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The original gay icon, at least the one recorded for posterity, was Judy Garland. Girlish and sweet, but vulnerable, she captured the affections of many gay men. Accordingly, the Stonewall Riots broke out shortly after Garland's death. Though more recent historical research questions how much of a factor her untimely demise really was, it has nevertheless become part of the mythology. Garland's life was tragic, and the lives of many queer men were similarly star-crossed.

In my generation, the eccentric redheaded pianist and alternative rocker Tori Amos was the preferred gay icon. But she was a very different strain, a strong woman with equally strong opinions. Where Garland succumbed to her own tragic back-story, Amos put behind her a brutal rape that occurred early in her career. In part, I have always seen this distinction as an accurate marker by which one can investigate progress. Once suppressed and harassed into submission, LGBTs today experience a fraction of the shame and guilt.  

With this new found freedom, it is now time for a change in mindset. Reforms are always needed. As it stands, gay men sometimes idealize their effeminacy. Some project their attraction to all things feminine upon women, making the assumption that the women in their midst must surely conform to this same standard. A female friend of mine expresses consternation at times with one of her own friends, a gay man. He loves all things silky and embroidered, and those patterns only remind her of a femininity that was never a good fit.

I've always seen drag as an overcompensation, though I think it can be a very effective outlet. Though I've never had any desire to put on makeup and play pretend, I can appreciate the talents of others. When I first came out, I found that I didn't fit neatly into the roles others automatically assigned to me. I was too straight to be gay and too gay to be straight. This is how I personally understand what it is like to have one's perspective negated and ignored, even though most of the time being overlooked is entirely unintentional.

Defining what a gay icon is can be difficult. I'm not sure I understand it myself. It seems to be a moving target, keeping pace with the progress of our society. Women are encouraged to be themselves, rather than emulating breathy, girlish voices and learned helplessness. I've always been attracted to the off-kilter beauties who never fit well into anyone's boxes. I'm a strong-willed individual who finds equally strong-willed people appealing.

I'm also speaking of male privilege. Oversights similar to what I have mentioned are not always intentional. Even queer men have been socialized as male. Any group specifically designated for LGBTs is routinely dominated by gay men. While on a cruise ship two years ago, the group Friends of Dorothy was advertised in each day's events. Friends of Dorothy is slang for a gay man, alluding to Judy Garland's performance as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. It's becoming an antiquated term, but once again no invitation is extended to lesbians.

The writer William Goldman may have defined best the link between gay men and Judy Garland.

Homosexuals tend to identify with suffering. They are a persecuted group and they understand suffering. And so does Garland. She's been through the fire and lived – all the drinking and divorcing, all the pills and all the men, all the poundage come and gone – brothers and sisters, she knows.
A new generation of LGBTs can more easily avoid living a life of tragedy as a persecuted group. I appreciate the hard work of those who came before me, but I admit I have little patience for angst and doom-laden persecution fantasies. I'm ready to step into the sunlight, in spite of past experiences. If it had been my decision to make, I would not have selected the attitudes of my parents and family. Otherwise, this is simply how I am and I make no apologies for it.

I can count many women in my life who have become my own icons, those I respect and love deeply. I am thankful that they are present. I recognize that my icons are not perfect, but I don't expect them to be. I hasten to use the term, because to me that connotes complete adoration and worship. Few people wish to be placed on a pedestal and held to an impossible standard. I only asked for equal footing with everyone, where I might never have to live somewhere over the rainbow, in the world of unfulfilled dreams.

Originally posted to cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 07:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Remembering LGBT History, LGBT Kos Community, and An Ear for Music.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 07:06:06 AM PDT

  •  and i ride along side (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic, koNko, commonmass

    and i rode along side
    you then
    and i rode along side
    till you lost me there
    in the open road

    >
  •  Original gay icon? (7+ / 0-)

    I'll take your Judy Garland and raise you Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.  

    While Dorothy and friends were following the yellow brick road, Marlene was singing "See what the boys in the backroom will have". Mae West has already asked Cary Grant to come up and see her.

