Programs with Transgendered or Gender-Bending Themes

Disclaimer: I have compiled this list without regard to the skaters' sexual orientations. Unless they are listed as out elsewhere on this site (élite gay skaters or adult gay skaters), the skaters here are not known to be other than heterosexual.

If lesbians, gays, and bisexuals find it difficult to be out of the closet in figure skating, transpersons find their very existence problematized by the heavily gendered organization of the sport. Competitions demand that skaters register for the men's or ladies' events; International Skating Union rules prescribe skirts for the ladies, pants but not tights for the men; the International Olympic Committee tests athletes' chromosomes to ensure that they are properly classified as men or women; even convention dictates that men wear black skates and women white, a skating version of blue for boys and pink for girls. In such a strictly dualistic structure, it would be a truly pioneering transgendered or intersexed person who could brave this sport.

NEWSFLASH! As of May 17, 2004, the International Olympic Committee welcomes transsexual Olympic competitors whose gender changes have been legally recognized, and who have received at least two years of postoperative hormone therapy.

On the plus side, the fact that skating is so heavily coded with gender conventions provides rich and ample opportunities for skaters to play with these notions. Sometimes gender transgressions are technical and not necessarily subversive: for example, men are increasingly performing spirals and layback spins, moves which are required for women in short programs but not for men. 1999 world silver medalist Evgeny Plyushenko of Russia has even broken the gender barrier on the catch-foot Biellmann spin, the first man to perform that move. American novice skater Kevin Curtis can also do a Biellmann, as well as Russians Andrei Gryazev and Stanislav Timchenko.

Somewhat more subversive, and intentionally so, are ice dance programs in which the woman lifts the man -- a move that is possible because the genders of the lifter and liftee in dance are not specified in the ISU rulebook. The androgynous-looking sibling dance team Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of Canada wowed audiences this way, as did the not-androgynous Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Great Britain. Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz of Canada perform a remarkable strength move called "the Shae-crusher," in which Bourne hydroblades at an extreme angle while supporting much of Kraatz's body weight. Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France performed the most talked-about freedance of 1998, "Romeo and Juliet," which showcases two separate occasions on which she lifts him. The so-called "reverse lift" has been an ice dance trend ever since.

Even a "gorilla and flea" pairs team like Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler of Canada, in which the man is much larger than the woman, can subvert gender conventions by having the woman launch the man into a throw axel.

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