When my sheltered twelve-year-old self set up a Twitter account on my mom’s laptop, I thought it would be a fun way to contact my favorite figure skaters, wish them good luck, and maybe even get a few replies in return if I was lucky. I lived for those little notifications that said “Gracie Gold liked your tweet.” I almost had a heart attack when Ashley Wagner responded to my question with a little video clip. I was still an anonymous poster with a green egg for a user pic because I couldn’t figure out how to upload a proper photo. And those were good, simple times.
Then I fell down the rabbit hole of the skating “fandom”. At first, it was incredible. These people were my age, mostly LGBTQ+ like me, and loved skating as much as I did. I felt like I had found an entire tribe of people who understood me. Growing up homeschooled in rural Wisconsin, it was amazing to be surrounded by young folk who had gone through similar experiences as I had.
I don’t want to say that the fandom is evil, because I made many great friends there, and I’m grateful to them for helping me through a rough patch in my life. But sometimes, skating fans are like the Ewoks in Star Wars. They carry their golden gods on their shoulders and throw stones at anyone who threatens them. In some cases, this is good – if you ever need to defend a military base, just send a bunch of Hanyu fans to guard the door, and I swear the enemy troops won’t even make it over the fence. But sometimes, the lynch mob ends up catching the wrong guy, and no one realizes it until his head is on the chopping block. Sometimes they haul a man to the guillotine for pickpocketing.
The two words I hate most in the English language right now are “problematic” and “cancelled”. Believe me, there are plenty of people who deserve it. I have a list of celebrities I can’t stand because they’ve said racist, sexist, or just plain rude things. But too often, I see these terms being applied to people for much smaller things – a shady tweet, an offhand comment in a press conference, even skating to music from another culture. It’s fine to call them out for it, but lately it seems like these offenses are getting blown out of proportion. I can’t check my Twitter feed without seeing at least five Tweets about what this skater or that skater did wrong today. And the truth is, we’re all a little bit “problematic”. We all do dumb stuff. We’ve all thrown a little shade. We’ve all reacted poorly to some situation in our lives. Just because we don’t do it in the public eye doesn’t mean we’re any better than them.
Unfortunately, this mindset is common not only in the skating world, but in many other fandoms. Actors, singers, TV personalities – they all get put under the microscope and criticized for every little detail. This is not only terrible for the people getting criticized, it’s drawing attention away from the real “problematic” people who need to be called out. While you’ve been busy crucifying Rihanna for doing a photo shoot in a kimono, Liam Neeson has been making racist comments towards African-Americans and Kevin Hart has been tweeting homophobic slurs. If you lump them all together, that’s like locking up a petty thief with a serial killer.
Movies like Mean Girls warned me about the Regina Georges of the world: a popular, snobby brat who hates everyone she deems less perfect than herself. But no one warned me about the self-deprecating, broke, depressed girl who tweets insightful things about racism and women’s rights, but is actually a hypocrite. And I met many of them in the fandom. That person who tweets about feminism but bashes women for being “privileged straight white girls”. That person who preaches about protecting the LGBT community, then makes fun of asexuals and demisexuals, or says bi and pan celebrities are just coming out for attention. That person who campaigns against bullying but spews hate towards celebrities and justifies it because “it’s not like they’re going to ever find my tweets”. And if you tell them they’re being rude, they play the victim, act like they’re doing the Lord’s work by calling out this terrible person, or – worst of all – make it seem like you’re the one with the problem. In order to not offend each other, we offend the outsiders. We like to sit at the nerds’ table and laugh at the jocks and cheerleaders because clearly they must have it all together.
The truth is, most of us are privileged in some way. I’m a bi woman of color, but I live in the United States, I’ve had eleven years of formal education, and I come from a middle-class family. I’m much more privileged than a straight white girl in a poor Balkan country who might be orphaned or homeless. That gorgeous blonde sorority girl might be getting harassed by her professor. That quarterback might’ve just lost his father. That brainy know-it-all in your class might have severe anxiety. Some people might struggle more than others, but everyone’s struggles are valid, and if we dismiss them, then we’re part of the problem.
It’s easy to identify someone who is blatantly spewing hate. It’s easy to block and report some far-right bigot who’s advocating gay conversion therapy. But when incorrect beliefs are masked in concern – even if it is genuine – it’s hard to separate the two. “Support victims” becomes “tweet terrible things about anyone who didn’t publicly speak out”. As fans, we glorify our favorite musicians, actors, and athletes. We say things like, “She could step on my face and I would say thank you!” But we also hold these people to high standards, and when they don’t meet this godly level of behavior, we cast them aside because they no longer fit our unrealistic image of perfection. This black-and-white way of looking at things eventually leads us to either hate everyone because nobody is perfect, or ignore the shortcomings of our few sacred faves. Real-life situations are nuanced, and there is rarely one right answer for every case.
The truth is, I watch figure skating because I love the sport. I love watching the guys attempt huge quads and cheering when they land them. I love seeing talented young girls doing lovely spins in beautiful dresses, and I love the annual fight for the Worlds spots. I love screaming at flawless throw twists or lifts in pairs. I love gushing over gorgeous ice dancers doing sultry tangos and trying to copy their makeup looks. I know that we need to acknowledge the many problems in this sport, and I don’t turn a blind eye to them. But sometimes I just want to watch Evgenia Medvedeva skate without rehashing a long debate about whether Memoirs of a Geisha is culturally insensitive for a skating program. You can acknowledge a person’s faults without dismissing their virtues. You can admire someone’s art without agreeing with their personal beliefs. For example, I hate how Scarlett Johansson calls herself a feminist but hasn’t supported women when it counts, but I love her as an actress and I’m still going to love watching the new Black Widow movie next year. It doesn’t mean I’m supporting her beliefs. It means that I want to watch a good movie about a gorgeous Russian spy. End of story.
I guess the point of this long, rambling post is that I am done with falling in line. I’m not afraid of losing followers anymore. I would rather have 10 good friends who respect my opinions than 500 people who like my tweets but talk trash about me behind my back. I’m not saying I want to leave the fandom entirely, but I want to take a step back. I’m not going to compromise my own beliefs for retweets.
When I started watching figure skating, it was an escape from the stress of the world. When I was struggling with severe anxiety, I would watch Duhamel/Radford’s free skate from 2016 Worlds or Jason Brown’s iconic Riverdance program, and my heart would suddenly stop racing. I watched skating because it made me a happier person, and I want to continue enjoying it that way. All the tweeting in the world won’t make Satoko Miyahara change her Schindler’s List dress, no matter how offensive it is to Holocaust survivors. All the tweeting in the world won’t turn back time and stop John Coughlin from sexually assaulting all those women. It hurts my heart to know that these things are going on, but I can’t change it. So I choose to focus on the things I love. I love you all, and I love sharing my thoughts with you through this little blog. I love being honest with you. And I don’t expect you to love me, but it’s nice if you do.
Next weekend, I will be back to writing about actual skating events, with a review of Finlandia Trophy. Until then, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.