Monday, July 13, 2009

A Brief History of Gay Icons- Why We Love 'em

There's a quote from a Woody Allen movie, Celebrity: "You can tell a lot about a society by the people they choose to celebrate.". So why do the gays obsess about some celebrities and have lukewarm feelings about others? Why was Farrah Fawcett a gay icon yet Michael Jackson not?

Decades before oh-so-gay Sir Elton John penned the song Candle In the Wind, Marilyn Monroe was already my protector spirit, my concept of perfection in a human and thousands of gays along with me were already in love with the vulnerable, sexy, nymph-queen of America. Marilyn is still our modern-day Aphrodite. An immortal star amongst the gods of Mt. Hollywood. Why are Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Britney Spears, Princess Diana, Cher, Angelina Jolie, Kylie Minogue all godesses to us gays? They all share common demoninators. They were not supposed to be the stars they had become, they fed on tragedy and struggle, transforming it into grace and enviable beauty. Above all, these tortured souls had a certain flamboyance to the way they lived their lives so fiercely, slicing through any obstacles or critics like a hot knife through butter. It's an added bonus if they have a biting, acerbic wit like Bette Midler, Lilly Tomlin, Sandra Bernhard and the queen of sardonism; Kathy Griffin. It's funny how this sub-group of gay icons are traditionally awkward, ugly ducklings. It's part of their appeal to us. Wouldn't it be great to see a new gay icon come about that can combine the beauty of Marilyn with the wicked comedic talent of Kathy Griffin? That would be a Super-gay icon and a one-stop shop of entertainment for the gay masses.
My reasons why I related to Marilyn were many. How she found a way to get away with being herself even though 1950's America didn't appreciate a woman of her openly sexual expression. How she smiled away her inner turmoil and magically extracted beauty from pain. How she wanted children so badly she kept trying even though her body betrayed her and repeatedly miscarried. How she harnessed her sexual prowess to get whatever she wanted in life but she couldn't find her one true love to make her feel safe in the world. Most intriguing, was the aura about her. Her light would lift my spirits and get me through the worst growing pains of my teenage years. She was a guiding light in my quest to find my true self. My room was plastered with posters of Marilyn on every spare inch of my walls and I read just about every book written on her short life. Her wall space quickly became shared with Farrah Fawcett as I fell further into puberty and Charlie's Angel's became the hottest thing on TV.
Today no one questions why Transformer hottie, Megan Fox would tattoo Marilyn's visage on her forearm or why Madonna has emulated her at various stages in her life in style, video, even living her same trials with failed relationships. Marilyn is still very much alive generations later. She is still on the yearly Forbes list of top grossing dead celebrities among which Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Andy Warhol are also listed.

I remember how thousands of straight white and black men idolized Michael Jackson trying their hardest to emulate his smooth moves and add to their "game" with the ladies, spending $400- for the latest Thriller or Beat It leather jacket. Still, Michael didn't cut it as a gay icon even though all his mannerisms and flair, signaled he was one of us. It had a lot to do with the fact that he never really came out. It's hard to relate to a celebrity when it's not really clear what they are or what they feel strongly about. Last report from a close friend was that he was none of the above and was asexual. Elizabeth Taylor once said in an interview, "he was not from this Earth".

Whoever said that gays hate women definitely do not know us at all. Ironically, 99.9% of gay icons are women. We adore women because we empathize with them. We have been heartbroken by the same male dogs as our women counterparts. We struggle in a world that considers feminity a weakness. We are in essence, stuck in the same game.
Another gay icon was Princess Diana, not just for her work to raise awareness and funds to fight AIDS but for her poise, her quiet rebellion, her audacious smile in the face of so many rigid constraints and how she glided through all those obstacles to make a real change in the world and unintentionally making herself a heroine for so many. She is one of the few celebrity deaths that inflicted a pang on the hearts of so many wolrdwide when news of her tragic death reached the news. The world was not ready to let go of her light and is still lamenting her loss to this day.

We see the tragedy in these goddesses that we have in ourselves. Their staying power in our minds is how they tirelessly struggled to get what they couldn't ever get. For Marilyn it was true love and to have a child. It's not surprising why Lindsay Lohan, Anna Nicole Smith are among the many modern day starlets that idolize her. Britney Spears is so emotionally connected to Marilyn that she purchased her cemetery plot next to her's in Hollywood Forever Cemetery and even owns a pair of her jeans. It's no mistake that Britney's Circus album mirrors Marilyn's shoot with photographer Milton H. Greene's titled, Marilyn At The Circus.

Although today's gay youth connect more to Britney than Marilyn, her stronghold to the title of modern-day Aphrodite has yet to find a competitor memorable enough to topple her from her post. Her grace was never before seen but hopefully will be seen again tomorrow. Who will be our next gay icon? It definitely won't be Lindsey.

Enjoy the never before published pictures above of a 24 year old Marilyn before she was "somebody". The quotes below are Marilyn's as well.

  • Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you're a human being, you feel, you suffer.
  • What good is it being Marilyn Monroe? Why can't I just be an ordinary woman? A woman who can have a family ... I'd settle for just one baby. My own baby.
  • I have too many fantasies to be a housewife.... I guess I am a fantasy.
  • It's better to be unhappy alone than unhappy with someone.

  • It's better for the whole world to know you, even as a sex star, than never to be known at all.

  • Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.
  • The body is meant to be seen, not all covered up.
  • Sex is part of nature. I go along with nature.
  • Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.
  • 1956 interview about her childhood: Looking back, I guess I used to play-act all the time. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.
  • Also from Lee Strasberg's eulogy: Marilyn Monroe was a legend. In her lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain. For the entire world she became a symbol of the eternal feminine.

A recent exhibit at London's National Portrait Gallery titled "Gay Icons"

Lindsay Lohan's Marilyn spread:

Britney buys cemetery plot next to Marilyn's:


Eduardo Guize said...

Great post. All those women represented a sexuality and an emancipation not accepted by the traditional male chauvinist society and, as a consequence, their love affairs were always doomed for disaster. Beautiful and desired, but too modern for the times they had to live. Misunderstood, but all with a sort of halo of saintity (because of their fame, their humanitarian activism or their condition of martyrs).

That's very similar to how we see ourselves as gay people, especially in our teens when we start dealing with our sexuality, and how we want to transcend above discrimination and to show we have a lot to give to society.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved the blog, good job! It has the power to definitely change the way some people think about gay people, and celebrity lifestyle.
Marilyn is an icon, not only to the "gay community" but also to a lot of modern girls who are struggling as well with all she struggled with.
Not finding true love, and being criticized for looking for it. I say this is the best post i've read from anyone in a while and you should get more people to read them! perhaps you can change them a lot!

EricInMiami said...

Thanks Eduardo-very eloquently put. so glad u liked it!

grettel j. singer said...

me encantó. besos


Eric, you're my gay icon! :)

grettel j. singer said...

i ditto johnny díaz