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:
- Refuse to accept essentialized notions of sexuality and gender.
- Encourage others as they go through personal processes of sexuality and gender formation, and provide emotional support regardless of outcome.
- 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.
- Support individuals’ rights to define their own bodies and the language used to describe themselves.
- Form radical community spaces where we can talk about the challenges we face in our personal and public lives.
- Carry out activism through art, writing, journalism, creation of safe spaces, social media, and other forms.
- Question rigid ideas of “community” that exclude those who do not fit into some prefabricated mold.
- 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.
- Encourage a variety of viewpoints, discussion, and coalition-building.
- 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!
Posted on January 7, 2011, in activism, movement building, queer and tagged activism, coming out, favorite posts, johnny weir, movement building, movement priorities, queer, queer movement, radical. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.