“Girl. girrrllll. Girrrrllllll!” It’s evening time on West 37th Street, and Johnny Weir is getting his face on. He’s at the apartment of his agent, Tara Modlin, over on Tenth Avenue, on the way to an AIDS fund-raiser downtown. He’s drinking a tumbler of Champagne into which he’s dumped some other kind of pale-yellow liquor. “My favorite,” he says, peering coyly through his thick eyelashes. And then he says it again: “Girl!” The apartment is small and decorated with photocollages starring Modlin, Weir, and their friends at parties and ice shows and in hotel suites. There’s some pink chiffon stuck up on the windows, some decorations welded into place with a hot-glue gun.
In the snapshots, Weir’s expression doesn’t vary: He knows how to angle his chin, how to look up at the camera, how to (a) purse his lips or (b) flash a charming, two-layered grin.
A wall has been put up to create a second bedroom, and so the living room is tiny: two overstuffed couches and a small table onto which Joey Camasta, his makeup artist, has spread a selection of false eyelashes. Joey is in thick cargo shorts and a tight Harley-Davidson T-shirt against which his stomach strains.
“Girrrrrrrl!” Weir says, fingering a pair that are long and brown. “Gurl,” he grumbles when Camasta shows him photos of guys on the gay-hookup app Grindr, and he says it when his best friend Paris (“or Justin, or whatever”) changes the radio station in an endless stream of dance hits, most of them twenty years old, several of them by Paula Abdul. The apartment is a flurry of getting ready: Modlin’s in a tatty terry robe with curlers in her hair. Her roommate is looking for help with her hair, her eye makeup, her what-to-wear. The conversation is a tumble of nicknames: Marshmallow, for example, is Modlin’s boyfriend, who has apparently just been hit by a car; Tater Tot is someone called Taylor, who is going to freak when he learns he’s called that; and Little Man is someone else entirely.
Weir drinks his Champagne concoction, holding the tumbler with two hands.
“This guy sent me a picture of his dick,” he says.
“Enough,” says Modlin. “Enough, enough, enough. We don’t talk like that.”
“Cocaine!” shouts Weir. “On my show”—that would be Be Good Johnny Weir, Weir’s Sundance Channel reality show—“whenever we say something that shouldn’t be on, we say cocaine right after it so they can’t use it. Cocaine, cocaine, cocaine!”
“I went on a date last night,” says Camasta.
“Oh really,” says Weir. “I thought you said you had a facial.”
They burst out laughing, the bronzer goes on in a cloud of synthetic golden fluff, and then Weir disappears into the bathroom to do Modlin’s roommate’s hair.
He reappears: “Is my car here?” he asks grandly.
“You’re a car,” Paris answers, and then he rolls his eyes.
What, exactly, is Johnny Weir doing? He came in sixth in the men’s ice-skating competition at the Olympics in February, an outcome that is not typically a springboard to stardom. But somehow, it just made Weir all the more certain of his membership in the fraternity, or sorority, or whatever orientation he may eventually choose, of American celebrity. But the achievement of major fame is often a bit of a riddle, and although Weir is talented and clever and beautiful, it’s not yet obvious how he can turn any of it into any sort of sustainable life.
“In spite of all the skills that I do have, to relate to the normal world I have no applicable skills,” he says one afternoon in New York. He’s invited me to Modlin’s office in midtown in order to have a serious talk. When he talks seriously, he sits with perfect posture and enunciates his words extra-super-clearly. The effect is very My Fair Lady. “I can speak Russian,” he says, “I can speak French. I know about Chanel. Especially vintage Chanel. I know what Halston is. All of these things, but they can’t really be applied to a nine-to-five.”
Which is not to say he hasn’t had options.
“I was offered to do a porno movie. It was a masturbation movie. I looked at it and said no. It’s dirty. So I won’t do porn, I won’t do anything where I have to wear a big fuzzy animal costume, like no Disney On Ice or anything, and that’s basically it. I’ll try pretty much anything else. I mean, I don’t want to drive a Zamboni.”
