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Figure skater Joe Johnson came out without a big coming-out moment

Johnson is the ice dancing partner of Karina Manta and the gay parent of Adam Rippon.

U.S International Figure Skating Classic - Day 2
Joseph Johnson has been the ice dancing partner of Karina Manta for the last few years.
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Joe Johnson has been quietly out for years.

The figure skater and ice dancer never felt the need for a big public coming-out announcement. Simply living his life openly on social media worked perfectly for him. Whoever found out after that was welcome to a small glimpse into his personal life.

That is increasingly how various LGBTQ professional athletes, particularly in women’s sports, are opting to handle the coming-out process. So it was interesting that his ice dancing partner, Karina Manta, chose a couple weeks ago to come out in a slightly more public way — posting a video love letter to her girlfriend — while still doing it her way.

Yet out he’s been, particularly in the skating circles. When journalist Nick McCarvel tweeted about Johnson and Manta last week, Adam Rippon gave the duo a big hug of endorsement.

We caught up with Johnson and fired off a few questions for him about coming out — or not coming out — his boyfriend and the special connection he and Manta have, both being LGBTQ.

Outsports: Did you ever have a public “coming out” moment? Did you feel the need to?

Joe Johnson: Not formally, no. I just kinda started talking about it on social media one day because it stopped being convenient to skirt around. I certainly didn’t feel obligated. I do think that LGBTQ people having to come out to legitimize ourselves is unfortunate, because being both LGBTQ and a private person is like... a thing that some people are.

I think visibility is vitally important, but it should be noted that not every LGBTQ person feels the need, and that’s their right, and they’re still valid in whatever their identity may be.

Outsports: Do you identify as gay? Bi? Queer? Something else?

Johnson: I identify as gay, though I think that my identity would also fall under the umbrella of queer. And while I know there are many who have a complicated relationship to the word, I think queer is a great blanket term. Especially for those who are having a hard time labeling themselves, but know they’re not straight, or identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned.

Outsports: When did you come out to yourself, and the people around you?

Johnson: I’ve pretty much known since I was 11, though I tried to stifle that part of myself for many years. I quietly came out to a select few people right after my first nationals in 2013. My parents and brother reacted beautifully, and that really helped with loving that part of myself. All those wasted years on worrying about being straight-passing.

Outsports: How did being a figure skater and ice dancer effect your perception of yourself as a young non-straight man?

Johnson: Weirdly enough, it was kind of an impediment to my coming out. Which is dumb. I was so worried that my coming out would be contributing to a stereotype of men in this sport being gay. It made me question if I was at all, or if I’d been conditioned to believe I was.

The problem was: I’d been called gay so many times for being a figure skater, and denied it so vehemently, that I was determined not to be. I would always justify my participation in skating with how many pretty girls did it, which is an f-ed up thing to have to do as a child. So if we as a collective could come to terms with the fact that there are gay people in every sport, instead of trying to play the “who has the straighter sport” game, that would be like... super.

Outsports: On Instagram it looks like you have a boyfriend. What can you tell me about him and your relationship?

Johnson: His name is Zac, he’s my boyfriend, and he’s adorable. We met in March, and it’s been a happy few months. He’s a wonderfully gifted photographer, chef, Legend of Zelda prodigy, handyman, sweetheart, you name it. We went to a pumpkin patch on Saturday.

Outsports: Both you and Karina are LGBTQ. Does that bond have an effect on your partnership?

Johnson: Oh, absolutely. We were best friends long before she came out, and being with her through her process of self-actualization was incredible. For the last year we’ve been talking through our different personal experiences as a man and a woman, someone attracted to more than one gender, the stereotypes we’ve had to overcome, the importance of visibility weighed against the desire for privacy, etc.... I’ve learned so much from her, and she’s become herself so gracefully. I’m so proud of her.

You can follow Joe Johnson on Instagram @JoeJohnsonIce, or on Twitter @JoeJohnsonIce.