Friday, July 30, 2010

Double Standard

Last evening on "So You Think You Can Dance," the axe came down on Billy.  As executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe read the verdict, he commented that Billy had been in the bottom three a number of times, and he speculated that perhaps one of the reasons why viewers (and voters) hadn't connected with Billy was because of his androgyny.

When I heard that, I cheered, because I thought Lythgoe finally had the balls to say what I'd been thinking, at least subconsciously, since this season of the show started in May, when the top eleven were identified and Billy was among them.

I call it like I see it.  If Billy doesn't know yet, he's gay.  Nothing wrong with that.  I'm gay myself.  But I hesitate making this statement because I know how I'd feel if someone said I was gay, and I thought I wasn't or I hadn't accept it yet.  In fact, I know exactly how that feels, which I've written about ad nauseum in this blog.  

I call it like I see it again.  The fact that I cheered when Lythgoe identified Billy's androgyny says less about Billy and how he confused people about whether he's male, female, gay, straight, or whatever, than it does about my own internal homophobia.  I constantly have to catch myself thinking things like that.  I do it and don't even realize it.  Even all these years after coming out and struggling to accept all aspects of myself, I'm still a homophobe.  The only difference between me and many other gay people is that I know it.  It's something I can admit aloud, even though I'm not proud of it.    

What I think's interesting is that, having watched all seasons of "SYTYCD" and "SYTYCD Canada," I've heard numerous judges comment to the male dancers that they come across in a masculine way, for example, while dancing the paso doble, dominating their female partners, getting across that manly passion, fire, and control.  I admit watching a masculine dancer is a pretty hot, even arousing experience, in part, because I'm a gay male who likes looking at attractive men who are manly.  And, in part, because it's enticing to see what appears to be a straight man dancing, not an activity that attracts a lot of straight men.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm sure a large number of the male contestants on both versions of "SYTYCD" were straight, so dancing in a masculine way came easily and naturally for them, because it's something  they just were.)      

Where am I going with this?  Well, Lythgoe presides over a TV show featuring a dance competition.  Dance typically appeals to gay men in the same way sport, like hockey, football, and the like, appeals to straight men.  The judges on "SYTYCD" sometimes put down male dancers who fail to come across masculine enough, and applaud male dancers who do, in part, I believe, because of their agenda to legitimize dance, especially to straight men.  They want straight males, who are interested in dance but uninterested in being a part of something that attracts so many gay men, to join up, thereby adding legitimacy to what they hope will become an Olympic sport.  (As I write this, I wonder how dance is any different from figure skating in this regard.)

True enough, Billy may not have connected with American viewers because of his androgyny or his perceived homosexuality.  It certainly couldn't be because he wasn't talented.  In fact, an argument could be made that Billy was one of the most skillful dancers ever to compete on the program.  So what Lythgoe said is what I've written about here many times:  It's okay to be gay, and, in Billy's case, the American public would have accepted him as a gay man, if he hadn't come across so effeminate, with his nervous, girly giggles, his mannerisms, and his confusing attire (like that scarf last evening).

(Is this anything like telling Mia Michaels, one of the most talented choreographers ever (and a judge on "SYTYCD," as well), that she can't be a professional dancer because the shape of her body isn't like that of the small-waisted, narrow-hipped female dancers so favored by the show?  From what I understand, that happened.  Imagine someone telling you, despite all your hard work and your obvious skill, you can't be what you've always wanted to be because you don't have the right body type, or because you're gay?)

Am I angry because Billy was eliminated last evening potentially because he's gay?  No. Am I angry because dance shows, like "SYTYCD," don't embrace open or obviously gay male dancers in the same way they do straight male dancers (or male dancers presenting themselves as straight), possibly because they don't think the American public does yet either, or because they don't want dance to continue to be dominated by gay male dancers, thereby preventing straight men from participating?  Absolutely.

What about Kent?  Sweet, cuddly, cute Kent.  With the muscular, compact physique, the winniest smile, and the personality to light up a stage.  I'm in love with Kent.  Who isn't in love with Kent?  He's one of the best dancers the show's ever featured.  There's isn't a style of dance he can't perform--and perform well.  Every teenage girl in American is on Kent's side.  How could they not be?  That's why I predict he will win the competition in just a few weeks.

But what would happen if Kent suddenly came out?  What would happen if he said or did something that unmistakably said "gay"?  Has he won over enough hearts so far to ensure winning the whole thing, or would American girls turn on him, because he's no longer available to them, because they could no longer see themselves with him?  Would the judges hold him in lower favor, too?  Would he have gotten as far in the competition as he has so far?  Or would he have been sent packing along with Billy last evening, thereby ridding the show of the two most obvious gay boys?

I ask a lot of questions for which I have no answers.  I pose them only to provoke thought. It seems to me that a show like "SYTYCD" must draw talent wherever it comes--gay, straight, or otherwise.  Does it really matter what the male dancer's sexual orientation is? Would it matter if any of the lovely female dancers came out as lesbian?  Would the judges tell them they didn't dance feminine enough, not lady-like enough?  Or are only gay male dancers stigmatized, because the dance community on the whole wants more straight male dancers?

Yes, it's true, I like a male dancer who dances like a man, who has power, and force, and confidence behind him (not to mention a macho physique and demeanor).  And I cringe when I see a male dancer who's too soft, whose mannerisms are too effeminate, whose clothing choices are too confusing.  But that's my problem, isn't it?  It says more about me, and my internal homophobia, than it does about the dancer.

The dance industry, as far as I'm concerned, is fine the way it is.  Many of the most talented male dancers in history are/were gay.  Dancing is a highly creative field that needs gay male dancers, whether we the viewer can tell they're gay or not.  No one's talent or ability, whether in dancing or acting or any of the  performing arts, should be diminished in any way because of sexual orientation.  Have we learned nothing about discrimination?              

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