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