Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Ultimate Gay Icon

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.


Miss Halliwell said...

Well, i for one am touched by your indepth article here. It is moving, witty and very truthful. Gay Icons, proper ones i mean, are a dying breed. I agree 100% on your observations about Madonna. She may profess to have been baby shopping to 'save a soul' but you don't send your Bodyguard to pick up your new baby then fuck off to a party the next night.

Dannii has been a total media punchline for years and is never given the credit she deserves. Kylie may be 'huge' worldwide, but both girls are treated as the tits and arse of the music world.

I am so pleased that you wrote this article, it might make some very young gay men realise that being gay was illegal in the past and that Judy inspired a riot!

Good on ya Mike, you are an internet legend and a Gay Icon in your own right...

Miss Heide Von Binterschlappen said...

Beyond Fabulous!

Robpop said...

Brilliantly written piece there Mike. I loved the prose and the sublime insights.

However I sadly do not agree with the argument and ultimately the conclusion.

Dannii can never be the ultimate gay icon. Come to think of it, I would say it’s pretty hard to establish her as any type of icon.

Here me out. As much as I love Dannii her appeal starts and ends in club land. Many gay men do not identify with gay club land. The world presented in shows like Queer as Folk left many quite cold, isolated and further in the closet. If I’m reading correctly, you argue that Dannii represents that realm of gayworld: its greatness, its fun, its fluff and its sheer velocity of pleasure. However, it’s a scene that has cut out more than it has welcomed. If so, Dannii’s importance for gay men is entirely local and I don’t mean just geographically here. Her type of music and the audience are a very small target. For this, she only reaches a few small number of gay men. Her “snorting coke from someone's tits, while being double dicked by a couple of studs on her luxury yacht in the Mediterranean” doesn’t make her seem edgy but the sort of stuff that your average girl gets up to below the age of 55. Edgy? No instead its rather traditional and conservative. As such Dannii is at odds with “modern gay sensibilities” you talk of within the article.

But what makes her a very ungay un-ultimate un-icon is the fact these holidays are not because of some affinity with your “gay men who club too much=thus don’t create” construction but rather the fact that she has her sister to finance this attitude/pension. She is a trustifarian. A spoilt brat who spends other peoples money. Its common knowledge within the music industry that KayDeeBee keep her bankrolled. Kylie’s hardwork allows Dannii to mess around with single releases, record companies and producers. When it should really be used to invest in more sequins for Kylies male dancers and their hotpants the money of KDB goes towards Danniis half-hearted album projects and trips to the Bahamas. I’m sure most gay men would prefer more spunks in hotpants over someone whose had far too much plastic surgery, wastes money on boring drugs and tans like a prune.

Lets return to KDB, it has financed many a Dannii pop video. Do you think record companies pay for that? Oh no! Kylie and her fans foot the Dannii bill. Iconic behaviour? Kylie yes, Dannii I think not. Dannii messes around her fans and is able to piss over her career because she doesn’t need one anymore. Why bother touring or greeting fans when your sister has your credit card sorted. Her many appearances at Showgirl kinda pinpointed the powerplay between the sisters. She is seen as pathetic and uncreative even when the finger is pulled out of the beautiful ass of hers. She flows down a stream of disappointments. For sure, she’s put up with an immense level of shit but this does not make her iconic. Most of it is actually warranted and brought upon herself.

The thing is, if Dannii didn’t have Kylie to support her financially we wouldn’t see Dannii in the state she is at the moment. We’d see her working her butt off. She can attend AIDS fundraisers only because she doesn’t have to promote her cd in Liverpool or Alice Springs. The moment you remove the Kylie fund, you’d see Dannii dropping her fundraising and returning to shows like Electric Circus. I only say this because it’s happened before.

So what are left with? A girl who likes clubbing, partying and stripping. Two a penny in Leeds. Does she do it with a glimmer of glamour? Perhaps. Does she do what she does on the mount of gay iconography? No. Is there an image that screams Dannii? Hanging around lots of drag queens doesn’t make you a gay icon Mike. Gina G would attest to that. Nor does appearing and promoting gay (related) events (Kristine W anyone?). Dannii drifts. I should commend that. I truly would. But she’s only allowed to drift because of her sister.

