Figure Skating

Kaitlyn Weaver hopes her coming out story finally breaks figure skating's female archetype

Two years after leaving competitive figure skating, Kaitlyn Weaver is tired of doing the dance and keeping up the façade just to be accepted in the sport she loves. "I feel like it's the right time in my life to share that I identify as a queer woman," Weaver told CBC Sports in an exclusive interview.

Canadian says she hid her sexuality because she thought it would harm her career

Kaitlyn Weaver with ice dance partner Andrew Poje at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Weaver says the fear of being judged in her sport kept her silent about her sexuality. (Getty Images)

It's a sport laced with creativity, beauty and strength. Ice dance is poetry in motion, two skaters weaving gracefully across the ice surface together as one. Their precision and symmetry is something to marvel over. 

But figure skating is also littered with judgment — an international panel of judges scouring over every little detail, then providing their score.  

It was that suffocating weight of knowing she was being watched every second that kept Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver hiding what she calls her little secret.

But now, two years after leaving competitive figure skating, Weaver is tired of doing the dance and keeping up the façade just to be accepted in the sport she loves.

On Friday, the 32-year-old became one of the few Olympic female figure skaters to publicly identify as queer.

"I've reached the point of not wanting to pretend anymore. It really weighed on my mental health to hide consistently a part of who I am," Weaver told CBC Sports in an exclusive interview. "I feel like it's the right time in my life to share that I identify as a queer woman.

"I feel like I need to step up because I know there are a lot of young girls and people in sport who are afraid to share who they are," she said.

For 13 competitive seasons Weaver was alongside her skating partner Andrew Poje. The two were consistently near the top of the standings — they ranked among the top five in nine of those years, are three-time world medallists in ice dance, winning silver in 2014 to go with bronzes in 2015 and 2018, and competed at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics for Canada.

But throughout all their success, Weaver knew there was something missing. She couldn't pinpoint it because she wouldn't allow herself to go to that dark, scary place of confronting her sexuality. 

WATCH | Kaitlyn Weaver on her struggle to come out:

Stepping into the light: Kaitlyn Weaver becomes one of few out female figure skaters

4 months ago
9:38
In an exclusive sit-down interview, Kaitlyn Weaver talks about her journey of coming out publicly, being one of the few females in her sport to do it, and the need for more inclusiveness in figure skating. 9:38
 

'Coming out was never something I considered'

"We are in a judged sport. We're afraid to put one toe out of line for fear of what people will think about us," Weaver said. "Coming out was never something I considered. It was not on the table for me. Fear. It was not even a real conversation I could have with myself."

Weaver wasn't willing to risk what she calls her livelihood while competing by coming out — she felt it would negatively affect their scores. 

"Coming out is still not safe in a lot of countries around the world. On an international panel, who knows what someone is going to judge you for?" she said. "It puts you even deeper into hiding."

But now, Weaver feels it's time to step forward. For herself. And for those who are coming after her. Weaver knows what's at stake because she's now able to see how much added weight she was carrying by not bringing all of herself to life and competition.

Weaver and Poje competed together for 13 seasons, finishing on the podium at three world championships. (Getty Images)

'What makes us different is OK'

"It's been a struggle," she said. "It's been a struggle to accept this part of myself but I think in the last year we've all had our experiences knowing that what makes us different is OK and something to be celebrated."

This past year, with time for reflection during the pandemic, Weaver confronted her sexuality in a way she never could while competing. She says it was time to look in the mirror and face things head on.

Weaver says it was easy to put it on the back burner throughout her career because she was always on the move and distracted by performing. 

But keeping up that façade has taken its toll.

"I've done that my whole life. Skating first, personal life second. I'll figure it out later," she said. "But it got to the point where it wasn't healthy anymore. When the pandemic hit, I just knew this was going to be it. It was time.

"I had nowhere to hide anymore. I needed to do that for myself."

WATCH | Weaver, Poje waltz to 4th at World Team Trophy event:

Weaver, Poje waltz to 4th with season's best skate at World Team Trophy

2 years ago
8:54
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., took fourth spot in the free dance with a season's best 124.18 points at the ISU World Team Trophy event in Fukuoka, Japan. 8:54

Breaking archetypes

Weaver was born in Houston, Texas. She moved to Canada at 17 and threw herself into her sport. It was all she identified with and how people identified her.

"There's a lot of pressure on young girls and women in my sport to play the archetype. I think it's our responsibility to say yes, you can be that, but you can also be all of these other things, too," Weaver said. "I am those things, too. I like playing the role of the princess and wearing the gowns.

"So when I was uncovering myself and sexuality, it didn't feel like those two things matched. There were no role models in my sport who were like me," she said.

There's a lightness and energy in Weaver's voice now as she shares her hopes and dreams for what's ahead, something she says she hasn't felt in a really long time. And despite her newfound perspective, there are still some fears about how she'll be viewed. 

"I'm not sure what waits on the other side of this. There's a lot of excitement. Some fear. But you know what, it's time this stops being a thing. I'm ready to step into the light."

WATCH | Kaitlyn Weaver on reminding girls that sports are for everyone: 

Kaitlyn Weaver commits to reminding girls of all ages that sport is for everyone

2 years ago
0:39
For International Women's Day we're asking you to join us and Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver in making a commitment to supporting girls in sport. 0:39

Carving a path for others

Weaver now calls Manhattan, N.Y., home. She says she's found an amazingly supportive group of people there, and feels wrapped in their love during what's been a big shift for her.

It's Pride Month, too — something Weaver celebrated in the past, but not in the way she wanted to. That's changed this year.

"I feel in my bones that I can celebrate in a different way. It's not a small, secret corner in my heart that I'm celebrating this anymore," she said. "That's what it was for a long time, my little secret. It just feels so good to be able to share my whole heart."

And it's Weaver's hope that she's carving out a new path in her sport for those still competing.

"It's really important to look around and ask what we are missing here. That goes for racialized people, too. You look at our sport. It's white. It's heteronormative and it's elite," she said. 

"Why are there no queer women? What's the reason? That's why I feel it's my job to ask why we don't feel safe. Why can't you be one and the other? It's our job to look critically at our sport and say what groups of people aren't represented here."

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