(Hooping.org Assistant Editor Bonnie MacDougall explores Pride Weekend and hooping with a panel of gay hoopers.)
It’s Saturday, June 28, 1969. It is early morning when a riot breaks out following yet another police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. This initial riot, and the continuing protests and riots which ensued over following nights, became the landmark moment in the modern gay rights movement. The anniversary of Stonewall today remains the catalyst for the many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) pride marches taking place this weekend in cities across many parts of the globe.
Recently here at hooping.org we asked, “What’s So Gay About Hula Hooping?” The answer? Very little, apparently. But with this being LGBT Pride Weekend I decided to reach out to several gay hoopers in our community to find out more about their lives, how hooping and the hooping community spins up for them, and what Pride Weekend means to them in their lives. So please help me welcome our panelists for a very special discussion: Khan Wong of San Francisco, California, USA, Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and Hooping.org’s own Video Editor Warren Maddera from Santa Barbara, California, USA. We’ll be taking a look at how they first knew they were gay, coming out, hooping, if and how the two relate, how they feel in the hooping community and how we can all celebrate pride ourselves this weekend and for years to come.
Bonnie: How did you guys first know you were gay and what was that like for you?
Geoffrey: I always knew I was different, and once I found out what gay meant I had no hesitation applying the label to myself. I never felt that being gay was a choice, but that I was born this way. I knew from an early age that I would not get married and have children. I just new that wasn’t the life I was destined to live.
Warren: I just knew I was attracted to the same sex. I didn’t realize the views I expressed weren’t always in line with the general world views.
Khan: I was six when I saw a neighbor working on his car shirtless. We’d been to the beach so seeing people in bathing suits was nothing new, but seeing the shirtless man in the parking lot was different somehow and made me feel funny. After that I always noticed shirtless men and older boys and played this game where I counted how many I saw in a day. It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 that I looked up ‘homosexual’ in the dictionary and realized that’s what I was. I wasn’t freaked out so much, everything made so much sense suddenly. It would still be a few years before I told anybody though.
Bonnie: Your last sentence Khan actually brings me to my next question. Straight people never have to worry or think about “telling” anyone about their sexuality. Being straight is just assumed. What was it like coming out for you all?
Khan: Coming out to my friends was relatively easy. I knew they were gay friendly and had other gay friends, so it felt safe. Saying the words “I’m gay” out loud to someone else for the first time was still scary though. But scary like the first drop on a roller coaster. I came out to my family on Christmas Day during a fight about going to church. It was not optimal. They tried to convince me I was just confused. It was all pretty typical.
Geoffrey: I always find this question of how I came out a bit of a conundrum because coming out is something that never really ends. Every time I encounter a new person or situation, such as starting a new job, making a new friend, or just generally talking to strangers, I feel the need to “come out” as soon as possible. I hate that in between moment I have with people when I first meet them, and I can tell they are secretly questioning my sexuality. The more traditional answer to this question would be that I told my mother when I was 11, one circle of friends when I was 13, another at 14, and my father and brother when I was 15. Oh, and extended family along the way. However, this process would be a bit of a lie because I truly only ever told a few individuals, and they saw fit to tell the rest.
Warren: When I came out at 16 I was told to “Wait a bit and explore the world as an adult”. It was a wise thing to be told and I feel a very open-minded approach to experience more outside of the extremely small town I’m from. So by 18 I said, “Yup, definitely gay”.
Bonnie: Let switch gears a bit to our other topic at hand, hooping. When and how did you discover the hoop in your lives?
Warren: Hooping came into my life last year as an amazing gift from my co-worker and hoop mama Kaile. She handed me a hoop and it was love at first toss! While I primarily do on-body hooping now, my first instinct was to toss the hoop in the air.
Geoffrey: I first saw hooping about 13 years ago at a rave. However, I had no interest in it then. Six years ago, in 2006, was when I truly fell in love with the hoop. A friend of mine had been hooping for a couple years and she was mesmerizing to watch. I felt drawn to the energy that was released in her dance with the hoop and began taking her class. 2006 was also the first year I went to Burning Man, further solidifying my love for the hoop.
Khan: I saw Christabel hooping and thought it was pretty, but I wasn’t drawn to do it myself until I saw this guy Jesse doing off-body stuff. I started learning hoop for a show I was putting together, and then it took over my flow practice.
Bonnie: Do you feel like there is a relationship between hooping and sexual orientation? And if so, what is it?
Geoffrey: My sexual orientation and hooping have interacted in very unique ways. Being gay has allowed me to question the traditional heteronormative masculine gender role. Members of the gay male community — shunned as they are by traditional forms of masculinity and the heterosexual context — give each other permission to put on different hats, or tiaras, and experiment with expressions of gender. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that this is very liberating and definitely comes in handy. For example, when I started hooping, I had no qualms about looking feminine. I did not care if I was being judged. I was not intimidated by the female energy. I was drawn to its beauty, sensuality, and flow.
