When Adam Rippon walked the red carpet for the Academy Awards this March, there was a statement piece to go with his Moschino tuxedo: a leather harness. "Just something casual," Rippon quipped on his Instagram story that same evening about the BDSM-inspired outfit by Jeremy Scott. Very few people would dare break tradition at the Oscars and seek such a lewk. But if there is anyone right now in the zeitgeist who could pull off a nod to leather-daddy-realness at an event drowning in uptightness, it would be the celebrated Olympic figure skater and newly minted queer icon.
Rippon is not the first out gay man in figure skating—not nearly—but it's how he carries himself that separates him. While other well-regarded male figure skaters came out only after winning major competitions, Rippon was different. He didn't cave to the conservative culture that engulfs his sport and forced so many of his predecessors to hide their full selves. Instead, he told his truth. That truth made him the first out gay man to compete for the United States in the Winter Olympics. What followed was a bronze medal, international acclaim and a much-needed voice for the queer community.
Evolving attitudes about homosexuality may have partially given Rippon license to be honest about his sexuality with the public, but the audaciousness in which he does so is all him. Not only is Rippon gay and honest about it, he has no reticence about full-on embracement of femininity, bondage and anything else that deviates from the way gay men—notably athletes—are consumed by the mainstream through a filter of heteronormativity.
In Adam Rippon, you see the beauty of queerness: its lack of binaries, its forgoing of tradition and its pure freedom. Not only is it evident in his aesthetics, but also his voicing disapproval of Vice President Mike Pence, who announced he would be attending the Olympic opening ceremonies and planned to meet with the U.S. team, for his history of anti-LGBTQ positions.
Rippon recently said he experienced an "epiphany" during the Olympics: "To have this platform and these opportunities to share my story and make people laugh and to be considered a voice for other young people still seems completely surreal, but I know I'm ready for that responsibility."
Michael Arceneaux is the author of the book I Can't Date Jesus from 37 Ink/Atria Books. Additionally, he has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Esquire, Essence, Into, Complex, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick.
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