A little while ago, I was out for lunch at a cafe with some friends (and a couple of acquaintances) of mine. We were in discussions about kids and the general chit chat about what each of us had been doing lately. One of them brought up their son playing football and thinking that we were on the topic of sport, I casually brought up that I had bought my son, Malachy, his first pair of ballet shoes and how excited I was (because he was so excited!) One of my friends laughed and joked saying that I am so accepting that “I probably want a gay child.” I laughed too and knew that this definitely did not come from a bad place and if anything, I should take it as a compliment. Then an acquaintance chimed in and looking me straight in the face he said that I was “trying to turn him gay.”
I went quiet (uncharacteristic of me.) I am frequently testing the mainstream boundaries and often get banter about my views on a whole range of things. I am used to it. I can take a joke. I know a joke. I know how to joke. This was not a joke. And I know I am a HUGE over-thinker and often work things up in my head to become much bigger than they really are. I acknowledge that. However, this comment really didn’t digest properly with my lunch.
“Does he not know that you can’t be ‘turned gay?’ Why is it that everyone thinks that a male doing dancing is gay? Why do they think that doing football means you are not gay? Why has this old fashioned view not evolved out of people yet? Had they ever watched ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’ Had they ever met a male dancer? Probably not. Oh shit, this is the sort of attitude Malachy is eventually going to come in contact with. When he does, it is probably going to be much worse and possibly more malicious. Argh!” Tick, tick, tick my brain wouldn’t stop with the relentless thoughts. I sat up in bed and wrote them down. Most of them are questions that I can’t find the answers to myself…
Do he not know that you can’t “turn gay?”
Our sexualities are very much many shades of “what the heck am I?” rather than gay/ bi/straight (see one popular psychological therory here- the kinsey scale.) According to science, there maybe a variety of factors that make someone identify as homosexual but one of the latest theories is that it is hereditary and passed down with epigenetics (not the same as genetics.) Surely, surely, SURELY people then understand that the complexity of sexuality isn’t easily changed and that a heterosexual doesn’t simply turn into a homosexual let alone be “turned” by something as basic as doing Ballet? If someone “seemed straight” as a child and then turned out to be a gay adult means it is likely your perception of what their sexuality was at the beginning of their life that was wrong rather than them “turning.” And if sexuality was so easily changed then certainly your parents, being one of the strongest influences, would play one of the biggest roles in your sexuality? So why is it then that nearly all of us have heard a story about homophobic parents kicking out a child that is homosexual? Shouldn’t that parent have made them straight?
Why is there an assumption that doing ballet means you are gay?
Yes, there is a higher percentage of gay people in dance. I’m sure a huge role to play in this is that dance is not only sport but also an art form and the arts have generally had a more open minded and accepting community surrounding it. I know many parents that say they have known their child was gay from a very young age and so I can also understand why they would enrol their son in dance assuming it a much safer and accepting sport to be involved in. Many sports, particularly football, need to evolve. Even though this year the AFL saw the first “pride cup” (played in the NAB challenge) in support of gay rights, I don’t think I am being shocking by saying that many attitudes still need to progress. I believe that MOST people within and surrounding the AFL are great people. Wonderful people. Kind people. And I think many supporters of football don’t even realise they are being offensive to gay people when they are. I’m definitely not saying there is a problem with homophobia but I am saying that the way conversations around homosexual people are held are still not where an acceptable bar would be set for equality.
Additionally, I believe there is a preconceived idea of what being gay looks like. Flamboyant, manicured and possibly feminine are continuous stereotypes. Though this may represent a portion of the gay community, this is not a representation of male homosexuality as a whole. With these biases, it is obvious that with images of Ballet often showing women being graceful and the epitome of traditional femininity and with sparse amounts of male representation, it is not hard to see why people link the two. Hopefully, people will soon realise the array of different male representations there are in Ballet soon.
Why is there an assumption that doing football means you aren’t gay?
I’m actually not sure if I am worried about this more than the previous question? The attitude that playing football is a heterosexual environment and no homosexuals play makes me worry that the homosexuals that do play will be forced into a situation trying to keep quite their true personality for their work. It stinks of US army’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I think I touched a lot on this in the previous paragraph but again, come on football lovers, catch up with equality.
