is in second… Rudy Galindo in third coming into the free skate…

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Going into the long program Rudy’s in 3rd, and the last skater to go –– which I can tell you from personal experience, is the worst, most nerve-wracking thing, especially at a big competition like the US Nationals –– I know that when I was competing,  I couldn’t even watch the skaters before me; I have literally vomited from pure adrenaline while waiting to go on.

And under that pressure, Rudy starts with this incredibly difficult combination — a triple axel, triple toe.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

Eh-oh-ah!  That’s the best! That’s the best movement in the whole men’s competition.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Rudy nails it –– clean landing, great flow coming out of it. You can hear commentator Dick Button at a loss for words…. And right after, Rudy goes into another triple-triple.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

Triple lutz triple toe loop! Now that’s guts … 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And his artistry, his spins, his footwork –– everything is firing on another level.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

He has more stretch, more flexibility than any skater … really in the world of skating today.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): It’s the best skate of his life. 

[SOUND OF CROWD CHEERING]

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): The underdog –– the guy who wasn’t even in the media guide — two judges give him a perfect score.

RUDY GALINDO:I looked down, and I saw the 6.0s. I saw the computer showed that I won. It was just like, it was like – crazy!

ARCHIVAL AUDIO: There’s no one in their seats at this point… oh golly, that is sensational.. What a triumph!

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Against all odds, Rudy Galindo becomes the first openly gay US National Champion. And what makes this win all the more amazing is not just his sexuality, but also that Rudy wins by skating in a very effeminate style. He’s not what the establishment says a men’s champion is “supposed” to look like. His choreography is over-the-top dramatic. He’s unafraid to arch his back or extend his leg in a feminine way. His hand movements are super exaggerated. His whole energy is just extremely queer — I mean, he’s skating to Swan Lake!

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So, if Rudy did all these things that the judges, and officials, and the rest of the establishment didn’t want him to do, how did he manage to still take the top spot?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Because on the night, Rudy was that good. He was undeniable.

DERRICK DELMORE: I think he didn’t really give them a choice. He was like, I am the best. I’m beautiful, I’m perfect and I’m going to win this, you know? Yeah, I’m so happy he was rewarded for what he put out there.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): As Derrick Delmore remembers, Rudy shattered multiple glass ceilings with his win.

DERRICK DELMORE: Besides the fact that he was so amazing was the fact that he was very feminine. And, you know, in his own way, like through his skating, was trying to let everybody know, hey, I’m queer. [laughs] He was Mexican-American as well, and then also he didn’t come from a lot of privilege.  Once you start kind of breaking it all down, it was already amazing, that performance in general, that was already amazing. Then, you start layering in all of these other attributes that he has, all of these other characteristics, all of these other qualities, all of these things that make Rudy Rudy — and then you’re like, Wow, like, wow, he really… he really did that. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): The culture of figure skating is so deeply rooted in the image of the rich, white European aristocrats that started the sport. So, Rudy –– an openly gay, effeminate, person of color who didn’t come from means— his win is groundbreaking on so many levels. And even after retiring, Rudy keeps showing that things didn’t have to be the way they were in the past. When Rudy discovered that he was HIV positive, he didn’t give in to that culture of silence we heard about in the last episode.

RUDY GALINDO: By winning that title, when I found out that I was HIV positive, I could go and do speaking engagements about my disease, and help people. And I’ve gotten thousands of letters, saying how I’ve helped them be themselves, coming out to their friends, coworkers, family, and learning to live with being HIV positive. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Even after his competitive career, when Rudy’s touring in ice shows, he still has that streak of being unapologetically himself… maybe more than ever. 

[AUDIO: SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW]

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): We’re talking, Rudy skating with a rainbow flag, quite literally bringing the term “Friend Of Dorothy” to life…

[AUDIO: YMCA]

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): a program set to the Village People, dressed in a sailor costume… I mean, so, so gay. 

RUDY GALINDO: I’m like – okay, I could start out with a navy costume and strip down to do like YMCA. …. I just thought it would be a fun thing to play on my sexuality, and make fun of the group and just have fun.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And the crowd ate it up–– including me. Rudy Galindo was one of my childhood idols. I’m pretty sure I have his autograph in my childhood bedroom somewhere. I will never, ever forget seeing Rudy live on tour after he won Nationals. The music and costumes he chose, the way he skated? It was all just so amazingly, openly, proudly… gay. 

