By Devon Chodzin ’19
People have known it as a sort of “fact of life” for some time now – that many gay men idolize prominent female entertainers in music and film. From the Bette Davises and Judy Garlands of early Hollywood to the Chers and Madonnas of the New Wave to the Ariana Grandes and Carly Rae Jepsens of today, there appears to be a trend amongst many queer men to adore famous leading ladies. I, for one, love and strongly identify with Canadian synthpop singer and visual artist Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes. But why?
That’s tough to pinpoint. If it were all about trying to claim and come to terms with femininity, either exogenously assigned or self-determined, why are there only a handful of women who are identified as “gay icons?” What about those women who achieve icon-status sets them apart?
Some say that what sets a “gay icon” apart from other leading ladies is a commitment to a larger-than-life persona. Icons like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are known for incorporating dramatic visual elements into their music. Lady Gaga is particularly known for her wildly unusual fashion choices and Beyoncé, for dropping an hour-long movie to accompany her sixth studio album, Lemonade.
In truth, there’s really no smoking gun which describes why exactly queer communities and queer men especially are so starstruck by leading female celebrities. The many different ways in which these communities show their appreciation is probably worth its own volume. That being said, the way queer men show their devotion to some artists can be reflective of their privileged position in society as men.
All too often, the white gay men which comprise a huge portion of the Beyhive (Beyoncé’s fanbase) commodify her blackness and take it for themselves, citing an “inner black woman.” This trope is common and associated with white gay men adopting stereotypes about black women and their perceived attitudes or behaviors. This misogynoir (racialized misogyny against black women) isn’t just limited to Beyoncé’s fanbase. It manifests itself throughout popular culture in essentially every possible permutation and combination.
While queer men are more than capable of appreciating female talent in a healthy way, there is no doubt that gay male fanbases have exerted their male privilege and hid behind their queer identity to shield themselves from claims of misogyny. Too often, gay men are quick to harass their favorite stars for personal information and release dates. Blogger Perez Hilton is notorious for harassing female pop icons to the point where legal action is necessary. Across media platforms, gay men reveal their misogynistic potential in ritualistic slut-shaming, body-shaming, and racial fetishization of their favorite pop stars or, more frequently, of feminine icons they individually find less appealing. Sadly, it’s also not uncommon to see gay men questioning the validity of the gender of trans icons, and even seemingly innocuous jokes about the wildly successful actress Laverne Cox or her body end up reinforcing some already monstrous obstacles towards success for black trans women like her.
The relationship between gay men and misogyny or racism or transphobia is not often discussed. However, in the music industry, it’s an absolutely essential conversation. If the popular record industry is going to embrace LGBTQ+ consumers (and artists), it’s due time for record companies to recognize the unique ways they can support their talent and see the risks in forcing pop stars to craft a gay-friendly image.
The conversation about gay men and misogyny expands well beyond the discussion of pop music. As a white queer man, it’s important to recall that I can exert and reinforce misogynistic social structure just by virtue of being a man (bolstered by my whiteness, I might add). Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t erase other privileges, and in the end, there’s always something political about our numerous identities.
In the meantime, myself and my fellow LGBTQ friends are eagerly awaiting Joanne, the fifth studio album to be released by arguably the creme-de-la-creme of icons for the community, Lady Gaga. “Perfect Illusion” has already captivated audiences worldwide and Joanne promises unique collaborations and a revitalized image for the pop sensation.