Why is it that when my daughter does something stereotypically “male” that she is not called gay?
My daughter, Cheska, frequently erases the gender stereotype divide by doing things like wearing her brother’s clothes, tackling, being rough, being fearless, trying to skateboard and kick a footy. I often get words surrounding her doing these things like “empowering, equality, strong.” And I believe they are appropriate words. I believe that it is empowering to see women do things men have claimed for many years. So why is it that when a boy/man does something that has been stereotypically female that then it is seen as “gay.” I believe that the attitudes of many are that a man doing something that has been predominantly female is seen as lessening himself, dropping down a level, inferior or “there has to be something different about him… he has to be gay.” These prejudices don’t only surround dance but also sports like netball or even professions like hairdressing, nursing and fashion. I am sick of it. Equality means that men will do things women have typically done and women will do things men have done and through that there will be gay people throughout.
Over the past decade I have witnessed a shift in pro marriage equality and I would be hard pressed to even know someone who is not for marriage equality. So why haven’t the old prejudices and old fashioned ideas changed as well?
Is it that they have shifted and they have got better but they were so bad to begin with that the discrimination I see and hear now is mild in comparison? Why is it that people still think it is okay to say words like “fag” and not recognise the hurt and power they have behind them? Why is it that many still box occupations, appearance, sports etc into boxes aligned with sexuality and gender? Why is it that it is still “not ideal” if your son/daughter is gay? Why?
Though it was implied that doing Ballet is an inferior sport option or possibly not even a sport at all, did he know that scientists in the field are practically unanimous in stating that ballet dancers are some of the fittest and most well rounded sports people in existence?
For Ballet you need strength, endurance, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, and mental focus so it is not surprising that many athletes have taken Ballet lessons to help them improve in their sport. World Heavyweight Champion, Evander Holyfield, was famously spotted doing Ballet pliés at the barre and explained that he does it for his overall fitness regime. “When I was fighting the big guys I needed to have something that they didn’t have. These guys were bigger so I had to have a game plan. And flexibility was the key.” Cyclists have been the latest professional sports people to start taking up Ballet lessons giving them a heightened sense of balance and stability. And the AFL’s very own James Hird, took Ballet lessons before his 253 game AFL career.
So you may think that I should have brought this up on the day? Maybe I shouldn’t be so passive aggressive and write it in an blog? And I agree. I am still learning how to stand up for what I believe in the real life situations rather than stewing on them. I think it would be more productive for all parties to have discussions at the time rather than me sitting up in bed writing down dot points to myself. And I certainly don’t want people to feel they can’t joke or banter with me at the risk that I will be offended or write about them. My main priority are my friendships. Nevertheless, I am still figuring out how to correctly portray myself without causing unnecessary conflict and potentially ruining a lunch. So the only way I know how to have my say, have my conscience at ease and keep myself from the risk of sounding like a politically correct nag to my friends/acquaintances, is to write. And I do believe this incident is not exceptional and throw away comments like these happen all the time so I hope that, through my blog, maybe I can encourage other people to question what offensive things they say or prejudices they hold and possibly spark conversations around this too.
And in the chance that progression is as slow as what I have witnessed thus far. I leave this last part for my son to read…
To my dear Malachy, if you grow and ended up feeling gay or straight or bisexual or some form of unidentifiable sexual orientation and still have the passion for dance, I have left you this. A memory of mine from my late brother:
My brother did both dance (including Ballet) and football for many years. Though he ended up quitting dance in his later teenage years to do more football, he was always able to shrug off when people would try to bully him for being gay because he danced. I remember one specific conversation with him about it when I questioned if he was okay (after a boy have called him ‘gay’ for doing dance.) He was laughing and said “Annie, I get to hang out with girls that are braless, in leotards and literally throwing themselves at me. So who is the idiot? Me or the person who thinks he is genius calling me gay? How is being called ‘gay’ even offensive anyway? Even if I was, who gives a shit?… I’m pretty sure I kissed his girlfriend so I think that is why he is trying to offend me. What a dickhead.” And that was it. I hardly talked to him about it again but NEVER forgot what he said. Be confident in who you are, never let mean people prevail and find strength to stand up for what is right…Oh and of course, don’t ever sickle your foot in Ballet!
What do you think? Can you answer any of the questions for me? Leave me a comment below xx