When something appears in the New York Times, you can’t really say it isn’t getting attention, but I was struck by a passage in this Selena Roberts column, about Johnny Weir, the flaming figure skater, and wanted to point it out:
He isn’t required to satisfy anyone’s curiosity (about his sexuality). He doesn’t need the validation. He is guided by his confidence and by working-class parents who nurtured his individuality from the start.
“I remember all my students,” said Tawn Battiste, Weir’s first-grade teacher at Quarryville Elementary School in Pennsylvania. “He was small, a good-looking boy and very artistic. Even as a 6-year-old, he was wearing jewelry. He liked hemp necklaces. He was far out even as a 6-year-old.”
Teachers understand too well how such individuality can also mean a bloody nose. At ice rinks, youth players whipped pucks at Weir for choosing figure skating over hockey and digging Oksana Baiul over Joe Montana.
One day, Weir may discover a way to detail his playground survival to help a child who has been the victim of spitballs and noogies and threats from bullies. Sometimes, as Battiste described, Weir can sound as if he has a chip on his shoulder when talking about his past.
“He is a role model in how he has achieved a goal,” Battiste said. “But he hasn’t really said, ‘This was my childhood and here’s how I dealt with it.’ Maybe he will. I have to keep reminding myself that Johnny is still young.”
I was talking to someone a few weeks ago, who has a friend with a son like this. Five years old, plays with Barbies, loves to play dress-up and clamors to help mommy arrange flowers.
“Let’s put these in the living room,” he said when they were finished. “It needs some detail.”
I asked another friend about this, one of those gay-from-birth men, wondering what he’d tell this mother. And he said he’d do what Weir’s parents seem to have done: Nurtured his individuality from the start. It’s a fine line for a parent to walk, between “You’re perfect just the way you are” and “If you wear nail polish to school, sooner or later you’re going to get your ass kicked.”
He wrote me, “I have a feeling that the Isaac Mizrahis of the world had mothers who gladly let them play with the sewing machine and gave unconditional encouragement. Today Mizrahi’s probably the number-one reason any of his classmates attend a reunion.”
I think he’s right.