By Chris Azzopardi | America’s favorite out skater on finding his gay power, sex-inspired costumes and his post-Olympics clapback for Tinder ghosters
“Yes, this is an interview,” a schoolgirl-giggly Adam Rippon deadpans to fellow figure skater Charlie White who, naturally, is curious about the current topic of conversation: sex and harnesses, and how both come together to inspire his uniquely nontraditional collection of on-ice ensembles. Rippon is chatting while putting on his performance makeup in a locker room inside a Rhode Island arena, about to serve a graceful two-song solo during a Stars on Ice stop, featuring his Olympic peers.
“(Charlie is) like, ‘I’ve never done an interview like this before,’” Rippon tells me. “He said he’s never been honest and open.” Rippon takes a long, very “Adam Rippon for dramatic effect” pause, the kind you know and love if you’ve been obsessing over every fabulous, filterless turn of phrase our self-proclaimed “glamazon bitch” has turned: “You should try it out!”
No kidding: The 28-year-old ice champion leads by example, proving with unapologetic defiance – he fiercely came at the vice president of the United States for his anti-gay rhetoric – and iconic Folsom elegance, like the S&M gear he wore during the Oscars this year, that being yourself can take you places. If you’re Rippon, who’s from Scranton, Pennsylvania, it can take you to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Rippon set fire to the ice during the 2018 Winter Olympics, becoming the first openly gay U.S. male athlete to win a (bronze) medal in a Winter Olympics.
Rippon’s mere existence as a brazenly gay global inspiration with a tongue as sharp as the blades on his skates has been celebrated for his “faggy magic,” as coined by journalist Peter Moskowitz. And at a recent Stars on Ice show in Detroit, Michigan, he elicited the wildest applause, from suburban moms to girl tweens and a squadron of genuinely proud queers. Reese Witherspoon loves him. So does Elmo. And like any good mother, Sally Field tried to set him up with her gay son.
My roommate was starstruck even before Rippon rang me, so nervous just knowing Adam Rippon would be calling that she left our Airbnb apartment. I share this with Rippon, who’s, again, all giggles: “It’s a really high compliment that your roommate needed to leave.” (Later, during our goodbye, he playfully says, “Tell your roommate I said ‘hi.’”)
Rippon would make his Dancing with the Stars debut weeks after our call, slaying a vogueing cha-cha to RuPaul’s “Sissy That Walk.” But before he competed against Tonya Harding with partner Jenna Johnson during the ABC dance-off, the skater opened up about how booze kills his wit game and what he tells guys on Tinder who want a second chance with him and inspiring suicidal queer youth, all the while, being his irresistible self. That’s all you can really ask for – and in Rippon’s case, want.
I want to give you a phone hug and say thanks for giving this 35-year-old man a new level of realness to aspire to.
I’m hugging you back.
You stood next to Britney Spears at the GLAAD Media Awards recently for a pic. I heard she liked the way you smelled.
Yes, she did. It’s just, like, weird – you’ve seen somebody your whole entire life, and then you walk up to them and you’re like, “Oh, you’re real.” But she was really nice. We just congratulated her on her award and she was like, “You smell really nice,” and I was like, “Thank you so much, ’cause that’s so important to me.”
Is it weird that now I want to know how you smell?
I smell nice.
And that night was special because gay Olympian Gus Kenworthy kissed you on stage. How exactly would you describe your relationship with Gus at this point?
Umm (laughs), so, I mean, we’re just friends, obviously. His boyfriend was backstage laughing at him, and so he was just trying to be funny. Gus is a nut.
But you’re so close. And both of you being gay Olympians, it seems you’ve really bonded.
Oh, absolutely. We’re just like brothers. I guess brothers who kiss. But no, I love him, he’s so nice, and we’re very good friends.
You seem like the kind of person who likes a few nice things in his dressing room. What is on your Stars on Ice tour rider?
I try to keep it super simple so I don’t forget a lot of things. So, when I am traveling I literally just have my skates, my costume, and that’s basically it. I try to keep it so super simple or I’m gonna lose all my shit.
Don’t you have people who can remember this stuff for you? An entourage?
It’s getting there. Slowly. But I still want to, like, be able to be self-sufficient, you know what I mean?
For a while, at least.
At least for the rest of the month.
I think that’s a lofty goal.
You know, dream big.
