I love it when a reader comes up with a superlative comment on an older post. It’s gratifying that such posts are still being read, and it also leads to diversity of subject matter. Pennagain dived back into the gender issues in sports, which began here with commentary on the the still roiling controversy over whether it is fair to allow trans males, or women transitioning to men, to compete against unaltered, biological women. That led to a comment about gays in sports, and that to Pennagain’s astute Comment of the Day on the post “Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/25/ 2019: Martina Navratilova A Gender Bigot? The Founding Fathers Nazis? Art Galleries Discriminating Against The Blind? WHAT’S HAPPENING?????”
Of course it’s complex. One of the reasons for that complexity is that the syllogisms are the wrong way round. Taking your two examples, I would say that there are more gay men in figure skating than in, say, speed skating because gay men with grace, as well as the will to undergo the training and discipline it takes to compete at top levels, do better than those without; the same as in ballet. Canada’s unquestionably non-gay Elvis Stojko is a good mirror example: Stojko won three World championships and two Olympic silver medals without exhibiting any particular grace at all; instead, he was the first person to land a quadruple-double jump combination. And a couple of dozen other major wins. That’s because figure skating has that “figure” side that concentrations on strength and precision. Either “side” can overwhelm the other (the “artisitic” side often does so in women’s figure skating), but muscle and a sense of timing can be acquired. Grace, ease and smoothness of movement can also be acquired (usually starting at a very early age) but since we have labeled them “feminine,” and feminine is equated with gay, and gay continues to be seen as undesirable — non-gay boys are not going to be encouraged to participate.
On the other hand, gay men with the sought-after qualities (1) have become more acceptable, even admired as those who stand as champions for their school, state or country (2) non-gay boys are more frequently discouraged by themselves or others to enter the sport because of continuing stigma (3) thus there are more openings for gay men …. of a particular body type: slender, strong, graceful and unashamed of it.
Swimming, track…Another sport that attracts gay men is diving, though they are less recognizable by people who think their “gaydar” goes one millimeter beyond the obvious, such as Greg Louganis, 4 times gold medal Olympic champion, a so-far unbeaten record. More recently, Tom Daley, a double World champion in the 10-metre platform event — that’s diving from 32.8 feet up in the air, folks. Gay men, you know, are supposed to be wimps and cowards, right? He was 15 and 17 years old respectively when he marked those achievements and has continued to rack up awards.
That’s what stigma, and homophobia and so-called “normal” people do to those who are different. These are the ones who stand out from the crowd by no choice of their own and become targets. They have two ways to go. They can exaggerate their difference – this is not the place to go into the psychology of that – or they can excel in some way that raises their difference above the commonness of their tormentors, gay or not. (The pretty people compete on more sustainable grounds, sometimes continuing the masquerade into adulthood, flying under the gaydar, so to speak.) That’s the reason someone like burly Raymond Burr with 90 bad-guy movie credits and the legend of Perry Mason behind him still has a percentage of disbelievers in his fan base who would deny him that 33 years of (openly secret) gay partnership. So too Tchaikovsky, da Vinci, Robert Reed, Grandpa Walton, John Ireland, William Blain “Bill” Richardson, Will Geer, (no, I won’t get into the Cary Grant/Randolph Scott relationship), and excrescences like Bernard King — https://www.villagevoice.com/2013/04/11/bernard-king-not-such-a-hall-of-fame-guy/ — can shrug it off, even from the grave (perhaps more easily from there since, besides the nil nisi bonum stricture, the more manly or untouchable they appeared, the more respectable or above-the-crowd their lives, the more any suggestion of homosexuality was and is denied, even when it was publicly (or legally) acknowledged.
I’m using the gay male image sample rather than the lesbian because it is the simpler correlation, Apart from the fact that “butch” lesbians often became/become competitive in tennis, for instance, or in track, golf or other individual athletics, for the same reason gay men do – to be tough enough to withstand the bullying, mental and physical that often comes — as it does with the gay male victims — not only from non-gay people but from the straight-looking, straight-acting, popular, pretty people who pop out of their closets every day to jump on other queer folks so they can feel better about themselves, women have historically been ignored, not taken seriously, compared invidiously and ridiculously to men in the same sport (publicity stunts notwithstanding), jeered and sneered at, exposed and embarrassed, assaulted and worst of all, excused for being their sex. They need to develop tougher hides than their “lipstick lesbian,” girly-girl counterparts who can shelter behind them or form liaisons of their own. In our culture, it is far easier for a feminine looking lesbian to hide, to “change her mind” and her looks like a chameleon, to nest with a man out of convenience, to be the “sister” in the three-some. These are the great unseen. And that is one reason why lesbian volleyball players … and gay skaters … stand out.
The other reason is that America is not yet used to, and is rather resentful of, having “out” people jumping around having hissy fits on the tennis court when they are supposed to be keeping their heads down in sin and in shame. Too late to build the wall now, m’dears.