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

A great skater, a great entertainer: Rudy Galindo!

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): You know, Chris, thinking about you as a young queer skater — I can only imagine just what a positive impact seeing Rudy, and the way he was received, must’ve had on you.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): You know, the thing is.. It’s really complicated. Like, this was the kind of person I wanted to be, right? But… while the crowd seemed to love it, giving him huge cheers and laughs, I got the sense that some people were laughing for the wrong reasons.

ELIOT HALVERSON: I think there was a huge portion of people that were laughing at him about it, and that was something that really, really left a mark on me as a queer person where you’re just kind of have insecurity about fully sticking your neck out there. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): This is Eliot Halverson, who’s around my age, and was also an up-and-coming skater in the late 90s. And as kids, we saw the way that some people in the skating world talked about Rudy. To those people, he was a punchline.  Like, “can you believe how gay he is, can’t that flamer tone it down?”… and as a kid, it was a signal that if you’re out loudly in that way, this is how people will talk about you too…

ELIOT HALVERSON: He was this Latin, effeminate person who was not afraid to wear more sparkles than the girls. And those were things that I was very connected to, and knew that I was similar with him.  And I knew how people snickered, and people laughed.  People talking negatively behind your back, and laughing at you was, like, pretty much my worst fear. I wanted to be liked by everybody, and I knew what the path was going to look like, and it was terrifying.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So, it sounds like while Rudy succeeded— won this huge title, did it his own way, had a successful touring career— his impact on the sport was that he gave skaters a different kind of model to look up to… but when it came to the culture of the sport, there still wasn’t much change.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Unfortunately, no. And the next time a skater is as loud and open as Rudy, he gets more pushback than you could imagine. That’s after the break. 

TIM GOEBEL: It was like a known thing that like he was going to win, he was not going to have to just win by, like, a little bit. Like, in order for him to win … there was a higher level of expectation for him to be able to succeed than it would have been for someone who was either closeted or heteronormative.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): This is Tim Goebel. Tim was the Junior National champion in 1996, the same year Rudy Galindo won the US title. For Tim, as a young closeted skater, watching Rudy skate to victory as proud, openly-gay man was a seminal moment. But as Tim made his way up the senior ranks over the next few years, the culture didn’t seem to change. 

TIM GOEBEL: I can’t point to, like, a particular official or judge or even coach for that matter, but it was something that was just like known. It was like, well, even if you are gay or on that spectrum, you have to keep it quiet or you won’t be successful.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): You know, Chris, I was just thinking — when we heard about Rudy Galindo’s historic win before the break, you said that it happened on a night when Rudy was both absolutely perfect, giving the judges no opportunity to place him second. And I guess I can see how a closeted skater might have viewed it as a one-off moment, versus a sign of what was to come.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): For someone like Tim Goebel, that was the fear.  If he came out, would he have to count on being absolutely perfect in every skate for the rest of his career? I mean, skating is a sport where you live or die by tenths of a point. For Tim, a skater who was just peaking in his career, there was too much at stake. When it came to his identity as a skater, the way Tim saw it?

TIM GOEBEL: My mindset was: never give someone a reason to work against you. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): In 2002, Tim made it to the Olympics in Salt Lake CIty –– an achievement Rudy Galindo never attained –– and not just that, but he won the bronze…. but for Tim, the idea of coming out?

TIM GOEBEL: No one was ready, I wasn’t ready. ​​I can tell you for certain I wasn’t going to, like, get up on my Olympic press conference and be like, “Oh, and by the way, I’m gay,” like, that would not have been a thing. My coach probably would have ripped the microphone out of my hand, who knows? But it would not have gone over well. It would have been, career-wise, a complete disaster.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Even though Tim Goebel isn’t being explicitly told “we like you because you’re straight-passing” or “being gay will hurt you”, the messaging was there that it could hurt him. So, why take the risk?

