Do You Wanna’ Dance?: By Eric Marcus
We went to a lovely wedding last weekend—a “regular” wedding, as my late grandmother came to call weddings between a boy and a girl. Two hundred people in a beautifully decorated hotel ballroom on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, all gathered to celebrate the happy occasion. Not that it should matter, but I was glad to see that we weren’t the only gay couple among the two hundred guests, although we were the oldest of the three male couples by about a decade.
During the reception, when the twelve-piece band tore into one of our favorite seventies classics, my partner of thirteen years asked me to dance. We both love to dance and we love dancing together. I won’t pretend that we dance at straight weddings without hesitation, but over the years as gay people have become more visible and we’ve grown more comfortable, we’ve gotten less hesitant and less concerned with what people might think. So at last weekend’s wedding, which was hosted by a liberal, warm, and embracing family we didn’t think twice.
Still, there were some surprised looks as the two middle-aged gay guys took to the crowded dance floor. Most of the looks were of happy surprise (there were smiles and I didn’t stop to ask). But there were also a couple of scowls from people a decade or more older than us. It’s not like we were surprised by the smiles or disappointed by the scowls. Our place in society is still a work in progress and it will be a long time before our open presence is a total non-event.
But there was one thing that did surprise and disappoint us. Neither of the other two couples danced a single dance. One couple sat out the whole evening. And while the other couple never left the dance floor, they never danced with each other and their partners were always women.
I’m the first person to say—and I’ve said this for a long time—that gay people need to move at their own speed when it comes to how public they choose to be about the fact they’re gay. Coming out is a very personal thing and we all have different comfort levels. That said, I wish we hadn’t been the only boy-boy couple on the dance floor. And I wish this for a couple of reasons.
First, it would have been nice to have a little company. For one thing, if there had been another same-sex couple on the dance floor, the attention paid to us would have been diluted. Second, we gay people still have work to do when it comes to our visibility. And while I don’t think that everything we do has to be a political statement, being ourselves in a public setting sets an example. The more we’re all out there, the more people will grow accustomed to seeing same-sex couples, and, one hopes, the more comfortable they’ll be when we do normal things in public, like dancing at weddings, greeting each other at airports, or shopping together at the grocery. And we know from past experience that as people get to know us they support the legislation that’s important to us, from employment protections to domestic partnership and gay marriage.
Dancing at a wedding isn’t quite as heroic as the public demonstrations of past decades when the early gay pioneers fought for our basic rights, but it’s still an opportunity to make a difference, however incremental. Besides, it’s fun. And we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that not dancing sends a message, too.
Eric Marcus is the author of Making Gay History and the forthcoming book for teens, What if Someone I Know is Gay? www.ericmarcus.com
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