This Is What Bias Looks Like


Cross posted from FB with permission from Kathryn Bradley:

I’m usually the tough one in our relationship. Foxy has a hard time with perceived bias, and internalized homophobia, and usually I point out other factors in the situation that could be contributing to the uncomfortableness of all involved.

But dancing is different. Dancing has baggage. First, there was Cotillion, wherein the 8th grade me was forced to dance with boys and wear a dress in front of people I went to school with. Then there was high school, where cheerleaders danced and I wasn’t allowed to look.

And now there is a wedding and I want more than anything to float across the floor with grace and ease and not look like the only dancing I have ever been interested in is the sweaty kind that is all backbeat.

So we signed up for dance classes. Asheville Ballroom and Dance Center is listed on the same website as classes at Scandals, so Foxy got confused and thought they taught the classes at Scandals. I was skeptical, because their address is Sweeten Creek, and generally I don’t trust anything south of Kenilworth. We really wanted this to work, though.

The first class was ok. The teacher was just this side of Jarlsberg, he contained that much cheese. Once he realized that I was lining up as a leader, he tried really hard to say “leaders” and “followers” instead of “gentlemen” and “ladies.” He didn’t succeed all that often, but he totally got a B+ for effort. He tried so hard that I resolved to give it another shot. He was not going to be our regular teacher, and I thought, “Surely our normal teacher will be more sensitive and experienced with same sex couples. This is Asheville!”

Au contraire, mes amors. Tonight, we had a cute, young, pregnant, lady teacher. She didn’t care where anyone lined up, she was resolved to calling all the leaders men and all the followers women. She even looked me in the eye a couple of times while doing it, just to get that extra heel-grinding twist in.

And that would have been ok. I could have dealt with just that. But apparently, part of learning to dance is dancing with everyone in the class. And if you are a lady who lines up with the gentlemen, you have to dance with all the ladies in the class, even if they are all straight ladies and look at you really funny, and stand so far away from you that you’re holding side-boob instead of shoulder blade.

Either one of those things alone would have been fine. If I had felt supported by the instructor, I would have been ok. If I could have just looked Foxy in the eye and giggled at her stupidity, that would have been great. But the two things together sent me sobbing out into the parking lot. I was not the tough one tonight. Foxy went back in and demanded a refund. Foxy went up to the instructor and got the “I’m sorry” that really says “I’m sorry you’re an asshole,” beloved by retailers and not-really-sorry people everywhere.

And I’m the one who feels like I let her down, cause I couldn’t stick it out. But we will dance the hell out of our two lesson waltz.

Categories : LGBT issues, Local


  1. Gordon Smith says:

    Send your examples of bias to scrutinyhooligans AT yahoo

  2. Susan says:

    In light of the fact that there is nearly always more followers than leaders at a dance or dance class, I would think having women who are willing to learn to lead is fantastic. Some people can lead and follow quite well, but a lot of us are only good at one and not the other.

    I would like to suggest going to contra dances and asking people there to teach you to do a fast waltz. I think they would be welcoming to new dancers, no matter what gender or whether they want to lead or follow. By the way, it is generally easier to learn with someone who already knows the dance – as opposed to someone who is also a beginner.

  3. Michael Muller says:

    Thank you, Kathryn, for sharing that very personal story.

    When I first moved to Asheville and was looking for work, I answered an ad in the IWANNA. The newspaper itself needed someone familiar with desktop publishing and design to join their staff and produce little ads. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the IWANNA is a weekly publication that prints classifieds and which provides an inexpensive advertising medium for local businesses. It’s a great little paper and has a wide circulation.

    I went in for an interview, which went very well. I was eminently qualified for the job, having done design and newspaper work for nearly 20 years: I was hired on the spot. The pay wasn’t great, but their shop was near my house and it was work I could do in my sleep. The boss man genuinely liked me; we seemed to build up an instant rapport. We traded war stories during my interview of our days in Republican politics — we even knew some of the same people (although at that point, I wasn’t involved in local politics; I’d never watched a City Council meeting or even heard of folks like Gordon Smith and Carl Mumpower). I was given the full tour and learned that the woman who had until recently owned the IWANNA also owned and operated the Asheville Ballroom & Dance Center located in the same building, the setting for Kathryn’s story. Naturally, I felt at home right away (ya see, I also harbor a secret fantasy about being on Dancing With The Stars, but that’s for another post).

