So why do we need Midler, Madonna, Patsy, Edina? Well, we don't
Friday 01 September 1995
Are we going for it? We are. Arms waving, torsos dripping, feet moving, singing along. It's worship, plain and (not so) simple. You, great goddess, we love you ... whoever you are.
She's going for it, too. She struts and frets her 15 minutes up on the stage, she puts her hands together, she tells us that "I'm a dreamer" and, boy, do we clock where that confession is coming from. Dreamer, Screamer, we understand with every fibre of our put on, put out, homosexual souls: when reality stinks, you retreat to a better place.
And we know she knows we know. Even in this supposed era of out homosexual desire, she is the mouthpiece of our longings, our surrogate. For she and we are acting out that most symbiotic of pop culture melodramas: the diva and her gay audience. Old habits die hard.
Baby, I don't remember her name - any Dreamer will do - but I'm chanting as we speak: Bette, Joan, Marlene, Mae, Greta ... Different types, yet all strong women made to suffer on screen by A Society That Didn't Understand Their Desires. Women trapped between what was expected - see In This Our Life, Mildred Pierce, Blonde Venus, She Done Him Wrong, A Woman of Affairs - and what they actually wanted to be.
Their hats were fabulous and their lives were hell, despite last-minute Hollywood "Happy Endings" - and, of course, gay men were in their corner. We had a lot in common. Those hats ... and straight guys jerking our chains. And flamboyant Bette and extravagant Joan allowed a necessary psychic release; they acted the way some of us sometimes desperately wanted to. Decades of incredible external pressure - repression - can make the interior you a flaming creature; watching La Davis flounce about the the heterosexual homestead screeching "What a dump!" was an operatic deconstruction that said it all. .
And who else could we then project upon, pray? It's not like the world groaned with visible gays, let alone gay idols (Monty, Cary and Rock were hung up in the closet.) And identifying with any straight male would be a sick joke, akin to bonding with the lunatic who kidnapped and raped you. Straight men might be rough trade, but role models? Never. So we lived our fantasies through the divas, because nobody did it better - or bigger. And because we had to.
But this is analysis so ancient it was first committed to papyrus. The new: "Whither Divahood?" For things are infinitely more complex since the famous German baritone Marlene Dietrich first fell in love again. Not only does a certain love now speak its name, try getting it to shut up. We have pubs, clubs, magazines, novels, gyms, business concerns and most of Soho; a recognised lifestyle. Out gay giants bestride the earth - Dame Ian McKellen, Chris Smith MP, David Hockney and hello Mr Barrymore - as do out gay midgets: over here Jimmy Sommerville, and bring the Pet Shop Boys. No, it's not equality under the law, but hey....
So why do we need Madonna? And Patsy and Edina and Midler and Streisand?
Well, we don't. Need, I mean. Enjoy maybe, love occasionally, appreciate always, but as the reaction to Madonna's "I am not a lesbian" statement makes clear, the days when queens automatically tugged their tiaras every time a diva's limo drove by are over.
Now, you could blame Donna Summer. Once the high-flying adored of disco bunnies everywhere, she got God and blew it with a statement about Aids being a holy judgement on gays. And, honey, it hurt, because we worshipped the old cow, but we wised up (finally) and did Donna in. Summer was over. Our judgement meant a career in ruins, the beginning of the end for divadom.
Only the rot had set in much earlier - the day that Judy Garland croaked and a bunch of distraught gay men in New York's Stonewall bar decided they weren't going to take it any more when the cops raided the joint (again). The Stonewall riots transformed the strange, twilight world of the homosexual into a floodlit arena, and helped to turn the mainstream queer. Covert goes overt. If not for Garland, the drippy fag's fave, going over the rainbow and taking her terminal self-pity with her, we couldn't have had ... oh, David Bowie, blatantly borrowing from the previously forbidden. And when you have David Bowie, who needs Dorothy Squires?
Indeed, without Garland's demise, maybe Madonna wouldn't have been possible. Cruising the subculture for her cues, Madonna is impeccably PM: a diva who exists as much through us as we exist through her. We made her possible, the way her Vogue roll call - "They had style/They had grace/Rita Hayworth gave good face" once let us substitute "real life" for "reel life". Perhaps soon, we wouldn't need even that; we'll be certain of who we are without Siamese twinning.
Hey, I'm a Dreamer.
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