Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Bullying, gender expression, sexuality and Johnny Weir

I've been thinking a lot about bullying lately. I live in an area under intense scrutiny for a recent bullying event that lead to a suicide in a local school. It is the second such incident in about a year in my area. The film Straightlaced about teens who do not observe conventional gender norms and often confront bullying because of it is being shown at a local theater this weekend, partly in response to these incidents.
And these things have made me think about Johnny Weir. He was pretty much overlooked in Vancouver. This was not surprising. The US Skating Federation has never really appreciated his outspoken ways and neither have other conservative factions of the international skating community. This was his last Olympic games. His style of skating is not rewarded under the current scoring system (which is desperately in need of another overhaul I think. Curling is easier to understand than how jumps and spins and footwork elements are scored!)
I have been watching Johnny Weir's reality show on Sundance which is a continuation of the documentary Pop Star on Ice which I saw at the Provincetown Film Festival last summer and LOVED! So I am clearly someone who appreciates Weir's style and personality. Others do not. And that's fine. But the remarks being made publicly by commentators are getting out of hand.
And it happened again in Vancouver when two male Canadian commentators launched into a discussion of his costumes and skating style that devolved into them suggesting he take a gender test and maybe even skate in the women's event.
And you may not like Johnny Weir but he handled that situation better than pretty much anyone else I can think of would have. He didn't ask for an apology; he said they were entitled to their opinion. And then he made them--and hopefully anyone else who has ever said such things--feel really bad. He said he hoped that they would think next time before they opened their mouths to talk about such things. Not think about him and his potential hurt feelings, after all Weir noted that he's "heard worse in bathrooms and whatnot" about himself. But about children who, like himself, do not conform to normative gender standards. Because many of those children have not had the benefit of supportive parents who raise them to be strong and who love their children no matter how they express themselves. Weir notes the good fortune he has had in having such parents.
So while it is clear that Johnny Weir experienced various forms of bullying--some on a public stage--he was able to get through it because of a strong sense of self that was nurtured at a very young age by his family. But he is right to call out those public figures, like commentators, who are contributing to a homophobic, misogynist culture in which children not as fortunate as Johnny Weir, suffer great emotional and often physical harm because of who they are or who they want to be.
I think it's wrong that Weir was pushed aside in Vancouver. But I am glad that some media outlets are recognizing his fabulousness that manifests in more than just his costumes.

1 comment:

Debra Chasnoff said...

Really like your column. I'm the director of Straightlaced and am really looking forward to the screening of on Sunday in Northampton -- . FYI we are also doing a screening of our other film, "Let's Get Real" about bias and bullying in middle school, in Hadley on Monday late afternoon. Both are from youth's perspective and have helped get things moving in hundreds of communities.