It’s common knowledge that gay men seem to have more role models that are women than men. I come from an earlier time of coming out, so we really didn’t have openly LGBTQ people to idolize. So we latched on to what was most available and it is funny how most gay men seem to develop role models from the same groups of women, even before we come out and meet other gay men. The likes of Madonna, Diana Ross, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Linda Carter, Lucille Ball and the lists go on. Watching shows like Bewitched! I Dream Of Jeannie, Designing Women, Golden Girls, Wonder Woman, and Dynasty. We all seemed to have attached to this same pool of strength of character, funny quips, and pride.
When I was a young gay man, there weren’t many gay male role models we could easily identify with or pattern after. Sure we had the likes of Elton John, David Bowie, Paul Lynde, Melissa Etheridge, and a scant few others, but prior to early 2000s it wasn’t as socially acceptable to be out and famous. To many characters in movies and shows were heterosexual idealized versions of what we were, so we often appeared weak, lack of depth, overly effeminate, and always codifying to someone more masculine. So it’s no wonder why we latched on to women who seemed to be true icons and forces to be reckoned with. Picture the boardroom scene of Mommy Dearest as Joan Crawford addresses the board of PepsiCo.
Growing up I always knew my mother was a strong person, I may have not known the depths of her strength at the time, but I knew it in my bones. So little seems to truly phase her, I am not saying she didn’t get upset, it’s just that very few things seemed to throw her off kilter. We were, simply put, a poor family. Both of my parents worked 40-hour weeks to just scratch a survival. My father ruined my mother’s credit shortly after their marriage. And I even remember the point at which my mother said she had had enough of working in factories and started taking night classes to better her options of employment. All of this while raising two kids and one that seemed to have every medical issue that a kid could, namely me. I look back now and know that I admired those qualities in her and was the first role model I had for strength.
Wonder Woman was probably one of the first super heroes for me, I idolized many things about her. As Diana Prince she fit in with the people around her and they were unaware of who she truly was, she had to struggle for people to accept her for her strengths. These were things I felt, but didn’t truly understand. I knew growing up that I was different that my cousins or friends, innately different. When I was around them I had to act a certain way that I felt allowed me to fit in and they never knew who I truly was at heart. When Diana Prince was witness to a crime or wrongdoing, she find a place in seclusion and spin around as fast as she could and transform into Wonder Woman and then she would be off fighting that bad guy. Her full strength could be used, her intelligence was accepted, and people were in awe of her true nature. I longed for that, in the seclusion of my imagination or private spaces I could be whom I felt inside. The red, blue, and gold outfit with the knee high red leather boots and golden jewelry were all things I was awestruck over. She was the very embodiment of what I wanted, freedom to be what I felt I was in my soul.
I remember dancing to my 45s singing Diana Ross dressed in my mother’s gown, wearing a bra that I used stuffed animals to mimic having breasts, trundling around in my mother’s shoes singing into a curling brush. I was on stage performing for my fans and giving them my very essence where in truth it was usually taking turns singing with my sister. It felt more right to me than any of the times I played basketball or football during lunch with my straight male friends. Those were the times I felt that I truly had to shut myself away in a small box.
Ah memory lane, how it does distract from the purpose of this post. So let’s circle the wagons and regroup. As I said, it is amazing how so many young gay men develop these ideals without fully understanding who they are and meeting others that share similar experiences. What gives us this collective desire to gravitate to these models and does it hold true today? Professor Heather Love a professor of English as Pennsylvania University has studied gender studies and queer theory states that gay men choose women becomes women are marginalized and we can identify with them.
Enter the modern era, with the onset of the early 2000s, our equality came and it was much easier for artists, actors, and sports figures to be openly gay. You can look at the music artists today to find someone who can sing about the struggles you go through. Take Lady Gaga for example, many LGBTQ youth easily identify with her ease of gender bending and music that speaks to our soul for strength and courage. International star Pabllo Vittar is a gender bending self proclaimed “Drag Performer” who already has hit songs with the like of Diplo. Check them out!!! Londoner Olly Alexander is breaking into the pop scene writing songs specifically about male on male love, something that was mostly unheard of openly, in my youth. Unless you count the veiled references from The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Pet Shop Boys. He is known for his honeyed voice and soulful R&B textures. And Big Freeda the undisputed queen of bounce music. A native of New Orleans, she still keeps it real by performing for her hometown. She has worked with the likes of Drake, Beyoncé, and Lizzo. And she still is a force in the queer underground scenes. Another you should check out.
The point is that today there are much more options available for LGBTQ youth, so do gay men still flock to the same female icons as we did in earlier generations. Or is there a need for us to pattern ourselves after them with the onset of more openly out LGBTQ icons. That is probably a questions better left to the individual as it is as personal as coming out. Personally, I continue to find my strength in strong women and will continue to do so. Their qualities are the fiber of my being and the strength on which I rely. As a testament, I leave you with Julia Sugarbaker.