I’m a big fan of Susan Calman, I’ve seen her in person at Soho Theatre when she was performing her set ‘This Lady’s Not For Turning Either’ along with a campaign ‘Calman for President’ in November 2012 as well as attending Radio 4 recordings of shows such as ‘The News Quiz’ and ‘Sisters’.
For those of you who are new to the Susan Calman experience, she is a comedian from Scotland who loves her wife and her cats. She came out in 1993 (aged 19) in Glasgow and her work often refers to the challenges around this time. She has a great sense of humour and has for a long time been on the edge of mainstream comedy knocking at the door hoping for an opportunity, but always remaining true to who she is (which maybe explains why it took so long). Calman reached the semi-finals of the BBC New Comedy Awards in 2005 and was a finalist in the Funny Women competition in 2006. The Channel 4’s sketch show Blowout won a Scottish BAFTA in 2007, with Calman amongst the cast. In 2009, she won Best New Scottish Comedian at the Real Radio Variety Awards.
Susan has just been chosen as one of the celebrity dancers on this season’s Strictly Come Dancing and has been paired with male professional dancer Kevin Clifton. I think we can safely say that she has finally made it! I am very excited that Susan is on screen finally in a mainstream environment where she can showcase her natural comedy and bubbly personality. We have an out and successful lesbian on mainstream television – what a momentous occasion!
Now Susan has never been mixed her comedy and campaigning. She is a big supporter of LGBT equality. The negativity around her dancing is detracting from what should be a successful and supported move. You also need to question why various gay men who have appeared on the show have not had so much pressure about dancing with a same-sex partner.
She also previously said she would never wear a dress, and the community has also largely attacked her for going back on her words. This comment was made 5 years ago. We seem to be far too quick to attack, rather than to look to be understanding or supportive. Heaven forbid someone changes their mind about something… is it any wonder we have so few out women as role models in the UK when this is the reception that they get when in the limelight?
It is time that we were more supportive, more understanding, and more diverse in our thought. Not every LGBT person has the same beliefs, thoughts, ideals or experiences. Being LGBT is not the entirety of the person.
Whilst it is great to be able to use the inclusion of LGBT people as a reason for the BBC to review their traditional set up to reflect the diversity of their celebrity dancers, I don’t believe it is ok to go so far as to try and push this onto the celebrity taking part. Not every LGBT person wants to dance with a samesex person, and perhaps also there are LGBT allies who would like to dance with a same-sex partner, but because of the way the community has gone about this campaign, there would be fear and reluctance, for not only would there be rumours and assumptions about their sexuality, but they would also be potentially attacked.
We need role models, we need allies – so we need to be able to utilise their limelight for progressive campaigns, but without pushing those people without their permission. We have an opportunity to ensure that Susan Calman, as the first out gay woman on Strictly Come Dancing, is not the last, and that she is seen to have a supportive following to maximise her exposure to mainstream, traditional audiences to help continue the progression of showing that LGBT people are not to be feared or attacked, and are in fact no different from anyone else.
Susan looks to be set to continue to have a presence on our televisions, and is currently presenting a new quiz on BBC1 called The Boss. She is also due to present BBC1 programme Armchair Detective later in 2017.
Send Susan messages of support on Twitter and using the hashtags #Strictly & #TeamCalman and tagging @SusanCalman @bbcstrictly and @keviclifton