The Adam ‘Rippon’ Effect and How He Changed America

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It’s difficult to remember a world without Adam Rippon.

You don’t have to love skating or sports to love Rippon. He’s witty, smart, poised, and utterly inspirational. As the oldest rookie to qualify for the Olympics at 28 and the first openly gay American figure skater to compete at the Olympics, his path to success has been groundbreaking, although it hasn’t been without setbacks. In many ways, Rippon’s constant media presence throughout and post Olympics and his self proclaimed title as America’s sweetheart paved the way for Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s historic presidential campaign.

RELATED: Adam Rippon Reveals his 5th-Grade Sexual Awakening and Coming Out Experience in New Memoir: EXCERPT

Then there were the optics of his friendship with Gus Kenworthy which may have done more good for gay youth than any thing else in recent memory. Teen Vogue said, “Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy, who are reportedly the first two openly gay U.S. Winter Olympians, took to social media to share a series of photos announcing their arrival at the games. “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it,” skier Kenworthy tweeted, along with images of the two athletes in matching Team USA attire. Rippon, a figure skater, shared another photo, writing: “Representing the USA is one of the greatest honors of my life and being able to do it as my authentic self makes it all so much sweeter.” His tweet was accompanied by several emoji, including the rainbow flag.”

Outsports said: “One of the byproducts of athletes coming out as LGBTQ is that they inspire those people still wrestling with their sexual orientation. Olympians Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy discovered this at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

They have learned about other gay athletes and coaches, because a trickle of those athletes and coaches have approached them to say thanks. Asked of an estimate of how many, Kenworthy began with “60” and then said, “I was kidding,” after which Rippon said, “I was like, Oh, my. . . ”

“I had two athletes and a coach come up to me,” Kenworthy said. “And Adam had . . .

“I had a coach,” Rippon said.

Rippon, a figure skater, and Kenworthy, a freestyle skier, both came out as gay in 2015 and were the most prominent American athletes among the 15 out Winter Olympians. They both realized that they have become symbols of hope for others still closeted, telling Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post (himself openly gay) that “they’re grateful for the reach of their voices.”

 

Post Olympics he was set up by Stephen Colbert to meet Reese Witherspoon with whom he had been exchanging meet cute tweets with throughout the games.

And Rippon’s famous response:

The Hollywood Reporter said, “After striking up a Twitter friendship during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, Reese Witherspoon and Adam Rippon finally met on Wednesday night’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

While interviewing Witherspoon for her upcoming movie A Wrinkle in Time, Colbert mentioned that Rippon was his next guest and asked if she would like to meet him, to which Witherspoon excitedly said yes. When Rippon came onstage, she told him, “This is the relationship the world has been waiting for” and complimented Rippon on how good he smelled.

But if there was a gay cri de coeur that said what we were all thinking it was the brilliant piece that ran on Splinter News titled “The Faggy Magic of Adam Rippon”.

Rippon is not Michael Sam, kissing his long-term boyfriend chastely on TV during the NFL draft, or Gus Kenworthy with his square and stubbled jaw. His gayness is not an afterthought, but a central piece of his personality. In conservative parts of the country, or even on New York’s streets, he might, like many of my friends, still be called a fag and gawked at.

For decades, gays, lesbians, trans people, and queer people have made a bargain: We get representation on television, in movies, and in sports (albeit barely—there still aren’t any out gay men currently active in professional sports), but only if we convince the rest of the world we’re just like everyone else. In the 1990s and 2000s, the idea that gays and lesbians were as boring as straights became such a common narrative that The Onion even poked fun at it in 2001, declaring that the lewdness of gay pride parades would show straights what gays were really like, and erase all the progress they’d made.

The Faggy Magic of Adam Rippon

Rippon’s new memoir Beautiful on the Outside is a slight volume whose tone evokes the best of Chelsea Handler. Rippon admits to being a fan of Handler but says he set out to write a book “that could touch on a lot of things that happened in my life that were important, that felt like pivotal moments. But more than anything I wanted to write something that people would laugh along with me in those moments just as I had to laugh at it myself to survive. So if this book had like a mother, maybe it would be Bossy Pants by Tina Fey or Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea by Chelsea Handler. It has two mothers—which is very 2019.”

 

Gaynrd spoke to Rippon.

Gaynrd: One of the things I didn’t realize, I mean, I knew this vaguely because of the Nancy Kerrigan / Tanya Harding thing happened when I was younger, but other than that I didn’t realize figure skating was so combative. In the clip that went viral of you where you talk about ‘I want my money I want my check’, I remember the first couple times I listened to it and I had a friend listen to it, I didn’t realize that what you were talking about. What happened exactly? Adam Rippon: Uh, ok, so what happened was,  I was skating well, and I was in second place at the competition, and if you get second place you get the prize money, and like it’s really expensive to skate, and I wanted it. It was  $13,000. And so when I first started there were bees that got into the rink. I know that’s not the most dramatic thing you’ve ever heard, but these bees came into the rink and they all started dying on the ice. So then in the beginning before I even started the referee blew the whistle at me, which basically means I need to stop and go over, so I  went over, and they said, ‘could you pick up the bees on the ice?’

