Being yourself can take you places. If you’re Adam Rippon, born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, it can take you all the way to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the 28-year-old set fire to the ice last February, becoming the first openly gay male athlete to win a medal — a bronze — for Team USA 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 is notable. Writer Peter Moskowitz recently celebrated Rippon in a piece for Splinter titled “The Faggy Magic of Adam Rippon.” And at a Stars on Ice show in Detroit, Michigan, in April, Rippon garnered by far the most enthusiastic response, winning applause from tween girls, a squadron of proud queers, and suburban moms, alike. Reese Witherspoon loves him. So does Elmo. And like any good mother, Sally Field tried to set him up with her gay son.
Rippon would make his Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) debut a couple weeks after our call, slaying a Vogue-fortified cha-cha to RuPaul’s “Sissy That Walk.” I caught up with the phenom via phone as he put on his face inside the locker room of a Rhode Island arena (a Stars on Ice stop). Rippon opened up about how booze kills his wit game and what he tells guys on Tinder who want a second chance, all the while, being his irresistible self.
[Editor’s Note: This issue of Hotspots went to the printer before ABC’s live DWTS finale, so as you may know, Adam Rippon and his partner Jenna Johnson won the Mirrorball Trophy]
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 hear she liked the way you smelled.
Yes, she did. I 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.”
Your fellow gay Olympian, [freestyle skier] Gus Kenworthy, kissed you on stage that night. 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 — brothers who kiss, I guess. But no, I love him. He’s so nice, and we’re very good friends.
What was it like competing against Tonya Harding on Dancing with the Stars?
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.
Team Tonya or Team Nancy?
Well, I mean, Tonya tried to kill someone, so I’m Team Nancy, probably.
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 Margot Robbie?
Who inspires your on-ice style?
The skating world inspires it a little bit, and then… you’re 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 bring [stuff] to my costume designer, and we make them more appropriate for a competition.
For a PG audience?
Yes. 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, 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 — so, from the red carpet back to the office.
Hard to give that up. So many opportunities to wear something like that.
I know! Like to a wedding. The grocery store.
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 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?” And they’re 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.
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. I don’t think I would do a reality show — I mean, I did Dancing with the Stars. That’s a reality show. I’m not gonna do, like, Big Brother or anything.
You’re getting a lot of offers. What percentage are you turning down?
I’m talking a little bit to everybody. But honestly, my schedule’s so crazy right now, I barely even know where I am.
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 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 like to be in the moment. If I’m in the moment, I can focus, and then I can be quick and witty.
You’ve been on this wild ride: the Olympics, Stars on Ice, Dancing with the Stars. How will you spend a day off when you finally get one?
Um, probably napping.
The whole day?
The whole day.
You have a new man, Jussi-Pekka Kajaala. He’s very good-looking.
I do. He’s super cute, but more than that, he’s super nice and funny.
Before you met, what criteria did you have for a boyfriend?
I really wasn’t looking for anybody. I was on Tinder just for fun. If you’ve ever been on Tinder, you know how you swipe left and right, and it basically turns into this game?
Oh yeah. It’s like the new Hot or Not.
It’s absolutely that. 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. [Laughs.]
I’m being so serious. Usually when I get asked this question, I’m like, “a job, goes to the gym” — which is also important.
How many people on Tinder believed you were really Adam Rippon?
Nobody gave a shit that I was Adam Rippon. But I can tell you that everyone I ever matched with who 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.
Do you expect there will be a day when an openly gay figure skater can just be a figure skater?
Yeah. And I hope there’s a day that an openly gay Olympian will just be an Olympian. But I think right now it’s important to share your story.
For me, it’s not being gay that I share; I share my coming out. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m gay and I’m powerful” — which is, like, so true. It was [during] my coming out experience 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 I was my strongest.
Have you had any particularly moving exchanges with young queer fans?
Yes. There’ve been many. I’ve run into a few young people who told me they tried to kill themselves at one point, which is incredibly hard to hear, especially from really young kids.
It’s 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. I was not expecting that kind of response after the Olympics.
Do you feel pressure 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.