TIM GOEBEL: I was never going to do or say anything publicly or in a broad audience that would potentially hinder my ability to continue to achieve athletically. There is always something subjective, and there is always room for people to work against you if they feel you’re undeserving because of any particular reason. You feel like you always have to be on; you never feel like you can never let your guard down. You can never have a bad day. And that’s not even just like the gay versus straight, but it’s just like… being elite in an individual sport that is judged, like, the expectations are very high. It’s exhausting. It is exhausting. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Chris, I know that you were starting to compete on the national level right around this time — late ‘90s/ early 2000s — and Tim Goebel’s experience resonates with you. Were these also the same calculations you were making?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Absolutely. As much as people think of figure skating as a sport of self-expression, succeeding in the sport often means conforming to a style of performance that will get you the highest score. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So what did that actually look like for you on the ice?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): For me, as a male pairs figure skater, it meant toning down my expressiveness. Like, I once had a judge tell me that he could see too much effort on my face. So, I guess while I’m lifting my sister over my head with one arm, I am supposed to show nothing on my face because I am such a strong man. I had to work on training myself to become a, sort of, restrained, emotionally-stoic, pillar of masculine strength. In the privacy of my bedroom, I could absolutely nail Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” choreography by heart — but, I also knew that’s not a thing I’d ever be allowed to do on the ice. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Chris, tell me if I’m getting this wrong, but it sounds like, for you, there were always reminders that there would be pushback if you stepped outside the lines, and that a lot of your focus was just on how to make yourself as neutral as possible.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Well you know.… when I was starting to compete, there was this new trend on the horizon; it wasn’t just being neutral, and it seemed like there was room for male skaters to be expressive and win praise for it—if they expressed themselves in one very particular way..

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

… Meet Elvis Stojko this defending two time world champ never attempts to conceal his wild streak …

I don’t think everyones body could handle the workout Michael Weiss’s body could handle.You need power, you need strength …

… Christopher Bowman. He set out to make mens skating sizzle…

… I ran around town with all sorts of women… 

… He’s a tough, independent competitor, prefers a more athletic, non-traditional approach…

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): While skaters like me and Tim Goebel were trying to stay under the radar, other guys were kicking it into overdrive, ushering in figure skating’s macho moment.       Skaters like Michael Weiss, Chris Bowman, and Elvis Stojko were just some of the skaters in the ‘90s and ‘00s who were singled out as “bringing masculinity to skating.” And being masculine— that’s not inherently a negative thing, but the way the press, and the commentators, and the media latch onto the macho narrative— you can’t help but feel it’s an implicit judgment of how everyone else is skating. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Ok, so I did some digging, and I found a number of articles from around this time, like these trend-pieces about skating’s macho moment… and you’re totally right –– there were all stories where skaters were called stuff like “Tastefully Masculine” and “More Macho Than The Average Skater”….

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Oh my god, I had blocked these from my memory.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Yeah, uh, one of the skaters you mentioned, Chris Bowman, there was this L.A. Times piece about him that said “There are so many stories about Bowman’s rampant heterosexuality that no one would even bother to ask if he is a homosexual.” 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host):  “Rampant heterosexuality,” like it’s a wildfire or something. Someone call the fire department or this rampant heterosexuality might consume the whole city!

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Yeah exactly … and of all the stories I came across, there’s this one article that’s like… really next level; It’s an article from The San Francisco Chronicle called “Men Dump Sequins, Try More Macho Style”..

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Ugh, no… oh my god, are you serious?

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Not a joke –– and here is what it said about the medalists at the 1992 World Championships: “On the top step was Viktor Petrenko, who is ending a well-documented career as a ladies man with his impending marriage….Next there is macho Kurt Browning, a Canadian heartthrob who became so annoyed with his costume during the short program that he ripped part of it off and tossed it onto the ice….And finally, in third, was a karate-kicking, motorcycle racing Elvis Stojko”

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): I cannot believe that’s real –– but also, like…  I can. Because, it really did just become this narrative that was everywhere. And hearing it growing up, the coded message underneath was so clear; It was like, “Can you believe this figure skater is straight? Good for him!” And it’s really that last name you mentioned, Elvis Stojko, who kind of becomes the face of this masculine skating movement… 

ELIOT HALVERSON: Elvis Stojko was the Canadian skater in the 90s who was a cis-hetero man.  He really amped the volume all the way up. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Again, Eliot Halverson, who we heard from before the break. Eliot was a juvenile-level skater at the time and, like me, could read between the lines of what the macho-narrative really meant…

ELIOT HALVERSON: My assertion is that it was in retaliation to the queer label that he was afraid of being put on him, because he saw it being put on skating. So kind of this OK, well, you all might be fairies, but I’m over here doing karate, so I’m clearly not a part of that crowd. And I am this kind of skater.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): But the thing is – It wasn’t just the macho skaters, it wasn’t just the media praise, but even the skating establishment was pushing this pro-masculine, kind of homophobic sentiment.

