The more I get to hear from Johnny Weir, the happier I am. Weir, the Olympic figure skater best known for his "quote-unquote flamboyance-I hate that word," defies the rule, almost universally true of out-there celebrities, that they’re significantly less cool and interesting once they open their mouths. There’s Lady Gaga, with her precociously curated exuberance ; there’s Madonna-ditto. There are many more examples, but why waste time discussing them?
Johnny. Dark-lashed, delicate, dynamic Johnny. He is one of the few people in public life who can successfully argue (by example) the many ways in which gender is fungible. He is as earnest and self-deprecating as he is aggressively, purposefully ridiculous, as this New York profile demonstrates, and this allows him to get away with a lot. Like skating while dressed as a swan named Camille with one red glove for a beak, or referencing another skater’s "shot-of-vodka, snort-of-coke" performance, or telling People mag how he ran around his Olympic hotel suite naked , watched The Real Housewives of Atlanta , and Lemon-Pledged every surface to prepare for his short program. During the 2006 Winter Olympics, I went shopping with Weir -flush with cash from skating exhibitions, he dropped $1,330 in two hours in Turin’s high-end stores. He brought his sunglasses collection up to 103 pairs and confessed that the sight of a knockoff designer bag "hurts my feelings." Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins once described Weir as "in the grip of truth serum," without artifice or self-consciousness. You don’t get the impression that he’s a normal guy marketing himself as eccentric, but a genuine eccentric canny enough to market himself .
(Speaking of marketing, Weir is contemplating what to do now that he’s 26 and getting too old for competitive skating. He’s thinking fashion and music, according to the New York profile, and he sounds kind of lost: "I was offered to do a porno movie. It was a masturbation movie. I looked at it and said no. It’s dirty. So I won’t do porn, I won’t do anything where I have to wear a big fuzzy animal costume, like no Disney On Ice or anything, and that’s basically it. I’ll try pretty much anything else. I mean, I don’t want to drive a Zamboni.")
After Canadian TV commentators reportedly joked that Weir should undergo a "gender test" during an Olympics broadcast in February, Weir turned serious, responding in measured tones . (Well, first he joked that he’d heard worse about himself in bathrooms.) He believed in free speech, he said, but he wanted people to think about the consequences of their words. He wanted more kids to experience "the freedom that I feel." Weir has long existed in that coy sexual netherworld once occupied by Clay Aiken; nearly everybody assumes he’s gay, but he won’t talk about it. ( Only his hairdresser knows for sure .)
In New York , Weir again is asked to define himself. He responds with a heartfelt, if impossibly idealistic, statement about how labels are meaningless. ("My whole stance is that I just want people to react to who I am, I don’t want people to react to what I am.") Better is the response he’s given on previous occasions: It’s private. Just as true is what he adds next: "[T]he reason I haven’t told the nitty-gritty and the dirty past and what I chose to be involved with sexually is because, first of all, it’s trashy. It’s not cute." Oh, and also because he’s writing a tell-all.
So much of Weir’s appeal is his playful androgyny, his neither-here-nor-there-ness. The "mystery" of who (if anyone) he sleeps with stands in for the mystery of who he fundamentally is-can anybody really be so bombastic, so earnest, so free-spending, so "free?"