Three Dollar Bill: Figuratively skating

Figuratively skating

Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes in 300
Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.

When I was a kid I adored figure skating and took lessons at my local arena for years. To avoid being bullied at my neighbourhood rink, though, I spray-painted my skates black.

So it comes as no surprise that the gayest sport in the world – men’s figure skating – is run by one of the most homophobic organizations on the planet, the International Skating Union.

The ISU – which sanctions all international figure skating championships as well as the Olympics – forbids same-sex pairs figure skating. The ISU even refuses to sanction figure skating competitions in both the Outgames and the Gay Games because of same-sex pairs figure skating.

I bring this up because comedian Will Ferrell’s new movie, Blades of Glory, in theatres on March 30, doesn’t let real-life facts get in the way of a good yarn.

Blades of Glory tells the story of two straight rivals, men’s singles skaters Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy McElroy (played by Ferrell and Jon Heder), who are given lifetime bans after their all-out brawl at the 2002 World Figure Skating Championship disgraces their sport.

But Michaels and McElroy exploit a loophole in their suspension and return to the ice to compete together in pairs figure skating.

Except that could never happen in real life.

Another movie that doesn’t let the facts get in the way – and like Blades of Glory was also filmed in Montreal – is the visually stunning movie 300, based on Frank Miller’s 1998 graphic novel of the same name. The hyper-violent CGI swords-and-sandals epic retells the true-life tale of 300 Spartan warriors who hold back the invading army of Persian emperor Xerxes for three days in the year 480 BC.

Throughout the movie, Spartan warriors trade jokes about fighting like sissies. One main character puts another down for taking it up the ass. And the bad guy, Xerxes, is portrayed as an effeminate freak by striking Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro.

Except real-life Spartan warriors made up the fiercest gay and bisexual army in human history. Sparta demanded its warriors sexually love one another so that they would also fight for each other to the death.

"At 12 each boy [in Sparta] was taken by a 22-year-old ‘inspirer’ who trained him [militarily] for the next eight years," reports The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. "Then, as the ‘listener’ began to sprout facial and body hair, he went on active full-time military duty and was assigned to a barracks where he had to sleep until he was 30, continuing to dine with his messmates until the age of 60."

The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality continues, "Sparta remains the eternal model of an aristocratic warrior society [that] combined male bonding with an especially virile, austere form of homosexuality… Inspired by man-boy love, the heroism of Spartan warriors shielded nascent Hellenic civilization from the menace of Persian despotism."

Lambda is today’s international symbol of Gay Pride

You’d never know this from watching 300.

(Incidentally, Spartans regarded the lower-case lambda – see image to the left – – today an international symbol of Gay Pride – to mean unity.)

If anything, the hyper-violence and hyper-masculinity of 300 caters to the movie’s heavily straight male audience, which is why the NHL and Warner Bros. Pictures have teamed up on an integrated marketing campaign to promote the film in NHL arenas.

Their campaign also features a 30-second TV spot featuring rock ‘em sock ‘em shots of NHL players and the Stanley Cup spliced with battle scenes and dialogue from the film. It certainly doesn’t hurt that not one gay NHL player – and there are many – has ever publicly come out of his closet.

On the other hand, one sports body Warner Bros. would not have teamed up with to promote 300 is the ISU, despite the ISU’s efforts to keep their sport as straight-acting as possible.

Even openly gay former figure skater-turned-commentator Mark Lund, founder of Boston-based International Figure Skating magazine, has had it with closeted figure skaters like androgynous 2003-6 U.S. Figure Skating Nationals Men’s Champ Johnny Weir, whom Lund outed on Nancy Kerrigan’s TV show this past January.

Lund later defended himself: "I say to Mr. Weir, ‘You enjoy being outspoken and a free spirit. You [say] frequently that you have been brought up to speak your mind. However, you refuse to support the very community that paved the way for you.’ I say to all those that believe my comments about Mr. Weir were homophobic to take a step back and realize the beliefs you are actually expressing. Mr. Weir is an individual who enjoys all the rights of the gay community without coming out to support the gay community. Now who is the hypocrite here? Most certainly not me."

I wish I’d had an out role model like Mark Lund when I grew up figure skating in my neighbourhood rink.

As for Johnny Weir, clearly he’s no Mark Lund.

And he’s no Spartan either.

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