Homophobia is still a problem in the world of dance

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Earlier this year, “Good Morning America” ran what was supposed to be a cute culture story about the first-grade curriculum of Britain’s Prince George. But when correspondent Lara Spencer mentioned that the 6-year-old boy was studying ballet, she couldn’t suppress her laughter.

As Spencer said, “We’ll see how long that lasts,” co-host George Stephanopolous and most of the studio audience also laughed. Being laughed at for pursuing dance is familiar to almost any boy who studies the art form, especially ballet.

Deidre Tangorra’s 9-year-old son, Julius, has been aggressively bullied for dancing. At school, he’s been put in a chokehold, tripped and tackled while being called “twinkle toes,” “fairy” and other homophobic slurs. He can’t ride the school bus because of other kids spitting on him, according to both Julius and his mother.

“If a boy wants to do something perceived as slightly feminine, they’re perceived as weaker,” Tangorra said. “It’s not about being against dance, it’s machoness.”

Julius had a strong reaction to Spencer’s laughter and comments. “When she said it, I felt bad and angry and embarrassed,” he said. Following the TV host’s controversial remarks, the dance community rallied to the young royal’s defense, and #BoysDanceToo became a trending social media hashtag.

Spencer apologized for her comments and interviewed three male dancers who discussed their careers and experiences with bullying. Yet, the issue of men being perceived as feminine never came up in their discussion and neither did sexual orientation nor gender identity. The subtext of the apology was that Spencer erred in saying that male dancers aren’t masculine, but not that it’s wrong to laugh at men who have a feminine side.

Many in the dance community felt it was a missed opportunity to address the root of the stigma male dancers deal with — homophobia and misogyny — especially because these exist within the dance world as well.

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Photos: Kirill Sokolovsky

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Pantomime

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In a land of lost wonders, the past is stirring once more… Gene’s life resembles a debutante’s dream. Yet she hides a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female. Then she displays unwanted magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age.

Pantomime  by Laura Lam starts as the tale of two apparently unlinked young people: the young would-be trapeze artist Micah Grey, and the noblewoman who calls herself Gene who’s about to be married off, should her parents get their way.

These boy-girl dual storylines are increasingly common in YA so I assumed something along the lines of a love story, albeit an unusual one. But Laura Lam weaves her first surprise of many into the opening chapters, and we realise that Micah and Gene are the same person.

Micah is intersex, and this was exceptionally well demonstrated throughout the novel. The alternating stories got closer and closer to each other as the narrative continued. It also felt very natural to me: the fact that Micah is intersex didn’t stick out to me, and although it was obvious from things he said, it didn’t feel forced by the author.

Instead, Micah’s character simply unfolded: rather than seeming like Laura Lam just fancied writing about an intersex character, Pantomime had the rare yet wonderful concept of a protagonist that has been discovered instead of being created. As someone who is cisgender, it still felt extremely relatable, which can sometimes put people off reading queer books but needn’t do so.

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