Wednesday, February 23, 2011

With 'gay' being a commonly heard word in schools, it's been something of an anomaly for it to be so infrequently heard on children's TV. But that's been the reality over the past few years, and CBBC's de facto policy undoubtedly bolsters heteronormativity and the concomitant belief that being gay is not a good thing.

Ballet Boys, in the 'My Life' series of documentaries, made a welcome change as it challenged stereotypes and broached the issue of sexual orientation in an honest, responsible and open-minded way such as used to be the norm on BBC children's TV.

The documentary focussed on three brothers from Liverpool who are all passionate about dancing and want to become professional ballet dancers. The eldest is Jamie (13), then Michael (11) and the youngest Adam (9)

The brothers have had to be strong in the face of taunts and bullying. Michael, we were told, has struggled the most with people who think that ballet is something that's not very manly. He needed to decide whether he could ignore the bullies and try and win a place at Elmhurst with his older brother.

Michael: Boys what do football call us gay, but then they say it's not gay for girls to do football, which it isn't. But then it's gay for boys to do a more girlish type sport. I mean more girls do it than boys, not it's more girlish cos you've got to be dead strong.

Narrator: In Michael's school dance largely means street dance, not ballet.

Michael: I feel like saying well dance is dance. It doesn't matter what shape or form. It's like pasta can come with tuna or tomato - it's still pasta. Toast - butter, no butter; dark, not dark - it's still toast. A boy, whether he's gay or not gay, he is still a boy.

Jamie also had something to say about the taunts.

Jamie: I did say to my mate, I said, "if you can give me one good reason, what's wrong with doing ballet?" He goes, "Yeah, cos it's gay," and that's all he could say. And I was just like, "personally, obviously, I don't think it's gay." I said "it's nothing wrong being gay." I said, "apart from that, do you know - just think about it - apart from that, one good reason?" And he couldn't think of one thing. So actually if the worst thing someone could say about us is "Ah you do ballet," then that's saying quite a lot of good things about us in a way.

Ballet Boys is a definite step in the right direction. But is a boy, who's perhaps hiding his sexual orientation from his parents and friends, likely to watch a programme about ballet? He might well prefer to be seen watching a programme about football. And that's why CBBC's continuing failure to tackle homophobia in sports is so wrong, and why the failure to report on the Justin Campaign on Saturday's MOTD Kickabout was an unforgivable omission.

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