Matt Lauer interviewed him on the Today Show a couple days ago and made a joke about not being shocked by the news. Boitano graciously smiled and replied that he had always been open with friends and family about his personal identity but has also always been a very private person. Lauer’s insensitivity bothered me. I admired Boitano’s class in his response.
Years ago the South Park creators poked fun at Boitano in their song “What would Brian Boitano do?” in which the figure skater takes on bears, Kubla Khan, and others because he doesn’t “take shit from anybody”, all while skating around an ice rink. It was meant to be absurd because almost every male in figure skating is presumed to be effeminate and queer. When Boitano came out there was a collective yawn and most people said things along the lines of “Duh. Wasn’t it obvious?” Even those in the queer community–maybe even moreso than others–reacted with the “everyone knew it” idea. I think I may have even done the same thing, but that doesn’t make it right. We really need to check ourselves on assigning identity to others.
Not everyone knows this but in the early 1900s parents dressed boys in pink and girls in blue. Somewhere along the line that changed and now boys who like pink are considered feminine simply because of a fashion decision made about a century ago. In the late 1800s boys often wore skirts and had long hair. That, too, changed somewhere along the line. It is ridiculous that something as benign as a color or an article of clothing is used by others to define someone.
When I was in college I had a friend everyone thought was gay because among other things he liked to shop and his voice was higher-pitched, so he was considered to be somewhat feminine. In reality he was straight and dated more girls than the other straight guys in our group. Meanwhile, because I liked sports and more traditionally masculine things, I was presumed to be straight even though I wasn’t. I find it both stupid and maddening that these exterior, meaningless aspects of our identity are used to define us rather than who we know ourselves to be at our core. Of course, gender identity and sexual identity are two completely different things anyway.
There are biological differences between male and female, but masculinity and femininity are largely a social construct. A boy likes the color pink or enjoys playing with dolls and is automatically considered feminine and a large majority of the time perceived as gay by his playmates because of that. Boys or men who like figure skating, acting, hairdressing, and a host of other activities that our society has labeled as more feminine or girls who like working on cars, football or other activities that our society has labeled as more masculine are automatically assessed and labeled because of that. The reality is that they might be gay, they might be trans, they might be straight. Only they can know for sure and it is up to them to figure that out.
As a society we create stereotypes and then put people into boxes because of those stereotypes. What I’m reacting to with the Brian Boitano story is the box into which he was thrown. Prior to his coming out he wasn’t allowed to define himself. Society defined him solely by some of his actions and they could have been wrong. We should all have the right to define ourselves and we should all avoid presumptions of identity when we really know nothing at all.