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Gay Iconography Hub



04/19/2007


Gay Iconography: Singing the Praises Of Maria Callas

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While some bristle at gay men’s adoration for (often straight) female performers, there’s an undeniable allure to some of history’s most over-the-top starlets to which many in the community are frequently drawn. Before Mariah, Whitney, Barbra, Bette and others occupied the overlapping space between icons and divas, few typified the archetype more than opera singer Maria Callas.

2_callasYes, that’s right, an opera singer. We’ve come to expect this sort of glamour, scandal and attitude from our A-list actors and biggest pop stars, but Maria Callas broke the mold to become not only one of the greatest opera singers of all time, but also one of the gay community’s most beloved performers.

There are lots of elements of Callas’ story that are common to other gay icons. For starters, she had a very difficult relationship with her family. When she born, her mother was so disappointed she didn’t have a son that she refused to even look at the baby for four days. She would have a strained relationship with her mother -- often playing out in the press -- throughout the height of her career, eventually severing ties all together. Callas was also something of an ugly duckling turned beautiful swan story -- sort of. The singer transformed her body, losing around 80 pounds. Her svelte physique and chic style (which she modeled off Audrey Hepburn) made her an iconic beauty. Sadly, many attribute her dramatic weight loss to the deterioration of her voice.

In addition to her singing and style, she made headlines for her diva-like behavior. She gained a reputation for being “temperamental” and shrewd (shades of Streisand). The press built up a rivalry between her and fellow soprano Renata Tebaldi that looks like a blueprint for the sort of common narratives pitting female performers against one another we still see today (Nicki Minaj vs. Mariah, Katy vs. Gaga, etc.). Her personal life, especially her affair with Aristotle Onassis, made her a tabloid fixture.

Of course, none of this would have made her so memorable had she not also been extraordinarily talented. See some clips of Callas in action, and her lasting impact, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Honoring Drag Roots In ‘Paris Is Burning’

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As we cross the halfway mark on this season of RuPaul's Drag Race, the popular reality competition (1 million Facebook Likes, and growing) continues to be one of the primary drivers of a reinvigorated interest in drag culture and slang. However, long before Mother Ru was tellings us to “sissy that walk,” Venus Xtravaganza was asking if we were “going through it” in the iconic 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning.

While the film introduced America to lots of drag vernacular -- launching “reading,” “realness” and “voguing” into the cultural consciousness -- it also perfectly encapsulated a specific moment in time. Filmed in mid-to-late ‘80s, director Jennie Livingston’s documentary sheds light on the faces of New York ball culture at its peak, including figures like Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija and Dorian Corey. It is a portrait of a segment of the LGBT community before the height of its struggle with AIDS. The film also tackles issues of race, class and gender.

Take a look back with some of our favorite clips celebrating Paris Is Burning,
AFTER THE JUMP ...

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Gay Iconography: Beth Ditto, Punk Icon

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Everything we know about celebrity should dictate that Gossip's frontwoman Beth Ditto should not have made it as far as she has. However, from a small town in Arkansas to the runways of Paris, Ditto has defied what's expected of a woman, a lesbian, a fashionista and, yes, a gay icon.

DittoFor some in the LGBT community, the outspoken singer is a punk diva alternative to the standard Kylies, Britneys and Katys. Her band's disco-tinged punk tunes, which have only become more pop-driven with time, are riotous anthems. She's famous for her uninhibited live performances, which often feature the plus-sized singer stripped down to her bra and panties. No matter the accolades, she doesn't take herself too seriously, whether she's comparing nipples with Adam Lambert or covering a Dolly Parton song in a blonde wig.

All that spectacle wouldn't mean anything if she couldn't back it up. Her voice can easily switch between gospel smooth and screaming punk snarl, often in the same song. She's a ferocious singer, and one of the most charismatic frontwomen in history.

See some of our favorite highlights of Beth Ditto's career, and share yours,
AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: All Hail Disney Queen Idina Menzel

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Long before Queen Elsa conjured up her custom icy couture in Disney's Frozen, the LGBT community was already warmed to Idina Menzel. The Broadway star, who is in the midst of a huge surge in prominence, was embraced before Travolta massacred the name, before she ever appeared on Glee, hell, even before Wicked. She's been a Broadway sensation and fixture in the gay community since appearing Rent in 1996.

"My most beloved audience is my gay friends," she told MetroWeekly in 2010. "And my most vocal audience is my gay friends."

To show her support, Menzel has performed at benefits for The Trevor Project, participated in the NOH8 campaign and appeared in videos and designed t-shirts for the Give A Damn Campaign.

Relive some of the singer's most memorable moments and share your thoughts, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: From Mr. Sulu To Takei Icon

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George Takei has become such a prominent LGBT figure in popular culture, it's easy to forget he's only been out since 2005. Best known for his iconic portrayal of Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, Takei has re-established himself as a vocal LGBT advocate, affable comedian and beloved curator of webjunk.

Happydance_takeiIn addition to his work on the seminal sci-fi series, Takei is a cultural institution. He's appeared on HeroesCelebrity Apprentice and even has an asteroid named after him. He's been a regular voice on Howard Stern's show on Sirius XM Radio, winning over listeners with his honesty, openness and humor.

It's not all fun and games. Takei lived in Japanese-American internment camps from ages four to eight, and has been actively involved in politics since the '70s. (He even ran for Los Angeles City Council in 1973.) As one of the most recognizable people (with one of the most recognizable voices) in popular culture, Takei has used his celebrity to champion a variety of LGBT causes.

Learn more about Takei's contributions, relive some of our favorite Takei memories and share your own, AFTER THE JUMP …

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Gay Iconography: Thank You, 'Golden Girls,' For Being A Friend

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If your little gay heart skipped a beat while two characters watched The Golden Girls during Sunday's finale of Looking, you're not alone. Earlier this week Louis Peitzman wrote a lovely piece for Buzzfeed, titled, "Why Gay Men Still Love The Golden Girls.'" In it he shares a bunch of reasons why the show's popularity has endured with gay audiences nearly 30 years after its original premiere, including this particularly poignant hypothesis: "… the transgressive power of The Golden Girls is that it’s a show about the construction of a chosen family rather than a biological family, a very queer conceit."

Others have posited that shows like The Golden Girls (and Designing Women) gave gay men confident, sassy figures from whom they could draw strength to battle the discrimination they faced. Or maybe it was the show's portrayal of LGBT characters, including the gay chef, Coco, and Blanche's brother Clayton.

Part of what makes The Golden Girls so iconic is not just the content of the episodes, but the four actresses that starred in the series. Not only were they hilarious, but they were strong supporters of the LGBT community. After losing a friend and her nephew to AIDS, Estelle Getty became a vocal AIDS activist. In 2009, Rue McClanahan was part of the Defying Inequality concert, which benefitted several LGBT organizations. Betty White issued her support for gay marriage to Parade Magazine in 2010: "If a couple has been together all that time—and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones—I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.” Bea Arthur was so deeply embedded in the LGBT community, she told the New York Press, "Sometimes, I feel like Judy!" And those are only a few examples.

Because we can't get enough of Blanche, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy, let's let loose a little with some of our favorite gay moments from The Golden Girls, AFTER THE JUMP

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