Amber Glenn competes at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Cup of China at Huaxi Sports Center on Nov. 9, 2019 in Chongqing, China.
It was as far back as 11 or 12 years old that Amber Glenn can remember feeling different from other young women her age. She was the younger, triple-jumping phenom skating with the older teenagers, and when the conversation rink-side would turn to discussion about cute guys, Glenn felt, well, out of place.
“I think deep down I knew that how my friends would look at certain guys, I would see girls that way,” the figure skater said in a phone interview with TeamUSA.org last month. “I was so young that I didn’t know what that meant.”
Now 20, the Dallas-based Glenn certainly knows what it means now, and in mid-December came out as bisexual and pansexual in an interview with a local publication, the Dallas Voice. Glenn, giving an interview about training mates Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, shared with the interviewer her sexuality in a nod to what a mentor LeDuc, who identifies as gay, has been to her.
The internet took notice.
“I didn’t expect much out of it,” Glenn said of the interview. “Obviously I was wrong. It has taken off more than I could have ever anticipated. But I’m actually really glad it has. It’s been really great to see everyone’s enthusiasm and support.”
After the Cain-Gribble/LeDuc feature came out, LGBTQ+ sites like OutSports.com and The Advocate picked up the story, giving it a national audience. Glenn’s Twitter and Instagram accounts were abuzz.
Her Texas city publication quote suddenly was getting read around the country – and the figure skating world.
“There has a been a lot doubt and being afraid of what people were going to say or think,” Glenn said. “I saw this article as a little stepping-stone to feel like I’m not lying about a part of myself anymore. I knew it was a going to go out before the U.S. championships [this week in Greensboro, North Carolina] and I was going to express myself in a true way.”
She continued: “I just thought, ‘You know what? It’s about damn time.’ I’ve known for a long time. My friends have known for a long time. I don’t have to hide it anymore. Why not just take these first few steps?”
And since then the feedback has been largely positive for Glenn, who will take not only that personal pride and momentum into Greensboro Coliseum, but also a load of confidence in her skating, having won bronze at the Challenger Series event in Salt Lake City this September, then skating well at grand prix stops in the U.S. and China.
It was a first-ever two-grand prix season for the 2014 U.S. junior champion, who has yet to register a top-six finish in four senior nationals appearances. She has plans to change that in the next week.
“This has been a more consistent season for me,” she said. “I’m feeling better than ever. I feel like I’ve got the spark back from when I was younger. … Even a year ago I was thinking, ‘I could never go to the Olympics.’ But I’ve gotten the dream back. If I’m do what I’m capable of, I feel like I could really do something with my career.”
“I think what Amber is doing for queer visibility in sport is monumental,” wrote LeDuc in an email, whom Glenn describes as her “skating dad.” “The importance of visibility, especially for queer women in figure skating, can’t be overstated. Each time someone becomes visible, it moves us all forward toward a more inclusive and just world for queer folk.”
“I’m so proud of her for being open and authentic about her bi/pansexuality,” he added. “And I think it’s just another example of her great strength as a person and athlete.”
While bisexuality is a common known term, a person who is pansexual is romantically and emotionally attracted to someone regardless of that person’s sex or gender identity.
2/2— Amber Glenn (@AmberGlenn_) January 22, 2020
I wanted to say that I do still struggle with my identity bi/pan since they are both very similar terms. When it comes down to it I choose not to strictly label myself as one certain thing right now! I’ll love my partner regardless of their sex or gender identity🌈 xo-Amber
Glenn said it was a long journey from being that confused 11- or 12-year-old girl at the rink, including a time in which she saw a psychiatrist for mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and ADHD.
It was said psychiatrist who Glenn first told about her bisexual and pansexual feelings at age 15. The response? “’We don’t need to think about that right now,’ I was told,” Glenn remembered.
“So the first time I ever said anything out loud I was faced with rejection,” she said. “I repressed it for another two years. That’s when Tim came in when I was 17. It was then when I was in a great place mentally.”
Glenn said LeDuc has had a “huge impact” on her life. Alongside Cain-Gribble, LeDuc is reigning U.S. pairs champion, and the team – including their coaches – Peter and Darlene Cain (Ashley’s parents), will make its way to Greensboro with sky-high expectations, but also knowing that the eyes of the skating nation will be on them, even if for different reasons.
“Amber is definitely a warrior,” described LeDuc. “I love being able to train with her every day and watch her push herself so hard to improve. I think especially this season, she’s really stepped up her game and it’s so fun to watch her conquer her challenges every day.”
Yes, there are dreams of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 in the distance, but Glenn is proud of the work she’s put in for what’s to come this week, and also for the development she’s done to embrace the person that she is – now known to the rest of the world.
“I’ve gotten so many messages (from fans) saying how much this meant to them,” Glenn said of her coming out. “It’s been great to see. Over 100 DMs on Instagram… a lot of them wanted to make me cry. People telling me I’m giving them strength to tell their own stories.”
“It’s been overwhelming in the best way… that’s how I can describe all of this,” she said.
And while the “ice princess” persona previously thought to be required in women’s singles skating has slowly melted away, Glenn isn’t backing down from who she is.
“I’ve been told I need to be more feminine, more fluid, less intense,” she said. “All I’m trying to do is express myself. But I don’t feel the need to be a pretty princess all the time. That’s not me.”
“That spark we were talking about earlier? It’s re-lit. I’m more comfortable in myself and my identity. Is that helping my skating? I don’t know… but it’s been great. I’m making progress, every day.”
Nick McCarvel is a freelance reporter based in New York City. He will cover his fourth Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020, for TeamUSA.org this summer.