July 15, 2008

Icons for Gay Men

Recently I was re-watching the film Hello Dolly! after hearing those great old Jerry Herman tunes in the film Wall-E. For those unfamiliar, there was quite a hulabaloo when the young Barbra Streisand was cast in the role, whereas the stage version had been pretty much synonymous with Carol Channing. Despite that, we gays still love her, even if we recognize this was perhaps not her best (or most appropriate) role. But how to explain that? Why is it that the majority of gay men love Babs the way we do, and so many others?

Thus I think it's time to offer you, gentle reader, a primer for the pantheon of female icons that we gay folk adore so much. And because I love lists, I'm going to offer my top 10 icons, followed by a laundry list of honorable mentions. Also we'll look at a few potential icons of the future - who will be talking about 25 years now with a great sigh saying, "Oh, I remember when I first saw Elizabeth in the theater. Now THAT was a great time in movies!"

First up, my top 10 list. These are in no particular order, because no matter how I rank them, I will hear cries of sacrilege (probably even from myself).

1. Judy Garland

How does one explain the pull of Judy? I admit that I wasn't even that impressed with Judy in my nascent years as a gay collegiate. But there are several reasons to explain her appeal. First is that quintessential role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Her experience reminds us of our own - lost in a world that is new and scary, wishing for the comforts of a home where you truly belong - if only you had some kind friends to lean on and show you the way. Also Judy has that cache of being a young child star at the time when movie musicals were becoming quite popular. When she exhorted us all to "Get Happy," we gladly obliged.

2. Liza Minelli

One can hardly mention Judy without bringing up her daughter in the same breath. We admire the way she fought to step outside her mother's shadow, taking the musical stage by storm all on her own. She pushed buttons and sang of hot jazz in Cabaret (making us forget that the role of Sally Bowles is supposed to be played by an Englishwoman). And of course she kept marrying men of our number, so she's practically a gay man already. Liza with a Z - that's her!

3. Barbra Streisand

*sigh* Oh, Babs. It's the voice. It's the nails. It's the Jewish girl from Flatbush who makes it on the Great White Way and wins an Oscar in her very first movie role. It's her unconventional choices in leading men that makes us realize all of us stand a chance. (Ryan O'Neal as sex symbol? Believe it.) And of course she's just so easy to impersonate - a godsend for the drag queens out there.

4. Cher

First she declares herself a "Half-Breed," and we identify with the outsider who isn't loved. Then she wears ostentatious-yet-fabulous gowns by Bob Mackie. And then she proves that she can really act, too - "Snap out of it!" Once she went disco, all the gays were ready to dance along and toss our non-existent long hair. Whoooaaaa!!!

5. Madonna

Although she's the youngest on this list, Madonna has done more in her half-century to win the hearts of the gays than most singers do in a lifetime. She has continually skewered social norms regarding sex and religion, and we appreciate it. She also knows how to construct a lot of amazing dance tunes!

6. Bette Davis

We love Bette for one simple reason - she was the first big-mouthed broad who brought the bitch every time she walked in a room. Only she could turn, "Poor Eve!" into a classic line.

7. Joan Crawford

Joan was in some ways Bette's twin for bitchery, but she also brought the glamour and the drama. And of course we know that she was (mostly) Mommie Dearest in real life, which makes her both cool and creepy.

8. Audrey Hepburn

Audrey defined glamour of the era - she looked good in everything, and always had those big fabulous sunglasses! No one else before or sense has made a string of pearls and a long cigarette holder look so very elegant. Then she became a big-time humanitarian, and no one appreciates selfless acts to help the world's forgotten more than the gays.

9. Donna Summer

Donna was the queen of the disco, and we sure loved our disco. Why, exactly? Disco was the chance to show of your hottest threads while shaking your booty on a lighted dance floor. Gay, gay, gay!!!

10. Bette Midler

Her history starting in the gay baths made Bette an instant gay icon for life - she entertained us first, and we've been loyal ever since. Yet we also would have adored her anyway for being loud and brassy with big bazooms. Once she made us weep with Beaches, we have never been the same.

And that's the list! Now for a few honorable mentions, who are certainly gay icons for some, but have not perhaps reached the pinnacle of gay icon stature:

- Dolly Parton - "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap."
- Julie Andrews - Sound of Music - love! Victor/Victoria - gay friendly!
- Patti Labelle - Soul sistah had the craziest hair of the 80's. And she likes to eat.
- Marlene Dietrich - She's the woman who made androgyny edgy and fabulous. Madonna owes her a debt.
- Elaine Stritch - Elaine made it OK to drink vodka and sing at the top of your lungs. Not that I ever do that.
- Gloria Gaynor - "I Will Survive" has been our anthem for years - if only she had more hits...
- Carol Channing - She's the smile that ate Broadway - Hello, Dolly, indeed!
- Carol Burnett - That Gone With the Wind sketch was worth a lifetime of laughs.
- Lucille Ball - The original (and perhaps greatest ever) comedienne. And who wouldn't want to marry a hot Cuban?
- Mary Tyler Moore - When she threw her hat up into the Minneapolis sky, she signaled freedom - for all! (Or that's how I saw it.) Plus having a sassy Jewish neighbor was totally our life.
- Whitney Houston - She...eee...eee....will always love uuuuuuuuus...or maybe crack. It's whack!
- Reba McEntire - Short, spunky, redheads are always our best girlfriends. Plus, girl loves her costumes!
- Diana Ross - She was so fabulous and controversial that they made a really, really good musical about her! (Even if she denies it.)
- Katherine Hepburn - She really qualifies as more of a lesbian icon (the jaw, the pants, that red sweater), but we still think she was a strong woman, and we love that.
- Judi Dench & Helen Mirren - Tough British babes for the ages!