Since the Olympics, he has recorded a single with Lucian Piane, who most famously worked with RuPaul. It’s called “Dirty Love.” He has begun to discuss a fashion collaboration with the Home Shopping Network, among others, and he was a judge at the Miss USA pageant (“I’d do anything Mr. Trump asked,” he explained) while wearing a marabou-feather coat selected by Rachel Zoe. He’s walked dozens of red carpets and done a significant hunk of work on a tell-all autobiography that will be released by Gallery Books in February. He went to the Kentucky Derby and had his hair and makeup done by total amateurs, but never mind, he read the betting pamphlet, totally understood how it all worked, and promptly won 500 bucks, which he spent on three pairs of jeggings (women’s size 28) at Intermix on Prince Street once he’d been assured they didn’t make him look fat.
He’s also had several meetings with Cher’s director and choreographer, Doriana Sanchez, to discuss what he refers to as “the Spectacular.” “The goal is to do a show at Radio City Music Hall,” he says. “The whole show will be about self-acceptance and self-beauty and what you see in yourself. We’ll have strippers, contortionists, porn stars, singers, athletes. It evokes Berlin at night before the Second World War: painted ladies swinging on birdcage swings, beautiful men dancing and gyrating on each other up on top of buildings, and a gorgeous cabaret singer belting at the piano. That’s what I want. Just add some ice skating.”
The feathers and the sequins of figure skating are, in a way, a child’s-eye view of glamour, just as the contortions are a playacted, kitschified view of sex. The skating tournaments are aired on Sunday afternoons and always seem to have been shot in some kind of soft focus. It’s the world of adults who collect plush toys and Lladró figurines: With its mixed-up and decidedly downscale ideas about style, it’s not a sport that tends to propel one into the mainstream of American celebrity. And for the men it’s worse because … tights?
But Johnny Weir plans to get everywhere from there, and he intends to do it just “by being Johnny Weir.” He has the usual skater’s reticence about his sexuality, but whereas for many male skaters this can mean concealing a truth that’s obvious, for Weir it means something else entirely: Basically, it means being gayer than any public figure ever, but then refusing to disclose his sexuality.
Not that he doesn’t flaunt it. For a year leading up to the Olympics, the Sundance Channel chronicled his training sessions, his conversations with his coach, the epic costume-design sessions involving mountains of netting and tulle and lace over which he presided with an often baffled-looking wardrobe designer named Stephanie Handler. In quite a few episodes, Weir and Paris (who was his roommate at the time) cavort in their tiny underpants alongside Weir’s “Balenciaga tree,” which is a coatrack decorated with the fifteen or so $2,000 bags he’s been sent by devoted, often Japanese fans. Sometimes, he puts on a blond wig and pretends to be a middle-aged Russian journalist named Viacheslav Romanov. (While interviewing his mother, he says, in a heavy Russian accent, “He [Weir] came from her vagina!”) His comic timing in the Romanov videos is astoundingly good, but perhaps this is another skill to toss on the pile of speaks Russian, knows gobs about Chanel.
Once the Olympics started, Weir began getting all sorts of press for his housing situation: Originally, he announced that he wouldn’t stay in the athletes’ village—he hadn’t enjoyed his time there four years before—but after receiving what he described as “very serious threats” from anti-fur activists (beside his Balenciaga tree is a “fur tree” of hats and tippets and wraps), he accepted that the village had appropriate security. He insisted on rooming with Tanith Belbin, a female ice-skater and the supposed ex-girlfriend of his sworn enemy and rival, Evan Lysacek. He told People that Belbin was an ideal roommate because she gave him the space to “run around naked and watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Belbin, for her part, was happy living with Weir because the room “smelled amazing” thanks to all the scented candles, and she liked the Audrey Hepburn posters, too. Lysacek, with his array of athletic jumps and his neat middle-American coif, seems as straight as a skater can be. He easily won the air war—his jumps were objectively far stronger than Weir’s—but Weir gave a career performance in the free skate in its elegance and passion. And as it turned out, the performance wasn’t over.
“You don’t need to have labels. I would marry a woman. I very well could. People laugh at me, but why is that so funny? I love women.”
The day of Weir’s loss, two commentators on a Canadian TV show suggested, “We should make [Weir] pass a gender test.”
