Johnny Weir Comes Out: Why We Need a Queer Movement

“We’re here, we’re queer, get over it!”

This used to be a rallying cry for the gay and lesbian liberation movement, but I think it’s high time we appropriate it for something different.  “Liberation” is supposed to be a lofty goal, a formative moment in the life cycle, but in fact it’s become a prison cell.  The more I hear from the gay and lesbian movement, the more disillusioned with it I become.  It’s time for something new.

Johnny Weir Comes Out, Gay Media Pitches Fit

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  For years, the gay media has been annoyed with American figure skater Johnny Weir for refusing to self-define as gay, while mainstream journalists can’t say one sentence about Weir without a cutesy comment about fashion or mannerisms–all code for “wink wink, he’s a big ole homo.”  In fact, I’m looking over my shoulder right now, waiting for the Associated Press to issue me a fine for not including the adjective “flamboyant” in front of Weir’s name in this blog post.

Yesterday, Weir finally “came out” when selections from an upcoming issue of People magazine were leaked.  What did said gay media, waiting all this time for Weir to finally stand up and be counted, feel about this revelation?  Well, relief, of course, because Johnny Weir coming out means that the gay media can  finally “write about [and] appreciate” him.  After all, without making a public statement about his sexuality, “[h]ow could he be considered a role model?”

Talk about damning with feint praise.  What I find so insidious about that After Elton article, and others like it, is that any closet around Johnny Weir is entirely constructed around Weir by the same gay media that criticizes him for not coming out of it–as well, of course, as the mainstream media that describes his competitors’ talents and masculine strength in an Olympic report while only mentioning Weir’s love for Lady Gaga or his hairdo.

It’s important to note that Johnny Weir never said he was in a closet.  He never said that he was straight or gay.  He consistently uses quotation marks around the word closet, and in response to the leak he Tweeted the following:

I don’t remember ever pretending to be something other than I am, nor do I remember living with my coats inside a wardrobe. I just live.

In a world where heterosexual is normal, queer celebrities are necessarily “in the closet” if they don’t discuss their sexuality in public.  When a celebrity says nothing, the assumption is that he or she is trying to imply straightness. What I find such a shame is what Weir said in the People article about how he was talking about his sexuality now in part because he wants to be a role model to the queer adolescents that are considering suicide.  I find it devastating that someone would have to use the word “gay” to be a role model, but I also see exactly where he’s coming from.  Kids are raised in this black and white, homosexual/heterosexual world.  Even bisexuality is misunderstood, not to mention pansexuality, queerness, and differing gender expressions.  Weir is out there being himself, doing what he wants to do, being a role model for kids–but society’s blinders say that he’s closeted, send a message to adolescents that I doubt Weir himself would ever approve.

Johnny Weir has become one of my role models because he does blur lines of gender and sexuality.  As a genderqueer person coming to terms with my own gender, it’s wonderfully refreshing to see a public figure being so defiant, refusing to let others put a box around his neck.  I love the way he demands that the focus be put on his interests, his projects, his creativity, and not his identity labels.  Even in the People article that tries so hard to fit him into a typical coming out narrative, he stirs that up a bit by talking about different aspects of himself, the things he loves, the traits that transcend a simple gendered picture.

Again: we’re here, we’re queer, get over it.  It’s time for those of us who don’t fit in boxes to start our own movement.

The Problem with the Gay & Lesbian Model

I just finished a book written in the late 90s by anthropologist Gilbert Herdt.  It’s called Same Sex, Different Cultures: Exploring Gay & Lesbian Lives, and parts of the book are perfect examples to me of this phenomenon exemplified by the media response to Johnny Weir.  Herdt writes:

The ritual of coming out means giving up the secrecy of the closet.  This is a positive step toward mental health, for life in the closet involves not only a lot of hiding but also a good deal of magical thinking, which may be detrimental to the person’s well-being.

