The Adam Rippon Effect

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in lgbt 09 Mar 2018

image courtesy of Adam Rippon on instagram

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how the media and most of America have embraced openly – no, defiantly – gay figure skater Adam Rippon. He’s a smart, funny, handsome proud gay man who embraces his inner “bitch” (his words) and isn’t afraid to tell it. Watching him on shows like “Ellen” and “The View”, he pulls no punches: he is who he is: his gestures, voice and body language are uniquely his own. He’s not trying to butch it up or make himself more accessible to the folks in small-town Ohio (where I’m from).

I talked to some (straight, male) family members from Ohio, who normally wouldn’t find figure skating to be their cup of tea. Surprisingly, they liked Rippon, finding him: “Real”, “Honest” and “Being himself, no matter what other people think”.

I wasn’t yet convinced that straight men would embrace him, so I tried one more group: my straight male friends. Comments from this group were more ambivalent, but, still, Adam won out: “He’s awfully feminine, with all his sequins and stuff, but the guy is funny as hell and doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks. I like that” and “He’s not someone I’d want to hang out with, but I like his ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. I’d hope I would be like that if I were gay.”

Wow! The Adam Rippon Effect is real, at least, in my experiment. This raised some questions in my mind:

What does this mean for gay men/queer people?

Is his ‘take no prisoners’ attitude actually pretty butch?

Is he a ‘real man’ because he doesn’t worry about what other people think?

Adam Rippon appears to have learned from some pretty fierce drag queens: taking their strength and ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude as his own.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome and has an amazing body, but so do many other Olympians. What sets him apart is his personality, energy and verbal wit. When NBC wants you to be an Olympic announcer as soon as your event is over, you know you’ve tapped a major nerve in the American TV-watching public.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Rippon said he did not want to just be an example to gay people, but to everyone. “I think one thing I want people to come away (with) from this competition is that I’m not like a gay icon and I’m not America’s gay sweetheart,” said Rippon.  “I’m America’s sweetheart and I’m an icon.”

There he goes again: attacking heteronormatity with his own unique brand of Adamness. It’s the Adam Rippon Effect full-force; he acknowledges his less-than beautiful side too: “I feel so much stronger since coming out . . . now I’m the fully actualized monster I’m supposed to be.” He also called himself, “a hot mess” in one of his TV interviews.

Rippon describes his coming-out as an act of empowerment: “I think you spend so much time worrying about what other people think about, that you realize that you had all of this extra energy that you didn’t need to be using. And, you know, I think straight people never have this experience of coming out. And it’s such a life-changing moment that you become so strong. I gained so much power and strength from that moment.”

The recent Olympics are already fading into the past, but, as one media outlet put it: “Adam Rippon is the gift that keeps on giving”. At the Oscars, he did not disappoint: in addition to his tuxedo, he wore a leather harness, making him an honorary “sweetheart” in the leather community.

I thought that, before the Olympics, hunky, ultra-masculine skier Gus Kenworthy would be the breakout gay media star. He’s so much easier for mainstream America to love: heck, he even had his own Head & Shoulders commercial. But, no…it’s androgynous, snappy-comeback Adam who everyone’s talking about. As I ponder the long-term effects of the phenomenon that is Adam Rippon, I wonder:

Will he encourage all us queer people to be more ourselves and less fearful of offending straight society?

Will he lift the rest of the LGBT community with him?

Is the Adam Rippon Effect lasting, or just a temporary thing?

Stay tuned…