(Warning, this post gets pretty ranty by the end.)
Adam Rippon Is Famous. What Now?
“I’ve done a lot as an athlete. So I don’t want to take anything away from that. But at the same time I don’t think that’s why I’m here today in this room. There are other athletes who are more decorated or more accomplished, but they’re not as funny and they’re not as cute.”
Okay, not just that. Not by a long shot. This interview is absolutely worth reading, and it isn’t just full of stuff like that. And as irritating as it can be (to him, I’m sure) that all interviews eventually become largely about his sexuality, I’m mostly glad about that because he’s saying things that have needed to be said, loudly and in public, for a long, long time.
Whenever I watch/hear/read Adam, I’m compelled to think about the fact that my former industry (musical theater) is also one where all the boys/men are assumed to be gay, and similarly, it can put an extreme amount of pressure on kids coming up who actually are gay to try to prove that they’re not—not only by trying to date girls, but more gravely to basically put their bodies and all their instincts into an invisible straightjacket (how apt is that word right now?). Coming into teaching, it’s often been made very clear to me that it’s part of my job to help them put on that straightjacket, and honestly, that makes me sick. I refuse to do it. It’s unnecessary, cruel, and damaging. And it’s not just boys who are affected by the industry’s heavy gender-policing. Girls, too, are expected to look and behave a certain way to be accepted and employable, and this is where it gets even more personal for me. Because I sucked at performing as “girl” every day of my life, and I can personally attest to the long-term damage done by trying so, so hard—constantly suppressing my actual self in an endless battle for the rewards that came with faking it just right, or even close enough. I refuse to be a part of doing to my own students what was done (mostly innocently, by genuinely caring people, who were just trying to help) to me.
Does playing various roles onstage require learning physical and vocal mannerisms that suit those roles? Yes, sometimes. So why isn’t this the way we teach that? Learning to move and talk like someone else is just part of the actor’s toolbox, isn’t it? So why do we treat certain qualities as so desirable that they must also extend to the performer’s life outside of that role? Furthermore, why are specific (rigid, unimaginative, old as the freaking hills) gender-associated mannerisms treated as the default anyway? Aren’t we bored with this yet? I know I am.
Not that the musical theater industry is remotely alone in this. Personal anecdote: One of the reasons I left the business was that I was tired of living in a world where I felt like I always had to dress/make up/act like someone else, both on and off the stage. I started writing songs during my time on the road with Master Class (my last show before I quit the biz), because I saw it as a venue for more genuine self-expression. I was tired of feeling like a cog in someone else’s machine, and I thought this could be a way of building my own machine instead. While I was working on building up my own catalogue & skills as a singer-songwriter, I sang with some other people’s bands, and wouldn’t you know it… one of the recurring conflicts I found myself having within some of those bands was that I didn’t dress up they way they wanted me to on stage. I didn’t look “cool” enough or “sexy” enough. Basically, I still wasn’t girl enough. Message received.
I love Adam for bringing these questions to the surface, not just in the skating world, but in the public eye in general. He’s able to do this as an accomplished athlete who is also a very conventionally attractive white man, and I’m happy that this is how he’s using his privilege right now.
This has turned out to be an unexpectedly long post for something that was just going to be a quick share. Honestly, I could talk on this subject all day, and if we add on eviscerating the gender binary, it could go on for weeks. I’ll stop for now. HMU for more, anytime.