Of course, coming out can be a powerful ritual, and a positive step.  But this isn’t true for everyone.  When an adolescent comes out as Herdt describes, he or she steps into a world that essentializes gay or lesbian identity, as well as gender.  “Magical thinking” occurs not only in the closet, but also in this brave new world of the gay and/or lesbian “community.”  The tropes and standards of this community discourage confusion, questioning, and fluidity.  Individuals are encouraged to identify in a clearly defined role, to go to meetings, to march in pride parades.  In the meantime, transgression is strongly discouraged in many gay and lesbian circles, whether it comes in the form of kinky sexuality, polyamory, or strong identification with another movement (feminism, disability rights, racial justice, anti-colonialism, etc).

A Queer Proposal

I want a movement that is explicitly queer.  I want a movement that shuns boxes.

I think we have been going this direction in many circles.  I’ve seen it on feminist and sex-positive blogs and community spaces.  “Intersectionality” is the big buzzword these days, and young activists are thinking about how identities intersect and how activist communities can work together.  Some movements are more radical when it comes to sex and gender.

But I also think that we tend to think of this kind of thing as an ideal.  We exist in different spaces, and we may not challenge traditional “gay and lesbian” thinking because we in part feel that we belong to the gay and lesbian community, that its goals match our own.

I propose that we stand up and be counted in our own way.  I propose that we:

  1. Refuse to accept essentialized notions of sexuality and gender.
  2. Encourage others as they go through personal processes of sexuality and gender formation, and provide emotional support regardless of outcome.
  3. Equally support openness about sexuality and gender and the desire to be more private, as well as generally supporting the right to privacy and freedom of speech.
  4. Support individuals’ rights to define their own bodies and the language used to describe themselves.
  5. Form radical community spaces where we can talk about the challenges we face in our personal and public lives.
  6. Carry out activism through art, writing, journalism, creation of safe spaces, social media, and other forms.
  7. Question rigid ideas of “community” that exclude those who do not fit into some prefabricated mold.
  8. Fight for the rights of transgendered, intersex, queer, genderqueer, indigenous, and disabled people, for the rights of people of color, for the rights of people in the Global South, for the rights of women, for the rights of people of all ages.
  9. Encourage a variety of viewpoints, discussion, and coalition-building.
  10. Provide and receive emotional healing, sharing, and all kinds of support.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and please, if you have a moment, forward widely and share through your social networks.  I’m serious about these goals!

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on January 7, 2011, in activism, movement building, queer and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Thank you for writing this. Where do I sign up?

    • Thank you for reading! I’d suggest following this blog in your RSS reader if you’re interested in further ideas along these lines for activism and community building.

  2. Thank you! I’ve found most articles on Weir in gay media–not to mention the comments to them!–utterly frustrating, just as well as the use of the obligatory “flamboyant” in mainstream media. First they pressure him to “come out”, and now they say he just wants to make money (umm…I though that is generally at least one reason for writing a book in the first place). Great…

    You are absolutely right: it is time to refuse categorization, to accept the fluidity of sexual identity, and to embrace all the various manifestations of queerness. I’ll sign up!

    • Hi, Amy, thanks for reading! I know, I love the idea that “just” wanting to make money is some sort of a crime. Everyone has to make a living, and if the way you make your living is through being a public personality and writing books, then good for you.

      If you follow this blog on your RSS reader, I’ll be posting some specific activist ideas in the near future, might try to get some sort of online community together if I can find the time and resources.

      • I hope you can get some kind of online group going. While there’s been a lot of discussion on the topic in the academia, it has been difficult to spread it to outside communities. New venues would thus be great!

        Also: you may wish to delete and report the rants by the delusional person who has been spewing hatred around the internet ever since the news of the People coverage emerged. I don’t think he/she needs another platform to spread the venom…

  3. Your article is thoughtful and well put; reading I’ve done throughout my life has led me to believe that someday traditional notions of gender and sexuality will be irrelevant in how people perceive and interact with each other. Johnny always struck me as a somewhat evolved individual to whom sexual/gender identity was very fluid and yet not important to the core of his being. It seemed so much more important to everyone else, hence his disregard for their demand for categorization.