Iconic? No way! Brilliant? Yes! Poptastic? Yes! Rebelious? Yes, in the same way a 14 year old teenager is!

Which brings me to Emma of Neighbours. The Pseudo-goth of Homo and Gay. Dannii has never really left Emma. Dannii is Emma. Kylie left Charlene just as dramatically as Madonna ran out of Detroit. The lesser Minogue on the other hand remains in Summer bay. If this makes her in anyway important to a gay lad in Sheffield or Sydney in 2007 then I confess I will change my stance. Thing is, even when she was in the show I don’t think gays really cared about Dannii back then or now. Yes she’s a party girl. This will of course strike a chord with many a gay man. But being a party girl who releases poptrash records doesn’t make her a modern gay icon....

Trash Addict said...

Thanks Deirdre - you are my inspirational tranny icon! Bless.

Cheers Bint!

Rob - what can I say. I totally disagree. Dannii has enough property in Melbourne to fund a thousand weekends in Ibiza. But if she does borrow the money from Kylie - so what? I'm not sure how that's un-gay... in fact it strikes me as very gay.

I'm sad you feel alienated by the club scene - but I don't. I love the sheer superficiality of it all. I love the crazy, carefree souls. I love the music and I love the faux glamour. Dannii IS iconic among the crowd of Sydney poofters I know. She IS treated like a goddess.

Much of what you write makes little sense to me. Particularly the implication that Dannii somehow disrespects her fans. Surely the fan art should be an indication enough that we LOVE Dannii's frivolity. She is also one of the few artists who spends any time communicating with fans when the cameras are not around. I can't say the same for Kylie.

I also wonder if you ever watched Home & Away to say that Dannii hasn't moved on from Emma. She has matured, changed sound, experimented. Emma sat at home 27/7 eating fast food and listening to Nirvana. Dannii hasn't eaten solids since 1997 and probably doesn't even know what the inside of her apartment looks like!

Dannii is my ultimate gay icon because I see more of myself & my friends in her than anyone else. If that makes us ridiculous - well, so be it. Dannii might be as common as muck but that is the whole point I was trying to get across in the first place.

tommie said...

The Minogues own shitloads of property, so I doubt Dannii is in any need of taking hand-outs. Papa Minogue is an accountant and probably made sure early on that they didn't just waste all their money away!

I really liked the article, even if La Toya is my personal gay icon.

Robpop said...

I totally understand. But my issue really is "are we supposed to related/identify with the ultimate gay icon?" For sure, I love Dannii and she'd be a bundle of laughs (especially as shes spending someone elses money).

To me however that doesnt make her iconic. It doesnt make her independent, rebellious or groundbreaking. Features of which i think gay icons really should contain. With Dannii there is no drama, there is no tragedy and there is no image.(all the things that make an icon; whether it be greek, modern or post-modern).

Dannii is sort of the girl on benefits. The Vicky Pollard of Pop. Lets not forget the fact that shes a pin-up for the BNP.

And, I accept your disco point ( i did say she was a party girl!). Perhaps shes more than that though...she's a scene queen. A blast amongst a number of gay boys in Sydney. Which is fucking fantastic. It doesnt make her iconic though. It just makes her great fun!

As for this "sad you feel alienated by the club scene". I don't . I was brought up in it. It was once my life. However, I am fully aware of how distant THAT life is for most gay men. It is a misconception within society and amongst many gay men that clubland provides the only exploration of gay expression and identity. Attaching cultural importance to it(which is nothing but a night out) leaves many on the out looking in.

If you put Dannii up there you'll find you a whole bunch of queers suddenly left out of the picture. She holds the banner for the Ultimate Gay Dance Diva (in Sydney: Darlinghurst). Other than that, Dannii reaches beyond Kylies weekly budget and tits of Jupiter and thats it.

Mike, your piece was brilliantly written and I'd go so far as to say its miles better than the stuff i read in magazines that study similar symbols of culture within the gay community. However, the moment you use the word "icon" expect some examination of the argument and the woman.

Dannii is the Queen of Dance, spending the money others and GaySydney. She enters the stage at Mardi Gra from a silver moon (long before her sister did!) and doesnt give to fucks about her career thanks to her sister.

