Gay Iconography Hub




Gay Iconography: The Hollywood legend of James Dean

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Having released just three major films before he was tragically killed in a car accident in 1955, James Dean was able to leave an indelible mark on history. He was nominated for two Academy Awards following his death (the first Oscar nominations to be awarded for Best Actor posthumously), and he defined a generation of youth with his portrayals of angst and anguish.

Adding to the fascination with Dean’s legend are stories of his same-sex love affairs. The various accounts claim Dean was either gay or bisexual. Dean’s close friend, William Bast, revealed he and Dean “experimented,” while Dean’s relationship with influential radio producer Rogers Brackett has been used as an example of how the young actor may have slept with gay men to further his career. In his Marlon Brando biography, writer Darwin Porter asserted that Dean and Brando had a tumultuous romantic relationship that spanned years. Hollywood players of the time, like screenwriter Gavin Lambert and Rebel Without A Cause Director Nicholas Ray, have described James Dean as gay. Biographer Val Holley put it thusly: “There's been quite an evolution in the thinking since Dean's death in 1955, moving from ‘James Dean was straight’ to ‘Dean had sex with men but only to advance his career’ to ‘Dean had sex with women but only to advance his career.’”

We may never know for certain if Dean identified as gay, straight, bisexual, but, regardless, what he’s come to represent still resonates with many LGBT audiences. His most well-known roles are that of outsiders, non-comformists and misunderstood youth. His powerful performances redefined masculinity, showcasing how a tough guy could be so open with his emotions. His sense of style and good looks also didn’t hurt his standing with the gay community (and helped establish him as a butch lesbian icon as well).

See some of our favorite James Dean clips, AFTER THE JUMP 

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Gay Iconography: Feel The Funk For Chaka Khan

Chaka

Chaka Khan, a worldwide singing superstar who has sold an estimated 70 million records across the globe, may be the Queen of Funk, but she’s also a queen in the LGBT community.

A singer, actress and activist, Khan has won 10 Grammy Awards (including two as the lead singer of Rufus), but, like many other icons, she’s also had her share of struggle. Wrestling with addiction throughout her life, she declared herself sober in 2005. Through it all, she’s remembered the importance of her gay fanbase. In an interview with ChicagoPride.com, she said:

“It goes way back. I find my gay and lesbian followers to be the most un-fickle of all my followers. I tell you, when times got a little rough, when I had any rough spots, I could always do some track dates at some gay clubs. I don't know exactly what my appeal is, maybe it's the butch in me, I don't know. I know I'm kind of butchy. That's cool. I love it. I truly embrace that part of myself.”

The gay community has been known to embrace her right back. In additon to being invited to perform at Pride events, she's a drag queen favorite, beloved for her style, voice and attitude.

See the Queen in action with some of our favorite clips, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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Gay Iconography: Lots to Love About Lucy

Lucy

When it comes to comedy, there is one icon, one legend whose star will always burn brighter than the rest: Lucille Ball.

As perhaps the most beloved television star of all time, Lucille Ball is permanently etched into the memories of generations of Americans. She was nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, winning four, and earned two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one for her film work and one for television). She graced the cover of TV Guide 45 times. She paved the way for today’s funny ladies like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Melissa McCarthy.

Her impact on television was enormous, but her work (especially as the titular Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy) inspired generations of gay men.

In a 2001 feature in OUT Magazine, writer Bob Smith put it thusly:

“Lucy Ricardo was the perfect gay icon for the post-Stonewall generation. She wasn’t a tragic victim like Judy Garland; the only time Lucy Ricardo got plastered was when she swallowed too much Vitameatavegamin. Lucy Ricardo wasn’t sharp-tongued like Bette Davis or a monster like Joan Crawford: she was beautiful and funny, and she was a comic victim of her red hair-brained schemes. Many gay men can identify with kooky ideas that always seem to backfire, like when a gay man in his 40s dyes his hair platinum blond.”