    I started work in the production department with maybe a dozen or so other layout people, who were all very nice to me. Between cranking out ads, folks casually talked about their families…what their kids were up to or something funny that their husbands said. When you’re gay, you tend to be a little cautious about this sort of thing around people you don’t know. You sometimes speak in ambiguities: if you’re a guy, you use the word “partner” rather than boyfriend, for example — if you say anything at all.

    My partner Mike and I moved to Asheville based on one thing: its reputation for being tolerant and inclusive. Our friends told us that Asheville was a gay-friendly town, mixing all the best parts of southern charm with bohemian sophistication. I had no reason to think any differently: although we didn’t know anyone, our next-door neighbor was gay and downtown was vibrant and artsy. So I wasn’t too afraid to share a little about who I was with my new co-workers. I began to make innocent references to my partner Mike and our five dogs; I mentioned that we lived in Key West for a while. I’m pretty conservative in my manner and dress, so it was nothing over-the-top. Nothing offensive.

    After a few days, I was called into the office of the man who hired me and told that I was being let go. I wasn’t given a reason other than he didn’t think it would “work out.”

    It took me a while to put two ‘n two together, but being new to town, I wasn’t up for any kind of fight. Besides, my political days were behind me (or so I thought then), and my lesbian neighbor said it wasn’t worth it anyway, because North Carolina was something called a “right to work” state that offered no protections from workplace discrimination for gay and lesbian people. So I moved on, and eventually Mike and I took jobs as janitors, cleaning floors and toilets after hours in a bar downtown.

    Since then, I’ve come to learn that many people who would never think of themselves as bigots have no problem using their faith and their politics as a cover for their own fears and prejudice. And you don’t have to go very far to find it: I can distinctly remember overhearing at an 11th District Republican Party Meeting that gay people should be thrown in prison. I’ve been told to my face by a conservative activist that I’m going to burn in hell because I’m gay.

    Usually, of course, the discrimination is far more subtle — and it’s hard to see sometimes unless you’re the subject of it. Earlier this year I had drinks and dinner with a good friend (who I had helped get elected to office) and his wife. They like to think of themselves as pro-gay and, in fact, they have lots of gay and lesbian friends, including Mike and I. When the issue of domestic partnership benefits came up, and I asked how they felt about it, my friend looked genuinely perplexed. “Why would we give benefits to those people?” he asked me.

    His poor choice of words made me realize that there was a real disconnect between how he felt in the abstract as a gay-friendly person (and as my friend) and what it actually takes to treat gay people with fairness, with dignity, and with respect.

    We have a lot of work to do here to overcome The Last Acceptable Prejudice — the unequal treatment of gay people. Although Asheville may not exactly be the tolerant and inclusive gay-friendly town I thought it was when I first moved here, I know we’ll get there.

    Even if it means giving up on my dream of being on Dancing With The Stars.


  4. Gordon Smith says:

    Exciting update from Kathryn Bradley:

    “Just got a call from Asheville Ballroom and Dance Center. They sincerely and profusely apologized, are sending us a refund, and offered to give us the remaining six weeks of lessons free of charge. They are going to talk to all of their instructors about using more gender neutral language and being sensitive to GLBT class members.

    So that’s better. I don’t know if we’ll go back; we have to talk about it.”

  5. Michael Muller says:

    Well maybe I spoke too soon.

    Step ball change. Cha cha cha!

  6. I am entirely in agreement that gender preference bias is alive and well, but I’ve been lately made aware of how prevalent religious bias is, and would guess it vies for the Most Discriminated Against minority.

