I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen “Dancing With the Stars” in the past, but I’ll sure as hell be watching tonight to cheer on JoJo Siwa, the first contestant to have a same-sex dancing partner.
I can’t say I know a lot about JoJo. Her target audience is bespangled, peppy, pop-loving teens and tweens. My target audience, if I had one, would be disenchanted middle-aged Gen Xers who know all the lyrics to “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies. Put Siwa and me on a Venn diagram, and there’s not a lot of overlap.
And yet …
The tiny queer spot where we do overlap is more important than you can imagine. JoJo is living her life openly and authentically as an LGBTQ person, and the entire country can see it. That would be abso-fucking-lutely unimaginable when I was JoJo’s age. The only LGBTQ characters I saw in popular culture were mincing stereotypes1, villians2, or victims3.
This Time Is Different
There have been LGBTQ people on “Dancing With the Stars” before — one of this season’s other finalists is a gay man, and I did watch a bit when Chaz Bono bumbled through a few episodes — but Siwa is dancing with a same-sex partner.
That blows my mind.
Want to know the first time I ever saw a same-sex couple do a slow dance together? It was at my wedding reception, when the Complimentary Spouse and I danced to “At Last” by Etta James. I had never, ever seen two gay men dance like we did that night.4
For the Children … And All of Us
Thanks to JoJo, an entire generation of LGBTQ kids are growing up and seeing themselves represented positively in American culture.
Many LGBTQ people are taking notice of this moment. In an essay for NBC News, Dana Piccoli, editor of QueerMediaMatters, writes:
Whenever people tell me that representation isn’t a big deal, I think of moments like this, when queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people can see themselves in something so culturally significant. Maybe your Prince Charming is a woman. Perhaps you are Prince Charming yourself.Dana Piccoli
JoJo doesn’t have to win the trophy tonight. She’s already scored a massive victory for all LGBTQ people.5 I hope she and others of her generation continue to pave the way so others feel seen, valued, and celebrated.
1 Think Paul Lynde.
2 Think Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs” or Scar from “The Lion King.”
3 Think every single person with AIDS on teevee or in movies. Can’t recall any of them with happy endings, can you?
4 We had no idea what we were doing, so we just took turns leading.
5 I’m sure people will say “who cares” about JoJo’s sexuality or same-sex dancing partner. I’ve already discussed in a previous post how homophobes use minimization to erase LGBTQ people from society. It’s an odious and deliberate tactic that we can’t allow to go unchallenged.