Social Question

tinyfaery's avatar

What makes a celebrity a gay icon?

Asked by tinyfaery (43929points) January 1st, 2010

Liza Minnelli
Lady Gaga
Judy Garland
Bette Midler
Sandra Bernhard
The Golden Girls
Barbara Streisand
Princess Diana

All of these people are gay icons. Impersonating these women is the core of drag culture. I have never understood what makes a gay icon. What do these women have in common? Any ideas about why and how someone becomes a gay icon?

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8 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think at the heart of drag culture is paying homage/deconstruction (these things are simultaneous) of a femininity that is over the top and also threatening to femininity because of how powerful these people are in their field. Not all those that do drag are gay but many people assume gay men (men, imo, do the majority of drag) must be feminine – people conflate sexuality and gender all the time. These icons become someone to emulate because they, themselves, are a created persona and a created persona can therefore become anyone’s persona.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I don’t think a person becomes a gay icon in any other way than by being open and accepting of having fans who happen to be gay.

You’re asking 2 questions really. The first is about famous women gay people love and the second is about drag queens. I am gay, and I happen to be a drag queen. The vast majority of drag is not about impersonating a famous woman. The vast majority of drag queens develop a drag persona for performing. By the way, in the many years I’ve done drag, I’ve seen one straight man do it, and he did it for a charity performance.

Drag queens do what we do for the performance art. We do it for the attention.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I think certain women performers who have struggled deeply on some level (at least in olden days, like Judy), or who busted their arses to get where they are and have a fearlessness about them (like Madonna and Lady Gaga today) and a way of transgressing the common mores of what femininity is, those are the women who become gay icons.

Rude_Bear's avatar

I am gay. I don’t give a rats ass about the people you listed. I will confess I don’t understand or appreciate drag queens either. My assessment is that all gay people cannot be lumped together as having the same values, icons or personalities.

Zuma's avatar

Relax there @Rude_Bear, nobody’s lumping all gay people together here.

I agree with @Simone_De_Beauvoir and @hawaii_jake and would add that these are all Divas, or glamorous, powerful, larger-than-life women whose femininity is as exaggerated as it is celebrated. They are the center of attention for all their adoring fans and, as such, they are the living iconic embodiment of every drag queen’s fantasy of being similarly adored as a performer.

Way back in olden times, BC (before condoms), before the Gay Liberation movement in the early 1970s, the only people who were publicly known as homosexuals were those who were too effeminate to hide it. (See Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant who the autobiography of a famous British homosexual who came out in the 1920s.) So, the prevailing assumption in society at that time was that all gay men were effeminate. And, accordingly, they were reviled and despised by red-blooded straight men and, sometimes, by their own more masculine counterparts who could pass as straight.

In order to defend themselves against the psychic pain of all this disapproval, they banded together and turned this stigma on its head. They developed a brand of “camp” humor, in which they dressed in drag, exaggerated their effeminacy, and turned it into an artform. Camp’s parody of femininity was accompanied by a clever, bitchy, devastatingly sarcastic repartee. It turned the tables on straight men by thrusting a grotesquely distorted image of femininity in their face, toward which they would be alternately attracted and repelled to hilarious effect.

In any case, they developed it into an art-form—one offshoot of which survives today in the drag queen pageants that take place in gay enclaves. One category of these competitions is (or was) “best impersonation” of one of the pop divas mentioned above.

Cher was one of the first to acknowledge and adopt these stylized “excesses” for her own costumes, giving them legitimacy and mirroring them back to the drag queen community, creating a kind of symbiotic feedback loop in which the style became ever more elaborate. This is why Cher’s wigs and get-ups resemble more what drag queens wear than anything women normally wear. Other pop divas followed suit in their own way and achieved a similar kind of iconic status in the community.

Anyway, it was these early drag queens who got fed up being hassled by vice cops, pushed back, pulled up parking meters and lit cop cars on fire during the Stonewall riots—and it is their memory we commemorate every year in our Gay Freedom Day parades. Without them we would still be an invisible minority.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Sometimes just being gay is good enough for hollywood.

tinyfaery's avatar

That has nothing to do with the question. But it’s expected.

OpryLeigh's avatar

I believe that woman who are slightly over the top in certain aspects (that could be looks wise, personality, opinions etc) must be easier to impersonate in a tongue in cheek way than woemn who are shy and retiring or too modest. I think it’s all to do with who is the most memorable. Everyone knows who Cher is (whether they like her or not) because of her personality as well as her singing and acting ability but not everyone knows who Lea Salonga is, for example. Both (are personal favourites of mine which is why I used them as examples) have had good, long careers as actresses and singers but I have never seen a drag artist do Lea!

Apart from Princess Diana everyone you listed above has a loud or openly opinionated personality and I think that’s what it is about. They are easier to mimic in more than just looks.

Of course everything I said above was just a guess but it makes sense to me.

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