    • I hope that you’re right. I do think that in some ways the lines are blurring–it seems to me that there’s a dual trend right now where on the one hand, there is some increased acceptance of genders and sexualities that are more “vague,” and on the other hand there’s a big push to categorize and be vocal about your sexuality.

  4. Hello Judith from CA. You’re such a faithful blogger of and for the Cabal and for Tara. Is Tara paying you? She should. You deserve every penny.

    I’m amazed at how soon and easily so many “fans” of Johnny Weir forget that it was a little over five years ago (before Fireworks) that Johnny stuck his middle finger to all the GLBT community and wore a shirt exclaiming to all the GLBT community, as if to say “F**K you!” And now Tara wants us all to just forget about that and accept Johnny as a “gay” man, but it’s okay if he wants to marry a woman if/when it strikes him to do this? Gay men DO NOT marry women; not even to have and raise children. It simply isn’t done. And I can tell you that NO gay man is going to share Johnny with another female. It’s just NOT going to happen.

    • Mark,

      I went ahead and approved this comment because it doesn’t explicitly violate my comment policy and I’m not one to censor viewpoints. You should probably know, though, that I’m a casual fan of Johnny Weir and figure skating, and that I seem to have inadvertently stepped into some sort of fan battle. I know that Tara Modlin is Johnny’s agent, that’s about it. I’m guessing the Cabal is a fan club, I’m not a member. I also, incidentally, live in Maryland, so I wonder if you’re confusing me with another Judith?

      In any event, you seem to be missing the point of my post. Sexual identity is more fluid than just gay vs. straight. What gay men do or don’t do is, well, the concern of the individual. What I like about Johnny is that he’s not someone who subscribes to the monolith of the “gay community” (or “GLBT community”). I admire individualism and creativity.

    • I beg to differ. Gay men marry women all the time. I know of a number close personal friends who have over the years. Sometimes this is due to denial, or being in the closet; often it has to do with while their sexual attraction and feelings being same sex, their emotional attraction is to the opposite sex. Many of these couples do not make it and stay together, but others do, simply because they do after all love each other despite sexual orientation. As the writer pointed out, sexuality is not just black and white–you “must” be one or the other; there are shades of gray–bisexuality which is a dual attraction to one sex and the other and pansexuality which is essentially blind to gender altogether. D.H. Lawrence was writing about this over 100 years ago, that as humans evolve spiritually, that gender roles would blend and become less distinct, and love and sex would be directed regardless of gender. You Mark, and I suspect TheCabalMu is also you, seem to have some anger issues which are difficult from your rambling writing to pinpoint. Apparently you personally have some problem with Johnny and his agent which really has little to do with his being gay or not.

  5. Bravo, bravo! Thank you for so beautifully expressing what so many of us think! Many thanks for your well written and insightful Blog!

  6. This is such a beautifully written article. You have expressed the thoughts and feelings incredibly well of the many who may or may not be “included” in the LGBT community. I sincerely hope your proposals will be acted upon (they certainly will be by me) and that the world can be more accepting of everyone – WITHOUT labels. I will be posting this wherever I can. I am so glad you have written such inspiring and thoughtful words. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Noel! I really appreciate your reading and sharing. Feel free to follow the RSS feed for this blog; with the positive comments I’ve received and interest in my proposal, I’ll definitely be posting more concrete suggestions for queer activism and trying to get a discussion going.

      • “I’ll definitely be posting more concrete suggestions for queer activism and trying to get a discussion going.”

        Then I´m in.

  7. 2.Encourage others as they go through personal processes of sexuality and gender formation, and provide emotional support regardless of outcome.

    Oh, you mean even if a gay guy gets called a “fudge-packer” 24-7? If Johnny thought the name calling was gross before, he nor his fans have heard anything, yet. I hope you and the others can reach for a band-aid and neosporin when Johnny attempts suicide. I can just see all the twisted “gay” men out there lining up around the block now who want to take a jab at Johnny’s ass. Hello, rape. There’s not enough counseling to help anyone through that kind of abuse. Johnny will end up hating Tara because of this and he will leave her when he’s had enough abuse.

