Flam­boy­ant, yet with a steely re­solve forged by ad­ver­sity, Adam Rip­pon proves it takes balls to be a queen – and the world loves him for it. Pro­file by An­drew M Potts.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

How he be­came Amer­ica’s sweat­h­eart.

Things could have worked out very dif­fer­ently for Adam Rip­pon. Raised in Scran­ton, Penn­syl­va­nia, he was born with a se­vere hear­ing im­pair­ment. Luck­ily, his par­ents no­ticed that he wasn’t de­vel­op­ing like the other kids and took him to a spe­cial­ist. Af­ter un­der­go­ing cor­rec­tive surgery at Yale Univer­sity be­fore he turned one, Adam was soon able to hear nor­mally but more health woes were to come. He de­vel­oped a se­vere re­s­pi­ra­tory con­di­tion and, aged just five, suf­fered a burst ap­pendix. That’s not the start in life that you’d ex­pect for some­one who goes on to be­come a world-fa­mous ath­lete.

But Adam re­mem­bers, from an early age, get­ting the mes­sage that there was some­thing else wrong with him – be­ing gay.

“I re­ally brought that with me: that peo­ple think gay peo­ple are dis­gust­ing,” Adam re­called in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post ear­lier this year. “I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Okay, I might be gay. But I won’t tell any­body. No­body will ever know’.”

Adam and his sib­lings were raised to be open-minded, but he was sent to Catholic school where he was made to feel that there was some­thing not-quite-right about him. He re­mem­bers mak­ing an ef­fort to speak more deeply and cen­sored his man­ner­isms to be more like the other boys. He tried to be good at ball sports but it wasn’t to be. Then he lucked into ice skat­ing.

Each win­ter, a base­ball field in nearby Mon­tage Moun­tain was al­lowed to flood and freeze over so peo­ple could skate on it, and Adam would skate there for the first time. Fig­ure skat­ing was his mother’s pas­sion and she took Adam with her when she went to prac­tice. “I didn’t re­ally like it at first but grew to love it,” he said in a 2007 in­ter­view.

At age ten he be­gan fig­ure skat­ing in his own right. Within three years he had landed his first triple jump. Then, aged just 16, he won his first sil­ver medal in the Novice cat­e­gory at the US Fig­ure Skat­ing Cham­pi­onships in Oregon. Adam was soon trav­el­ling the world to com­pete in Ju­nior league events, win­ning gold in Slove­nia later that year and then plac­ing sixth in the In­ter­na­tional Skat­ing Union Ju­nior Grand Prix in Croa­tia. By 2007 he was ranked sixth place in the Ju­nior cat­e­gory at the US Fig­ure Skat­ing Cham­pi­onships.

Re­turn­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Ju­nior Grand Prix he won gold at the Harghita Cup in Ro­ma­nia, then sil­ver at the Sofia Cup. That qual­i­fied him for the fi­nals of the Grand Prix where he won gold and be­came the first male fig­ure skater to break 200 points in a Ju­nior com­pe­ti­tion. When he made his de­but in the Se­nior di­vi­sion at the 2009 US Cham­pi­onships he placed sev­enth. The fol­low­ing year he was fifth over­all.

His first chance at Olympic glory came when he was cho­sen as a sec­ond al­ter­nate for the 2010 Vancouver Win­ter Games, but no one dropped out so he didn’t get to com­pete.

In Septem­ber that year LifeSkate de­clared Adam was “poised to be the next big star” of in­ter­na­tional fig­ure skat­ing and he al­ready had his eyes on the Sochi Win­ter Olympics.

But the next few years were dogged by in­juries and ac­ci­dents. Adam and Cana­dian skater Pa­trick Chan col­lided, both crash­ing onto the ice, while prac­tic­ing

for the Skate Canada In­ter­na­tional in On­tario, leav­ing Adam with a large welt on his face. Two years later he had another on-ice col­li­sion with China’s Song Nan, who re­ceived a con­cus­sion and had to with­draw from the 2012 Cup Of China just min­utes into the event.

In 2013 he was forced to with­draw from the Four Con­ti­nents com­pe­ti­tion due to an an­kle in­jury but was back on his skates in time for the Hil­ton HHonors Skate Amer­ica com­pe­ti­tion in Detroit where he won sil­ver, set­ting per­sonal bests in both the long and short cat­e­gories. De­spite that he failed to qual­ify for the Sochi team, leav­ing him to briefly think about re­tir­ing from the sport.

“I gave my­self another chance and stopped putting so much pres­sure on get­ting to the Olympics or be­ing na­tional cham­pion,” he told Time mag­a­zine. “I just fo­cused on be­ing a bet­ter ath­lete, and it took so much pres­sure off. My goals be­came per­sonal.”

The start of Adam’s 2014-2015 skat­ing sea­son was plagued with equip­ment is­sues un­til he ad­justed his blade brand and mount, re­sult­ing in re­newed con­sis­tency at US cham­pi­onships, and was as­signed to the US teams for both the Four Con­ti­nents and World cham­pi­onships.