RELATED: Teenage Adam Rippon F—king Hated Ice Skating: WATCH

And I’m like, ‘Is this for real?’ This bitch has to be joking. And she wasn’t.  So I told her I would only pick them up if she gave me more time to get ready. And she’s like, ‘ok, I’ll give you more time’. So I went over, I picked them up, and on my first jump I put my hand down and dislocated my shoulder. So like I, I kinda just moved it back into place and my coach is like, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’. But I was like, if I stop you get a deduction for stopping. So I was like, ‘there is no fucking way I’m going to stop’ because if I stop I might not get my prize money, because I might drop down because of the deduction, and I’m like ‘that’s not going to happen to me!’ Because I’ll do anything for money, including throwing my shoulder back into its socket. 

Above: Rippon’s first viral moment: “I want my money. I want my check.”

You talk about how your mom made you watch the PBS Salem Witch Trials Documentary, when she caught you bullying someone.  I was thinking about Channing Smith who recently killed himself in Tennessee because some kids outed a screenshot of something he said on Snapchat. And you talk about bullying in an era when we didn’t have that. What do you think is the best way to combat bullying (A) and (B) do you think it’s worse because of social media? I know that’s kinda an obvious question, but if so what would you recommend? I think the best way to combat bullying is to focus on the things that you like about yourself and sometimes it feels hard when people are teasing you and making fun of you all the time. Online it can make it hard because a lot times people say things online that they would never say in person. But we take them so personally. So a lot of times I think that when you get a hateful comment or something online the best thing to do is respond to five nice comments or any positive comments you get before you get to the negative comments. You shouldn’t only put out attention to those who send out hate. It’s not fair that we only give people who don’t wish us well attention.

So do you not read the comments anymore on social media? How do you deal with it personally? I don’t read the comments at all. I really don’t. I post my shit and then I leave it there, I only put things online that I think my friends would think is funny or enjoyable. I think that’s why I have a good experience with social media, I think that has also attracted an audience who thinks that they are my friends. So when I go on the net, of course I get some hateful you know, hooker, you know, that tries to message me, but there are so many nice people that do, that it totally out weighs the bad. 

That totally reminds me of when your mom was after you for posting a shirtless picture on Instagram. Does she still comment on that stuff or does she not care anymore either? Oh she’ll comment on it, but now she’s like, ‘lookin’ good’. Like I’m still trying to figure out my mom. Yeah, it’s been a 180. 

That’s awesome! You talk about having an eating disorder a bit. Actually, I feel like you don’t actually say that or you suggest you’re on the verge of a having a disorder after meeting with the nutritionist in the book. Can you talk about that a little bit? Because I know there have been a lot of studies that say gay boys have a higher chance of eating disorders than their heterosexual counterparts. And do you still have a fraught relationship with food or is that behind you? You know, when it comes to eating disorders, I don’t like to say I had an eating disorder, because I feel like a lot of the time eating disorders are tied in with your own image of yourself. What I was trying to do was the most to be in the best shape that I could be in, to perform my best. So I wasn’t doing it because I didn’t like myself I was doing it because I thought I was doing the extra mile. Do I still have a complicated relationship with food? Yeah, I do. Because I spent some many years getting used to that feeling of being hungry and associating it with working hard. So it’s like a double edge sword of like eating well and feeling good about it. And you know, I guess I am describing an eating disorder, but you know, I wasn’t anorexic, I never looked in the mirror and was like, ‘you know, you’re ugly. You need to change yourself’.  It just I’d feel like, if I were thinner I’d be more competitive so I’d do that because as a 5’7” 150 lb white guy I’m just not as light as someone who is 5’5” and 130 lbs. I have an extra 20 lbs to carry around so you know, I was just trying to do what I thought was best. I didn’t go about it the right way and I didn’t try to elevate the strengths I had. I was just trying to chip away and the weaknesses I thought I had. 

I read an article in New York Times about your coach Rafael, he said he had to change his approach to coaching because of that; he had to figure out other things to say other than fat, I guess. Well you know what, when you work with a coach that speaks English as a second language the direct translation does get lost you know. Somebody could be like, ‘you need to get into shape’ the fastest way to say that is, ‘you’re fat’. Maybe you’re not fat. We associate fat with being big and not you know, we associate it with being almost like a dirty word. So when someone says you’re fat we have this completely different image of what maybe this coach who speaks English not well means. Because their like, you’re out of shape, your cardio isn’t up, it’s just so much easier to go, you’re fat. It’s a learning curve especially for someone who, you know, comes from a regime of training athletes in the Soviet Union who basically could be like, you’re not going to see your parents until you can complete these jumps. Like it’s different you know. Especially for someone like Rafael who I worked with in his 60’s from Moscow in the Soviet times, what we considered normal is not what he considered normal growing up. 

At the end of the book, you say you would be as happy going into entertainment as you would coaching. Has anything changed since then? What’s on the horizon for you? I always wanted to be an entertainer, and I think I didn’t know how I would get started in that. And it all kinda came together for me when I was at the Olympics. And it was sort of that open door like, oh this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I need to step through it right now. And um, I did. I still enjoy and I try to go into the rink and help my coach Rafael, when I have time, because being on the ice is something that I do enjoy and something that I’m good at and I know a lot about. And in this world where I’m just getting started and just getting projects together I feel like a novice, it’s nice to go into the rink and feel like and expert. It kinda makes me feel like I’m keeping two feet on the ground. 

 

Beautiful on the Outside is on sale now. 

Photos courtesy of the Rippon family.

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