Sex, love and figure skating: Lesbian professor releases new book (excerpt)

At the Maine College of Art Wednesday evening, Portland resident and Bates College Prof. Erica Rand will sign copies of her new book, “Red Nails, Black Skates: Gender, Cash and Pleasure On and Off the Ice.”

The book release event will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the 522 Congress St. school. (Polly Sewall photo)

The premise of the book is that Rand, in her 40s, took up figure skating as a way to shake up her fitness regimen, and quickly got hooked. One thing led to another, and she found herself weaving together her academic interests with her athletic ones, traveling first to take part in the Gay Games, then elsewhere around the country to study gender and race roles entrenched in the world of figure skating.

She wrote that the skating book project “transformed my athletic life, my work life, my social life, and, less directly, my erotic life.”

Among the questions she ponders early in the text, but which are a tip of the iceberg in terms of the analysis she seems ready to apply to the issues, are:

What exactly, for instance, is that crazy combination of balletic aristocrat and child-beauty-pageant trampiness that characterizes many figure-skating costumes for girls and women? Why is it acceptable, while decked out in this careful, if confusing, production of highly stylized femininity, for female skaters to readjust their skating panties in front of judges and audiences, or to perform spirals (skating arabesques) that seem virtually designed for crotch display? What are the racial dimensions of acceptable femininity in a sport dominated by white people in which, as I will discuss later, skate-color conventions, rewarded body types, and the occasional harem-girl costume combine to suggest that Avoiding Racism 101 isn’t part of the skating curriculum?

Some selections from an array of online book reviews describe Rand’s work here as being an “accessible and human” social critique because she’s willing to lace up the skates and put herself right in the middle of her study subjects, as well as frank about the sport’s social shortcomings without coming off as “pessimistic or judgmental.” (Click on the linked words to read the rest of those particular reviews, in case that wasn’t clear.)

And if you want to a teaser read, flip through the introduction below:

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.