By Rachel Savage
LONDON, Jan 21 (Openly) - When Timothy LeDuc takes to the ice in Beijing as the first openly non-binary Winter Olympian, the figure skater aims to challenge gender stereotypes and pave the way for other athletes who feel neither male nor female.
The American, who uses they/them pronouns, wants to nix traditional notions that all skating duos tell "Romeo and Juliet" stories, and instead present a show of equality and strength with Olympic partner Ashley Cain-Gribble, 26.
"My hope is now being openly non-binary and being outspoken about this, maybe it will make a path for other non-binary and queer athletes that come into pairs in ice dance," LeDuc, 31, said in a video interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A record number of openly LGBT+ athletes will compete at the Winter Olympics, according to LGBT+ news site Outsports, following the record set at 2021's Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Tokyo also saw the first openly transgender and non-binary Olympians, including Canadian footballer Quinn, who uses one name, and U.S. skateboarder Alana Smith, who was misgendered by broadcasters using the wrong pronouns.
"I'm not too worried about people's perception of me or people misgendering me," LeDuc said.
"I hope that, you know, me being open and authentic helps to move that conversation forward and help people understand more that people can ... be amazing athletes and still exist outside of the binary."
The closeness between LeDuc and Cain-Gribble was apparent even though they conducted the interview from separate locations, enjoying a period of rest after winning their second U.S. national championships this month.
While Cain-Gribble sported a white, zip-up U.S. Olympic team hoody, LeDuc wore a black, v-neck shirt and sparkly eye makeup.
"Timothy has always been there for me, they've supported me through every part of my journey in my life. And so I'll always be there to support their journey," Cain-Gribble said.
"We were already sort of not really subscribing to a standard masculinity-femininity narrative on the ice," said LeDuc.
"It had nothing to do with Ashley being married to someone else ... (or) me being gay. It just had everything to do with us both being such strong, amazing athletes and that we didn't want to diminish either one of our amazing abilities on the ice."
In one routine, Cain-Gribble wears an all-in-one leotard with legs, unusual for a female figure skater.
"If I want to wear a dress, it's because I want to, it's not because somebody is ... wanting me to be more feminine," she said. "I feel really powerful in a unitard."
LeDuc explained that Cain-Gribble was "body shamed" for being taller than most women skaters, so all but written off as a future winner. Meanwhile, LeDuc was told to keep quiet about being gay and rejected as weak by a potential partner.
At 18, they also had to fend off attempts at gay conversion therapy by fellow Christians and piled praise on close family for coming round to their identity.
"There were some difficult times when I first came out, some people that tried to pray the gay away from me," LeDuc said.
"But I just, I can't say enough about how amazing my family is. They have completely changed their view," they said. "Now my parents walk with me in Trans Pride marches and in Pride marches."
Ranked seventh in the world behind Russian, Chinese and Canadian athletes, the duo wants a top-five finish in Beijing.
"It's been a lifelong dream," said Cain-Gribble. "It's the first time that we really don't have to fight for a spot or qualify for something. We just get to be there and to skate."
(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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