Welcome to My World by Johnny Weir
Oh, Johnny Weir. During the 2010 Olympics (and his rival Evan Lysacek’s subsequent appearance on Dancing With the Stars), my friends and I jokingly invented this whole narrative involving Team Gaga—consisting of Weir, Lady Gaga, and Adam Lambert—versus Team Evan—consisting of Lysacek, his dance partner Anna, and a pop star. (We could never find the right one; I think Taylor Swift was involved at some point.) However, we stopped when we discovered that we were starting to accurately predict Lysacek’s life, down to head injuries and his friendship with the US women’s hockey team. Clearly, we were too powerful. In any case, I remain fond of Weir to this day—I will always love someone who doesn’t give a damn what other people think and skates to “Poker Face”, let’s face it. So when I saw this at the library, I just had to pick it up, and it’s a good thing I did, as it turned out to be the perfect palette cleanser between The Silmarillion and Kushiel’s Dart.
Welcome to My World is the memoir of Johnny Weir, the controversial American figure skater. Raised by a loving family that wanted their sons to pursue their dreams, Weir made the decision to devote himself to skating at the age of twelve—remarkably late for a figure skater, but his talent pulled him through to compete on the international level. Without the grounding other skaters learned as children, however, Weir had some growing pains in the sport, but ran into even more trouble as an adult, when his artistic programs, Russian training, and off-the-cuff remarks ran afoul of the homophobic United States Figure Skating Association. Here, Weir pulls absolutely no punches—even when it comes to himself.
I am forever surprised by how light celebrity memoirs can be; perhaps I’m just used to enormous fantasy tomes, but I’m still astounded whenever I see double-spacing in actual books. To me, it’s an academic thing and an editing thing, not a… book thing, you know? Welcome to My World runs about 260 pages, but I whipped through it in the space of twelve hours, give or take eight hours of sleep. This isn’t to say that it’s not substantial—in addition to documenting his remarkable life, Weir has a message about being true to who you are and to hell with the haters. He talks frankly about being gay, a subject he’s been long plagued by the media about, and brings up the fact that he never particularly thought he was ever in the closet to begin in; the reason he sets it down in stone here is the string of gay youth suicides that prompted the “It Gets Better” campaign. But there’s still something delightfully dessert-like about it.
Most of this comes from Weir’s distinctive voice; if you’ve heard him in interviews, he translates quite well to the page, lack of filter and all. But he’s not mean, just objective; in describing his fairly pathetic attempts at teenage rebellion while competing in one of the strictest sports known to mankind, he’s quite clear that he was being an idiot. And figure skating is most definitely a sport. While Weir doesn’t go into much detail about the sport beyond what a layperson needs to know to understand his life story, his practice sessions are challenging and the sheer amount of time he spends on the ice is astonishing. I’m not a sports person myself, so, while I intellectually know that it’s probably much the same for anyone who competes at such a high level, it really shocked me. And seeing just how much he puts into this makes you hurt for him when the USFSA and the media in general start disrespecting him—he chafes at being boiled down to a flamboyant personality rather than an actual athlete. Of particular note is an event where Weir is introduced for one of his programs; the commentator mentions his personality and extracurricular activities, rather than his victories and skills as a skater. Watching him navigate this with the enormously conservative USFSA and ultimately finding his own balance is the main pull of the memoir.
I’ll be honest—if you don’t like Weir, you probably won’t be interested in this memoir; it’s his life and his personality, for obvious reasons. If you do like him, it’s great, if not groundbreaking; Weir has always struck me as a fun person with his head screwed on properly, which is harder to find than you might think, and it’s just a fun read in general. I do want to mention that I was pleasantly surprised by Weir’s remarkably ace view on love and sex—in the asexual community, emotional needs and sexual needs are considered wholly separate, for obvious reasons, and Weir echoes that when he talks about how he has considered marrying women; while he ideally wants to find a partner who can satisfy both, he understands them as separate drives. As an ace person who’s quite fond of him, I’ve grown even fonder.
Bottom line: While Johnny Weir’s Welcome to My World is light as celebrity memoirs tend to be, he’s great fun and there’s something more substantial in his struggles with the USFSA and the message of being yourself and to hell with the haters. Good times if you like Weir.
I rented this book from the public library.