What’s So Gay About Hula Hooping?

Hula Hooping Elvis [Hooping.org’s Editor Philo Hagen asks “What’s so gay about hula hooping?”]

by Philo Hagen

A friend of mine has been a happy hooping mother for several years and she’s gotten her whole family in on it, including her kids. That is, until her father recently discovered that his grandson was spending hours with a smile on his face inside of a hula hoop. In fact dear old Dad confronted her about it, in front of her children, telling them all that hooping is just for girls, period. The ongoing debate has her worried that his issues about it may cause problems and confusion for her son who loves to hoop. Relaying this story to another friend, she confessed that whenever she is on Hooping.org and she’s watching a video of a man hooping that her husband will yell from across the room “Hooping is gay!” Is it really? Says who I wonder? If it is, we certainly never got the memo.

A few years ago I received an invitation from the Sugar Valley planning committee to host a hooping booth at the Castro Street Fair, an annual festival of arts and vendors in the very heart of San Francisco’s gay community. The Sugar Valley committee was looking for interactive vendors that could really engage people attending the fair. Setting up the booth at 7:00 am I was excited by the idea of selling a lot of hoops that day and recruiting a lot of new members for Bay Area Hoopers. Ultimately, however, we didn’t sell a single hoop and it was by far the worst street fair financially I have ever vended at. And while we did manage to successfully enlist a decent roster of newbies to the hooping cause at that event, truth be told almost none of them were gay.

It was a funny experience though, funny in that for those of us working in the booth that day, we were able to witness the looks we received and to talk about it afterwards. You see, as gay men would approach the booth there would often be a glimmer of excitement on their face, in their eyes, a spring in their step, just as soon as they spied the happy hoopers spinning it up in the street. Then they would immediately shut that excitement down, turn their gaze forward and move on. When we’d try to interact with them and hand them a hoop we were rather universally ignored. Afterwards my friend Amy said, “You know what’s the funniest thing about it too?” I told her I didn’t know, to which she responded, “It’s really the same look that we get in the park from a lot of the straight men when they see us hooping as well. It’s as if men, gay or straight, just can’t allow themselves to be seen hooping out of the fear of what others might think.” Were they actually worried that people at a very gay street fair in the heart of the gay community in one of the gayest cities of the world might think they were, y’know, gay? Apparently so, or just not masculine enough to be desirable. Amy was right. Watching the men passing our hoopjams in the park in the weeks that followed, the looks were incredibly similar, and those who would ultimately cross the line and grab a hoop and spin it up with us would almost invariably turn out to be straight.

When Jason Strauss handed me my first hoop at a party in the Oakland Hills back in 2003, it never even occurred to me to wonder if hooping was a manly thing to do or not. Perhaps it was because Jason, the Godfather of Hooping, was a straight guy and was there with his girlfriend, who is now his wife. They now have two amazing kids as well, but I digress. Perhaps it was because the other guys hooping it up on the deck that night with me were straight as well. Perhaps it was because I generally don’t worry much about these sorts of things for myself anyway. Whatever the case though, as hooping has continued to grow and evolve, a certain belief system appears to have somewhat evolved with it, but where did it come from? Looking back at the photos and videos of the 1950’s hula hoop craze it appeared that boys and girls loved to hula hoop pretty equally. There are quite a few guys that were World Hula Hoop Champions over the years as well. So where did this modern ideology that hooping is somehow not a masculine thing to do come from? I’m honestly not sure.

What I am sure about is that the fear behind it is essentially based in homophobia, that if others see me hooping they might come to the conclusion that I’m not manly, and thus believe that I must be gay. But all of this jibber jabbering head talk flies directly in the face of the realities of hooping. While there really aren’t any statistics related to hooping and sexuality, I will tell you that in my independent, casual and random surveys over the years that the vast majority of hoopers we all know and love and that I’ve been able to meet have almost all turned out to be heterosexual. Dizzy Hips is as straight as they come. Baxter’s love of women is well known. Stefan recently married an incredible girl. Rich is quite heterosexual. Rainbow Michael, Grant Leonard, I could go on and on.