So, Dancing with the Stars: Can you even believe that you’re competing against Tonya Harding?
(Sighs) Ah, I cannot.
What is that like?
It’s not a super big deal, but I think she’s got a lot going on, so I’m just gonna let her do her own thing, probably. Probably best.
I did meet her. She’s very pleasant.
Team Tonya or Team Nancy?
Well, I mean, Tonya tried to kill someone, so I’m Team Nancy, probably.
Honestly think that’s probably the safe choice to make.
I think it’s probably the right choice.
What did you think of I, Tonya?
I loved it. I thought Margot Robbie (who played Harding) was great. Amazing.
Who would you cast as Adam in I, Adam?
Well, Margot did so well, so maybe just Margot Robbie is a safe bet.
Who inspires your on-ice style?
The skating world inspires it a little bit, and then… you’re just gonna know that I’m trashy. I look at like, um, sex stuff and stuff people wear – harnesses and stuff – and the design is quite amazing. I will bring them to my costume designer and we will make them more appropriate for a competition.
For a PG audience?
Yes. But actually, it’s not for that audience. But I make it for them.
That harness you wore to the Oscars in March: Where is it?
It’s in (fashion designer) Jeremy Scott’s office. The suit was by Moschino, and so it was from Jeremy’s office and he lent it to me. I’m obsessed with Jeremy. He’s amazing.
Do you get to keep these costumes?
I keep my own costumes. Because, like, I bought them, outright. But the Oscars outfit was for the runway – from the carpet back to the office.
Hard to give that up. So many opportunities to wear something like that.
I know! Like to a wedding.
Or a funeral.
Yeah, anything. The grocery store.
What’s the biggest difference between 12-year-old Adam Rippon and the Adam Rippon I’m talking to right now?
I think the biggest difference is all of the things that I’ve been through. I think now I have a better idea of who I am, and I think I had a lot of self-discovery to go through when I was young. I was just as trash – but now I’m just older.
More comfortable with the trash?
Yeah, I’m just more comfortable being trashy.
Were you a sassy kid?
I don’t think I realized how sassy I was till I was at the Olympics and people were like “Ahahaha, you’re so sassy” and then I was “Ahahaha… you think so?” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re, like, SASSY.” And I was like, I just thought I was fresh. Like, “No – you’re sassy.” Oh. OK.
Who inspires your sassiness?
The person who inspires me to be sassy is my mom.
So it’s in the blood.
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s definitely in the blood. It’s something I can’t control. You know how you’re born – you sometimes have curly hair or blue eyes, and I have curly hair, but I don’t have blue eyes. But I also have my mom’s sassy attitude.
Born this way.
Born this way, for sure. Genetics.
Your future: What’s off the table? Where do you draw the line?
Like, I’m not gonna do porn. That’s drawing the line, I guess.
A reality show?
I don’t think I would do a reality show – I mean, I’m doing Dancing with the Stars. That’s a reality show. I’m not gonna do, like, Big Brother or anything.
Are you getting a lot of offers?
Yeah, I’m getting a lot of offers to do stuff. A lot of it’s ghetto.
What percentage of these offers are you turning down?
I’m talking a little bit to everybody, and honestly my schedule’s so crazy right now I don’t even know who. I barely even know where I am right now.
You’ve been asked to do a lot of things you may not have done if it weren’t for the Olympics, such as getting custom-made condoms from Thrillist because you thought the condoms in South Korea were “generic.” The New York Times also basically wrote an entire feature on your abs. What is the most ridiculous request that’s been asked of you?
I don’t know if I’ve had a super ridiculous request, one that I can really think that I took seriously. I think people have asked me to do crazy things and I’m like, “Hahaha.” And then I forgot about it a minute later.
The media loves getting you drunk.
Here’s the thing: I don’t drink a lot. Barely anything. And so everyone’s like, “Haha, come on the show and just have drinks!” And I’m like, “OK.” So, I’ll have one or a little bit, but I feel like I’m way funnier not drunk. I’m not as sharp, I’m not as witty; I’m not myself when I’m drunk. I mean, I feel like I like to be in the moment, and if I’m in the moment, I can focus and then I can be quick and witty.
This wild ride: If you could relive any part of it, which part would that be?
