Originally published on Advocate.com February 04 2010 3:30 PM ET
If you’ve followed the often bumpy yet consistently glamorous figure skating career of Johnny Weir, you didn’t bat an eye when he took to the rink at the U.S. National Championships last month in a costume replete with crystals, jagged red scars on the back symbolizing a ripped-out pair of angel’s wings, and decadent fur trim. He epitomizes why fans love skating and detractors love to hate it. “If you're a figure skater, you should wear a figure skating costume,” Weir once told me in an interview for the Los Angeles Times. “You can't just wear all black and skate to Beethoven. There needs to be a story, and you're the storyteller.”
Yet animal rights activists have long abhorred the wardrobe tales Weir has spun — namely off-ice, as the 25-year-old Russophile and star of the Sundance Channel's Be Good Johnny Weir worships all things fur. But his bronze medal-winning performance at nationals with white fox gracing his bare shoulders was the last straw for Friends of Animals, which wrote an open letter on January 20 condemning Weir’s Anna Wintour-esque fur proclivities. Weir subsequently released a statement of his own on IceNetwork.com, announcing his decision to replace the fur accents on his costume with faux fur. In typical staccato fashion, he added a few barbs, however: "I hope these activists can understand that my decision to change my costume is in no way a victory for them, but a draw. I am not changing in order to appease them, but to protect my integrity and the integrity of the Olympic Games as well as my fellow competitors.”
Unapologetic and forever coy about his sexuality, Weir spoke recently with The Advocate about the threats, the possibility of scrapping his Fallen Angel costume altogether, and his desire to skate a transcendent performance without someone throwing blood on the ice.
The Advocate: Johnny, tell us about the latest drama in your life.
Johnny Weir: At U.S. Nationals, I had new costume with a tuft of white fox fur. I thought it was beautiful, and I thought it portrayed perfectly the fallen angel idea I had for my long program. A few days later, I started hearing rumblings that Friends of Animals released a letter that they were pissed, and that they were challenging me not to wear fur anymore. Of course I said that I didn’t accept that challenge. They were using me to get their name out there — it’s Olympics season, and it was a perfect time to latch on to someone. Then they started sending faxes to people in my circle, my costume designer, my agent. I don’t know if they were all from Friends of Animals — there were a lot of explicit [faxes and e-mails] sent. Someone found out my home number, probably from a friend of a friend of a friend, and started harassing me as well.
What were the messages?
Things like "We hope you die, we’re going to piss on your grave, we’d like you to be killed the same way as the fox for your costume." Lots of things about my death. So I wanted to release an open statement. I didn’t want everyone in the world thinking I went hunting daily for foxes. I’ll change the costume, but it doesn’t change my opinion about wearing fur.
Did you truly feel threatened by the backlash?
I absolutely felt threatened. If somebody is overzealous about a cause, it can get dangerous. I don’t know what kind of crazy people out there would want to harm me or my coach or my family. I’m going go with faux fur because I don’t want some crazy person throwing blood on the ice. I don’t want to end up like Monica Seles. And there’s a chance I may not wear the costume at all. It will all be a personal choice about what I look better in.
Inexcusable personal threats aside, some people do have a legitimate beef with the fur industry and the widespread abuse of animals that occurs. What do you say to them?
I’m knowledgeable about the fur industry. It’s a dirty business, but it’s a business; someone has to do it, and I don’t have a problem supporting it. It bothers me to think that people think I’m a horrible person, that I’m personally killing animals. I appreciate what they’re saying, but I appreciate a beautiful fur coat, I appreciate products made out of animals. I eat steak, I wear ice skates made out of leather, I have Ugg boots, so I guess I’m wearing sheep. I just don’t like how animal groups go crazy about a fox or a beaver but say nothing about cows dying for shoes. They always seem to pick the cutest animals. It’s not in my personality to back down ... if I did, I would have nothing done in my life.
So you’re not putting down the fur coat anytime soon.
I’m on the pro-fur side. That’s where I’ve always been. So not until I see a chinchilla wearing me.
How has training been going? Did [coach] Galina [Zmievskaya] yell at you today?
No [laughs], she was happy with me today. We had a weigh-in and I’m on target. [Weir told us his weight off the record; needless to say, it’s what you’d expect of an elite athlete one week from the Olympics.] I feel really good, training is going excellent, and all this drama has actually helped me focus. Galina didn’t know about all the drama until she heard about it on Russian radio station. She thought it was funny, because in Russia fur is such a natural thing.
You’ve allowed a camera crew into your life for some time now, and we’ve seen you from many angles. Has the endless attention on your sexuality and your decision not to directly discuss it died down at all?
The gay-or-not-gay question has died down — people got over it. I still feel the same way about it. It doesn’t matter to me if someone is gay, and it doesn’t matter to me as a person what sexuality I put out there. I don’t want them to look of me as white or gay or Whoopi Goldberg or whatever. I want them to see Johnny Weir. Anyway, all the gossip has been all about the fur issue at this point.
Before we let you go, who are you picks for the ladies competition in Vancouver?
I train with Russian national champion Ksenia Makarova, and I’m very supportive of her because she’s my training buddy. I love her and want her to do well. But of course Yuna [Kim] is amazing, as is Miki Ando of Japan.