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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

¿WHAT MAKES A GAY ICON?

Change has always been at the heart of the gay rights movement whether it’s political, societal or personal. But as the push for equality skips tentatively down the path of progression, subtle shifts are occurring in the blueprints of LGBT culture. With young gay people growing up with an equal age of consent, protection against workplace discrimination and the ability to marry one another, their role in society is bound to be significantly different from those who came before them. As such, their selection of heroes, role models and icons could be changing too.

Every generation has a different set of criteria for what it means to be a gay icon but the common denominator seems to be an ability to overcome adversity. Historically, this accolade was bestowed upon the female starlets of Hollywood’s golden age with Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford being pushed to the very top of the homo hierarchy. These women had accomplished what gay men always dreamed of; they defied all expectations and achieved recognition just for being themselves. At a time when gay people were systematically repressed by all aspects of society, these glamorous women embodied both the struggle and the ultimate goal. But as views on homosexuality slowly shifted in the right direction, tragic glamour no longer fitted the mould and Hollywood’s finest were gradually dethroned in favour of the strong, independent pop princess. Artists like Cher and Madonna set the template with their unapologetic sexuality and willingness to challenge authority, gaining legions of loyal fans by embracing the very community that helped them on the way to stardom.

Almost every diva since has followed this guaranteed path to success, but the latest crop are taking things a step further by using their status as gay icons to actively campaign for real social change. Lady Gaga has become the de facto spokesperson for every queer kid in the universe and is consistently vocal in her passion for equality. Even younger artists like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato are politically provocative when it comes to supporting gay rights, with Cyrus sporting an equal marriage tattoo and Lovato covering her otherwise-naked male dancers with Vladimir Putin masks in solidarity for her gay Russian fan base. This new breed of icon is no longer a mere representation of our inner struggle; they are passionately aligning themselves with their gay fans and personally championing our cause right on the front line.

But with so many musicians, actors and reality stars vying for that coveted icon status (a cursory glance at the Wikipedia page lists almost every celebrity on the planet) a new generation of inspiring role models are emerging from within our own community to become heroes in their own right. Michael Sam recently became the first openly gay player to be drafted to the NFL and gave this momentous event even more heart by kissing his boyfriend on national television. Ellen Page also gave a rousing speech earlier this year in which she professed a personal responsibility to improve the lives of others just by being herself, while stars such as Matt Bomer, Tom Daley and Jim Parsons have all embraced the casual approach to coming out. These people are not setting out to change the world through vociferous political activism; they are just being authentic, open and honest in the hope that others will be inspired to do the same. They may not see themselves as role models, but many young people will undoubtedly see them as such.


While the historical canon of gay icons will always be worshipped and new generations are sure to discover the joys of Judy and Joan, it would seem that we are gradually expanding the criteria for admission into the rainbow hall of fame. In an age where gay people want to be respected for their differences and to speak openly without fear of mockery, judgement or harassment, it makes perfect sense that our icons have become those people who proudly put this into action every day. This shift could perhaps reflect a change in our own internal dialogue; by gaining confidence in what it means to be gay and securing our place in the modern world, we are more willing to crown ourselves as heroes instead of those who speak out on our behalf. As we develop our voice and encourage others to do the same, we are becoming the very role models we once aspired to be.

2 comments:

  1. Great gay doctors, lawyers, artists, politicians, and so on, should be the people that we admire and look up to, as well as all those fucking hot, hung men we see in the porno movies! To be "GAY" is great! To be known as "GAY" is even better!

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