A few days later, Weir called a press conference. He wore his bangs brushed over his forehead and a fluffy brown fur cowl. “It wasn’t them criticizing my skating,” he said. “It was them criticizing me as a person, and that was something that frankly pissed me off. I’ve heard worse in bathrooms about me. It’s just that I don’t want other kids to have the same issue. Masculinity is what you believe it to be. I think masculinity and femininity is something that’s very old-fashioned. There’s a whole new generation of people who aren’t defined by their sex or race or who they like to sleep with.”
Weir loves to talk about sex, and sexuality, and boys versus girls, and all of these things (“I do have a penis,” he says one afternoon about a month before a tweet questioning Weir’s gender appeared on Lysacek’s Twitter account). He’ll pose for highly suggestive photographs (like the one on the following page that demands that attention to his sexuality be paid), and then insist on perpetuating a preposterous mystery where these matters are concerned. “I have a very specific philosophy about gay, straight, married, sex, partnership,” he says one summer afternoon. He is in a swivel chair at the Eric Alt hair salon in Saddle River, New Jersey. It’s his “25th birthday for the second time,” and he’s come to have his signature pouf (it’s part John Wayne, part Danny Zuko, but then it’s also shaved along the sides and curiously long in back) tended to by Alt, who is a burly guy often seen tending Danielle Staub’s extensions on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. “I only let bears do my beauty,” Weir says. “I like beauty bears.”
Weir is watching himself in the mirror as Alt uses a round brush on the top of his pouf. Every few words he pulls his lips together and looks at himself sideways in the mirror. “I’m completely self-sufficient,” he says. “I don’t need anyone for anything. I can have sex with myself, I can love myself, I can do all those things myself. The importance that people place on me not having another half even if it’s just for sex, it’s irrelevant to me. It’s very old-school. When you put people in boxes, you take away a lot of who that person is. How many gay men do we know who are completely straight-acting, who don’t even seem gay but they get classified in the same box as somebody who’s a drag queen? It’s void. It’s not real. I filled out my census form and I wrote down that I was a Pacific Islander because yes, I’m white, but why is that important? Why is anything important? You don’t need to have labels. I would marry a woman. I very well could. People laugh at me, but why is that so funny? I love women. My whole stance is that I just want people to react to who I am, I don’t want people to react to what I am.”
At his agent’s office, without the distraction of hair dryers or Grindr or Marshmallow getting hit by a car, Weir wants to be very clear about all of it: “My sexuality is not something I’m ashamed of,” he says. “It’s not something I’m not sure of, it’s just that I have a very specific opinion of what sexuality is. For me, sexuality is sex. You can be heterosexual or homosexual with sex but be completely opposite with the relationship aspect of it. The two can go hand in hand, but they don’t have to. So, while someone can enjoy having sex with women, they could be totally happy marrying one of their bros.” His prime example is Simon van Kempen, of the New York Housewives, whom he’d met at a GLAAD event a few nights before. “He was wearing a big pink sweater, a sweater slung over the shoulder, walks very effeminate. And he’s married with two kids. I mean! Life is what you make it! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
So why is he so cagey about his own situation?
“I can speak Russian. I can speak French. I know about Chanel. Especially vintage Chanel.All of these things, but they can’t really be applied to a nine-to-five.”
“I’m not saying I’m gay, bisexual, multisexual, transsexual. I’m just me. And tomorrow if I want to marry a man, I’ll marry a man. If I want to marry a woman, I’ll marry a woman. It’s not categorizing. It’s not a box. But the reason I haven’t told the nitty-gritty and the dirty past and what I chose to be involved with sexually is because, first of all, it’s trashy. It’s not cute.”
Also: It’s because he’s writing a book. Which will put it all out there. And, he hopes, sell lots and lots and lots of copies.
“I’m a realist,” he says. “I’ve been in a couple of relationships, one of them was really long and it ended very badly and heartbreakingly. It was that first puppy love, but already it felt like forever love. It ended, I was heartbroken, and it made me really think about what I wanted and what this life could be with someone else, and I realized I would have ten lifetimes with my best girlfriends before I would get into something just physically. There’s always a little black book for the physical things, but when you’re sick and you’re lying in bed, you want your friends there.”
I suggest that it is sometimes possible to find both qualities in the same person.
