Like all of Scottish lesbian-kind, I was utterly charmed by Susan Calman’s performance on Strictly Come Dancing. For those not in the know, she’s one of Scotland’s finest comedians and best known celesbian. I’m usually ambivalent about reality television, but seeing dykes of all stripes rally for Team Calman made me decide to tune in for this season of Strictly – which was the right choice.
Every Saturday night was brightened up by Susan and her dance partner, Kevin. There was a heartfelt quality to Susan’s routines, and every week she worked hard to take the judges’ feedback on board in order to improve – Susan Calman was very easy to root for.
There was also something magical about seeing Susan consistently supported by her life partner, her wife: Lee Cormack. Every week Lee was in the front row cheering Susan on, and Susan basked in Lee’s encouragement. It was beautiful to watch. Having grown up in an era when it was still illegal for schools to teach kids anything positive about same-sex relationships, it felt nothing short of miraculous to see love between women presented as natural, healthy, and good on Britain’s most popular Saturday night television show.
Though I was sad to see her voted out of the competition, it was impossible not to feel joy as Susan thanked her “amazing wife” for supporting her through Strictly. To hear a lesbian woman say those words – “my wife” – out loud and proud on national television melts my heart. Susan and Lee entered a civil partnership in 2012 and, after same-sex marriage was legalised, tied the knot. According to Susan, “they were two of the happiest days of my life. And, yes, being married does make a difference. I don’t like it when people say it’s just a bit of paper. Not to me it isn’t. And anyway, it’s something gay people fought for over many years.”
Both personally and politically, it’s a significant thing to have a lesbian relationship visible and validated within the mainstream. Lesbian representation has the power to change minds, to move our society at least a little bit closer towards a cultural shift.
Every week I’d watch Strictly with my grandmother – it’s her favourite show. Nana hadn’t heard of most of the contestants, which is fine because she’s tuning in for the dancing, but she would ask from whence their celebrity status came and fully expect me to know by virtue of being young and permanently hooked to the internet.
So I told my grandmother that Susan launched her book at Glasgow Women’s Library, where I volunteer, and that she’s a popular comedian. With affected casualness, I mentioned that Susan has a robust lesbian following. “Oh, right,” said Nana. She has the gift of expressing a great deal by saying very little. It was a tiny bit awkward. Still, she ended up catching a little bit of my Calman fever.
My grandmother loves me very much, and knows that I’m a lesbian, but is also a committed Catholic. For obvious reasons, we’ve never really reached a point where I could tell her that one day there’s nothing I’d like more than to have a wife and be one. And maybe seeing how delightfully ordinary Susan and Lee’s happiness is might make that aspiration easier for her to understand.
They live together with five cats, one of which is named after a police detective played by Helen Mirren – relationship goals right there. I know this kind of homonormativity among young dykes is disappointing to a number of older radical lesbian feminists who have argued for the abolition of marriage as part of their opposition to patriarchal institutions, but let’s be real here: I’m one rainy afternoon away from creating a lesbian wedding Pinterest board.
When it was announced Susan would be appearing on Strictly, there was a small controversy caused by two issues: 1) an out lesbian being partnered with a man 2) said lesbian wearing a dress in her promotional pictures. In some ways I understand those frustrations. It would be fantastic to see two women paired together as dance partners. And given how lush lesbian women – especially butch lesbian women – look in suits, it’s practically criminal for Strictly to deprive us. Both of those possibilities are wonderful and, by appearing on Strictly, Susan has brought them that much closer to reality.
Like Susan says, “no one can say I haven’t stood up for my community. There’s nothing more powerful than having an openly gay woman on the biggest show on TV, whose wife is on the front row, doing what she wants to do.”