‘Dancing With the Stars’ Goes Progressive In A Big Way

The cast for the next season of Dancing With the Stars has some predictable controversy-stirrers, like Nancy Grace, people who are rehabbing their person and their celebrity, like David Arquette, and people who are not really famous, but are moving from one tranche of reality television to another, like The Hills veteran Kristin Cavallari. But two contestants bear particular mention: J.R. Martinez, an Army veteran who was severely burned in Iraq but is playing a wounded veteran on All My Children, and Chaz Bono.

Bono’s selection is notable, not just because he’s a prominent transgender rights advocate who will be appearing on a staunchly middle-American program, but because Dancing With the Stars has had some controversies about how gay contestants should be handled (Carson Kressley, who once told me my outfit was absolutely fabulous, is also competing). In Israel, a lesbian contestant danced with a heterosexual female dance partner, but I don’t know that that’s been repeated anywhere else.

And Martinez’s inclusion will make very visible someone who is both a representative of the costs of the war in Iraq — he had 32 surgeries to treat his burns — and a demonstration that of a way back from real trauma. Obviously not everyone’s goal is to be a soap star, and I think we’ll have achieved something significant as a society when this is a possible trajectory not just for a burn victim but for an amputee. But still, for veterans and transgendered folks to be offered up as rooting symbols in the same competition is a good thing — especially if it gives me an excuse to watch one of my guilty pleasures.