Perhaps shes the early prototype of Paris Hilton (Except with better remixes and material). I will accept that she is the queen of dance but I can't see how shes an icon. There is no key image. No dress. No key song. No statement. No real legendary Club performance. The best thing she can muster is being at G-a-y and having her sister sing one of her songs.

However brush that all to one side. The worst thing I'd say is her comments regarding gay marriage. For me it crunches the entire argument regarding her status and the gay community.

When approached on the subject she said that "yes, gay partnerships should be recognized by law" but they shouldn't be entitled to marriage as thats only for straights. This is tantamount to the "love you but hate the sin" line that runs through most lips when talking about homosexuality and the gay "lifestyle". When I read it wanted to fucking scream. Shes basically saying "marriage about a man and a woman: so fucking leave it like that". She has no understanding about the history of marriage, why its important and what it means. After those comments I really lost interest in Dannii.

When I saw Kylie at the get-together for the political pressure group Stonewall she demanded gay marriage and equal rights. I thought: "fuck yes!". When I saw Kylie hosting Gay Pride she demanded gay marriage from her co-host: the major of London Ken Livingston.

And dannii? "I dont think gays should be allowed to get married as that should be kept separate." Ultimate Gay Icon? Sorry, but not Dannii.

Miss Halliwell said...

I can see RobPop's point about KBD, but if you think Dannii lives off that income undeservedly, what about the B in KayBeeDee? Brendan has made nowhere near the money Kylie has yet shares equal profits with his siblings.

KBD was set up by Ron Minogue to make sure that his kids had a steady income regardless of their current status, so in his eyes the trio must deserve the cash or he wouldn't have set it up?

I do think that whilst at AATW Dannii has worked her arse off promoting this that and the other. Like other AATW artists, Dannii has had to trawl the local hotspots getting her baps out whilst singing her latest hit. Or something like that.

Trash Addict said...

Tommie - I totally agree about La Toya. She is another person that most people would write off as a talentless leech - yet I find her incredibly inspiring. However, I can't decide if she is more of a trash icon than a gay icon. Splitting hairs I guess!

Rob - Dannii's comments on gay marriage made me love her even more. Kylie probably had 5 scriptwriters assemble her comment on gay marriage, while Dannii just opened her gob and said the first thing that came into her head. I find it so refreshing. And to be honest, I kind of agree with her view anyway.

Deirdre - There would be no KDB without Dannii because there would be no Kylie without Dannii. No one would have hired Kylie for Neighbours if Dannii wasn't already a star. Kylie should be keeping Dannii in cheap hookers, cocaine and frilly G-strings!

PS. I love your new Dannii piss-take on Myspace. You need to upload it to your site!

PinkieDust said...

Robpop, I think POPtrash is joking. Don't get all serious there.

Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Speaking of Judy Garland, There is a popular new group on Yahoo called THE JUDY GARLAND EXPERIENCE. They have amazing rare audio files that are changed twice weekly, great photo's, lively discussions, and a membership that not only includes Judy's fan's, but her family members, friends, people who worked with her, author's of Garland biographies, Garland Historians, people who have created and/or directed film and theater projects about her, and many more. The only thing missing is you!
Please check it out.


Miss Heide Von Binterschlappen said...

I think what makes Dannii iconic is her realness. The fact that she is one of us. She likes to live life. She fucks up her career and doesn't always bother. She skives off. She puts her foot in her mouth. She tried to live the dream and it shattered making her wary of relationships. She was a bit of an ugly duckling.

She gets slagged off whatever she does and is never really accepted no matter what she does or for who she is yet she battles on regardless. She will never recieve the praise that her siblings and peers get. Sounds like every GBLT person I know...

How many other "gay icons" can you say that about? Sure Kylie was ripped apart horribly by the media for the best part of her career, but she is now accepted for who she is and what she does.

Can you say that about Judy and Liza with a Zzzzzzzzz who at the end of the day were / are neurotic junkies who sang shitty showtunes...

Trash Addict said...

Pinkie - Joking about what? That article is serious. Dannii is my ulimate modern day gay icon!

Dan - I'm totally going to join. I just have a bit of trouble working out how those Yahoo groups work. I tried before and it was a bit of a disaster. I'll try again.

