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Editor’s letter: ‘Don’t underestimate the power of seeing John and Johannes dancing on Strictly’

Until you see yourself represented, you don't really feel seen, writes Attitude Editor-in-Chief Cliff Joannou.

By Will Stroude

Words: Cliff Joannou; Image: BBC Pictures

Take my gay card away from me now, I have a confession to make – I have never really been a Strictly Come Dancing fan.

Don’t hate on me – I don’t discredit the show; I completely understand its appeal and the escapism it off ers. It’s just never been for me. Yet, as reality TV goes, I’d rather live in a world of Strictly than Love Island, the makers of which earlier this year pondered the ‘logistical diff iculties’ that LGBTQ+ contestants might bring to the dating show (‘logistically difficult’ has since been my sexual identity when filling out forms).

Over at the BBC, Strictly had awkwardly tiptoed around the subject of same-sex dancers with all the grace of a drunken gazelle with two left feet ever since the series first aired in 2004.

Where the original reality TV beast that was Big Brother (RIP) long ago pushed the conversation forward for not just gay and lesbian, but also trans representation, it seemed the big shows of today had constantly fumbled the question. Of course, that changed for the Beeb last year when Olympian Nicola Adams was announced as half of Strictly’s first same-sex pairing. Finally!

Johannes wears tank top by Sunspel, jeans by Lee; John wears tank top by Rufskin, jeans by Calvin Klein, necklace by Pawnshop London for the Attitude December issue (Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid; Fashion director: Joseph Kocharian)

The queer world rejoiced – and it only took us 18 series to get there. The originator of the world’s most successful reality TV format at long last recognised queer people’s right to be included. Sadly, our thrill was short-lived when Adams had to make an exit after dance partner Katya Jones tested positive for COVID. Still, it was a momentous decision by producers to accept that dancing can be enjoyed outside of opposite gender binaries. And guess what? The world didn’t end when two women danced together on telly.

Although something did change. Last year, for the first time ever, I tuned in to Strictly each week. Suddenly, the show felt a little more progressive and representative of my experience of the world. A year later, I came back, this time to watch John Whaite and Johannes Radebe (both gay men, yay!) as the show’s first male same-sex pairing. I don’t know whether to applaud or eye-roll at how slow progress can sometimes be in moving towards a more inclusive society – and this, on the world’s campest of camp TV shows.

Johannes wears tank top by Sunspel, jeans by Lee; John wears tank top by Rufskin, jeans by Calvin Klein, necklace by Pawnshop London (Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid; Fashion director: Joseph Kocharian)

Despite its previously laissez-faire approach to same-sex inclusion, I find myself attracted to the revelry and thrill that Strictly has always aimed to deliver, only now I’m also enjoying John and Johannes as they storm the scoreboard each week, and wondering what positive change this is doing for our continual march towards a more equal society. Strictly has earned itself a new stan.

You see, that is the power of representation – it draws everybody in and brings us all closer together. That’s why people bang on about it all the time, whether it be trans inclusiveness and different gender or sexual identities, or featuring more Black, Arab, Asian or other diverse faces. Until you see yourself reflected in film, TV, advertising, fashion campaigns or elsewhere, then you don’t really feel seen.

So, thank you, Strictly, but mostly thank you to John and Johannes.

Read the full interview in the Attitude December issue, out now.

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