2.19.2010

Sexuality and Figure Skating

I had written a post all about gay men in figure skating, and wondered what comes first, the sexuality or the skating. But I wasn't very comfortable with how it "sounded," so I took it down. I just don't know enough about how many of these figure skating men are "out" to comment on it.



So let's be hypothetical instead. A disproportionate number of players in the NBA are black. Rather than explaining that the good-ol' fashioned racist way, which emphasized physical abilities inherited from surviving the middle passage (or some nonsense), we now generally agree that 78% of NBA players are black because basketball is a big part of youth black culture. It's an important part of socialization in much of black culture, blah blah blah, so that explains that. The same goes for why 90% of professional golfers (I'm making these numbers up) are white, right?--it's a part of white culture; it's not that white people are genetically predisposed to the golf swing.

But IF (!) there is a disproportionate number of gay men in Olympic figure skating, how do we explain that? Most of the Olympians must've started skating long before they were comfortably (or uncomfortably) influenced by gay culture. Whereas black men are habituated within black culture from the time they can walk, gay men are seldom raised "within" gay culture--most of their parents are not conversant with gay culture. So what's going on here, hypothetically?

What explains it?

8 comments:

fenhopper said...

i think gender roles beyond sexuality are important here. i don't mean to say that gay men are intrinsically more feminine than heterosexual men. but i think the role of ice skating and dancing is nudged by cultural assumptions towards the feminine space.

and that's a space that many young boys who will later call themselves gay, occupy more than other boys do. not necessarily because of nature, but because of the tendency of the other 'inhabitants' of those spaces to reward, accept, ridicule, ignore, accommodate, or listen to certain sensibilities.

that and the costumes are FAAaabulous!

Casey said...

So a young boy sees two options--everybody yelling at each other and chewing tobacco and wearing helmets, and another where he glides alone on the ice in the middle of the stadium, and simply prefers the latter. But what would that have to do with sexuality? Why is there an association between appreciating the costumes and liking to have sex with other guys?

It's okay if this is a mystery. I don't mean to demand an answer here...

Mark said...

I think it's the outfits.

Casey said...

Are you saying wearing outfits like that could make a straight guy gay!? Interesting thesis.

fenhopper said...

not quite what i was saying.

in one group a feminine sensibility is either ridiculed or at best, ignored.

in another, are more girls who share other interests.

this has nothing to do with becoming a good skater. i stand by my belief that hockey players are more skilled on the ice than are figure skaters. this is about the culture that accepts other sensibilities.

AND sexuality is a gender role. (you know...gender is a construct yadda yadda yadda.)

a couple scenarios.

A) two groups. one is skating and it's a bunch of kids who have adopted "typical" male gender roles and who have been taught to belittle, to shun, to sabotage the attempts of a "non-typical" boy to fit in. and because there is a correlation (i'll just ask that it be stipulated for now) between sexuality and other gender-typical behaviours, this group is more likely to drive him away.

the other group is already more accepting of those things that are correlated with sexuality, even tho the sexuality is sometimes latent, and this boy who occupies a certain gender space, will later realize that he is also gay.

B) a boy lives in a skating culture. let's say canada. so he's skating from a young age. and he's good. he can do axels AND he has a wicked slapshot. lots of kids in his school are good at these. but they eventually learn to specialize. he knows he's gay, or he's just come to realize that he thinks about boys the way he's heard those same boys talk about girls. sexuality is a loaded identity by this time. and in one group he's safe, in the other he's not. one group has people that he socializes with already, the other group has people who bully that group. which one will he more likely pick?

i guess you're asking something that i don't think is a causal factor. in other societies these numbers could be completely different. of course, there are few isolated skating communities, so we see these correlations worldwide. but it has nothing to do with an instinctual gravitation towards one sport over another.

Gretchen Pratt said...

"Because there is a correlation (i'll just ask that it be stipulated for now) between sexuality and other gender-typical behaviours."

That's the fascinating part to me. I'm not not stipulating it, but I didn't really know that, and I'm not sure I understand it. It's especially fascinating because no serious scientist could suppose there to be a genetic predisposition for "good interior design taste," but there does seem to be a correlation. So sexuality (which is measurable/objective) is coinciding with very fleeting cultural forms.

So my hypothesis would be that maybe somehow sexuality is intrinsically political (in a transcendent way, you know--not just like Dem./Rep., but like Roman or Jewish)?

This would be problematic, and would be difficult to test/measure. But it seems to be common wisdom that there's a sexuality gene, and I'm not always convinced.

And as I've said before, even though I understand that it's "politically incorrect" (or offensive) to suggest that sexuality is not genetic, I don't understand why. I wouldn't have more sympathy for a gay person if he were born gay than if he chose to be gay.

Mark said...

Genetic sexuality is also a minefield. If people could tell the sexual preference of their child in the womb, homosexuality would be eradicated. If someone wanted to be heterosexual but their genetic code said they were meant to be gay, or vice-versa, that would suck. The trouble is that a gay-straight binary doesn't allow us to see the nuance in a person's sexuality. Then behavior gets normed to one of a limited number of options, "figure skater" being one of the very few acceptable intersections of athlete and gay.

fenhopper said...

"Pratt": "i'm not not stipulating it, but…"

so you think the co-occurrence might not even be there? i'm not talking about cause and effect or even necessary correlation. i'm just talking about what traits we see together -- what i ask to be stipulated is not whether one causes the other, or whether there's a genetic link or whether this is how it has always been and always will be. my guess is that the correlation occurs because of socially learned behaviors. and whenever, or for whatever reason the traits are together, that's the point at which i suggest the two scenarios.

and i don't think sexuality is really all that objective. mark's point about the nuance in sexuality is important. historically there has not always been space allowed for homosexuality as we know it today. but homoeroticism can exist regardless of the space reserved for a "sexual orientation."

so i think your impression that there's a common belief in a "sexuality gene" is actually just flat out wrong. that's a metaphor for argument that some of the less convincing political players might use. but it's hardly common wisdom.