National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 98: Beautiful Gay Souls I Know: Don Bachardy & Johnny Weir

Asking, “What does it mean to be gay?,” in this series, I identified three ways in which same-sex erotic attraction is linked to a preponderance of personal qualities of great benefit to humanity. Using self-reflection as a measure, I’ve identified these qualities in countless gays I’ve encountered, even if they don’t apply to everyone.

First, “gay sensibility” is a heightened empathy and compassion often manifested in early childhood by sympathizing with underdogs and discovering talents that bring happiness to others. Second, “alternate sensual perspective” is an inclination to be drawn to something other, not just erotically but also aesthetically, than the majority. Third, “constructive non-conformity,” is the inclination to invent, create or represent a different course than passive conformity in life, in a loving, constructive way.

Amplifying and valuing these qualities away from lust for hard bodies can call into being all that gays have had, through the centuries, to bring to the betterment of society and themselves. Uplifting these qualities in our culture, out from the radical anarcho-hedonism of the 1970s that still dominates it, can empower our cultural reinvention based on genuine human relations rooted in the meaning that people derive from their work, their loves and their courage.

Everything beautiful that humanity brings to the the world comes from beautiful souls. All have a capacity for beauty, but too many ignore that for selfish instant gratification. The entire culture suffers from this, and it will take many beautiful self-actualized gay souls to heal it.

I am blessed to have many wonderfully creative, accomplished and beautiful gay friends. Two, well-known openly-gay, extraordinary national treasures, Don Bachardy and Johnny Weir are different in many ways. There’s a 50-year difference in age and a continent of difference in location. Their talents are different, but therein lies their first great commonality: both have striven relentlessly in their lives to cultivate and present their talents as gifts to humanity, Barchardy as a portrait artist in Southern California, Weir as a figure skater in New York.

Barchardy, born in 1934, was the long-time companion of the British-born writer Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), who was declared by his great friend, the late Gore Vidal, as “the best prose writer in English.” Barchardy, under Isherwood’s loving patronage, trained to become a prominent artist in his own right, doing portraits of all manner of celebrities and important people, including the official rendering of Gov. Jerry Brown that hangs in the California state capital.

Weir, born in 1984, is a three-time U.S. figure skating champion and two time U.S. Olympic contender currently training for a third Olympic run.

Both have tons written both about and by them. In Bachardy’s case, Isherwood devoted more ink to him in his posthumously-published diaries (a third volume due out before long) than anyone else by far. Bachardy has published his own material, too, including “Stars in My Eyes” (2000), a catalog of his portraits with personal remembrances of 33 famous people.

Weir published a memoir of the first 26 years of his life entitled, “Welcome to My World” (2010) that is intelligent, candid and worthwhile. Weir’s successes, failures, controversies and irrepressible flamboyance have landed boatloads of ink and celluloid in newspapers, tabloids and reality TV shows.

I had up-close, intense one-on-one encounters with both when I first met them in person.

I met Weir in March 2004 after he’d won his first national championship. Watching him on TV in January, I wrote in my diary (as I recently rediscovered) that his winning long program was so poetic, emotive, graceful and soaring that it was “what my soul looks like.”

I used my newspaper credentials to arrange an interview at his Newark, Delaware home rink on March 11, and we sat across from each other, face-to-face in a practice room for over an hour, a session that included a rather creative photo shoot at the end.

When you engage someone that intently, you can see far into them. I encountered Johnny Weir’s resolve to speak the truth with intelligence and articulation, to achieve, and above all, to be himself. So, he’d responded to his Russian coach’s urging “to remember the art and beauty, and forget the pettiness of scores.” He saw his insistence on doing things his own, if unusual, way to be standing in solidarity with every kid that’s ever been treated as an outcast for being different from the norm.

I knew about Don Bachardy before I met him at his home overlooking the Santa Monica canyon to interview him and have him paint a portrait of me. The portrait painting had the same intense, one-on-one engagement as my interview with Weir. It took almost three hours.

As a gazed back at him while he looked into details of my face, my eyes and my soul, I caught a glimpse of what Isherwood saw in him what made it worth working so hard for their relationship to last.