We’re Asking The Wrong Question
Okay, so I’m totally being held hostage by math right now. I am skipping YET ANOTHER ballet class so I can try to actually make a solid grade on my math exam — I want to go in knowing I am 100% on top of this material. This is First World Problems to the max: I have really never had to study before. So, yeah. I apologize to my best friend, Robert, for all those times I was like, “Who needs to study? Screw that! Let’s go run around outside until three in the morning!”
Exam is Wednesday, so on Wednesday night I will be back on the marley dipping (rather than shaking) my tailfeathers like it ain’t no thang. Probably also mixing my metaphors like a grand champion on fire, or whatevs.
Anyway: I am forever reading about ballet (who woulda thunk?!). And I am forever running across articles that read like this:
ZOMG Everyone is afraid that ballet dudes are gay and feminine and stuff! But don’t worry! We are the manliest.
Okay, so they’re usually at least a bit more reasoned than that. But, to be honest, it still ruffles my (tail?) feathers just a little.
Here’s why: sure, a lot of ballet dudes aren’t gay. (Apparently, about half of us? Has anyone done an actual scientific study, here?) On the other hand, a lot of us are gay. (Again, about half of us? Has anyone done an actual scientific study, here?)
And instead of saying, “Yeah, half of us are gay. So?”, we’re terrified of Looking Gay to the Not-Gay Universe. We hold up straight male dancers as shining examples and tuck gay male dancers back into the shadows.
For the record, I will straight-up concur (you know, assuming a gay ballet dude even can straight-up concur?) with the notion that manly ballet dudes are, in fact, the manliest. Seriously. I have done one sport that offered an equivalent degree of physical intensity, and that was Muay freaking Thai, people. You know, pretty much like ballet, only you get to kick people in the face. With your shins (they mostly discourage that in ballet; it puts runs in your tights, which seriously ticks off the costume department and/or whoever pays for your ballet kit).
Ballet dudes are hardmen (so are ballet chicks: if I had to choose between a back-alley brawl with a footballer and a back-alley brawl with a ballet lady, I’d go with the footballer). In fact, ballet dancers are so freaking hard that people have to pretty much chain us to things to make us stop dancing when we’re injured (so we won’t permanently damage ourselves) or ill (so, presumably, we won’t A) go all Closing Scene From Black Swan halfway through class or B) infect the entire ballet universe).
In short, the only thing as determined as an injured ballet dancer is an angry rhino(1).
Even those of us who are little androgynous gay dudes, like me (or, to be fair, tall androgynous gay dudes, like David Freaking Hallberg, Prince of the Universe), are pretty freaking manly even within the bounds of the limited, Western-culture specific definition of the term. We may not sport hulking muscles, but we are freaking strong (and unlike some dudes with hulking muscles, we can generally put our arms down and go through doors without turning sideways).
Like, we push through all kinds of pain on a regular basis — oh, and we have to do it while looking relaxed, or even smiling, and while tossing around full-growned wimmins like they don’t weigh a thing(2). We know how to fail, and fail, and fail, and keep on comin’. And also we have thighs like steel-belted radials. Seriously.
Like, we have the confidence and je ne sais quois to step into our dance belts(3), step out in our tights, look out at the world, and say, “How you like them apples?”
If courage is the yardstick by which manliness is measured, every male ballet dancer in the world (even those of us who aren’t professionals) pretty much wins right there. Sometimes, perhaps counter-intuitively, true manliness means being willing to step outside the “rules” by which men are bound in our culture. It means having the fortitude to say, “Who cares? Imma do me.”
However, at the end of the day, the whole matter of manliness strikes me as a distraction (an important one, I guess, but a distraction, nonetheless). The question I keep hoping to hear someone ask is: “So, yeah, ballet is one of the traditional bastions of the gay male universe. So what? Who cares?”
The thing is, every time we harp on about how manly ballet is, and how it’s a perfectly acceptable occupation or hobby for straight dudes, and how dancing isn’t “feminizing” at all, we’re sort of overlooking a problematical cultural assumption. We’re overlooking the fact that what we’re doing is reinforcing the idea that there’s only one acceptable way to be masculine; that feminine guys are not okay; that women (and other feminine beings) are lesser people.
Instead of saying, “Yeah, there’s room in ballet for masculine guys and not-so-masculine guys, and that’s fine,” we’re forever trying to sweep the association between gayness and ballet-ness under the rug.
I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there who would argue that, right now, that’s kind of what it takes to get straight guys to consider trying ballet (which everyone wants, because everyone wants more guys of any orientation; no argument with that part, here).
I would argue that kowtowing to that paradigm isn’t going to make meaningful change. Yeah, we’ll see a few more straight guys in the studio if we work to convince people that ballet as Acceptably Manly — but I think what’s really going to raise the numbers is the burgeoning acceptance that there’s more than one way to be manly; that you can’t catch The Gay in the locker room; and that even if you could (and you can’t!!! And we don’t want you to!!!), nobody would care.
So there you have it. Generally, ballet asks us to be pretty freaking masculine on stage (in fact, I sometimes find myself mystified by the weird cultural disconnect between American society, which totally fails to grasp that classical ballet dudes can be masculine, and the gender roles in classical ballet, which are about as rigid as they come) — but what’s so wrong with guys who aren’t?
Nothing. That’s what.
One last bit: if you’re a straight guy, and you’re considering taking up ballet, but you’re afraid you’ll be the only straight dude in your class, or your school, or whatever, remember this: regardless of ridiculous pr0n tropes, most gay dudes have no interest in trying to convert you.
Especially not in ballet class, during which nobody has time to think about anything but ballet in the first place. Seriously, if you can think about anything else during class, you’re either some kind of Zen-Master Level Dancer or you or your teacher are doin’ it wrong (or, you know, taking an easy day, I guess).
Meanwhile, the ballet studio is full of intelligent, super-fit women who (if they’re anything like the women in the cycling world) would love to be able to share their passion with the man in their life (assuming, you know, they’re even into men). And some of them are even single.
Okay, and one more last thing: I do appreciate the efforts of people who point out that ballet isn’t emasculate, or whatever, and that ballet dudes are manly. I do appreciate those efforts. I just think we’ve reached a point, as a culture, at which we can start expanding the conversation a bit.
Anyway, one of these days, I’ll get around to writing a serious, well-reasoned, well-researched article about all this stuff. For now, this is just a catch-all for some thoughts that have been kicking around in my head for a while. So that’s it.
G’night, everybody. Back to the maths.
- So, um? You guys? If you Google Angry Rhino, it turns out that apparently it means things, um, other than just “furious quadruped.” I had no freaking idea; there were definitely no questionable subtexts intended here. Sorry 😦
- Okay, so I haven’t reached the level yet where they let you toss the girls around. BUT I WILL.
- Or, you know, alligator-wrestle our way into them, which totally NEVER happens to me. Or at least the dance belt never wins. Man, that elastic is freaking STRONG.