The 12 Greatest Female Gay Icons of All Time
BY MICHAEL MUSTO
Who says gay men donâ€™t love women? We worship them, as long as theyâ€™re famous, talented, and have some kind of aesthetic that reaches out to our inner diva. So letâ€™s bring on the femme adoration and celebrate the idols most worth gay-genuflecting in front of through eternity. The 12 most fabulous gay icons of all time (female division) areâ€¦
The woman who could tear your heart out with a melody and some moist eyes, Judy appeals to the outcast in us, as we long to go over the rainbow and find acceptance and a pot of gold. Her pain surrounding â€œThe Man That Got Awayâ€ also speaks to us, along with her love of guys with lots of eyelinerâ€”sometimes to the point of marrying them! Judyâ€™s vulnerability made her a quivering gay icon, as did the fact that for years, she kept on going, able to belt out one more song despite the rigors of the business that always tried to squeeze more juice out of her brilliance. Her death shortly before Stonewall links her forever to modern gay history. [Runners-up: Bette Davis and Joan Crawfordâ€”especially together! And Tallulahâ€™s always a trip and a half. Oh, and Marilyn was really pretty.]
Sheâ€™s a spunky, sassy superstar with a voice from the gods and a sense of humor so pungent it could only have come from an outcast who found herself center stage. Babs has long been the one we listen to, watch, admire, and imitate. There was that large road bump when she failed to get The Normal Heart produced, but maybe that worked out for the best since the lady doctor probably shouldnâ€™t be the central character, lol. As she now tries to get a movie of Gypsy produced, the gays are getting weirdly excited again. [Special mention goes to the original Hello, Dolly! star, Carol Channing. Gays have always loved Carolâ€™s saucer-eyed way of playing golddiggers and yentas. Before her parade passes by, no one should rain on it. Big kiss to Ethel Merman tooâ€”and to Liz Taylor, for her fabled career, staggering love life, and groundbreaking AIDS work.]
â€œBathhouse Betteâ€ wowed toweled men at the Continental Baths and went on to a gigantic career as a star capable of both raunchy hilarity and heartbreaking pathos. Sheâ€™s gone through periods of not being our favorite due to her varying moods and utterances, but overall, the breadth of the ladyâ€™s genius keeps her in the pantheon. Youâ€™ve got to have friends, and through the sheer force of her talent, Bette is still one of mine. [Another good Bette: Joan Rivers! When she asks, â€œCan we talk?â€ the gay answer is always â€œCan we listen?â€]
The smile, the saucer eyes, the vocal uplift…it all adds up to a diva gays love for the relentlessness of her sparkle. Add one great movie performance (Lady Sings The Blues), one fabulously campy one (Mahogany), and one legendary flop (The Wiz), and youâ€™ve got a lady whoâ€™s definitely â€œthe Bossâ€â€”and who still turns it out in concert after all these years. Whatâ€™s more, she and the Supremes did a 1968 Funny Girl album which may be one of the most gay-friendly acts of cultural cross-pollination in history. No one rained on her Motown parade.
Gays love a pop diva with full-throttle sexuality and great moves, and BeyoncÃ© remains the queen, cementing that when she played Dianaâ€”sorry, Deenaâ€”in Dreamgirls. But I have to give a special shout out to Kylie Minogue, whoâ€™s more cerebral than sexual, and who is a long-running gay bar favorite, whether in videos or in the flesh.
Judyâ€™s daughter has a lot of the same pipes, vulnerability, and love of gays as mama, though sheâ€™s carved her own niche of â€œtruly terrific, absolutely trueâ€ musical storytelling. Ring them bells for Liza. Gays cotton to her festive spirit (â€œCabaretâ€), her undrenchable sense of hope (â€œMaybe This Timeâ€), her big-town mania (â€œNew York, New Yorkâ€; â€œCity Lightsâ€), and her lashes.
A straight manâ€™s fantasy as the Material Girl, she was also a gay manâ€™s dream, seeing as she appreciated her rainbow-inclusive fan base, indulged in â€œvoguing,â€ and had some closerthanthis lesbian gal pals. The anti-Judy Garland, Madonna appeals to gays because sheâ€™s not vulnerable and canâ€™t be tackled. Sheâ€™s tough, self-possessed, and radioactively in the game at all times. Iâ€™m scared a huh.
More than a Madonna mini-me, Gaga has taken advantage of the social networking skills and overall frankness of her generation to not only sing about gay rights, but to speak about them and really make a difference in the process. Her concerts are like gay pep rallies anchored by Gaga serving as a motivational speaker for LGBTs in training. For such a Little Monster, the woman is really quite adorable.
A bisexual temptress who ignited the screen (often in manâ€™sâ€”or gorillaâ€™sâ€”garb), Marlene had refreshing political leanings to go with her iconoclastic glow and bowler hat. Falling in love with Marlene againâ€¦always wanted to.
As an Andy Warhol superstar, Candy exuded the breathy sexuality and wit to sear her into the LGBT legend forever. Her work was relatively obscure yet monumental. As she explained it, â€œIâ€™ve had small parts in big pictures and big parts in small pictures.â€ The wispy blonde died of cancer at 29 and hordes came to the funeral, among them Gloria Swanson, saluting the coffin with her gloved hand (says her chronicler, Jeremiah Newton.) A nod also goes to Edie Beale, the riveting eccentric who summed up revolutionary costuming for all time in the classic 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. She was staunch.
After the apocalypse, there will only be Cher and a â€œroachâ€ someone handed her in the â€˜70s. The headdressed diva, whoâ€™s had chart hits in every decade starting in Cleopatraâ€™s time, is a real-life fantasy figure with all kinds of talents, plus a fascinating life you couldnâ€™t make up. Her lesbian daughter is now her son, and her fans include so many LGBTs that, if youâ€™re at a Cher concert and the people to either side of you are straight, then youâ€™re definitely gay.