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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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  • by John Roberts - March 15, 2007, 7:50 am

    Mark Lund should not be commended for his totally unwarranted outburst against Johnny Weir. Weir is entitled to be himself. Lund is the one who is trying to remake Weir into a more macho male figure skater. Just how much support has Lund given to the gay community? He seems to be more interested in promoting himself, and in trying to perpetuate a very rigid ideal of what a male figure skater should be like. The world should be open to all types of people, gay and straight, from the flamboyant to the cowboy to the conservative accountant. Your article is interesting, but your support of Lund is misplaced. And the ISU and Lund both are at fault for trying to make male figure skaters more “masculine.”

  • by Eric St-Pierre - March 15, 2007, 12:43 pm

    Oh come on. If a man and a woman can skate then why can’t a man and man or a woman and woman skate? It’s not as though couples are performing oral sex or partaking in obtrusive and degrading or humiliating behavior. Rather they are merely replicating an art and bringing it to an audience which should appreciate it for what it is. I say judge skating for what it is, art-based, rather than gender or sexual orientation-based. I’m sure the judges would agree.

  • by Awartha Thomas - March 15, 2007, 1:26 pm

    Wow. You are the first person I’ve seen so far come down on Lund’s side in this whole thing. If Johnny comes out, his career is *over*. This isn’t a case of stuck-in-closet, this is a case of needing to stay in for the sake of his livelihood. I had to stay in the closet so I could graduate from college and it was hard enough. I can’t imagine what Johnny’s going through. A little support from the gay community would be nice, I’d imagine. Don’t say “we won’t support you until you’re skating with a rainbow flag”, say “we’re behind you 100% and we’ll do whatever we can to change the world so it’s safe for you to be who you are.” Mark Lund hates Johnny; they’ve had a nice history of it all. Lund is trying to *ruin* Johnny’s career because he doesn’t like how Johnny’s effeminate style reflects back on *him*, Mark Lund. This isn’t a case of “come out because this is who you are”, it’s “come out so they can tear you to shreds so people will stop thinking all gay people are just like you.” Get your facts right in the future, please.

  • by Claudia Mayers - March 15, 2007, 6:51 pm

    Mark Lund role model? His comments about Weir were the most disgusting homophobic phrases I have ever heard in my life. And you CAN be homophobic even if you are gay yourself. You can have a clear picture in your mind how exactly a gay person should act and how not. Lund was not only attacking Weir for not coming out (a private decision that no one can make for another person) but also for the balletic and elegant way he skates. He ridiculed him for being effeminate and bashed and insulted him. I was disgusted watching it and I am disgusted to read that someone comments him for this kind of crap.

  • by Erin MacLeod - March 15, 2007, 9:10 pm

    Just so you know–as a former figure skater myself, I took part in competitions where I skated (albeit rather poorly–we never did so well) alongside a female partner. They called it “similar dance” or “similar pairs” and it’s an event in varsity sport here in Canada. They do it in the states as well. The ISU may not approve, but it still does happen!

  • by Jared Palmer - March 15, 2007, 9:49 pm

    Lund is out of line, totally! A straight person doesn’t have to say, ‘I’m straight’ or a bi person, ‘I’m bi’. Then, if we want equal treatment, Johnny shouldn’t have to satisfy Lund or anyone else by saying if he’s gay or not. What does this have to do with his skating?! Gayness did NOT pave the way for him, his talent did. And his career WOULD be over as he knows it, if he said he was gay. I played pro tennis and have a dear mate who is gay who cannot come out because his sponsers would simply disapear, and others would distance themselves. It’s sad but true. Figure skating, even though it is known for it’s gayness, won’t let it be, either. No one ever says a word about Evan L, the current US champion, either. Why pick on Johnny? I think jealousy rears its ugly head for Mr. Lund, and there’s no hiding that fact. Lund. We don’t CARE what you think of Johnny, nor does he. Quit trying to ‘out’ people. That IS a personal choice, mate. As for the author, how about supporting Weir’s decision to leave his sexuality off the ice, not that he owes anyone anything? Think about it.

  • by Tyrone Reese - March 15, 2007, 10:30 pm

    Mark Lund a role model? You better think next time you write, pal. Lund has zero respect in any community. From his bullying “I’m going to sue you” tactics to his skating magazine readers to his shady business practices including despicable lawsuits against his magazine competitors to the abusive way he’s acted toward employees, there’s nothing role model material about Lund. Nothing. Nada. Next time you shoot your mouth off about wishing for a role model, you might want to research said person first.

  • by Andy Osnick - March 16, 2007, 12:09 am

    Yes, Mark Lund criticized Johnny Weir for not coming out. But in the same televised segment, he also criticized Weir for being too flamboyant, too effeminate for the sport of figure skating. This is right in line with the movie 300 (and many others) who discourages such gender expression in men by portraying an effeminate men as insipid villains. This is homophobia, too. And I daresay Lund’s homophobic comments were far more egregious than Mr. Weir’s decision to keep his love life private.

  • by David St Pierre - March 16, 2007, 4:04 am

    Yeah, 300 is definitely testosterone taken to the max – chauvinistically manly and straight in it’s portrayal of these bloodthirstily fierce fighters. This is the first I’ve heard of any historical gay subtext to the origins of these warriors but, hell, the film does a damn good job of catering to it’s target demographic – 18-25 year-old straight males – so, dude, I wouldn’t slag it for letting the facts get in the way of a highly-entertaining and visually striking story.