    "Come to Sochi, visit the gay clubs and play with the bears" - NOT a Russian advertising slogan.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:07:35 AM PDT

    •  Fair Enough (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, commonmass

      The original gay icon, at least the one recorded for posterity, was Judy Garland.

      The two earlier actresses you've mentioned were gay icons before there was a term for it, in my opinion.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:11:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The right stuff. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic, commonmass

    Gay Guy : Ricky Martin

    Brains, looks, talent and a great role model for gay parenthood (doesn't hurt to be wealthy, but he is so out front in love with his kids and proud of them, that he came out for them).

    Lesbian Girl : Justin Bieber Dannielle Owens-Reid

    Brains, looks, talent, guts and a proof that it gets better if you try and get a little help from your friends.

  •  What about Sarah Bernhart or Tallulah Bankhead? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic, slksfca, Catte Nappe

    Bankhead was certainly intentionally campy:

    (Over heard on Christmas Eve contemplating a crucifix at Smoky Mary's in New York: ) "Smile, darling, it's your birthday!

    "I love your dress Father, but your purse is on fire!"

    To Tennessee Williams: "You see, darling, you and I are the only consistently high Episcopalians".

    Now, there is an example of the camp and semi-queer sensibility which has existed for well over 100 years in Anglo-Catholic circles which historian Douglass Shand-Tucci chronicles with somewhat pedantic detail in the first part of his biography of architect Ralph Adams Cram, "Boston Bohemia". The overlapping of camp and the Church cannot be overstated but is often overlooked by queer historians. Bankhead is part of that. So, if you believe Shand-Tucci, were Cram and Goodhue and their Boston Bohemians. I can certainly attest that when I was circulating in those High Church circles in Boston not too many years ago it was still very true.

    In our more liberated queer world of marriage equality, states passing their own versions of ENDA, and the rise of the "suburban gay", perhaps these historical icons are less important then they were in the days of the closet and Stonewall.

    Though, to my generation, people like Bea Arthur (even before she came out of her glass closet) and comedian Margaret Cho were female "gay icons"--one queer, one not.

    Interesting discussion.

    "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

    by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:47:09 AM PDT

    •  Good Point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, slksfca

      I claim Tallulah because she's an Alabama native like me.

      I think if you asked 1000 gay men the same question, they would have different icons to share.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:49:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, that's what makes this diary so interesting. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aunt Pat, cabaretic, slksfca, klamothe

        I have never been much of a Judy Garland fan OR a Barbra Streisand fan (another gay icon). I know, I have to turn in my gay card, right? LOL.

        "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

        by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:54:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Heh. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          commonmass, cabaretic

          I can forgive not loving Streisand, but Garland? Oh my. You're lucky I'm not the one issuing the cards. ;-)

          There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

          by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:12:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Gay Cards (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            slksfca, commonmass

            I got rid of my gay bar membership card years ago. That was the closest thing I ever had to a gay card. I'm older now and more inclined now to sit at home and collect my thoughts.

            I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

            by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:41:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Same here. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cabaretic, commonmass

              Once in awhile I make an afternoon visit to a Castro bar with a lesbian friend, but my life going out at night is long past.

              There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

              by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:43:33 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm not sorry (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                commonmass, slksfca

                For years I went out with a sense of purpose every night to find someone. Now I'm too old for it. I'm 34 now and I'm just not in any mood to go to a club anymore. I'm glad I had the experience when I was younger, but I no longer have the energy and enthusiasm.

                And I'm not sorry. This is how it goes for almost everyone.

                I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

                by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:59:00 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I'm 11 years older than you are and (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  cabaretic, slksfca

                  enjoy going out from time to time, but certainly not clubbing every weekend. I haven't given up hooking up though. ;)

                  "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

                  by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:06:24 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Heh. Hooking Up (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    slksfca, commonmass

                    It can be the best of times, and it can be the worst of time.

                    I usually end up being dragged into the bathroom to see the latest very intimate piercing, one that makes me wince to contemplate.

                    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

                    by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:23:09 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  The only piercing I have is on my (0+ / 0-)

                      [redacted].

                      No, seriously. The only piercing I have is in my left ear and I stopped wearing my little silver hoop a few years ago. I strongly believe that gay men over about 40 should not wear earrings.

