Brian Boitano is Gay

Ice Rink.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Ice Rink. Photo by Callen Harty.

So Brian Boitano came out recently and nobody is surprised. And that is irritating me.

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.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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