  • by Virginia Modugno - March 16, 2007, 10:14 am

    While I am still of two minds about whether it is appropriate to out a public figure, especially one who pretends to represent an impossible and obnoxious moral highground, I find Mr. Lund’s comments fairly hypocritical for one who prefers to traffic with homophobic associations and criticizes a fellow homosexual for being effeminate, a term that denigrates both gays and women in its usage. However, I’m just as aggravated with the performers who do sell us a heteronormative image for their own career gain. I cannot believe that the majority of our society truly prefers dis-ingenuousness and manipulation over a talented person who espouses an alternative lifestyle. Indeed, I can’t decide what frightens me more, that such gifted people are willing to live a lie or that we are so brainwashed by promotional fakery that it no longer provokes a reaction. As for 300, it’s interesting that such a spectacle of male objectification is being promoted as the ultimate in machismo cool. It may not be historically accurate, but it does have its subversive qualities.

  • by Charles Montpetit - March 16, 2007, 10:28 am

    Okay, so Spartans were gay-positive and mean fighting machines. But either way, why should it be *anyone’s* ideal to bash your enemies more fiercely than anyone else? I’m reminded of that homophobic Snickers ad that played during the Superbowl, where two garage mechanics try to disprove that they’re gay by beating each other up in a “manly” fashion. If that is the only way you can aspire to Manhood (gay or straight), then I’m quite willing to renounce it altogether.

  • by Marie Hughes - March 16, 2007, 1:22 pm

    The ISU has definitely supported the Gay Games in the past and given them a sanction so it’s not true that “The ISU even refuses to sanction figure skating competitions in both the Outgames and the Gay Games because of same-sex pairs figure skating”. As for Mark Lund, he didn’t just out Johnny Weir. He also praised Johnny’s rival for being more masculine. Praising another skater (who rumors say is also in the closet) for being more overtly masculine over a more effeminate rival and accusing the less masculine skater of ruining the sport is not the act of any role model of mine. In fact, he’s just one more voice trying to make figure skating as masculine as possible.

  • by Reuven De Souza - March 16, 2007, 1:41 pm

    You would certainly get such lively conversation on sports like this on that excremental 110%..those clowns are like monkeys throwing fecal matter in a cage! At least this has some social relevance and is not uninformed wads who can barely string two sentences together! I am ambivalent with regard to Mr. Lund ( and Mr. Weir ) but am fascinated by the whole unheard story.

  • by Anny Truong - March 17, 2007, 11:16 pm

    The International Skating Union? A homophobic organization? Haha, that is hilarious, and I couldn’t agree more. Seriously, what is wrong with two men or two women skating together?Man, do I ever look forward to watching Blades of Glory.

  • by Rob Postuma - March 18, 2007, 12:44 pm

    The graphic novel “300″ by Frank Miller – does indeed make a point out discussing the bringing along of young boys to carry things & essentially be there for “sexual relief” when it was needed. Somehow I doubted that they’d carry this element into the movie version, so it comes as no surprise that it’s nowhere to be found on the screen. Let’s be completely honest though, did anyone expect a big studio film, to be so adventurous as to show this? What is surprising to me, is the NHL – who keep on saying how they want to keep the focus of hockey off of violence & how it’s killing the sport – to be so blatant as to align themselves with such a film as “300″ which goes out of it’s way to glorify violence. Was someone not thinking that day ? I hope they get called out on it.

  • by Steve Landry - March 21, 2007, 9:07 pm

    Love the idea for “Blades of Glory”. Love the chemistry of Ferrell and Heder, the film should work on a few levels.
    Don’t expect a “smartly put together, well-scripted” film, expect a gut-ripping collection of what-if’s when two male skaters come together in competition. This is funny as funny can be and focuses on a topic that is usually, tall lean male skating with petite little ballerina on skates. Cute camera angles, exploitive and tight outfits that will make camels go looking for their missing toes, and a crew that probably needed several takes on some scenes just to get through their own laughter. Usually, it’s flubbed lines, this time it’s funny material. Go get ‘em Tigers.

  • by Martin Dansky - March 22, 2007, 12:22 am

    Promoting the film in NHL arenas is advocating the greater use of violence. How idiotic if the assocation wants to rid itself of its violent image. If the NHL had thought it would illustrate how they beat their many opponents against all odds, as Spartans temorarily held off Xerse’s army they are dreaming. Thanks for the insight on the bonding created by boys and men back in the day. It served its purpose for those cultures then. At least now young guys are not coerced into serving their ‘master’ heros. And if that were to happen I’d hope somebody gets put away. About seeing two guys skate together eventually that’ll happen in larger venues, it all starts with columns as yours pointing out contradictions that would not occur in other sports.

  • by Brooke Schroeder - June 9, 2009, 6:54 pm

    Lets not let our own desire to make a gay identity point render us incapable of being a tad selective. Lots of things happened in history some gay some straight; but many things that we are better off without. I hear 22 year old man with 12 year old boy and think more a society that condoned pedophilia and not a testament to the validity of homosexuality. Those were very different times – different rationales – different societies. To take the (crude; 12 year old boys with 22 year old men) practices of an antiquated society and boast it as a historical account that in any way supports objectives of the modern gay community is risky to say the least.

    The primary aversion to homosexuality for most straight people is fear. So then how do you expect a straight person to interpret your implied approval of same sex relations between children and men? Of course you could always say ; “That was a different time; shorter life expectancies etc etc.” but to extract only the details you want from an ambiguous source is always asking for trouble. Sparta was another world with a history shared by all but very little clear and direct connections to any designated sides of political agendas existing today.

    Really; lets be a bit more selective. Choosing historical facts such as these to validate your cause will only perpetuate negative perceptions of the gay community. Fear will never be eradicated as it is a part of human nature but the best way minimize its impact on you is to seek to understand the fear of others. In understanding them; without judging them, you’ll be more sensitive to their perceptions and better able to communicate yourself effectively without being grossly misinterpreted.

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