The Queer Community and the Female Icon
In queer circles we fervently idolise certain female celebrities, but why? What qualities do these women share that make them a beacon to us? Perhaps there is commonality among them, or perhaps The Gays™ just have the best taste. I’ve selected some personal favourite icons, and tried to find the links.
Okay, Gaga was an obvious one. She’s been popular in the LGBT+ community (and it would be remiss to ignore the fact that she is bisexual, and therefore part of our community) since she broke into her industry. Born This Way is a quintessential acceptance anthem and I don’t think I’ve gone to Pride and not heard it. It’s arguable that Gaga is an icon because she made herself into one. In 2008 she offered us her own gay dance-pop artform of a soul and we said yes please. Well, straights thought it was weird but the gays knew it was art. She cultivated her eccentric and beautiful style and made the world pay attention.
But I don’t think that it’s just her immense contribution to music that made the queer community fall in love with her. She has long been a loud voice in advocacy for LGBT+ rights. In September 2010 she spoke at a rally for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” amidst an ongoing tour. In a reference to the meat dress she wore at that years MTV Music Awards she said:
Equality is the prime rib of America, but because I am gay, I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer.
Unafraid to declare herself as one of us, she spoke in fervent passion for a repeal that then seemed like it had little chance of success. She deplored Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military and protested his presidency outside Trump tower.
So, everyone loves Beyoncé, yeah? Queer people especially love her, and it’s probably because every second of her career has been an iconic moment. As one of the best-selling music artists in the world Beyoncé has endured where many others have faded into obscurity. And how many drunk white gay boys have shuffled awkwardly across a club dance floor to Single Ladies? (Me, I’m one of them, I’m guilty). And let’s not forget smash-hit collaboration with Gaga, Telephone, which single-handedly caused our community to implode.
What has solidified queer support of Beyoncé is her willingness to speak out on LGBT+ causes. In 2013 she voiced her support for equal marriage with a statement on Instagram. On tour in 2016, she spoke out about the North Carolina Bathroom bill and in 2017 also openly opposed Trump’s removal bathroom protections for transgender students. Her willingness to use her huge platform to support us earned dedication from a large queer fanbase.
Queen of Genovia, Queen of our hearts. Do the Princess Diaries films count as queer cinema? I’ve watched both so many times that I have just decided the answer is yes. Hathaway, despite being one of the top-earning women in her field (and in 2015 the highest) is often pegged as “too serious”, “inauthentic” or “over-eager” by her critics and the public. But in queer circles, she is revered as one of our staunchest allies. It’s not difficult to see why – Hathaway has repeatedly defended our rights and supported LGBTQ+ causes. In 2008 she said at the HRC Dinner:
I'm not being brave, I'm being a decent human being. And I don't think I should receive an award for that. Or for merely stating what I believe to be true: that love is a human experience, not a political statement.
When I was fourteen and first heard that speech, it felt like a radical statement. Princess Mia had stepped out of my childhood and told me that she was there for me – it wasn’t quite so difficult being in the closet anymore. And again this year, a decade after that speech, Hathaway spoke again at the same event:
It is important to acknowledge with the exception of being a cisgender male, everything about how I was born has put me at the current centre of a damaging and widely-accepted myth That myth is that gayness orbits around straightness, transgender orbits around cisgender, and that all races orbit around whiteness.
Hathaway acknowledges her privilege alongside her support of us, and that makes her support feel all the more genuine.
The not-so-subtle conclusion I’m drawing here – famous women are better LGBT+ voices and allies than men. I may have only picked three women here – but that’s for brevity’s sake. Men who speak for us are most often one of us. Our straight male supporters might offer near-nude shoots in gay men’s magazines, but that’s hardly enough (and it hammers home my point when women are just often the focus of articles in said magazines). It was easy to research the accomplishments and support these women have offered to our community – because that information is so readily available. Our icons are so often women because they are visibly and actively supporting us – so they receive our love in return. It should not be difficult to support equality, and it is not too much to ask.
For more by Alex Nolan, see Yas Hunty // Unpacking Gay Pop Culture with Tom and Alex