Even in the 1980s, Ball voiced her support of gay rights, telling People Magazine,”It's perfectly all right with me. Some of the most gifted people I've ever met or read about are homosexual. How can you knock it?”

Heat up a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers and remember all the reasons you love Lucy, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: 'Constant' Praise For k.d. lang

Lang

Before Melissa Etheridge, before Ellen, before Rosie, there was k.d. lang. The Canadian singer-songwriter with one of the most moving voices on the planet kicked open the closet door in 1992 when she appeared on the cover of The Advocate.

“I am very proud to be part of the evolution of the integration of gays in society. It is certainly something I didn’t do alone but I am proud to be a part of it,” she told Gay Calgary Magazine in 2008. “This woman in Toronto, Debbie Pearson, came up with the term ‘dykon’ which I think is hilarious. If I helped people have a more open, healthy relationship with their parents or friends, or more importantly themselves that makes me really happy. Anything I can do to help people feel more comfortable and confidant in who they are, that is great.”

Her coming out kicked off a lot of media exposure in the early ‘90s, including the now iconic Vanity Fair cover featuring lang in a barbershop chair receiving a straight-razor shave from Cindy Crawford. The shot, by photographer Herb Ritts, as well as a rumored fling with Madonna, helped turn lang into a household name and launch her album Ingénue’s commercial success.

Check out some of our favorite ‘dykonic’ k.d. lang performances, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Lee Daniels' Unique Film Perspective

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To say the list of openly gay, black filmmakers is a short one would be a rather dramatic understatement. The most prominent, of course, is Lee Daniels.

“Gay people see the world differently. As a black person, you see the world differently. It's a unique perspective,” he said to the Huffington Post in 2012. “When I make movies, it's from a very specific place, and it's layered in context. You see my life and are watching my world. If you look at my films, you see life through the eyes of a black, gay man.”

Born in Philadelphia, Christmas Eve, 1959, he told Arsenio Hall that he remembered feeling different at a young age.

“There was never a closet… My earliest memories were coming down the stairs in my mother's high heels at six years old while my dad's playing cards with the buddies.”

Daniels persevered through abuse from his father and other children (he told the Telegraph: “From kindergarten to eighth grade [13 years old], I could train myself not to go to the bathroom all day and then just run home at three o’clock, because in the school toilets I’d get beaten up.”) After selling a nursing agency he started, he started working as casting agent and manager, working on films like Purple Rain and managing stars like Wes Bentley.

In 2001, his production company, Lee Daniels Entertainment, released Monster’s Ball, earning Halle Berry an Oscar and launching his career into Hollywood superstardom.

See more highlights of Daniels’ work and share your thoughts, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Still Loca For Ricky Martin

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When legendary newswoman Barbara Walters looked back at her career, her biggest regret was an interview with Ricky Martin.

"In 2000, I pushed Ricky Martin very hard to admit if he was gay or not, and the way he refused to do it made everyone decide that he was. A lot of people say that destroyed his career, and when I think back on it now I feel it was an inappropriate question."

Martin, who is credited with kickstarting the Latin pop movement, wouldn’t actually come out until a decade later. In 2010, while working on his memoir, Me, Martin posted a lengthy message on his website about embracing his truth. It ended simply: “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.” Having dedicated his time to many causes, including disaster relief and ending human trafficking, his coming out opened opportunities for him to advocate for LGBT issues, eventually earning him a Vito Russo award from GLAAD in 2011.

”Something as simple as standing at that (gay rights group's) dinner and saying, ‘I’m gay,’ creates so may emotions I’ve never felt before,” he told OUT magazine in 2010. “I didn’t do it earlier because of fear, and bottom line it was all in my head. I was seduced by fear and I was sabotaging most of my life—my music, my relationships with my friends, with my family, with everybody. That’s something I need to share because I know that a lot of people are going through what I went through, no matter what their age, and fear cannot control us."

In addition to his music career, Martin has credits from stage and the small screen. Check out some of our favorites, AFTER THE JUMP

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