Finally, without further adieu, I propose the women with the greatest potential to become our great icons of the new century. Which of them will stand the test of time?

- Jennifer Hudson - She's our new Diana Ross. But girl's got curves!
- Kathy Griffin - She adores us, so how could we not return the love?
- Margaret Cho - Ditto!
- Kelly Clarkson - American Idol no more - she is hot, hot, hot.
- Beyonce' - We're crazy in love with her.
- Cate Blanchett - One minute she's a British queen, the next she's clawing out the eyes of Judi Dench. Bold!
- Tilda Swinton - Androgyny is hot again, and Tilda's at the forefront. A new Marlene in the making?
- Meryl Streep - When she gets Oscar nomination #20, you know we're throwing a party.
- Glenn Close - She was in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway. She may actually BE a gay man!

OK, now's your time to let me have it - where did I go wrong? Whom did I forget? Whom I have shown too much love? (Yeah, right.) And who else will define the future of gay men's DVD and CD collections?


ScottE. said...

Whew...great list...GREAT POST...I do have to agree most of the way on the top 10. Mostly. I'd drop Joan Crawford and bump up Dolly Parton.

Dear Readers...I've been lobbying for Dolly and I just couldn't crap that nut.

And my justification for bumping Joan. Is it really Joan Crawford we love...or is it Faye Dunaway AS Joan Crawford? No wire hangers, EVER! Don't fuck with me fellas. This isn't my first time at the rodeo.

Anyway...Dolly...Ahhh Dolly. The songs. The boobs. The hair and skinny ridiculous waist. And the songs. And the understanding, compassion and caring!

"Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats. Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can't be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy."
-Dolly Parton

Come on people...GET HAPPY!

ScottE. said...

And another future icon: Angelina Jolie...love her or hate her, she's a polarizing figure...a sign of an icon to come.

Stef said...

I have to admit, I'm woefully undereducated about some of the icons on your list. Never seen a Joan Crawford movie, or Faye playing her. The only Judy G. i've seen is the Wizard. Guess I've got some catching up to do.

On the icons of the future list... what about SJP and the ladies of SATC? Is there a reason they're not on the list? And I totally get Cate B. and Tilda S. They're both such awesome chameleons, I love watching them. (And Cate B. is so hot, she's on my "other" list.)

PS. I met MTM years ago. She's not so sweet in real life.

joyous said...

Scotte, I think a lot of older gay men would argue that it's definitely Joan they love, not Faye Dunaway. There's a reason why Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is the #1 camp movie of all time. Maybe in 30 years you can bump Joan, but not yet. (In my old office with my two lovely older gays, they were CONSTANTLY argueing over Bette Davis and Joan Crawford)

Lady Brandenburg said...

Ooooo - good post!!! I agree with Stef - it seems the SATC girls are on their way to icon-dom. (ha ha)

JD said...

Rocking post Jason! I love your inclusion of Glenn Close whose performance in Dangerous Liaisons spawn a zillion witty one liners. Don't you love that with the exception of Barbra, there something just slighting fucked up about all of those women? Whether it be a drug problem, or plastic surgery or whatever there just something that makes you know they aren't just a role model. I also think that each and every one of those women have had an iconic ROLE playing someone fucked up. Even Cate Blanchett in the second Elizabeth. Agreed with the addition of the SATC crew. My additions are:


Annie Lennox (well she SHOULD be a Gay icon)

David Beckham

And your favorite Jason, Reba MacIntire.

ScottE. said...

But I'm not an old gay man...I may act like it, but I'm not.

I'm not saying Faye should be on the list, I'm just saying almost all the references I can think of in regards to Joan and all the references I hear others say/give of her, generally come from a movie about her...so that's my justification for bumping Joan...besides I need Dolly on the list and she's the one I'm willing to bump off the list.

The Kara said...

I agree on the Dolly front. J-Lo, maybe you will change your mind after 9 TO 5 opens on Broadway - they announced it's coming into the Marquis Theatre yesterday, Ms. Parton was there and as fabulous as ever!

Anonymous said...

I've only just come to terms and accepted my sexual status, bisexual, in life and was stunned to see I may have already been hinting at my sexuality as I discovered, due to a Google search which led to this list among others, Audrey Hepburn is a Gay icon and I have previously proclaimed on social media my love for her. Anywho, as a younger, I'm assuming, Gay/Bi, I would've included Lady Gaga in the honorable mentions/future icons list, only because I identified so much with her while I was in my closeted phase and believe she made it possible for me to be more comfortable expressing myself. I know it's not the norm for a Gay icon to define themselves as such, in such a way as she has, and it might seem to the older members of the community that she's trying too hard or doing it exactly for that point, but nevertheless, I feel she made it a point that its ok to be yourself, and furthermore, it's ok to be different than everybody else, which, in conjunction with many other things in my life, helped me to get to the point I'm at now, which is completely comfortable with myself, as well as my orientation, and in some small way I feel I owe that to her, because before her, I didn't really have anyone saying its ok to be this way, even though I knew deep down I was. So in closing, I know I might just be bi, and that she might just be doing it for attention, but hopefully this story might give her some leeway into cracking into the future icons list, because she helped me, in a way, discover myself in a way no one ever did before.

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