ELIOT: There are lots of queer people in skating, but it’s not everybody. And so the people that aren’t … they are very conscious of this assumption that everybody is gay. And so I read it as this reaction, which is to try to keep that queer label as far as possible, because it’s not true. And then the whole structure of U.S. figure skating really acts in accordance with that. And so, the girls are supposed to be the white, skinny, young ice princess, and the boys are supposed to be the powerful, masculine athletes. And so, they want it to be that, and this queer label doesn’t fit that, and so they want to keep it at a distance at all costs.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): And well, to Eliot’s point, there’s another article I found –– an issue of Skating Magazine from around this time, where the president of US Figure Skating says, quote: “Participation by young men in our sport has not increased. A great deal of this problem is due to a mixed image that our sport has with regard to male skaters. The elimination of men receiving flowers on the podium … should help considerably … Athleticism in the sport must be stressed.”

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): So, in figure skating— I don’t know if there’s an official count that’s been done, but— the thing you’ll always hear boys are outnumbered maybe 10 to 1 by girls, and the figure skating establishment is always trying to find ways to rectify this imbalance. I think they thought that by putting a spotlight on macho skaters, it would get more boys to sign up for skating classes. They were scared if the sport seemed queer, boys wouldn’t want to do it. And of course, there is such a great irony here, because this macho phase in skating, this effort to change the perception of the sport… is followed by a new face in skating who is queer as hell.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

Johnny Weir …

… Johnny Weir …

… Johnny Weir … 

… Johnny Weir: he’s larger than life … 

… Johnny Weir … 

[SOUND OF CROWD APPLAUDING]

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host):  Johnny Weir is one of the most naturally-gifted skaters I’ve ever seen. Even though he started at age 12, he had a meteoric rise through the sport in the 2000s, qualifying for national championships just a few years after he first stepped on the ice. Johnny eventually became a three-time US champion, a world medalist, and a two-time Olympian — but his athletic achievements were often overshadowed by something else…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

There’s this figure skater— he’s a flamboyant guy, he’s an American— his name is Johnny Weir …

… Johnny Weir, the very flamboyant Johnny Weir …

… He is flamboyant …

… Known for his flamboyant style, wild outfits, and now: reality show …

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): You know, my figure skating knowledge is very limited, but even I remember all of this “flamboyant” talk around Johnny Weir when I was growing up –– it was always the word, that one word, that came up when people talked about him on TV.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And by the way, it’s true. He’s very flamboyant … but the way people threw that word around, sometimes the way he was talked about… I remember a lot of eye-rolling. It was the skating equivalent of when people get homophobic about Pride parades, saying stuff like “I have no problem with gay people, but do they have to throw it in our faces like that?!”

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

… Johnny Weir, no one likes a gay minstrel show…

… I’m sorry but I don’t need to see a prima ballerina on the ice …

… Of course you wanted to see what Johnny Weir was wearing — and it’s a bustier; that’s what that pink lace is, sort of, holding together …

… Johnny weir… wearing an outfit that’s unforgettable, truly, after your local news [laughing]… 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): You can hear in those clips, some are outright mean, but for some there’s also this snickering understone.  And, kind of like what Eliot and I said about Rudy, it feels like it’s laughing at Johnny, not with him. I remember, at the time, this sense in the sport of, oh god, there goes Johnny again. He just refused to “play the game” in the way previous generations of gay skaters had.

And what happens next is that kind of everything we’ve been talking about in this episode, these two camps of praising masculine skaters, and effeminate skaters getting pushback–– it really culminates in this narrative that gets played out in the media about Johnny and this other skater, Evan Lysacek…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

The clashes between Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek have become rather compelling. The two skaters with their rather contrasting skating styles, and obviously incompatible personalities, have made it clear that this rivalry is anything but a friendly one.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Throughout their whole careers, even as juniors, Johnny and Evan are always neck and neck, vying it out for the top spot. And through the 2000s, the TV coverage and the press around them— it becomes about, well, how do you seperate them? How do you distinguish the two? And there’s all this focus on their gender expressions. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a rivalry –– there definitely was, and by all accounts they don’t get along –– but for all the obsession with Johnny’s effeminacy, the obsession with Evan Lysacek’s masculinity, and contrasting the two, is equally prominent.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Well, Chris, I’ve got another article here to share that I think illustrates exactly what you’re talking about –– it’s a 2008 New York Times article called “Figure Skating Rivalry Pits Athleticism Against Artistry”

