How to Judge Books By Their Covers
Posted on November 26, 2021
Like many other queer kids, when I was younger I was obsessed with Glee. It was the first show I ever watched that showed multi-faceted queer characters, and I remember really connecting to Kurt, Blaine, Santana and Brittany.
Another obsession ensued when I discovered Rupaul’s Drag Race. Something in the campy performances and over the top runways stuck with me, and I idolized queens like Bob the Drag Queen and Katya.
These characters and performers were people I could relate to and look up to, slowly helping me feel comfortable in my queerness before I was ready to share it with the world. I’m not alone in this – a lot of my friends had similar experiences.
Reflecting on recently, it made me wonder: what makes a queer icon? Why are so many of us drawn to the same people? What is it about them that resonates with us so deeply?
While hard to define, these historical figures, celebrities, and characters all possess some special spark that queer people are drawn to.
After surveying my followers on Instagram, and doing some research of my own, I believe I have narrowed down the list of queer icons into three categories: The Tragic Beauties, The Weirdos, and the Pioneers.
(This list is by no means exhaustive, and is just a glimpse into the vast world of celebrated queer icons!)
The Tragic Beauties
Historically, queer people were forced to live their lives in the closet, constantly in fear of the violent consequences of being outed. (Many are unfortunately still in this situation.) Celebrities were ways to feel ‘seen’, in a society that pretended that queer people didn’t exist. These mysterious women were beautiful yet tortured, exemplifying both the glamour that queer people couldn’t access, and the tragedy of having to live a lie.
Image Credits: Wikipedia
Judy Garland is often considered the ultimate gay icon. For years, saying that you were a “friend of Dorothy” was code for being queer.
Image Credits: Glamour
Queer people loved the drama and allure of Monroe, but also connected to the tragedy of her life and death.
Image Credits: Harper’s Bazaar
Queer people are still drawn to Princess Diana’s lavish yet tragic life (Spencer, starring Kristen Stewert, is currently in theatres).
In contrast to the mysterious stars above, the Weirdos were celebrated by queer people for their boldness and candor. Often artists or fictional characters, The Weirdos represent the celebration of uniqueness that is core to the queer community. These icons embody humour, camp, and being unapologetically yourself.
Image Credits: MCA
Bowie was an openly bisexual / queer man, and his stage outfits are some of the most recognizable of any musical artist.
Image Credits: Cosmopolitan
Gaga rose to fame in the 2000s and became known for her outlandish outfits and music videos.
Image Credits: The Parody Wiki
Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a character in the 1975 film Rocky Horror. This cult film is famously campy and strange, and is celebrated in the queer community, with Curry’s character being a particular hero.
While many of The Tragic Beauties and even The Weirdos were not necessarily queer themselves, the Pioneers are remembered and celebrated for their activism and representation. They truly paved the way for the queer community, and much of the progress made in the last century is owed to them.
Marsha P Johnson
Image Credits: Biography.com
Marsha P Johnson was a trans woman and activist who lived in New York in the 1960s.
Image Credits: New Statesman
Audre Lorde was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and was a major voice of black lesbian feminism.
Image Credits: Biography.com
Laverne Cox is an actor and activist who paved the way by being one of the first mainstream trans actors in Hollywood.
The truth is, anyone can be a queer icon. It is not important who they are, but what impact they have on the individual. Icons help marginalized communities feel seen, and nudge them towards a self acceptance that can still be hard to reach.
Now, go out, find your own icons, and maybe one day you’ll be an icon to someone else too.