                      I asked my late husband to stop wearing his, too, though he still looked good in it, probably because he shaved his head. The "Mr. Clean" look can be sexy.

                      "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

                      by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 03:49:58 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                  •  And I'm 14 years older than you are. ;-) (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    commonmass

                    Keep enjoying it while you can. Seriously.

                    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

                    by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:32:02 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  My perspective (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          commonmass, slksfca

          When I was in college, all of the gay men in the city where I lived went to the Cher concert. Many of them didn't care much for Cher, but showed up mostly to be social. That's how I feel about Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand.

          I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

          by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:12:48 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Just finished Shand-Tucci's 'The Crimson Letter' (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, Aunt Pat, cabaretic

      It explores a lot of the same territory but more specifically focused on Harvard.

      There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

      by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:53:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've read it too, though I find it a little more (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slksfca, cabaretic

        of a stretch than his thick volumes on Cram (who, by the way, may have been bisexual but certainly was married to a woman regardless of the queer circles he frequented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)

        Shand-Tucci is somewhat of a controversial figure. I know him from Boston Anglo-Catholic circles and even there (especially there) he is rather controversial. He does, however, do his research. Take with a grain of salt, however, the conclusions he reaches.

        Still well worth reading.

        "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

        by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:56:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Funny you should say that, because... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          commonmass, cabaretic

          ...I found myself having issues with him, particularly with some of his assertions/generalizations. And "take with a grain of salt" was my ultimate conclusion. However, I enjoyed the book and will read it again after a suitable interval (enough time to come back to it reasonably fresh).

          There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

          by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:02:12 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  He's part historical revisionist and part (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            slksfca, cabaretic

            queer historian. I can say my own research into the history of my own home parish (St. John's) and the history of the Cowley Fathers in Boston does, in fact, bear out a lot of his assertions about the queer factor operative there 100 years ago and later and it's not an accident that St. John's has been a significantly queer congregation for a good 50 years. A good friend of mine, who used to be a Cowley, gave me some queer history of the parish a few years ago and even in the late 50's and early 60's the place was already very queer. Including my late friend the priest.

            Shand-Tucci, however, does tend to leap to conclusions--the kind of things he would like to be true whether or not they are. However, he gets some things very correct.

            It bears mentioning that the organist and choirmaster at that parish, Dr. Everett Titcomb (he was there from 1910-1960) even lived in the Mission House for some years with his lover, Chester Bonney.

            "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

            by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:09:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  What does overlap there and is totally true (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slksfca, cabaretic

        is the relationship between the gay subculture at Harvard during that period and the Church of St. John the Evangelist and Church of the Advent--both on opposite sides of Beacon Hill and both of which once occupied what was once Lyman Beecher's building at 39 Bowdoin Street where St. John's (soon to close, sadly, as it's my home parish) currently resides.

        In fact, the magnificent reredos at St. John's was painted by Harvard folks (some of them were undoubtedly gay).

        "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

        by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:03:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I wish I'd known this sort of thing... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          commonmass, cabaretic

          ...when I was visiting Boston back in 1988. It would absolutely have enriched my brief time there. I was staying with a long-distance boyfriend who was something of a philistine and thus wasn't able to fully pursue my own interests (such as the Gardner Museum).

          Thanks for the perspective from a local/insider. :-)

          There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

          by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:10:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Many of the best liturgical vestments (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            slksfca, cabaretic

            from St. John's ended up in her collection, btw. Isabella is also very much a local gay icon in Boston. I love that museum.

            When Dave in Northridge came to visit this summer that was on our list but we got sucked in by the new American wing at the MFA. Since we were both intimately familiar with the Gardner we skipped it, though if we had more time we most certainly would have visited.

            If you ever get out here, I'll go to the Garner with you. In a heartbeat.

            "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

            by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:19:33 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  By the way, the German version of someone like (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slksfca, cabaretic

    Judy Garland or, say, Joan Crawford or Bette Davis as a queer icon was an actress and singer named Zarah Leander who starred in everything from film noir to the UFA versions of overproduced MGM color musicals.