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Well there’s those words –– athletic and artistic –– that are so often stand-ins for masculine and feminine…

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Yeah, and immediately, that’s so clearly what this piece is all about. It begins: “One stands 6 feet 2 inches, wears panther black and dates ESPN’s Hottest Female Athlete. The other weighs an avian 125 pounds, favors sequined swan outfits and coyly brushes off patter about his sexuality.” It goes on to say, quote: “In the normally placid enclave of figure skating, supporting either Evan Lysacek the Athlete or Johnny Weir the Artist has become a virtual referendum on matters from skating style and personal style to sexuality itself.” 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And here’s the other thing –– for that New York Times story to call the chatter around Johnny and Evan “a referendum on sexuality” is really interesting because — Johnny Weir did not come out as gay until 2011, after retiring. And yet, it’s this big presumption everyone’s making… everyone’s talking about even though Johnny doesn’t want to. Here’s Johnny being asked about his sexuality in 2009, before coming out…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

HOST: What is your general thought on your sexuality?

JOHNNY WEIR: I mean, what’s important about it? 

HOST: Um … I think people get … people are interested. 

JOHNNY WEIR :Are people titillated by it? See, with that kind of thing, also,I don’t see the importance of revealing anything about yourself. I mean, there are lots of things that make up Johnny Weir that people don’t ask… 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And then there was this whole controversy with Stars On Ice, where Johnny’s told he’s not invited to go on the pro tour after the 2010 Olympics, and the CNN headline is:  “Ice tour denies snubbing Johnny Weir over sexual orientation” – again, before Johnny ever came out! And it’s true, it was obvious that Johnny was queer; for all of us in the sport, his sexuality was an open secret… but I don’t think the mainstream media would make these presumptions and ask these questions to a closeted person’s face today. 

Johnny makes it clear he doesn’t want to talk about it, and still these reporters keep asking. Can you blame him for not trusting these people to handle his coming out well?

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): You know Chris, hearing about Johnny is really making me think about what exactly it means to be quote unquote “out.” Because Johnny wasn’t out only insofar as he didn’t say “I am gay” until retiring –– but he was, without a doubt, a symbol of individuality and queerness throughout his career. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): When we’re talking about influence and legacy, I don’t think Johnny saying “I am gay” would have changed the impact he had on, say, little gay kids who saw themselves in Johnny when they watched him on TV dressed like a swan. But obviously everyone has a different journey to coming out that can’t always be rushed… and I think the most important thing, like we heard about Rudy, is being yourself on the public stage. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Johnny was, is, has always been himself…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

HOST: When you’re Johnny Weir going to the dry cleaner, going to the bank, stopping to get something to eat— are you still the same type of person you portray in a public forum? 

JOHNNY WEIR: Absolutely giant fur, big sunglasses, purse most of the time, pointy shoes…. 

HOST: So people who think that’s him just trying to act outrageous on the ice, you’re just being yourself? 

JOHNNY WEIR: Exactly, and that’s the only way i can be,

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And there is a lot of bravery in that. You can never know for sure in skating, but with Johnny Weir there were always questions about whether he was getting scored fairly. It’s possible he didn’t get to reach the full heights he could’ve in his career. I mean, he never won a World title, and never won an Olympic medal, but, no matter what the results were, at least he did it all his way… and, literally, in perfect Johnny fashion, skated at the Olympics to –– what else?–– “My Way” 

[AUDIO: MY WAY]

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So there was Rudy Galindo and Johnny Weir, both pushing against what’s expected of them, both unafraid to be themselves in the spotlight… and still, the next generation, like you and Eliot, weren’t feeling like skating was a safe space to be yourself. So what was it going to take for that to change?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Next time on Blind Landing: a Russian human rights crisis, a fender bender at a Coffee Bean, and Adam Rippon’s shoulders… 

ADAM RIPPON: And I remember thinking, like, I have nothing to lose. Like, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? I’m not going to go to the Olympics. I’ve already not done that my whole life. Mm hmm. So like, who cares if I don’t go to the Olympics? 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): That’s next time on the third and final part of this story from Blind Landing.

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