Adam had thought about com­ing out pub­licly as gay in the lead up to Sochi but de­ferred the de­ci­sion to the fol­low­ing year. He spilled the news in the Oc­to­ber 2015 is­sue of Skat­ing mag­a­zine, telling his in­ter­viewer, “I’d just like to be a good role model. When ath­letes come out and say that they’re gay, it makes it a lit­tle more nor­mal and less of a big deal, es­pe­cially in the ath­letic com­mu­nity. You have a lot of re­spect for your fel­low ath­letes for work­ing hard to­ward a goal. Their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion takes a back­seat to that.”

In 2016 he won gold at the US Cham­pi­onships and came sixth at the World Cham­pi­onships in Bos­ton where his Bea­tles-themed rou­tines earned him a stand­ing ova­tion from spec­ta­tors. Pick­ing up a slew of bronze medals later that year al­lowed him to com­pete in the fi­nals of the world Grand Prix of fig­ure skat­ing where he came sixth. How­ever, in early 2017 Adam sprained his an­kle and frac­tured a bone in his foot dur­ing a warm up ses­sion and had to with­draw from that year’s US Cham­pi­onships.

De­spite that he still man­aged to qual­ify for the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics where he was one of 15 openly gay ath­letes com­pet­ing in the Games and only one of two openly gay men on the Amer­i­can team – the other be­ing Gus Ken­wor­thy, who he walked with dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­monies.

How­ever, Adam was mak­ing head­lines be­fore the Games even be­gan when he re­fused to meet with US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence who he had been call­ing out over the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s treat­ment of trans peo­ple in the mil­i­tary and his record of op­po­si­tion to LGBTIQ rights while gover­nor of In­di­ana and in Congress.

In 2000 Pence had made a state­ment as part of his con­gres­sional cam­paign that called for “an au­dit to en­sure that fed­eral dol­lars were no longer be­ing given to or­ga­ni­za­tions that cel­e­brate and en­cour­age the types of be­hav­iours that fa­cil­i­tate the spread­ing of the HIV virus… Re­sources should be di­rected to­ward those in­sti­tu­tions [which] pro­vide as­sis­tance to those seek­ing to change their sex­ual be­hav­iour.”

In re­cent years Pence has re­peat­edly de­nied that this was an en­dorse­ment of so-called “ex-gay” pro­grams or “con­ver­sion ther­a­pies” aimed at “cur­ing” peo­ple of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions. Adam has said he would be will­ing to sit down with Pence to talk through the is­sue af­ter the Olympics.

When Adam’s fig­ure skat­ing team won the bronze in the group event, he be­came the first Amer­i­can to win an Olympic medal while openly gay. His achievement be­came one of the high­lights for the US in what was its worst Olympic per­for­mance in 20 years – with the en­tire team tak­ing home only 23 medals.

The com­bi­na­tion of his ath­letic strength and flam­boy­ant, el­e­gant per­for­mances made Adam ex­tremely watch­able. By the time he re­turned to the US, he was a star and be­ing de­scribed as “Amer­ica’s sweet­heart”. While happy to be a role model, he doesn’t feel the need to fit a het­eronor­ma­tive stereo­type, and his pub­lic per­sona is unashamedly, proudly camp.

Adam’s nat­u­ral abil­ity to slip into his new role as a celebrity was demon­strated on The Late Show With Stephen Col­bert when he met one of his idols, ac­tress Reece Wither­spoon. When he was in­vited to the Academy Awards, he wore a leather har­ness as part of his out­fit, again turn­ing heads.

He’s also not afraid to ac­knowl­edge that he has a great ass. Even be­fore Pyeongchang he ad­dressed the is­sue, tweet­ing, “There’s been a lot ques­tions to whether I com­pete with butt pads on and I’d like to set the record straight and let it be known that no, it’s just my real butt. Thank you for your in­ter­est, com­ments, and con­cern. Love you.”

And when a fel­low guest on Watch What Hap­pens Live asked him if he needed a “rough top” he play­fully re­sponded, “Why not?”

Not ev­ery­one is happy with Adam’s flam­boy­ance and he has at­tracted his share of haters on­line. How­ever, he had a mes­sage for them in the days af­ter win­ning bronze, tweet­ing, “To all those who tweet at me say­ing that they ‘hope I fail’, I have failed many times in my life. But more im­por­tantly, I’ve learned from every set­back, proudly own up to my mis­takes, grown from dis­ap­point­ments, and now I’m a glama­zon bitch ready for the run­way.”

It’s not clear what’s next for Adam Rip­pon. Some­thing like Danc­ing With The Stars would be an ob­vi­ous show­biz fit. In the mean­time, he’s been work­ing with GLAAD on a youth en­gage­ment cam­paign.

“When I was young, to have some­body out there that I could’ve looked up to, it would’ve made a world of dif­fer­ence, and it would’ve changed my life,” he said re­cently of the project.


Ac­cept­ing the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign’s Vis­i­bil­ity Award. (ABOVE) With fel­low gay Olympian Gus Ken­wor­thy at the Open­ing Cer­e­mony in Pyeongchang.

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