Over the years I have seen the male hooper population grow, and with it a more ‘masculine’ movement quality and energy emerge. I came across online threads and had conversations with male hoopers that talked about what it means to be a male hooper. My perception is that many male hoopers have branded their quality of movement within the hoop as different from that of female hoopers. This has been an interesting juxtaposition to see develop in relation to the female hoop movement quality that already existed. When I saw this arise I felt that my hooping was distinctly feminine at the time, and was drawn to the novelty of the masculine hoop movement that I saw developing. However, due to the fact that I never adopted a heteronormative perspective of gender myself, the female hoop movement still resonated with me as well. This resulted in a marriage of these two types of movement in my own identity with the hoop.
Bonnie: Thank you Geoffrey, that was explained beautifully and so well. Khan and Warren, have you had similar experiences?
Warren: I am amazed at how confident I am in being me, not so much a view the world holds on my orientation, but more that I know I am shining and being a better example of a fulfilled person. I feel I have no sexual orientation in the hoop, just massive love.
Khan: I dove into it with no self-consciousness. There weren’t as many male hoopers at the time, and I think a lot of straight guys were put off by the “wiggle” or perceived girliness. I didn’t have those kind of hang-ups. I had worked through my masculine identity issues a long time before when I realized my sexual identity. For me, there isn’t much connection between hooping and my sexual orientation, otherwise.
Bonnie: What has been your experience with the openness of the hooping community to LGBT persons vs. that of the general population?
Khan: The hooping community is way more open, not just regarding sexual orientation, but everything. I find that knowing someone is a hooper is a better indicator of what I might have in common with them and friendship potential than knowing someone is gay.
Warren: Me too. From my experience, the hooping community is a richly woven tapestry of many different walks of life. I have felt nothing but love from people who don’t care so much about orientation, as they do about connecting on a deeper level energetically.
Geoffrey: I find that the hoop community is very open to the LGBTQ community. The hoop community heavily overlays the festival community in my mind because that is how I often connect with the hoop community. Most of the hoopers I know are ex-ravers, burners, festival goers, and generally awesomely creative individuals. To compare the hoop community to the wider population in general, therefore, is not a fair comparison because I think that the community attracted to the hoop is already living an unconventional life for the most part.
Bonnie: I find it interesting that while there are several well known LGBT hoopers represented in the hooping community, it is not as strong of a representation as one might think. What are your thoughts on this?
Geoffrey: I am not sure if I can speak for the whole community on whether or not the LGBTQ group is well represented in the hoop community. I can say personally that I have known many different hoopers with different sexual identities. However, whether they are known to the community at large or not, is an entirely different story. I would think that it would be safe to assume that perhaps there exists a community of LGBTQ hoopers that are under the radar. Perhaps they make up a proportion of hoopers who engage in the activity more casually as compared to the hardcore hooping community. I will say that I personally find the hoop community loving and accepting, with very little barrier to entry as a gay person. Further, my identity as a hooper does not conflict with my identity as a gay person.
Khan: It seems like LGBT percentages in the hoop world reflect the larger society proportionally. I don’t know why I think that though. The festival culture that gave rise to the current iteration of hoop dance is largely straight. I think as more LGBT hoopers bring hooping to mainstream gay society there will be more joining us.
Warren: I feel LGBT hoopers are a small pool in a slightly bigger pool that is all growing together. I know I am still one of the only openly gay men who hoops, but there are definitely some young guns who, like me, seem to know who they are young and have found the love of hooping to deal with worldly stress and express self-love and acceptance earlier in life. I feel more LGBT hoop stars are on the rise.
Bonnie: As you all know this weekend is Pride Weekend. Can you tell me what pride means to you? And how do you feel about yourself today as a LGBT hooper? How do you celebrate yourself?
Khan: To me Pride is being unafraid to be who you are without apology. That includes not being afraid to call out things you disagree with within gay culture, and not just going along because you share a common orientation. It’s about representing to straight society “I’m gay and awesome”, but it’s also having the courage to say in gay society, “There’s more than one way to be gay.” And following your own bliss, even if it differs from the crowd.
Warren: My pride lies in the movement and the hoop. It has become the light that makes me shine. I have never felt more pride in being just myself – gay or otherwise. I feel my sexuality does not define me, but is more of an element that I know adds to my personal expression in hoop dance and makes me more unique.
Geoffrey: Pride is an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate who we are, whatever that may be. It is also a platform for us to make our voices heard, and to cherish the freedoms we have. Some countries do not even allow pride celebrations, and every time I attend one I feel grateful that I am allowed to participate. As a gay hooper I feel grateful that I have found another awesome group that I can call myself a member of. The wonderful thing about identity is that it is multi-faceted, ever changing, fluid, and reflecting of continuity and growth – similar to how I feel within the hoop. It is empowering that I can find love and community in all sorts of absurd places. I celebrate myself by honoring my true higher Self and all the ways that my identity is revealed.
Bonnie: This has been an interesting discussion and I’d like to thank you all for participating in this panel. We here at Hooping.org wish you, and all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender hoopers, the happiest of Pride weekends and the very best in your hoop journey.
[Editorial note: Other LGBT hoopers were invited to be a part of this panel, but did not respond.]