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Cheat Sheet: Gay Icons

by Rachel Devitt  |  March 29, 2011


Gay men and female pop stars have always had a special relationship. For decades, the latter have spoken to (and sometimes for) a demographic that has endured a great deal of prejudice and abuse, providing a mainstream voice (or at least outlet) for those who historically have had none in mainstream society. To adore a particular diva has been, at times, a means of building community, articulating a dangerous desire or simply making friends. But gay men also have plenty to offer their beloved divas: long renowned as tastemakers and trendsetters, gay men have increasingly become a sought-after demographic for the pop diva, more than one of whom has the Friends of Dorothy (and, especially, their dance clubs) to thank for her latest hit or, sometimes, her entire career.

Many a pop diva, therefore, has specifically sought to woo the gay male demographic. She may embrace big dance-pop beats or pen a flat-out coming-out anthem. She may submit to clubby remixes or preview her latest song in an LGBT club. And lately, thanks in part to Lady Gaga and the disco divas who inspired her, the pop chanteuse may also find it not only possible, but necessary, to make her romance with gay men known to society as a whole.

This is the position Ms. Britney Spears has currently taken up with her new album. In the short time since her last album, the world of pop has changed dramatically. Club-ready (and club-inspired) dance-pop is the sound du jour a sound Britney helped create but in which she now has lots of competition. And uncloseted catering to the gay community has likewise become fashionable. Long beloved by gay male fans, Britney now seems to be actively pursuing them with both her new sound and events like the performance she staged in San Francisco's Castro district (complete with drag queens as the opening act). In return, she recently beat out Madonna as Out magazine's biggest gay icon and expressed her support for LGBT people (including her own sons, should they be gay) in the interview. By reworking herself as a fabulous, gay-friendly grand dame of pop, Brit-Brit may just graduate to grown-up pop stardom after all! And she finds herself in some pretty fabulous company, too.

The Givens: Cher, Barbra, Bette, Liza, Tina (no last names necessary)

You know them. You love them. You (along with generations of gay men and, well, everyone) idolize them for their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (to quote RuPaul). Maybe, just maybe, you have even bought a wig and pranced around in it in front of your bedroom mirror with a hairbrush for a microphone pretending to be them. That's OK, honey. It's what they want. It's what they inspire. Don't get us wrong or anything: you will never be that fabulous in real life. But it never hurts to keep trying, sweetie. When you think "gay music icons," these are the ladies who come to mind first. Worship. And work.

The Up-and-Comers: Britney, Christina, Beyonce, Gaga

Like you, these young ladies aspire to be as fierce and fabulous as the grand dames above them. Unlike you, they kind of already are. The first three (among others) laid the groundwork, but Gaga has thrown down the gauntlet as far as gay icons go, aligning herself explicitly with her gay fans as not only a supporter but a part of their community. Pay attention, divas. There's a new sheriff in town and baby, she was born this way.
See also: Possibly Adele, a different kind of diva, according to a recent Slate article.

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