Until now, Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir has always avoided confirming what he’s never actually tried to hide – he’s gay. But in his new memoir, Welcome to My World, Weir finally says it. In an excerpt in People, he speaks lovingly about the parents he’s said before raised him to have respect for others and himself. “My parents never made me feel odd, even though I definitely didn’t act like all the other kids,” he says. “That’s why I believed in myself.” He talks about the moment he first knew he was “different.” “Watching Richard Gere in Pretty Woman at the tender age of six was when I had first realized there was something different about me. I wanted to be Julia Roberts so badly. Kissing seemed like a weird thing to do, but I knew if I was going to do it, it would be with Richard Gere.”

He knew he was gay by the time he hit puberty, Weir writes, but it wasn’t until he was 16, that he first kissed a boy. He and a fellow skater began a clandestine relationship, and he came out to his mother after his 18th birthday. At first she cried, and he understood. “No mother wants to hear her son say he’s gay. Those two words rip the picture of a daughter-in-law and grandchildren into pieces. I felt sorry for my mom and wanted her to know everything was going to be all right.” But then she said, “I don’t really care, Johnny, as long as I know that you are going to be happy.” He had a serious, secret relationship with another skater, who he only names as “Alex.” Weir says those who wield power in the figure skating world “rail against” its image as “the gayest sport in the universe,” and, therefore, gay skaters are scared to show any signs of their orientation because the judges will hold it against them. “One had to act like a man. On skates and in sparkles,” he says.

Of course, Weir was nothing if not defiantly flamboyant on the ice rocking a tassel, so why wouldn’t he just come out when so many gay websites downright demanded it? “But pressure is the last thing that would me want to ‘join’ a community,” he writes. He may be gay, but it’s not what defines him. He has what he sees as stereotypical gay traits (“I love flowers, fashion, and I’m an ice skater, for Christ’s sake”), but as he sees it, he’s also got the characters of a stereotypical Jewish mother (he wants to feed you), and “a regular ol’ rural male” (he’ll get his hands dirty). “The massive backlash against me in the gay media and community only made me dig my ‘closeted’ heels in further.”

Read the full excerpt in the new issue of People. Weir’s memoir hits shelves Jan. 11. He says he wanted to come out on his own terms, at a time when, in light of recent gay teen suicides, he thought his story could help others. I believe him: When he held a press conference last February at the Vancouver Games to address remarks made by two veteran sports commentators suggesting he should undergo a gender test, Weir spoke equally as eloquently: “Even my gender has been questioned. I want that to be public because I don’t want 50 years from now more young boys and girls to have to go through this sort of thing and to have their whole life basically questioned for no reason other than to make a joke and to make people watch their television program,” he said then. He summed up his message (“I hope more kids can grow up the same way that I did and more kids can feel the freedom that I feel to be themselves and to express themselves”) and his belief that the concepts of masculinity and femininity are old-fashioned. “There’s a whole generation of people that aren’t defined by their sex or their race or by who they like to sleep with,” he said from Vancouver. “I think as a person you know what your values are and what you believe in, and I think that’s the most important thing.”