Gay Iconography Hub

Gay Iconography: Janet Mock's 'Realness' Revolution

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There are lots of reasons to celebrate writer, activist and host Janet Mock. She’s an inspiring speaker, a brilliant writer and an eloquent advocate for women, people of color and the trans community.

Even though she doesn’t identify as gay (which never kept the icon label from Barbra or Cher or Liza), her work has far-reaching implications that extend throughout the LGBT community. Since first sharing her story in Marie Claire magazine in 2011, Mock has been an outspoken and visible presence in the media, from her work as an editor for and Marie Claire to her bestselling memoir, Redefining Realness. Her heartfelt, straightforward approach to discussing complex issues like intersectionality combined with her Beyoncé-level ferocity are enough to warrant admiration, but Mock’s work has more direct ties to the greater gay community. As she explained to Autostraddle last year:

“You know, I really I wish that we could really talk about gender expectations within the [LGBT] movement. I think that when we’re all born we’re told that if you’re assigned male or female at birth and you’re supposed to, you know, like the ‘opposite sex,’ that’s who you’re supposed to be with. I think it’s about all of those supposed gender expectations. And I think that if we would have kind of started the movement there in that sense, I think we could have been more cohesive in our journeys forward without excluding people.”

Get familiar with more of Janet Mock’s work, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Willkommen Alan Cumming

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Star of stage and screen Alan Cumming has been one of the most outspoken and visible out actors in the LGBT community. From his breakout role as the Emcee in Cabaret to his work on network TV, Cumming has turned even his smallest roles into memorable affairs.

He married his partner Grant Shaffer in New York City, five years after they entered a civil partnership in London. Before that he was married to and divorced from actress Hilary Lyon. He identifies as bisexual. In an interview with FourTwoNine magazine he said:

“As for choice, I have no choice but to be bisexual. But in America, especially, everything has to be black and white. Even when you say you’ve watched a movie, people ask you what it’s about. I always go, well, why don’t you watch it and see? Everyone wants to know everything ahead of time. People are afraid of the unknown, so there is an element of that which goes into this sexuality question because people are freaked out if they can’t put you in a box. And even when they put you in the bisexual box–if you are living with a man–it doesn’t make sense to them.”

His advocacy for LGBT causes earned him a Vito Russo Award at the 2005 Annual GLAAD Media Awards and the Humanitarian Award from HRC. He promoted same-sex marriage in Scotland and supported AmFAR and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

See some of his career highlights and share your thoughts, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Janet, Ms. Jackson If You're Nasty


When it comes to the things that make an icon, Janet Jackson seems to tick every box. Janet is a genre-spanning triple-threat whose decades-long career arc is full of some of the greatest pop music and spectacle of all time, placing her in close contention for the crown of Queen of Pop. Her videos set new standards with their choreography and blend of urban, industrial and pop music. Lyrically, she’s explored feminism, personal empowerment, politics, depression, AIDS and same-sex relationships.

For the millions of fans she’s amassed, she’s had a particularly strong connection to the LGBT community. GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano described her relevance when she was honored with the Vanguard Award at the 2008 Annual GLAAD Media Awards:

We are delighted to honor Janet Jackson at the 19th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles as such a visible, welcoming and inclusive ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Ms. Jackson has a tremendous following inside the LGBT community and out, and having her stand with us against the defamation that LGBT people still face in our country is extremely significant.

She recorded a PSA for Logo and GLSEN following the murder of fifteen-year-old Lawrence King saying “None of us are safe, until all of us are safe.” She also created a video for the It Gets Better Project, explaining her involvement to Larry King on CNN, “(I was) one of those kids... holding everything inside... internalizing everything. And that really can affect you, and feeling helpless and hopeless, and finding that person that you can trust, that adult, like I did later on in life, that I felt comfortable and safe to tell my issues, my worries, my pains, my aches to. This is what the Trevor Project is really all about.” In 2012, she announced she was producing a documentary, “Truth,” focused on the lives of transgender people throughout the world.

Let me take you on an escapade through some of our favorite Janet tracks, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Carol Burnett Is A Sketch Comedy Queen


She’s won Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, a Peabody, and more, but if there is one piece of hardware associated with the great Carol Burnett, it’s a curtain rod. The absolute queen of sketch comedy, Burnett is responsible for some of the most memorable moments in television history, including a certain green dress.

Adored by all audiences, she’s revered in the gay community for her outrageous humor and over the top performances. A singer, actress and comedienne, she’s inspired many LGBT performers, especially more than a few drag queens, including RuPaul (who called Drag Race a new generation's Carol Burnett Show) and Sherry Vine. In 2010, she appeared at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center’s Anniversary gala along with host Lily Tomlin and honoree Jane Lynch.

Check out some of our favorite Burnett TV clips, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: What You Said In 2014


When I started writing Gay Iconography in late 2013, I hoped to explore why some celebrities and artists held mass appeal — not to be confused with universal appeal, mind you — within the gay community. Over time, what began as a light-hearted feature celebrating these stars with a few YouTube clips became a lightning rod of conversation and, shall we say, spirited debate.

The original premise, as stated in the early posts, was to “present a proposed iconic figure or character and then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts.” The second half of the stated mission — asking you to weigh in with your thoughts — is what’s made it most interesting for me.

This year, the first full calendar year of the column, Gay Iconography has received more than 1,300 comments (and, yes, I read them all). I thought it would be interesting to look back at lessons learned from these conversations and see if we’re any closer to recognizing what draws some of us to these cultural cornerstones.

The conversation may not have always been nuanced (and, of course, it did occasionally devolve into name-calling and flamewars like any comments section on the Internet), but there have been some surprising revelations. For example, while I had expected some controversial choices like Queen Latifah and Donna Summer to be met with criticism, and I could have anticipated younger picks like Robyn or Frank Ocean to be easily dismissed, I was still surprised to see people deny the impact of, say, Cher, Madonna or Dolly Parton. There’s always room to debate the merits of any one individual, but it seemed at times as if some folks aimed to refute the existence of a unique LGBT culture to represent at all.

However, looking back over the comments from this year, some trends do start to emerge as to what some might consider a gay icon. See some of the most prevailing ideas perpetuated in the comments and let us know if you agree, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Pee-Wee's Big Holiday Adventure


If there’s a case to be made for nurture versus nature, I’d have to cop to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special playing at least a small role in my personal little gay development. The primetime special, initially aired December 1988, is some of the greatest — and gayest — holiday TV of all time. Now, as of this week, the special (along with the rest of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse series) is available on Netflix to delight a whole new generation.

For a children’s program, it was an incredibly unique world, blending retrofuturist glitz with absurdist humor, a richly diverse cast, and a touch of morality. “I’m just trying to illustrate that it's okay to be different — not that it's good, not that it's bad, but that it's all right,” Reubens told Rolling Stone about the series. “I’m trying to tell kids to have a good time and to encourage them to be creative and to question things.”

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, written by Paul Reubens and John Paragon, follows Pee-Wee (Reubens) as he preps the playhouse for the holidays. The special doesn’t find Pee-Wee visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present or future, but it does feature more gay icons than the last three New Now Next Awards combined. There are appearances from Annette Funicello, Grace Jones, k.d. lang, Dinah Shore, Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, Cher, and many more alongside playhouse regulars like Laurence Fishburne (Cowboy Curtis) and S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba.

Don your gay apparel and relax with some of our favorite clips, AFTER THE JUMP

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