    This is not so much about HK’s frivolous threats about my position on Council as in the discussions I’ve seen in response to that story. There are far fewer elected officials who are openly atheist than openly gay/lesbian, for example. Today at the MLK Breakfast at least two speakers suggested that “we” all believe in God, as another.

    In the discussions, I’ve been reminded that Obama’s inaugural was considered noteworthy in that he actually acknowledged that “people of no faith” exist in this country.

    Just an observation. Personally, outside of the smear letters that Chris Peterson, et al, lobbed at me, I can’t say that I’ve experienced much discrimination.

  7. Don’t know how that “as another” landed in the previous post.

  8. Michael Muller says:

    Really milking that 15 minutes, aren’t we Cecil? 😉

  9. Hey Michael, I think it’s relevant. (The 15 minutes seem to be milking themselves.)
    And this sent to me by Jerry Sternberg.

  10. Diana says:

    I haven’t gone dancing yet in Asheville, but when I went in Seattle and Austin, the men often took lessons as follows and the women took lessons as leads, in part because they felt it made them better dancers to understand what their dance partners were doing. It would be a shame for multiple reasons if that was discouraged here.

  11. BlueRidge Ballroom does teach double honors. That means our students learn both parts. We are a small school and very different than most experiences you might have had. Check out our website, Facebook Page and Twitter accounts. We aren’t for everyone as we serve a niche market. Take a serious look at the page on selecting a school. This is a community of dancers who are committed to what they are doing. All human beings who are serious about dancing are welcome here. Yes, we will make errors on calling ladies and gentlemen instead of lead and follow. Remember, every dance teacher has called out Ladies part or gentleman’s part a million times at least. Please forgive us our human errors. I am sorry you had an unfortunate experience.

  12. Kristin says:

    A lesser known current political struggle than marriage equality is near & dear to me: the lack of (in all but a handful of states) the right for adult adoptees to access our original birth certificates. These documents were sealed by laws originally intended in part to protect us from the stigma of illegitimacy–not so relevant in our culture today. In many cases nowadays, potential open records legislation is lobbied against by pro-life groups afraid that lack of confidentiality (upon majority age) will harm adoption rates. Knowing the documented names of those who brought you into the world ought to be a right for everyone.

  13. Susan says:

    I would like to weigh in on the ‘most’ discriminated group in this country. From my perspective, it would be ‘foreigners’ and not gender, religion, sexual orientation or race. It is, of course, all wrong and all very limiting. But it seems to me that immigrants and refugees have the hardest time in this country, and they often have other prejudices on top of the fact that they are foreign.

  14. Alan says:

    Due to reduced fertility rates, gays make SUPERIOR, not equal, employees and tenants, enabling landlords to save child related wear and tear and employers, including the City of Asheville, to save huge amounts on childcare and child benefits. Antidiscrimination law in NC would therefore be a major threat to gay tenancy and employment, not a benefit at all.

  15. Heather says:

    As a heterosexual, childfree person who has many gay friends with children, I think you’re making an interesting assumption there, Alan.

  16. Alan says:

    Not all heterosexuals are breeders either, including me, but that shouldn’t keep Asheville from hiring gays preferentially to save on childcare benefits because most is enough.
    Not all immigrants are brreders either, but most is enough until an exemption can be carved out specifically for sterile immigrants.
    Not all households of 7 are breeders, but that shouldn’t stop Bothwell from instituting graduated water rates because most is enough.

  17. Alan says:

    It’s not an assumption about average gay fertility rates. I got the numbers straight from Equality North Carolina. Gay fertility remains less than a quarter of hetero fertility including adoption. Under 0.5 TFR. I double checked.
    I wish I had such stats on homeless fertility, I believe it’s low because most kids qualify for public housing and so are not homeless. but I can’t find it on the net. And indeed a surprise statistic would eliminate my homeless advocacy.

  18. MoJo says:

    I don’t understand the point of being rude. You can’t rude people straight. Being polite doesn’t mean you agree with the way someone lives, it just means you are polite. Good manners are never out of place.
    I’m sorry you had this experience Kathryn.