I’m still in denial that Karina Manta and Joe Johnson are retiring so they can run off with my heart and join a circus. Okay, it’s Cirque du Soleil, and I’m sure it’s going to be lit. Instead of whining about how much I miss them, I thought I would write a post about how they, particularly Karina, influenced me over the past year.
I never thought I’d see the day we had an openly bisexual female figure skater. Which is weird, because for years, figure skating has been labeled a “gay sport”. My parents, God bless them, didn’t do the best job teaching me about the gays. My earliest memories of them were not favorable: whenever we saw a man who did not conform to the standard masculine image, my dad used to stage-whisper, “He looks so gay.” And naturally figure skating was full of men in sequins, feathers, and frills, so it wasn’t uncommon to hear him make such comments several times in an Olympic skating broadcast. Being about six at the time, I assumed that “gay” was just a rude word for a flamboyant man. It wasn’t until I was in junior high that I got smart and googled around. I learned that being gay had nothing to do with your love for frills, that girls could be gay too, and that some people could even like both sexes.
And when I was 15, I realized that I was one of those people.
That’s when I noticed the hole in the sport: we had a solid bunch of excellent gay male skaters, but not a single gay female skater. The first male skater to come out during his career was Rudy Galindo in 1996, but until last year, the list of gay skaters looked suspiciously like a list of politicians in the 1700s: all male. I had heard that a Japanese world medalist named Fumie Suguri had come out as bisexual some years after retirement, but almost no one talked about it, and there were no LGBTQ+ women currently in the sport.
To fill the void, I became a hardcore stan of the badass women in pair skating, who rocked short haircuts and jumpsuits rather than buns and glittery pink dresses. I figured it was the closest to gay female skaters I was going to get. (Not to mention, they were all very attractive and I am very, very gay).
Last October, I was seriously contemplating whether to come out or not. One night, I was hanging out on Twitter, as I often do, and I decided to check in on what was happening with Karina Manta and Joe Johnson, an ice dance couple I liked to watch because they were fun and inventive, not to mention hilarious. That’s when I stumbled upon a video Karina had tweeted just a week before, titled “I’m With You”. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s the video where Karina came out.
I remember just staring blankly at my phone screen for several minutes. Did that just happen? And better yet, it was a skater I loved?
Before I had the big talk with my mom on National Coming Out Day a few days later, I reminded myself that if awesome Karina was still awesome after she came out, so was I. Prior to this, my gay idol had always been Eric Radford, who is an amazing role model of the LGBTQ+ community and also just a wonderful guy, and he was definitely one of the people who inspired me to come out. But having someone to look up to who was both female and bi like me, not to mention the first one in her sport to come out during her career, was crucial for me.
I think I might’ve stayed in the closet for a couple years if it hadn’t been for Karina. I wasn’t scared of who I was per se, but I felt like it would be an awkward big deal, and once it was out, there was no putting it back in.
You better bet I screamed my head off when Karina and Joe brought the house down at US Nationals that year. Not only did they make history as the first all-LGBTQ+ figure skating couple, they did it in STYLE. I mean, you really can’t top skating to “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” with fabulous faux leather costumes and diva factor in spades. “It was a celebration,” said Olympic silver medalist Tanith White. At the end, the crowd gave a well-deserved standing ovation. Straight, gay, undecided – everyone was swept away in an awesome show.
So Karina, I just want to say thanks. Thanks for inspiring a confused little 15-year-old girl from Wisconsin to speak up. Thanks for paving the way for other women in figure skating to tell their stories. Thanks for being brave. Thanks for being fierce. Thanks for being you.
Now go knock their socks off at the circus.