So while men may not want to hoop because people might think they are gay if they do, based on my knowledge and experience as the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org for over nine years, I’m hear to tell you that my natural assumption is that guys who hoop are straight – not that there’s anything the slightest bit wrong if they aren’t. One of the most beautiful things about hooping is that within the center of our own circular orbit inside the hoop we are all able to create a space for ourselves to be who we truly are and who we are truly meant to be. Whoever that person turns out to be is incredibly worth of appreciation and celebration.


Philo Hagen Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003.

19 thoughts on “What’s So Gay About Hula Hooping?

  1. Oh Yay Philo – Thank you, thank you. We were just talking about this subject at hoop jam last night. Don’t get it at all. But the guys that hoop are really the smartest ones. You just can’t beat the odds for them! Always surrounded by so many powerful, hot,(etc.) women, who think guys hooping are sexy!

  2. It’s funny. Most of my guy friends who’ve tried hooping, joked about it, like it was silly or something, at first. But almost all of them really liked it, once they tried it. They also quickly discovered that, while it can be fun, it’s super challenging and they seemed to like that aspect. I’ve had fathers and sons hooping together and they loved it. I think more guys might be pleasantly surprised, if they’d give it a try. Interesting article, Philo!

  3. I do agree that there is a pervasive, mainstream, homophobic+femmephobic+womenphobic idea that hooping isn’t a ‘manly’ movement art~ whatever that means, and for whatever it’s worth. 🙁

    Just as an anecdotal statistical addition to this subject matter, 2/3 of the cisgendered male hoopers that i know and love locally are queer as a 4 dollar bill. <3 + ( :

  4. I think a lot of it has to do with men in general these days are simply too afraid to move their hips. At its core hula hooping requires a sort of gyrating motion which intimidates some people….also the majority of hoopers are women, so if a man sees a female hooper rocking that hoop they might get the impression that hooping is a “feminine dance form”, similar to how a lot of ignorant people assume the same thing about ballet. Also I’ve noticed, interestingly, that many male hoopers tend to exhibit a more off-body style…nothing wrong with that.

    It is quite annoying how people view hooping as something only for girls…I can move my hips too! And people can call me ‘gay’ or say homophobic things to me for expressing myself through hula hooping, but when I hoopdance I’m not thinking about the hula hoop, I’m just dancing and that circle is just along for the ride. So when someone says only girls should hoop, that really strikes me as odd, they might as well say “dancing is only for women!” -.-

  5. i have seen way too many amazing male hoopers to believe it’s not for guys! i think women have more fluid movements when it comes to hooping, but guys can definitely show their strength and masculinity especially when it comes to off-body tricks. my boyfriend was very anti-hoop when i first picked it up, but found he is actually very good at off-body stuff. still can’t get him to get *in* the hoop though, maybe i’ll show him this article 🙂

  6. When I first picked up the hoop , my hubby could not believe what I was doing with it. We work together and I was off for a few days . He went in the back room with my hoop and never stopped until he taught himself to do it. He thought it was the neatest thing . We did hoop together for awhile. He did not quit because he thought it was gay, he just got tired and wasn’t into it as much as I was. People are fearful of fun things . They might be intimidated by the movement . I guess they think everything that is fun, beautiful, sexy and different is gay. I think everyone looks good in a hoop. Oh, and btw, my client’s son is a wonderful hooper and he is 9 . I taught him some moves and he took off with it. His uncle is a boxer and he thinks it is way cool. Thank you for another great posting Philo, you always keep us thinking.

  7. Love this, Philo! So very true—and guy hoopers are SO hot! My friend James (JJ Hula) actually had to point out to me that Nick is gay. I was bummed. I keep trying to encourage my fiance to hoop but he’s totally of the “it’s not for dudes” mindset. Hoping that with enough exposure he’ll change his mind. He just met a dude friend of a friend who showed him proper poi spinning last weekend and I got super excited that he got to experience that! MORE HOOPING DUDES!