    She remains a gay icon in German speaking countries today, despite making many of those films during the Nazi period. (She herself was not a Nazi.)

    "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

    by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:52:26 AM PDT

  •  It's interesting. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic, klamothe, commonmass

    I can't really argue against this:

    [...]Garland succumbed to her own tragic back-story[...]
    However, when I think of her career I think of triumph in the face of adversity. She had so much to contend with yet kept perfecting her art long after her film career was over. The live concerts late in her career represented some of her best work (I love the recording of the Carnegie Hall concert from 1961), and her too-brief television career likewise. YouTube is full of amazing songs from her variety show.

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:24:25 AM PDT

    •  I see her as a victim of the studio system (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, slksfca, klamothe

      They pumped her full of drugs to keep her working, and it was the beginning of the end. She looks really awful in her last recorded performances. Very shocking.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:26:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  All true. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        commonmass

        There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

        by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:44:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Returning to Childhood (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          slksfca, commonmass

          Like every kid, I enjoyed watching The Wizard of Oz, but I often preferred the child actor Judy Garland more than the troubled adult star. For a long time, I didn't know that Judy Garland was in other films besides it. The films of hers I've seen fill me with pity, as you can tell there isn't much left in the tank.

          I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

          by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:50:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I get what you're saying. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cabaretic, commonmass

            Her early work is delightful; the Andy Hardy films, for example, are great fun. But I also saw her last film (I Could Go On Singing) as a kid and her performance in that knocked me out. I didn't know at the time how close to reality that movie was, but I recognized that this was a consummate star, even though she was in decline by that point.

            I think there is room for both points of view: that she ended up a shell of her younger self, AND that she kept her magic 'til the end. Because IMO both are true.

            There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

            by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:28:53 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  It just occurred to me... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cabaretic, commonmass

            ...that Judy Garland as a gay icon is similar to Maria Callas, also a gay icon (among opera queens, anyway), in that true fans treasure even the vocal imperfections of both singers' late performances.

            There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

            by slksfca on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:46:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Opera isn't for me (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              slksfca, commonmass

              I took music theory classes in college, which involved seeing and reviewing two operas. But I respect the talent to sing with such exacting precision.

              I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

              by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 11:06:07 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Here's some Leander: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic, slksfca

    "Can love be a sin?"

    "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

    by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:30:00 AM PDT

    •  I like it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, slksfca

      Husky, deep voice. A classic alto. She is a little detached from the action, somewhat dismissive of what is going on in front of her.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:34:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, kind of like Mae West was detached. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cabaretic, slksfca

        Though Leander wasn't as "dirty" as West. By the way, she was Swedish.

        She often played at not being interested in the men that were interested in her, which you see in that clip, were many. Her career lasted well into the 50's. I think that's partly why she survived as a "gay icon" into the current era.

        "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

        by commonmass on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:38:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There Ought to Be a Book Written (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          commonmass, slksfca

          I have two book topics that need to be written. One of them is on the subject of gay icons across the world.

          The second is a man named Johnny Burke who was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter and wrote many of the popular songs of the era. He wrote "Pennies from Heavy", "Misty", and much of what Bing Crosby sang in his movies.

          Sadly, he was a raging alcoholic and even when he was productive, his life was always in a state of chaos. I spoke to his son years ago, who knew him as a very distant father who had not very much influence in his life. But even so, when he enlisted for WWII, his father showed up to wish him well, even though he was totally hammered.

          It would be difficult to pull off a topic like that, but if I had the funding, I would.

          I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

          by cabaretic on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:45:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Alexander, The Great, but people to the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass

    South-East of Europe do not like him.  They see him as a crass war for land leader, I'm thinking.  I suppose I will say we need to be fair and this would be my nominaton for one of the LGBT core identities, the B in LGBT.  

  •  Then there are the stately homos of England (0+ / 0-)

    I believe this phrase was first used about Quentin Crisp but today I think it is Stephen Fry who best fits that 'England's best loved homosexual' slot.

    Sue Perkins and Sandi Toksvig can be heard bickering on the BBC radio programme 'The News Quiz' as to which of then is Britain's best loved lesbian.

    Who are America's best loved gay and lesbian?

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