Jay - I completely agree with the first three paragraphs of your comment. In fact, you express exactly what I was trying to say. I'm glad someone understands the argument I was attempting (and obviously failed) to make.

HOWEVER - Re: Judy & Liza, I love those "shitty showtunes"! And Judy is the gay Jesus, bringing life and freedom to her followers through death! Some respect please!

Note to self - stick with posting music in the future!

PinkieDust said...

Really? Well I dont give a fuck about Dannii iconwise. Shes a d-rate Gina G. Stevie Knicks is my fairy godmother.

To me gay icons have to replace my mother. They open their arms when everyone else says fuck off fag.

I dont wanna hug Dannii. I wanna bang her. Thats why she aint a gay icon to me.

Ella Thorvaldsen said...

Robpop you might kill me but I agree with Poptrash. I am not gay but shes my ultimate gay icon. Only because shes so much fun. I remember one particular fucked up party in Three Faces (now the Market) in Melbourne some years ago.

All I remember is toilets, talcum powder, running around with Dannii on the beach, lots of bald lesbians and losing my jimmy choos when we were prevented entry to a gay sauna somewhere around Prahran.

I don't think I've had that level of fun since. She's not just a party animal. Its like shes zest. Its hard to explain. She reminds me of gay friends & brothers. For this reason I think shes a gay icon. Problem is, i think you have to meet her to realise it.

As for her gay comments. Well, shes the kind of girl who you can slap and tell her how it is and she'd actually listen and learn. She aint a cunt.

Poptrash, "tis a great blog."

Trash Addict said...

Ella, I'm so proud that you've graced Dannii's box with your fabulous presence.

Three Faces! What a flashback. I remember Dannii turning up to every Frisky party for almost a year in the late 90s and she was just one of the girls. My favourite memory is sharing a toilet cubicle with Dannii and a couple of trannies. It's my classiest celebrity experience!

I think you might be right about needing to see Dannii in her element. She could be any old fag hag in any bar around the world. She's just one of us, not on a pedestal like the other so-called icons. Dannii feels like part of my gay family. I can't think of a better way of putting it.

Robpop said...

Ella you skanky traitor

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your piece on "Gay Icons" but wanted to correct you on a few facts about Judy Garland. Garland did not have an eating disorder nor was she "on the john" when she died. Judy did overdose (accidentally) on sleeping pills but was found on the bathroom floor. There isn't a female artist around today that can compare to the immense talent that Judy Garland had. The fact that she's still being discussed as the "world's greatest entertainer" thirty-eight years after her death is something in itself. While I enjoy Kylie, I don't think that she will be remembered 40 years after her death the way Garland is. And I have NEVER even heard of Dannii in the United States. The only female artist who is indeed a gay icon that comes close to being what Judy was is Cher. Like Garland, Cher has conqurered every medium that she has attempted. The young queens might lynch me...but not even Madonna can make that claim. (Madonna's Broadway and film career were incredible flops.)

Judy Garland worked for nearly forty-five of her forty-seven years. She made thirty-two feature films, did voice-over work for two more, and appeared in at least a half dozen short subjects. She received a special Academy Award and was nominated for two others. She starred in thirty of her own television shows (the programs and Garland herself garnering a total of ten Emmy Award nominations) and appeared as a guest on nearly thirty more. Between 1951 and 1969, she fulfilled over eleven hundred theatre, nightclub and concert performances, winning a special Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for the first of three record-breaking Broadway engagements at the Palace. She recorded nearly one hundred singles and over a dozen record albums; Judy at Carnegie Hall received an unprecedented five Grammys in 1962 (including Album of the Year) and has never been out of print. Her radio work encompassed several hundred broadcasts, and she sang at countless benefits and personal appearances for the military. Earlier, between the ages of two and thirteen - and prior to signing her MGM contract in 1935 - she fulfilled hundreds of live vaudeville and radio dates with her two older sisters. Garland was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
Her song "Over The Rainbow" was named the "Song of the Century" and the American Film Institute named it the #1 movie song of all time. She has appeared on eight postage stamps worldwide and there have been approximately 42 books written about her life and career.

Still want to compare Kylie and Dannii to Judy Garland? Rather laughable I'd say.....

-Rob Waters