    (Also sorry I disappeared after HoopCon—I totally meant to do a recap on the last two whirlwind days, but drama at work upon my return disrupted me from the awesome dreamland that HoopCon was.)

  8. I have definitely seen that look – interest followed by denial – many times. On the other hand, I am lucky to have a lot of men who are game to hoop at least once. Many people passing through my hooping grounds are Tokyo tourists and they are open to a fun holiday experience regardless of gender. Nobody they know is going to see them playing so there is little to lose. Japanese guys are surprisingly willing to try the hoops, too. Maybe it’s just a ploy to talk to the cute girls in our hoop circle, but at least they are hooping. 🙂

  9. There will always be people who use labels to put up barriers, and calling anything “gay” is often a convenient way for guys to shut something down without further explanation. In my limited experience, though, I think JJ Hula hit on the bigger issue: dance.

    A lot of guys simply won’t dance, and the vast majority of hoop programs are marketed towards women with a dance focus. When women dance with the hoop it is very feminine, and if a guy emulates the same style it can look “gay.” But as anyone can plainly see by watching some of our great male hoopers, guys can work a hoop on- or off-body with amazing and very masculine movements.

    On a side note, I’ve introduced the hoop to guys as a “skill toy” to promote hip mobility and core strength — no mention of “dance” at all.

  10. People used to say that jumping rope was just for little girls also, until the boxers started training with them. Hooping is a marvelous training tool if you’re into internal kung fu; and probably other styles as well.
    Aside to Lexxi, I’m 55 years old and there’s actually a lot of women stronger than I am that hoop. I do feel a little weird doing it around my waist, but I love shoulder hooping.

  11. Great article Philo. I agree with someone who mentioned femme-phobia & related issues and whoever mentioned dance. The idea that anything so joyful should be seen as stigmatizing in any way is mind boggling. But that’s unfortunately the culture we are living in. To throw a wrench in the works, I wonder if people assume that female hoopers are straight for similar reasons. This is clearly not true! Hang around long enough & you will discover this! What do others think about that?

  12. Funny you mention it! My first hoop was gifted to me by my gay hairdresser, but it wasn’t his hoop! It was a friends that’d been sitting in his yard for 2 years. My boyfriend thought I was stupid for hooping… he still kind of thinks its gay, but I made him try it, and needless to say he couldn’t do it so now he has a slight respect for the hoop simply becuase it defeated him. He still thinks I’m silly for buying hoops though (cough*Helix *cough)

  13. It’s homophobia and misogyny that fuel men’s lack of interest in hooping; hooping is for girls, and “real men” don’t want to be like girls. And if they ARE like girls, they must be gay.

    That’s the thinking, anyway.

    I think it’s really misogyny that’s at the core of this issue because women have really taken modern hoopdance and ran with it, we’ve used it to help explain and define ourselves, we’ve found peace and strength inside the hoop, we’ve organized movements and fought (and won!) battles as hoopers…… and so of course men have to label hooping as “gay” or “girly,” because that’s what patriarchy does. Anything that gives women strength and purpose must be bad, somehow.

  14. I’ve only ever had one male come to my hoop classes.. ever… it’s really disappointing! I have sold a couple of hoops to guys though, but I guess they’re closet hoopers… sigh. My boyfriend loves it though and doesn’t hesitate to show his friends what I’ve taught him 😀

    1. I always thought my boyfriend should try the hand/poi hoops! Maybe if you tried marketing that to the guys then they would be interested?

  15. This story make me sad beyond description. I could go on and on about how many straight men I know who hoop or about Matt Plendel one of the first hoopers of our modern era, or the guy from Whamm-o who made the first plastic hoop, or about hoopdancing, which is mostly done by native American men from many different tribes and which goes back for thousands of years…but all I can think is , “This woman’s father AND husband are both homophobes and they are stunting her son! More than that, what if her son turns out to be gay? How welcome is he going to be among his own family?” It has nothing to do with hooping. It has to do with bigotry and prejudice and poor parenting. It makes me mad and sad and makes me fear for that young boy. He deserves better. Such shameful behavior from so-called adults.

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