I don’t know, because I still feel like I’m in the middle of a wild ride. I haven’t had a moment to really be like, “This Olympics experience is over,” ’cause right now I’m still skating a bunch with Stars on Ice, and I think when I finally have a day off, I’ll be like, “Oh, wow, there’s a lot going on.” But I haven’t had a day off, which I actually think is amazing and great, and I’m trying to enjoy every single second. I think one thing that saved me is, I don’t really know what my schedule is. I just kind of plan a few days in advance; I don’t feel overwhelmed. I’m just having a good time with it.
How will you spend that day off?
Um, probably napping.
The whole day?
The whole day.
Anything you haven’t been able to do since you’ve been on this all-consuming ride?
Honestly, the only thing I haven’t been good at doing is sleeping.
There you go: a 24-hour nap.
A recharge, yup, exactly.
Reese Witherspoon is one of your biggest fans. Which Reese movie do you most identify with?
Legally Blonde. It’s true. It’s the first Reese movie that I ever watched and how I always still think of her, which isn’t fair cause she’s done so much. But yeah, I adore her.
What is it about the character of Elle Woods you most identify with?
That she just thinks she can get into Harvard and it’s not gonna be a big deal, and she does. And I, in my life, am like, “It’s not a big deal, I can do it, and I can make it happen.”
You have a new man, named Jussi-Pekka Kajaala. He’s very good-looking.
I do. He’s super cute, but more than that, he’s super nice and funny and everything that everybody should be.
Before you met, what criteria did you have for a boyfriend?
So, I’ve known him for a little over half a year, and really wasn’t looking for anybody. I mean, I was on Tinder for just fun. You know how if you’ve ever been on Tinder you swipe left and right and it basically turns into this game?
Oh yeah, I have Tinder.
So you know the game.
It’s like the new Hot or Not.
It’s absolutely that. So we just started chatting and basically I was looking for some – my criteria for a good boyfriend would be somebody who has passion. Passion is super important to me because no matter what you do, if you have passion for it, then that’s kind of what life is all about – that you have passion for something. I think that it’s important to stay motivated, to always want more for yourself – yeah. I’m being serious. Usually when I get asked this question, I’m like, a job, goes to the gym – which is also important.
When you were on Tinder, how many people actually thought you were really Adam Rippon?
I think when I was on Tinder nobody really gave a shit that I was Adam Rippon. But I can tell you that everyone I’ve ever matched with who’s ghosted on me has messaged me since the Olympics. My favorite is, “Oh, it’s been a while. How ya doing?” And I’m like, “Bye.”
You give them more than they deserve, honestly.
Usually I don’t answer.
What’s a place you wish you could go where you wouldn’t be recognized?
I don’t mind being recognized at all. I don’t mind it. But if I could go somewhere right now, I would wanna go to Maui. Just a vacation. Get some sun. Doing Dancing with the Stars, it definitely changed my skin tone – due to, like, sprays, not sun.
Do you expect there will be a day when an openly gay figure skater can just be a figure skater?
Yeah. And I think more than that, I hope there’s a day that an openly gay Olympian will just be an Olympian. But I think that right now it’s important to share your story. It’s important for everybody to share your story, especially in a day and age when an athlete can go to the Olympics and you can be like, oh, let me know a little bit more about that athlete. You go on their social media page, you know what their likes are, you know what they’re doing, you know where they are, you know what their interests are; you can just so easily find out information about everybody that I think it’s important to show the world who you are, what you stand for, and what’s important to you.
For me, it’s not being gay that I share – I share my coming out because it was really liberating for me, and when I came out, when I was able to share that, that’s what I found so much power in. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m gay and I’m powerful” – which is, like, so true – but it was my coming out experience of when I started to really own who I was and that’s where I found a lot of power. I was always me, but I didn’t always own it. And when I owned it, that’s when I found that I was my strongest.
Have you had any particularly moving exchanges with young queer fans?
Yes. There have been many. I’ve run into a few young people who told me that they tried to kill themselves at one point, which is incredibly hard to hear, especially from really young kids. It’s incredibly bizarre to be thanked for just being who you are, and for someone to tell you that you really helped them. It’s incredibly humbling, but I can tell you that I was not expecting that kind of response after the Olympics.
Is there a responsibility or pressure on you to act or be a certain way because of that?
No more than the way that I’ve been acting.
Good. To end, which Golden Girl are you?
Probably Blanche. Isn’t everyone Blanche? And I’m a little – OK, I’m mostly Dorothy.
It’s the snark.
It is the snark.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).