Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Frozen in the Closet: Why Don't Those Fabulous Olympic Figure Skaters Come out? an out Ex-Skater and Judge Gives Us the Inside Scoop

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Frozen in the Closet: Why Don't Those Fabulous Olympic Figure Skaters Come out? an out Ex-Skater and Judge Gives Us the Inside Scoop

Article excerpt

After a four-year wait, gay sports fans are once again looking forward to one of our favorite dramas on television: the figure skating competitions at the Olympic Winter Games. Starting February 10 our gay TiVos will be purring at peak capacity to capture the muscled moves of every beaded, bedazzled, and bladed skater telecast from Turin.

I've often thought it would be fun to play one of those drinking games with friends where each person takes a shot of Absolut every time someone believes a gay man has taken to the ice, but then I realize we would all soon be too drunk to appreciate the great performances. Figure skating drunk indeed, much like many of the actual paneled judges, who will no doubt screw up the judging once again.

As a former skating judge--and out figure skater--I've seen the flaws in the judging system up close: In my book On Edge I explain how easily judges' personal preconceptions and prejudices can deprive a skater of a fair score. They also make it very hard for gay skaters to come out.

Just what is the state of figure skating's closet? Unfortunately, it's still closed tight. Not one single Olympic-eligible athlete is out to the public. In fact, there has never been an openly gay figure skating Olympic champion (though one or two closeted ones come to mind).

To this day, the only figure skating athlete to come out while still Olympic-eligible was Rudy Galindo, and he did so nearly a decade ago. Rudy seemed to open so many doors for gay figure skaters. So why has no other Olympic-eligible athlete come out? The answer is a bit complex. Being openly gay, even in figure skating, requires one to march to a different beat.

Think of the stages of coming out. Initially a skater comes out to himself; next, to his friends. In the third stage the skater comes out to his family. The fourth stage is finally being out at the rink--at least to his coaches and the other skaters. The fifth stage is coming out to the figure skating judges and the officials in their federations. The sixth and final stage is coming out to the press and therefore to the public at large.

You'd think stage 6 would be the hardest, and at one time it probably was. Back in the '70s and '80s closeted figure skaters worried that their professional careers might be hindered if the fans knew they were gay. Few, if any, ever reached stage 6, even after leaving the competitive ranks.

Today, whether or not the public still cares about a skater's sexuality seems beside the point. Gay skaters can't reach stage 6 because stage 5--coming out to the judges and federations--remains a major concern. The skating judges and the officials of the national federations are now and have always been homophobic. Because the judges control the scores, and the officials control the competitive (and now moneymaking) assignments, skaters remain reluctant to come out fully in the figure skating world. And that prevents them from coming out to the public at large.

Canadian Brian Orser, a 1984 Olympic medalist who is gay, once described in a court affidavit his worry that it would be "highly likely that if ... allegations [that I am gay| were made public, I would not be invited to return to a number of major ice shows." This was his thinking during the '80s. By 1998 his attitude had changed. In the same affidavit he wrote, "In hindsight, I may have overreacted in trying to protect my privacy."

Before Rudy Galindo won the national title in 1996, he had once skated pairs with Kristi Yamaguchi but was very much kept in the closet. "I was always being told that my costume was too risque, that I was too flamboyant, and that I should 'butch it up,' get more muscles," Rudy recalls. "Pair skating is about traditional male and female roles, so I complied. But skating 'butch' was bugging the crap out of me."

A return to singles skating is just what Rudy needed to find his place in the sport. …

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