Ian H Watkins (“H”) from Steps is going to be paired up with a male partner on Dancing on Ice – the first time a UK dancing show has featured a same-sex pairing. Can you hear that? Oh no. Brace, brace, brace. It’s the world caving in!
The broken-record defence against same-sex couples’ inclusion always follows the same pattern. First: who is going to lead the dance (but surely, it’s wrong to assume that it must be a man?). Then, something about how it “poses challenges”, be that about the “strength” of each sex (again, irrelevant) or that it would somehow make the judges’ jobs harder (it’s not a science experiment, it’s a show hosted by Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby). If that doesn’t wash, there will be homophobic suggestions about how same-sex pairings wouldn’t be suitable for a “family show” (the “we accept you exist, but please, not here” line). And if all fails: “This isn’t an issue!” It’s always rather telling when straight people try to say an issue involving same-sex people isn’t an issue. It’s as if they are letting you in, but only under their terms, and only when it suits them. And if you’re unhappy, it is your fault, not theirs.
But it does matter. Including same-sex couples is not for the benefit of straight viewers. It’s for the LGBT+ audience watching at home, particularly younger people who may feel they don’t fit in. Ballroom may be a dance partnership, but it certainly feels like a romantic relationship when you see them performing. When you see that chemistry being represented, you feel you feel like your life and your love and your ambitions are being represented, too. That makes you feel valued.
The BBC now says it is “open” to same-sex couples, though it has yet to debut any, which is embarrassing, considering how long viewers have been calling for them. Meanwhile, I’m sure the week after H and his partner, the professional skater Matt Evers, glide out on to the rink, we’re not going to be talking about it any more. In fact, we’ll look back and cringe that the debate hung over us for so long.
We’re going to be talking about the more important issues instead: whether them or any of their rivals will faceplant the ice.