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Top 10 Gay Icons
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From 2 July – 18 October 2009 the National Portrait Gallery has an exhibition Gay Icons and related events all celebrating the notion of gay iconic. Sandi Toksvig explains in a Guardian article she hopes the exhibition will “..give courage to those people who still struggle with their sexuality. It might make people feel better about themselves and it might make other people rethink their perceptions of gay life.”

I will be chairing the panel Fade to Black on 9th August 15.00 – 17.15 at the National Portrait Gallery.  On the panel will be film director Pratibha Parmar, writer Andrea Stuart and performer Maria Rosa Young after the screening of Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman.

My icons were not about making me feel better about being gay as Sandi recommends. I loved the people listed here because they appeared deviant, quirky, trashy, transgressive or were just plain ornery.

  1. Lena Horne – She got married dressed entirely in black. How recalcitrant is that?  Here she sings Stormy Weather from the movie of the same name.
  2. Sylvester – An African American man who was not afraid to sing in falsetto and wear make up and fabulous costumes and look like a girl. Here he sings You Make me Feel Mighty Real. I defy anyone to stay still while this is playing!
  3. Nina Simone – civil rights activist, Pan Africanist and fierce diva. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform. After throwing her usual tantrums she settled down into a goosebump raising gig. Nina Simone Performs I Put a Spell on You live in 1992.
  4. Liberace - The Daily Mirror columnist “Cassandra”!!!(William Connor) described Liberace as “a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.” 1950′s code for er.. gay. Liberace sued the Daily Mirror for libel and won! Ha!
  5. Anna Nicole Smith – didn’t fair as well in the courts. In May of 1994, Maria Antonia Cerrato who was Smith’s housekeeper/nanny, sued her for $2 million, charging sexual assault and sexual harassment. Anna Nicole Smith lost and filed for bankruptcy. Anna Nicole Smith sings My Heart Belongs to Daddy badly, but looking fabulous.
  6. Marilyn Monroe – The original and much imitated blonde bombshell. She was smart, witty and only wore Channel No. 5 in bed, even when bleeding much to the consternation of her maids. Marilyn Monroe being interviewed  in the Person to Person program about her own production company.
  7. Grace  Jones - Jamaican artist and performer who remains androgynous, fierce and raw. I love the fact that she has never forgotten her Jamaican roots and pushes the boundaries of how an African descent woman can ‘perform’ sexy in the music industry.  Pull up to the Bumper is still rude. No? OK it’s really about cars.
  8. Beth Ditto – out, loud, proud, fat  femme lesbian who is into butch dykes and is not afraid to say so on every occasion.  Writes her own songs too. Bet somehow she doesn’t end up being sectioned. Just sayn! Beth Ditto talks about bullying.
  9. Marlon Brando – just loved his beautiful sensuous face, animal sexuality, surly ways and politics. I think he must have really, really,  worked out for A Streetcar Named Desire judging from how he looked before and after this role.
  10. Derek Jarman – Any gay person who can get funding to make an homerotic film entirely in Latin and then have it shown on TV back in the day deserves just iconic status. Sebastiane was made in 1976!

So who are your gay icons?

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6 Responses to Top 10 Gay Icons

  1. blackmanvision says:

    Other people added via my Facebook page.
    Chaka Khan, Simon Nkoli, James Baldwin, Edmund White, Jean Cocteau, Eudy Similane, Pat Peebles, Grace Jones, Peter Tatchell, Pat Pheonix, Rock Hudson, Henry Rollins, Dirk Bogarde, Amanda Lear, Sandra Bernhard, James Baldwin, Sylvester, Simon Hopkinson, John Maybury

  2. Bird la Bird says:

    Absolutely love the list and can’t wait for the panel.

    I’ll have to put me thinking cap on for mine but there would be significant overlap and Oscar Wilde would be very high up on a special perch.

  3. Bird la Bird says:

    liking the runners up too…

    Sarah Schulman would also be high up for me.

  4. blackmanvision says:

    Yeah it is hard when you are making the top 10. Now a top 100….
    I really wanted to add Marlene Dietrich, Audre Lorde, Billi Jean King ( Martina Navratilova?? maybe), no no Madonna, Little Richard, Gladys Bentley, Bessie Smith, Bill T Jones, James Baldwin, er…still.. never Madonna. :-)
    Bayard Rustin, Tilda Swinton … so many.
    Would be very interested to see YOUR list.

  5. Northldn says:

    Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, W.H Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Morrissey, A.E Housman, Francis Bacon, Jean Cocteau
    Langston Hughes, Noel Coward, Luschino Visconti, Andre Gide, Derek Jarman, Yukio Mishima, Benjamin Britten
    James Dean, Arthur Rimbaud, Christopher Isherwood, Dirk Bogarde, Truman Capote,Walt Whitman, Jean Genet

  6. Two Words: BLOG HEAVEN. I have hit the motherload, praise him.:)

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