Monday, May 2, 2011

Why We Love Johnny Weir

Gender-bending has become A Thing that the news is all over. We've all heard about the little boy in the J. Crew ad whose mom painted his toenails pink, heralding the end of masculinity or humanity or whatever.

Now we have a story about a high school boy who wore high heels to school, until his principle talked him out of it.

There are several things wrong with this: That the principle thought he was doing the right thing by taking "the paternal role" and convincing the kid to cave to the demands of the bullies that he conform and not wear whatever shoes he wants. Paternal, indeed. The principal also said that you have to take whatever happens to you if you step outside the norm. What the hell kind of lesson is that to teach kids? Sounds victim-blaming to me, for one thing. But schools too often seem to have a vested interest in maintaining gender norms - in this way, they are a reflection of society.

As my friend Michael pointed out, this article also claims that the kid wasn't punished, but he was: the normalization IS the punishment. It's an assault on this kid's identity. The story here shouldn't be, "High school boy wears high heels to school." It should be, "Douchebag principal wastes a lot of time convincing kid not to wear heels instead of doing his job." Which, admittedly, might take up a lot of space on a page, but who reads print media anymore, anyway?

I feel the need to remind us all that there is a different way to be human beyond gay-straight-bisexual (all of which are also valid, of course). We can step outside of the boxes and move into an appreciation for queer genders, societally, if people stop planting their flags in the idea that gender is a public health risk.

You know who I think is just really amazing for his courage in gender-bending? Johnny Weir. A couple of caveats: Yes, he is a privileged person with access to resources most people (your humble blogger included) do not have. He has the freedom to push gender boundaries in a way many people do not, because of who he is. I don't think he would deny that. But he is, I think, making space for other people to engage in examination of gender identity. Here are some things that he's said:

I don't really like to have rules for anything, I find it's not very freeing when you abide by rules of any kind... I'm not a big believer in tiny handbags. The jig is up, you don't only carry lipstick, a credit card and a phone. I carry big bags - it's not even a murse or a man-bag, I carry a straight up purse every day.

I've always been comfortable with who I am... While I don't believe in masculinity and femininity, I don't believe in a purely gay person or a purely straight person. I have a very clear opinion of my own sexuality.

Fashion is very inspiring to me and I almost go drag queen where I wear the heels, make-up on or a big fur coat. Those things get noticed. But today, for example, I have jeans and cashmere hoodie on. I change it up. Nobody really cared when I looked like a boy.

"Nobody really cared when I looked like a boy." Right. Because I think, at the heart of it, people aren't as freaked out by people who are gay as by people who fuck with the binaries (which gay people do, for sure). Just ask the Human Rights Campaign, who are working very hard to distance themselves from gender-nonconformists so that they can further privilege the already-privileged by ignoring the problems faced by people who aren't them. They are trying to make it all about sexual orientation, leaving out gender identity, which is still not seen as a valid civil rights issue.

I'm glad Johnny Weir is able to wear whatever shoes or nail polish he wants without being reprimanded by some paternalist principal. I hope that his example provides hope for other people who are gender-nonconforming but not international superstar athletes.


  1. Weir is fantastic. That is all.

  2. I was really mystified by all the fuss over Johnny Weir's sexuality. "Is he or isn't he?" Who cares? Why does he need to be that GAY skater? That CROSS-DRESSING skater? Why couldn't he be that AWESOME skater? Part of what makes him interesting to watch is his artistry. If his artistry involves rhinestones and feathers, we have something colorful to watch as he spins around.