One of my friends recently asked who I considered to be the ultimate gay icon. I told him that no one even comes close to Judy Garland. After some eye rolling and a caustic comment about Judy only being an icon for 80 year old fags in nursing homes, he asked who I, as a 20 something year old gay man, find to be the ultimate modern gay icon. I thought about it for thirty seconds and said "Kylie". He nodded and we moved on to bitching about Lindsay Lohan's fabulous rehab escapades. Over the past few weeks, I have pondered this most important issue and I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong. Once again, Kylie has unwittingly snatched what belongs to Dannii. In this post I will do my best to explain why I feel that Dannii deserves the illustrious title of "the ultimate gay icon".
The starting point for any serious discussion on gay icons must begin with the great Judy Garland, whose holy presence lingers in the hearts and minds of ancient queens and the more discerning poofters of today. The reason for Judy's role as the godmother of all gay icons is complex. On a completely superficial level, Judy sang camp showtunes (the disco music of the 40s, 50s and 60s) and ballads that appealed gay men. On a deeper level, there was a sense of tragedy about Judy. She had a drug problem, an eating disorder (well before it was fashionable) and a tortured family life. This gave Judy an air of vulnerability which must have struck a deep chord with homosexuals at a time when being gay was a criminal offence. Judy's gay pedigree does not stop there. She married a gay man (Vincent Minnelli) and then set her daughter up with another cock jockey, Australia's very own Peter Allen. If that wasn't enough, Judy died from a drug overdose on the toilet, making her the patron saint of beat sluts, and her death is seen as one of the catalysts for the development of the gay rights movement after the Stonewall riots that took place on the night of her funeral. Basically, Judy wrote the book on gay iconography and I will rely on her as the blue print of what a gay icon should be.
It is important to examine whether the characteristics that defined Judy's role as a gay icon still resonate today. In order to do this it is helpful to look at the evolution of gay icons over the past few decades. In the 1970s the void left by Judy's passing was filled by amazing women like Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Cher and Bette Midler. The traits that defined Judy could just as well apply to these women. They have all shown amazing longevity, versatility and worked in "gay friendly" musical genres - be it cabaret, showtunes or disco. Like Judy, they are all survivors and triple threats (singer/actor/dancers). However, as the gay rights movement expanded and evolved, a shift occurred in the characteristics that we searched for in a gay icon. While Judy was defined by her frailty, these women are characterised by their strength and outrageousness. It seems that gay men were still intrigued by performers they could personally identify with but were also looking for people with characteristics they could aspire to. It must have been difficult to be out and proud in the 1970s but I'm sure seeing Cher appear at the Oscars in a transparent dress or watching Bette fellate her Golden Globe Award on national television may just have given some men the inspiration they required to do something as outrageous as publicly admit that they were into cock.
The symbiotic relationship between the evolution of the gay community and the icons we chose to honour continued well into the 1980s with the arrival of Madonna and the Minogue sisters. The "Judy criteria" of longevity, versatility and choice of musical genre well and truly apply to these women. All three are in the third decade of their careers, have changed their image more times than they have eaten carbohydrates and have dedicated themselves to the dancefloor. The latter day criteria of strength and an outrageous sensibility are also easily met. Madonna is the modern archetype of a strong woman, Kylie must have skin made of teflon to have survived the media slaying she received in the early 1990s and Dannii has persevered through decades of being a media punchline. As far as outrageousness is concerned, Madonna spent the 1990s flashing her snatch, Kylie turned wearing a scrap of lycra into an artform and Dannii has flashed her tits for every Men's magazine in the western world. All three women have also embraced the gay community to an unprecedented extent for mainstream acts.
Sadly, these women appear to be the last of a dying breed. No artist has come along since the 1980s that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the luminaries from yesteryear. Celine is a crime against humanity. Mariah deserves a firing squad. Britney is a filthy blight on modern day culture. Whitney has no teeth. Beyonce is as boring as recycled cardboard. Perhaps society has reached a point where it is now so blase about homosexuality that we no longer require people to look up to. Maybe the ladies of the past have simply raised the bar too high. In any case, it follows that the ultimate modern gay icon must be one of these three women.
