Realness... or sellout?

Sanctioned events in the Gay Games

by Joe Clark

First published 1994

Roughly a third of Gay Games IV's 31 athletic events are set to be run as... athletic events. Or that's how some might see it, given that aerobics, cycling, diving, marathon, martial arts and judo, softball, sport climbing, swimming, water polo, and wrestling events will have official imprimatur from governing bodies, while most other sports will at least be run according to official rules. Either way, it's a huge step up the sanctioning ladder from Vancouver, where a handful of swimming heats were "official," the rest of the Games not.

Sanctioning boosters like Mark DeRose, cochair of the cycling events, rhyme off advantages like: "Credibility. A ready-made pool of officials who know how to conduct events. A structure within which all competitors operate, and that's the rule book." In the marathon milieu, a sanctioned course is necessary for "people who want to use the Games as a qualifier for Boston" or similar big-name races, says organizer Patrick Barker. In effect, sanctioning is the ultimate realness for queers voguing in the biggest jock ball there is, the Games.

But since this is a queer event we're talking about, there is bound to be a note of discord. Brian Pronger, a University of Toronto lecturer and author of The Arena of Masculinity, finds the quest for credibility incredible. "This business of sanctioning is all about outcomes," he declares, which apes the gold/silver/bronze hierarchical obsessions of mainstream sport. Sanctioning is a means of proving that gays are "normal like everyone else, a thought which I think is repellent. The rest of society is fucked up. The norm in our society is racist, homophobic, heterosexist, sexist in a major, major way, classist, bourgeois, and so on. That's the so-called norm. And this is what we aspire to in the Gay Games? It's dreadful."

On a more practical level, skating cochair Laura Moore says it is by deliberate choice that the Games' figure-skating events are not sanctioned, which would have forbidden a host of attributes that are bound to make the event memorable and fun: Men in drag, women in pants, same-sex couples, and music with lyrics. But the U.S. and Canadian Figure Skating Associations have given their members "official permission" to participate, which Moore says has more bearing on rounding up qualified judges than out gay skaters.

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