A Russian reader writes:
I am not quite sure about gayness in figure skating. While it may be somewhat so in male solo skating (although I do not know any gays among recent Russian top male skaters - Kulik, Yagudin and Plushenko are all married, and two of them look pretty masculine to me), it doesn't look like that in pairs and dancing. Male skaters have to be strong enough to lift their partners, and so they appear to be quite manly. Also most of those Russian male skaters are known to be married. Of course that doesn't exclude bisexuality, but I didn't hear about that either."
I don't know much about about Russian skaters, but this could well be. There's a systemic problem with American culture -- due to never having an aristocracy, the aristocratic art forms like ballet (and figure skating is kind of an offshoot of ballet) just look gay to American males rather than elegant and aristocratic. So, American males don't much go out for those kind of arts and sports, unless they really are gay, whereas in Russia, a Baryshnikov isn't given trouble for going into ballet. (Of course, the other two all-time greatest Russian ballerinos, Nijinsky and Nureyev, weren't straight, so it's all pretty relative.)
(The highly masculine Canadian skater Elvis Stojko was, to my mind, the most exciting male skater ever, but he didn't get good marks from American and Canadian judges who told him he should get more in touch with his feminine side. He replied he didn't have a feminine side.)
In my 2003 American Conservative article "Decline of the Metrosexual," I wrote about this dynamic:
The aristocratic and religious arts that make up the high culture of Western Civilization were part of a thousand year project to restrain and redefine the unbridled masculinity of all those Conan the Barbarians who poured into the old Roman Empire at the beginning of the Dark Ages. The aptly named Vandals and their cohorts were slowly converted into knights, who were supposed to know not only how to fight, but also how to appreciate the finer forms of music, painting, sculpture, theater, dance, conversation, and dress.
Inevitably, the arts attracted a higher proportion of male homosexuals than did fighting, hunting, or plowing. But nobody particularly noticed because all attention was focused on matters of class. If you wanted your family to move up in society, you (or your children) needed to learn something about the arts.
We Americans claim to be a classless society, so the social pressures to study the traditional aristocratic arts were always less in America, and are declining even more. Ballet schools, for example, need male dancers to partner all the little girls who want to be ballerinas, but they've given up on finding enough American boys. Instead, they try to recruit lads from immigrant families from more class-ridden lands that are attracted to the old snob appeal of ballet.
With the decline of overt interest in class, sexual orientation has become a driving force in the arts.
A reader writes:
Here's another data point for your aristocratic thesis. I used to compete in ballroom dancing and when I started dancing as a young man I was presented with a very pleasant environment, with very few men with talent around, which allowed me to punch above my weight class because most American boys and men felt that dancing was a threat to their masculinity. As my partners and I climbed through the ranks, we started to travel internationally, for both training and competitions. When you're in Europe, especially in Russia and the Ukraine, you see that dancing isn't seen as a threat to masculinity. Throughout Europe one finds a long history of folk dancing. The whole cultural vector there is different than in the Anglosphere, though the UK has long been thoroughly infected with dance fever.
There are of course a lot of homosexuals in the dance world, but so much the better for heterosexual men. If I had to guess I would say that the proportion of American dancers who are gay is higher than the European cohorts because the Europeans are drawing from a larger pool with a broader cross section of men.
If you want a reality check on this thesis catch the PBS America's Ballroom Challenge special that is running right now and notice how all of the American champions (with the exception of the American Smooth category which is a uniquely American style of dance) that are competing are recent Russian émigrés. Alternatively, watch ABC's Dancing with the Stars and notice how many of the professional dancers are from Russia/Eastern Europe.
Another reader writes:
I haven't found any statistics on this, and I've found few printed references of any sort to it, but the piano attracts an extraordinary number of homosexual male practitioners. (Not homosexual female practitioners, for some reason.)
The Liberace Effect? I have no idea, yet I was interested to find confirmation of the fact in Joseph Horowitz's The Ivory Trade (Summit Books, N.Y., 1990). Horowitz quotes pianist Jeffrey Swann as mentioning (p. 137) "something that isn't written about but which everyone in music knows: that - compared to, say, violinists - there are an awful lot of homosexual male pianists. In Texas, when I was growing up, pianists were expected to be gay."
Vladimir Horowitz (no relation to Joseph) once said that "there are only three sorts of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists, and bad pianists." (He occupied the first two categories.)
As for organists, The New York Times on June 30, 1996 mentioned the high number of gays in the organ-playing world. I have seen this with my own eyes (I speak as a wholly hetero organist myself). But I suspect it's confined - like notions of dancing sissiness - to Anglo-Celtic societies. I've never heard of French or German organists being disproportionately homosexual. Quite the contrary, I can think of several womanizers in their ranks, for whom little matters like congenital sightlessness mattered not a whit.
In 1984 Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson was asked how he could claim to be running a "Rainbow Coalition" open to homosexuals when he spent much of his time campaigning in black churches. He answered, "Lots of black churches have gay organists."
This pattern is visible in rock music as well. For example, singers and keyboard players (e.g., Elton John or Little Richard) are more likely to be gay males than guitarists, especially electric guitarists. In America at least, keyboard players across a variety of musical styles are more likely to be gay than other instrumentalists (besides electric guitarists, possibly drummers and saxophone players tend not to be gay).
Overall, the number of rock stars who died of AIDS was quite small (Freddie Mercury of Queen being almost the exception that proves the rule), despite a lot being heterosexually promiscuous and more than a few being junkies. In contrast, both male figure skating gold medalists from the 1970s Olympics died of AIDS.