    Sad, too, how Tara is using this to make a feminine object of hatred and jealousy kill herself. In the past year since Johnny met and showed an attraction to a certain female in spring of 2010, Tara has used a variety of weapons including Johnny’s “romantic connection” to a variety of female celebs (that didn’t work), purposefully excluding this female from attending certain functions (this hasn’t worked), and Tara even mentioned back then to her that Johnny was “gay” (this female didn’t say or do anything to warrant that comment from Tara). It’s unfortunate now for Tara that this tactic, too, will fail. Sad, too, that Tara’s recent actions against this female have pissed some major players in the industry off, now. This female will get a major boost with the help of a major power-player who is friends DT. A certain program will be used mainly to launch her as never before. I hope all you HATERS (some members of the cabal) are ready for what you’ve brought upon yourselves. Three words: Lick it up.

    • Again, Mark, I’m afraid that your references escape me. I’m not part of the rumor mill and honestly couldn’t care less who any celebrity sleeps with. I also am strongly against homophobic insults and an anti-rape activist. Perhaps your comments would be better directed elsewhere.

      • Judith, you haven’t stumbled into anything. Being a long time, rather devoted Johnny Weir fan, I can say that whatever that person is saying is incomprehensible. I suspect a shaky, if dramatic, grasp of reality. Please don’t take this as representative of Johnny’s general fan base. 🙂

        Anyway, thank you for the wonderful, thoughtful article. So much of the reaction to his ‘coming out’ has been extremely frustrating. The same people who have been whining for years that he hasn’t come out yet are the same ones in many cases who are being insufferable about it now that he has. It’s a little disheartening, really.

      • Oh god, the crazy is here too! 😦

        That commenter needs professional help, no more attention on the internet.

        Your article is great, interesting and well thought-out and such an engaging read, it kinda breaks my heart seeing that commenter here too. All the delusion, incoherence and vile … Ugh!

        Please don’t let them go on, or at least, please don’t let them post people’s names. He/She/It has done this in other blogs and it’s just gross what he/she/it has been allowed to get away with 😦

  8. Best article I´ve read so far on this issue, and summed up very well.

  9. *really sad and crying sobs-sobs* Can everybody please love me, now? I’m g-a-y! (holds out a coin cup)


    Too bad. So sad.

  10. I imagine that you’re referring to the same woman as Mark above. I will repeat what I said to him, that I am not a member of Johnny’s fan club, a friend of Tara’s, or otherwise involved. I am a queer activist and writer in Maryland and I thought this story would be a good example to jump start a post on the need for a queer movement. I try not to delete comments on this blog, because I respect multiple viewpoints, but abusive language is not welcome here and I would appreciate it if you take your concerns elsewhere.

    • This person is the same as Mark whoever she/he/it is. She/he/it has been trying to stir trouble on different blogs/platforms since last year…always the same bullshit with personal attacks thrown in. Sadly, other bloggers (as PerezHilton, Aunt Joyce and others) haven´t lived up to their responsibility to stop downright bullshit.
      I would hate for your blog, especially this post b/c it is so thoughtful and thought provoking), to become another playground for stupidity and hate.
      This post is linked all around internet and I hope something good comes out of it. It´s about time even the gay community lives up to their responsibility for furture generations.

      I suggest to delete any posts of this person so this place stays clean.

      • Hey, thanks for letting me know. After careful consideration, I decided to delete the comment you’re referring to because it falls under my policy of no “hateful attacks.” I welcome comments regardless of point of view (I’ve gotten some pretty funny homophobic ones over the years, but as long as they’re not cursing at me or attacking me and using reasoned language, I let them through). I don’t want a reputation for deleting people just because they disagree with me, but since a couple of people have noted that this person is a troll on multiple websites, I feel comfortable deleting those of his/her/zie’s comments that contain hateful language. There were other comments that I did not approve in the first place because they were more clearly hateful. I certainly don’t want my comment space to be a place for triggers.

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