“I don’t believe that anyone can complete me,” he answers. “I’m too fussy. There are lots of things I wish I could change in myself but I can’t—where things go, how things are done. Maybe when I’m older I’ll learn to give that up, but you know what? No one makes me happier than myself.”
Weir thinks the whole thing has definitely affected his athletic career. It’s almost as if male figure skaters are expected to be neutered rather than actually gay, like prince figures from fairy tales—in it for the romance but, strictly speaking, chaste.
“I think if I had been more p.c., had I played by the rules a bit more, I’d be the Olympic champion this year,” he says. “Figure skating is a very staid sport. It’s very dusty. It’s old. The people that are judging are 30 years more advanced in their lives and they’re not necessarily going to understand what we like, our hairstyles, our costumes. But they’re judging us. You try to impress them, but I would sooner slit my wrists than sell out. My quote-unquote flamboyance—I hate that word—but my flamboyance and my opinion on the world and that I’m not afraid of who I am, that hurt me.”
He insists that the hook of “Dirty Love,” which goes, “I’m not scared of your dirty love / You think that you know me but I’ll call your bluff / Better raise your game come on let’s make some dirty love,” is not about actual sex but about his relationship with ice-skating judges and journalists.
According to Weir, his sixth-place finish had less to do with his skating than with his relationship to glitter. “I felt going into the Olympics that I had very little support from my own country, from the U.S. Figure Skating federation,” he says one summer afternoon. “I went out there and I did everything I could possibly do, and I knew going into it that a medal wasn’t in my sights. It was political. In figure skating, there’s this thing, there’s a way that you can say, ‘Okay, if you help this skater, our skater, and promote him and push him to the top of the podium and help him get there, we will help yours.’ There’s a lot of that that goes on, and America likes to try and stay away from that issue, but everyone does it. I skated great, Evan skated great, we probably both should have been on the podium somewhere, but you know, the team official came to me and said, ‘We didn’t know you were going to skate like that.’ ”
In Weir’s opinion, Lysacek, who enjoys discussing his heartbreak over the breakup of the Belbin affair, is “easier to put on a Wheaties box.” He behaves. He plays along. (And, never mind, he skates very, very, very well—and certainly more athletically than Weir.) Weir always registers himself in important skating events as “Johnny Gaga Weir.” He’s always speaking Russian and has even turned up to Olympic events dressed in the warm-up jacket of the Russian team. He taunts Lysacek (he recently called him a “slore,” which is half-slut, half-whore) and wears stiletto heels and women’s clothes, not in a drag way, but in a completely matter-of-fact, what’s-in-my-closet kind of way. Often, he has a full face of foundation, even off the ice.
“It’s very hard,” he says, “but you know, someone literally came to my coach while I was crying behind a curtain and said, ‘We wish we had known Johnny was going to skate that well, because we were pushing the two other Americans.’ And that takes balls to say that.”
Weir will be nearly 29 when the next Olympics rolls around, which is really pushing it, age-wise, in the world of international competition. In July, he decided to take himself out of competitive skating for at least a year. He started smoking menthol cigarettes. He wanted to be a little bit wild—like lots of athletes, he missed the “collegiate” experience the first time around, and he’d now like to have a little time with his friends, he’d like to go out dancing, he’d like to experiment with being bad. “Realistically, in four years I will be over the hill for a figure skater,” he says. “It would be a dream to compete in an Olympics in Russia, but I’m realistic. There will be skaters who are 19 and 20 who will be at the top, and even if I did make it, it would just be a nostalgia thing. If politically I couldn’t make it work and do well at this age, and I couldn’t do it four years ago, I’m not going to be able to do it at 29. And I’m very understanding of that. I have to make the most of what I can while I still can. I’ll be public as long as people will have me.
“I work myself to the bone,” he continues. His cheeks are pink and clear. His eyes are round. He looks like a plush toy, or something from a comic book specifically designed to register “cute.” He is sweet and friendly and earnest. He doesn’t shout “gurl” even once. “I work hard to make the people who support me happy,” he says. He peers through his thick, dark eyelashes, blinks them slowly. “I’m training hard and I’m skating and I’m working, and I just don’t want to disappoint my fans.”