Up until this point, I have tried to apply an objective test (the "Judy criteria") to modern day gay icons. Ultimately, however, the winner will be determined via subjective elements. For example, an American queen who grew up listening to the material girl is much more likely to identify with Madonna, while someone who experienced Minogue-mania in the late 1980s may see more of themselves in Kylie. Of the three finalists, Madonna is the easiest for me to exclude. I admire Madonna's longevity but find it difficult to identify with a woman who preaches religion and jets to the third world for a spot of baby shopping. Try as I may, I can't be inspired by a woman who seems to be made of cold steel. That leaves us with the prodigious Minogue sisters.
Kylie is much harder for me to dismiss. She is my favourite singer. I love every hair on her pretty head (and even those in other places). I admire Kylie's ability to even show her face in public after her media assassination in the early 1990s, while her recent relationship and health woes have given her a touch of the vulnerability that made Judy such an enduring force. In order to decide between these two worthy candidates I returned to the definition of the word "icon".
An icon (from Greek word for "image") is an image, picture, or representation; it is a sign or likeness that stands for an object by signifying or representing it.
Extrapolating this definition for our purposes, a gay icon is quite simply a person who represents poofs. Applying this test to the Minogues, Dannii displays characteristics that are, in my opinion, far more representative of the gay community than Kylie's. Kylie is like a porcelain doll with a titanium interior. She is a workaholic, who has made everything happen through endeavour and sheer dedication. Kylie is a little bit too sensible. A little bit too mainstream to represent an edgy minority group. It might seem vaguely ridiculous to exclude Kylie due to her well adjusted nature and success but Dannii's laissez faire nature is what, in my opinion, seals her spot as the ultimate modern gay icon.
I firmly believe that Dannii is a gay man trapped in a woman's body. Her commitment to gay issues has been unwavering from the very beginning of her career. Unlike Britney and Christina, who jump on and off the gay bandwagon as it suits them, Dannii has worked her butt off for the gay community through her role as spokeswoman for World AIDS day, her services to Mardi Gras and most importantly, by being a full time fag hag. Every Sydney queen old enough to remember Dannii's post "Girl" sojourn in Australia will have a Dannii war story to share. For a period in the late 1990s, Dannii was out and about on the Sydney gay scene almost every weekend. Dannii's "lollybags" are the thing of legend, her role as the Queen of Frisky remains fresh in my memory and the hilarious time she was chased across the dancefloor of the RHI by a drag queen threatening to slap her with a rubber chicken is one of the defining moments of the Sydney gay scene in the 90s.
Dannii's commitment to the gay community is not, of itself, enough to grant her the title. There are also the characteristics that Dannii shares with Kylie and Madonna. Her longevity, her versatility and her ability to reinvent herself. However, I would argue that the characteristics that distinguish Dannii from Madonna and Kylie are more important. Unlike those women, Dannii is not a workaholic. Her life is not dictated by a burning desire to rule and conquer. In fact, Dannii just wants to have fun, even if it is detrimental to her career. Dannii represents the creative souls littering the gay scene, who are bursting with potential but can't find time away from their busy clubbing schedule to do anything with it. To put it in perspective, while Kylie was slaving away touring and actually promoting and releasing records, Holidannii was snorting coke from someone's tits, while being double dicked by a couple of studs on her luxury yacht in the Mediterranean. I know who I would prefer to be! Dannii lives for a good time and is constantly in the moment. Lezzigate is good example. Dannii felt like some hot pussy action, so she went to a strip club and had a good time. Dannii doesn't care what people think. Dannii redefines fierce. Those are qualities that I aspire too.
If a gay icon is truly someone who represents the gay community, then Dannii - with all her good qualities and flaws - is surely it. Other gay icons act as projections of what we would like to be. Dannii is a reflection of who we are. She is not perfect and doesn't pretend to be. Dannii wants to live in the moment and have a good time. Dannii is slightly ridiculous and she knows it. Dannii is a walking, talking embodiment of gay sensibilities and the ultimate, modern gay icon.