The world of competitive cheerleading has always been one of those sports or activities dominated by theatrics: It's about putting on a good show, performing some sick pseudo-gymnastics, and getting a crowd psyched up. It's also one of those sports whose male participants are often the butt of a joke that seeks to skewer their masculinity. Male cheerleaders, the "logic" goes, are pansies or feminine or queers.
Last month, the official United States cheerleading organization, the U.S. All Star Federation, seemed to make an attempt to rectify the perception that male cheerleaders are too feminine. In a revised rulebook, USASF outlined an "image etiquette" guide to help competitive teams "minimize the negative." One of the requirements under this guide was that males should "minimize exaggerated or theatrical movements."
In other words, male cheerleaders, please stop being so damn gay.
This weekend, Slate magazine took an in-depth look at the attempted rule change, tracking the immense push-back on the image etiquette guide and asserting that the request for males to "minimize exaggerated or theatrical movements" was homophobic and alluded to an organization that's tired of being perceived as the place for gay boys to go and cheer their hearts out.
The article follows a few male cheerleaders - some straight, some gay - and discusses their reactions to the change. One of these men, Gadke, is a coach who dealt with bullying in high school because he cheered:
Gadke grew up in a rural Iowa town where he didn't feel comfortable coming out of the closet. "During the day, there'd be name-calling, the typical high-school drama that goes along with picking on a male cheerleader," he says. "But there was a safe haven in all-star cheer. Cheer provides that environment where it's OK to have different types of personalities." Gadke knows coaches who've housed teenagers whose parents would not accept them, and teenagers who are out at their gyms but not to their families. For many young men who've found comfort in competitive cheer, the admonition that they "minimize exaggerated or theatrical movements" felt like an unprovoked attack from a world where they'd always found support.
The USASF's attempts to de-gay the sport aren't really that different from broader culture's disdain for feminine gay men. Even today, in the era of Glee and Neil Patrick Harris, we too often hear things like, "I'm OK with gay people unless they're sooooo in your face about it." Even within the gay male community, more "feminine" men continue to endure groans, rude side glances, or even direct rejection -- "No femmes" or "Only seeking masculine men" remain some of the most common disclaimers on dating or hook-up sites.
Bilerico contributor Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore does an excellent job at breaking down the gay community's anti-"femme," WeAreMasculine assertion in the new book Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?. The book explores our internalized homophobia, our dislike for feminine, "flaming" gay men, and our celebration of "straight-acting" gays.
It seems like that's what the USASF is doing with this rule change. They're saying that it's fine to be gay in cheerleading as long as you're still hyper-masculine -- as long as people can't tell with your theatric expressions and exaggerated movements, you can be whoever you want to be.
At least the push-back hasn't fallen on deaf ears. Slate explains that USASF is well aware of the opposition to the changes.
According to USASF Chairman Jim Chadwick, the rules regarding theatrical movements will be revised "to reflect all participants of this sport." Another member of the rules committee, Justin Carrier, made a public statement on Facebook on March 30 that "we understand that some of the language has upset many people" and that the group would "take a long hard look at it, and make sure the language is right and that it reflects the spirit of our industry." As of April 27, those promised revisions still have not been made public.
Let's hope the rule is revoked and apologized for soon. There's no reason to take a sport like cheerleading - one that revolves around dancing, fostering positive energy, and celebrating the very existence of "spirit" - and making male cheerleaders, gay, straight or otherwise, feel like they can't be themselves.
img src & src