You likely know Adam Rippon as 2018’s chicest Olympian athlete, after he scored a bronze medal for figure skating and then went on to win his season of Dancing with the Stars. But the out, unapologetic competitor also has a fierce sense of humor, which he displays with glee on his YouTube channel in the upcoming mobile series This Day in Useless Celebrity History—and, perhaps most spectacularly, in his new memoir Beautiful on the Outside.
Before hitting the Montrose Center on October 29 to discuss his new book with transgender model Jessica Zyrie, Rippon spoke with OutSmart about shifting from the rink to the writing process.
David Goldberg: You made a major public splash at the 2018 Olympics. Are you taking any lessons from that for your first book tour?
Adam Rippon: I really have been wanting to start to focus on a project, almost in the same way that I was focusing on my skating career. That’s why I started working so much after the Olympics, because I wanted to find out what I liked. Skating was my passion, and what I loved the most, and I was able to dedicate myself and be my best at it. In this next chapter, I want to find what I like the most and be able to be as good as I can be at it.
Many influencers can’t really do anything. But you and [fellow Olympian] Gus Kenworthy are athletes with crazy work ethics. It’s interesting to see how you make this new job work for you.
I talked with Gus a few days ago, and I told him that I was so proud of what he was doing [as an actor] on American Horror Story. I know how tough it is, because it’s so weird to go from being completely focused on one thing to trying to change up your whole career. And it’s what I’ve been trying to do. Yes, it does feel like a lot of influencers are incredibly popular because they have really great personalities, but it doesn’t seem like they do a lot. People really like watching them do nothing. It’s cool! I follow a few influencers, and I like watching them go throughout their day, because they’re funny and they seem fun to hang out with. But I do have a work ethic. I do love working. I crave it, and it’s how I thrive as a person—by working hard. I love to engage with people and make people laugh, but I want to find something I can work really hard on. When I go to bed, I can say I did a really good job today.
Writing a memoir is so non-linear, because you never know when you’ll hit on something that freaks you out, or unlocks an unvisited trauma. What were the biggest challenges with this?
I don’t know why I thought this would be easy. I’ve written an email, and it can’t be much harder than that! It was. When I started writing it, I didn’t know where to start, so I wrote down a bunch of stories that I thought were funny. I went from there. I had a great team that helped me put everything together and organize my thoughts. The times that were hardest for me to talk about were the times when I didn’t feel that hot about myself. It wasn’t as much revisiting a trauma as it was like visiting someone who you’ve wished you could shake. I wanted to be like, “Get out of this moment!” “What were you doing with these people?” “What were you doing?” “Get it together!” It was frustrating to write about the times when I felt like I just couldn’t get it together.
It’s hard to look back, because life is about just coming out of one closet after another. It’s hard to look back on times when you were more consumed with shame.
When I was coming out, I thought my friends would think I lied to them. But they didn’t. They were understanding that coming out is tough. But to go back and to even think about how that person thought—and I’m talking about myself as a younger person—it’s hard, because you forget how everything you did was through a process of How will people perceive this? As I’ve gotten older, I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing, and want to be as much of a role model as somebody who says the F-word every five seconds on Instagram. The Internet is permanent, so I want to do something that I’ll always look back on and say, “This will age well, it’s funny, it’s light, and it’s not mean-spirited toward anyone.” I think of it from the perspective of “Will people be entertained by this?” And before, it was “Will people perceive this in some way, or think of me differently?” I don’t go down that road anymore.
I mean, who has the energy? If anything, that probably burns a lot of calories—all the worrying. That was probably the only positive from it.
When I think back to 2018, I think about you and Gus Kenworthy busting open a lot of barriers, just in terms of gay people in the spotlight, and the narratives that go around us. What you pushed was this idea that you were having fun, you had a sense of humor, and you were in on the narrative. You weren’t just clinging to the usual coming-out narratives. Since you came onto the scene in the Olympics, what do you think about what’s getting better or worse about gay people on the scene?
The one thing I think about the Olympics is that Gus and I are two different kinds of people. But I think it was so great for these two very different people to be together in one event, and be friends and champions of each other in this same sort of realm. It’s like on a TV show where there’s three basic people: the one black person, the one Asian, and the one gay person. And then they check all the boxes. For the first time, two of the most outspoken and watched athletes were two gay people. It shakes up that narrative of what people will respond to, or how much diversity people will actually accept, and I think people really crave things that are entertaining, no matter what they are or who they are. When I was asked about being the first out gay Olympian, I was like, that can’t be. But I think we really are in sort of a renaissance [where coming out is] becoming such an uninteresting bullet point. That’s the goal. If you’re good at what you do, you can do what you do—and who you are is [about] as interesting as what color eyes you have.
Another big part of this moment is seeing gay people championing one another, and not feeling like we have to compete or be nervous about being criticized for going too far.
If you think back like ten years ago, if someone told you that someone is going to visit Speaker Pelosi in D.C., and they are going to be a non-binary person with a beard and long hair that’s in a bun, and they’re going to have a boatneck shirt and a gown and platform boots. You’re like, “What? That will never go over.” And—I’m not finished—they’re going to be an out person who is HIV-positive. You’re like, “This is enough.” And it happened with Jonathan Van Ness, being exactly who they are. Now, we really look up to people who are authentic to themselves. We look up to someone who lives authentically. At the end of the day, we’re all so alike and so similar that we can’t let our differences hold us back.
Many people in the world want to write a book, and never do. You just did it, and that’s a huge achievement. What comes next? What other dreams and goals are buzzing around for you?
Of course, being the athlete I am, I love awards. So I’ve already told everybody we need to submit my audiobook for a Grammy, so that’s what I want to be focusing on. She wants to be Grammy-nominated! The singing voice, we’re still working on it. But the speaking voice! Bitch, we’re trying! I told everyone and they were laughing, and I was like, I’m dead serious. Submit my book, right f–king now. I enjoy my YouTube channel, and we just filmed the second season of Break the Ice, so we’ll have eight more guests on the show in the next few weeks. And in the future . . .I’ve always been an entertainer, I love entertaining people, I love making people laugh. I really want to find some show where being funny would be my job. I know something is out there, but in the meantime I’m going to be hustling and grinding for that Grammy.