Being a boy in ballet can be rough. Like a lot boys with interests counter to expected gender roles, they can get targeted for being "girly" or "gay" (whether or not these things are true).
But let's also pay attention to how we're responding to this type of bullying.
One of my least favorite defenses of boys in ballet is the "no homo" defense (with a side of misogyny). Growing up, I heard a lot adults tell boys who do ballet to respond to "that's gay" comments by replying that they spend their days surrounded by hot girls in tights that they get to touch.
Now I can hardly blame a kid for saying what he has to say to get through middle school-though the adults encouraging it might be a different story-and I get that it sucks to have people make assumptions about your sexual orientation, but it always bothered me that:
- People care more about disassociating ballet from "gay" than disassociating "gay" from "bad." (And what if that kid is gay?)
- As one of the "girls in tights," these statements always made me feel uncomfortable and objectified.
- I also like girls, but I certainly never came to ballet class to check people out. I would be pretty offended if someone suggested otherwise--so why should it be different for boys, who are also probably coming to class for the purpose of actually learning ballet?
Because let's be real, ballet is hard, and regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, you're not gonna stick around long or get very far if you're only there for the purpose of staring at butts.
What does it say about our cultural values that staring at butts (as long as it's hetero) is considered a more acceptable motivation for boys in ballet than practicing a challenging art form?
Look, I want to erase the stigma associated with boys in ballet at least as much as anyone else-but we can't do that simply by erasing gay boys in ballet and waving around flag of aggressive heterosexual masculinity. That only trivializes the commitment of male dancers, demeans female dancers, and devalues ballet itself.
If really we want to end a stigma based in homophobia and gender-policing, we're gonna have to actually fight homophobia and and gender-policing.