right of reply

Martin Sherman, author of Bent, takes issue with Jeffrey Taylor's views on homosexuality in the dance world
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Jeffrey Taylor in his article "Out of Step" (Wednesday, 29 November) had a great deal to say about my screenplay, which he has not read, for a film, Indian Summer, which he has not seen. The central character in our film is a gay man who happens to be a dancer, so Taylor seems to think this automatically suggests all male dancers are gay. Taylor is outraged, because in his view dance is now virtually queer free - and all the better for it.

Well, gosh, could I have been wrong? Does anyone know of a gay dancer? Has Terpsichore gone completely butch? Do they swill beer at the barre? Maybe. Why not? Many dancers are straight - always were - a fact my film never presumes to challenge. But also, many dancers are gay. Always were. Either way, big deal.

Dancers on film, however, have almost always been presented as heterosexual, from the early Mad Dancer through The Red Shoes to the more recent Turning Point, Staying Alive, All that Jazz, Dirty Dancing, White Nights and Strictly Ballroom. These films were not suggesting that dancers were exclusively heterosexual; they were simply telling their stories from a heterosexual point of view. Why then does one film that looks at the dance world through homosexual eyes cause Taylor to react so strongly?

When lesbian and gay writers observe heterosexual behaviour, we are often accused (unfairly) of creating gay characters in disguise and asked why we are not more honest. But if we then examine homosexual life we are told we have an agenda or, in Taylor's words, a "gay mission". In other words, lesbian and gay writers should be silent.

Taylor couples straight male dancers with phrases such as "sweat and guts", "ordinary people", "very strong" and "true male" in contrast to gay dancers who, he implies, are weak and effeminate. These stereotypes are as insulting to straights as they are to gays.

Taylor also stated that "the cutting edge of British male dancing is actually married to a woman and not to one another", thus rendering Michael Clark, Lloyd Newson and Matthew Bourne invisible. Taylor does concede that "this century's two most famous dancers - Nijinsky and Nureyev - were both homosexual", but he goes on to say that they "became as famous for their sex lives as for their stage careers". Really? Nijinsky and Nureyev are famous because of their dancing; it was impossible to discuss their private lives in print while they were alive, whereas a straight dancer like Baryshnikov is always having his love life dragged through the press. Would Taylor accuse Baryshnikov of being as famous for his sex life as for his career? And anyway, Nijinsky wasn't gay. Not for most of his adult life. In fact, he had a wife and children, not unlike most of the avowedly heterosexual dancers Taylor interviewed.

Indian Summer is also about Aids, and mentioning Aids and dance in the same breath seems to make Taylor uncomfortable. In the West, Aids has taken its highest toll in the gay community. But if there are relatively few gay men in the dance world, as Taylor suggested, there must be very few incidents of Aids. A simple examination of the Independent's obituary pages, even in just the past few weeks, would prove that false. The truth, quite simply, is that there are gay dancers and straight dancers and one should not cancel out the other.

Comments