What is a gay icon exactly? What is it that turns everyday, run-of-the mill mortals into champions of queer imagination?
Recently I attended a CD release party for Madonna’s new album Hard Candy. It was a predominantly queer event designed to roll out the pink carpet for another one of Madge’s sonic triumphs.
The night was filled with that little girl from Detroit’s musical oeuvre as decorated queens adopted her many looks and constant fans got into that groove she spoke so highly of.
I could not imagine what growing up would have been like in a world deprived of the former Material girl. After all, it was Madonna who taught me what a virgin was at the tender age of seven.
Her emergence on the pop charts coincided with my own awakening consciousness of what was going on in the world. It was around 1984 that I truly started paying attention to the world beyond my home and that blonde little sprite might have had something to do with it.
I like to think of her as a kind of sexual revolutionary, boldly going to depths other mainstream artists had never gone before. It was an ‘f’ you attitude that resonated with me. Whether she was making it with another woman in the Justify My Love video, kissing the feet of a black Jesus in Like A Prayer, or sitting on an older man’s lap in a diaper for Erotica, my own repressed – and currently in development – sexuality took notice.
If it was her music, her image or the media’s bipolar response to her antics, I don’t really know. However, at a time when homosexual portrayals were hard to come by for a 12-year-old, Madonna provided at least a small window into a world of sexual freedom and curiosity.
Aside from Madonna, I have difficulty understanding how and why some pop culture figures are placed on a queer pedestal. Some have become so deeply ingrained in hetero and homo culture that I am left completely baffled.
My boss recently went to see the Sex And The City movie and told me I would be pleasantly surprised to learn that Jennifer Hudson had a role. I did not know exactly how to respond to this. Had I ever extolled the virtues of the former American Idol runner up? Did I keep a picture of her in my wallet? Had I ever commented on the film Dreamgirls favourably?
Certainly not – Eesh – all that screeching and migraine-inducing vocal stress.
I suspect that my boss had made the assumption that since I am gay I also worshipped at the altar of J Hudson. The thought was good for a laugh at least.
I have never been one to swoon over the Barbras and the Chers. I feel mainly pity for Judy and her daughter Liza than any true admiration. Still, I get that their stories and their talents ring true with other gay men.
Are we as a community playing it fast and loose with gay iconography though? A recent poll undertaken on AfterElton has me thinking that might be so.
Though not listing them as “icons” per se, the site’s Hot 100 represents those held in high regard by a voting gay public. Why is it that Jake Gyllenhaal came out on top two years in a row? So the guy played a gay cowboy and has a sweet ass. Is this enough?
It is one thing to acknowledge those who are, in fact, gay and/or have supported gay rights. It is another to pat some Hollywood heartthrob on the back for having the courage to play gay.
Maybe the whole concept of the gay icon is entirely bogus. Why pay so much attention to those whose personal and private lives remain a mystery? What is the sense in buying into an image of the fierce and the fabulous? After all, I can only look up to someone so much before my neck begins to ache.
Many of our so-called icons might be nothing more than sources of inspiration in our lives. Their very existence might make facing each day a little more colourful, but ultimately we can only rely on ourselves.
Paul Halsall maintains a website that seeks to explain why some people reach icon status. Interesting to note that the names mentioned belong in the realm of the performing arts and do not mention the politicians, religious leaders and freedom fighters that arguably have made more of an impact.
He writes that icons are fantasy figures that allow gays and lesbians to see aspects of their own lives and provide the basis for a common subcultural knowledge. A common thread among those listed, from Judy to Bette, is that their character expressed strength and a vulnerability. Both personally and professionally, they overcame great odds to fully realize their dreams.
If this is the basis for creating a gay icon, then why don’t we turn it on ourselves?
Move over Miss Crawford, I am my own icon now.