“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” defined Oscar Wilde’s expression of life, art, and his suffering. The Irish poet and writer’s narrative was complicated, tragic, and yet brilliant. In the late 19th century, when Wilde’s artistry and sparkling wit were applauded closely after his masterpiece- The Importance of Being Earnest had opened in London, he was arrested and convicted of “gross indecencies”. The above-mentioned literary piece bravely sketched instances of the main characters living a double life and explicitly referencing a same-sex relationship, portraying desires of homosexuality. The nature of the story was perhaps allegorical to how the LGBTQA+ community were and maybe somewhere still are forced to live?
Hiding in the closet, their voices hushed and their expressions suppressed, the dichotomy of the situation was not lost on anyone. Some might say, things have turned around and there is a positive change, which unarguably is true. We have come a long way from queerness being labeled a crime or a disease or something to be associated with “black magic”(a much-needed closure to the traumatizing superstitions). Though the progress we witness today is minimal at best, it is the culmination of years of the crusade. The accomplishments of the visionaries from the past serve as glimmers of light and signifiers of the fact that the struggle will end once all humans offer each other equal respect and see them as deserving of love and value regardless of their sexual preferences, class, ability, gender or race.
The queer audience has pushed to the forefront a diverse array of pioneers from all walks of life. Artists, editors, designers, and musicians, all turned activists in their journey paving a path for change, throwing rainbow confetti along the way. While some employed their whim and vigour and used their persona to drive change; others let their imaginative art be the pioneer for progress.
Marsha P. Johnson: Art Within Every Activist, Activist Within Every Artist
American activist Marsha P. Johnson is typically known for being one of the lead contributors who stood tall against the police clampdown during the Stonewall Inn uprising in the 1960s. There was more to her story. The self-acclaimed drag artist found enormous pleasure in designing her costumes that were inevitably eccentric and outlandish revelling in her fearless yet fanciful character. Whenever asked about what the “P” in her name stood for, she jested back with “pay it no mind”. Whilst Johnson’s motto was to be loud and to be proud, other artists from the period communicated through their creations. For instance, Andy Warhol’s Boy Book drawings admiringly illustrated sensuous male figures, and his heart-rending drag self-portraits from the 1950s were inspired by Frida Kahlo’s works(that suggested bisexuality) and exemplified his complex encounters/relationship with his queer identity. In contrast to his artistic expression across painting, photography, sculpture, and film, Warhol dressed up in monotone pullovers and circular-rimmed glasses, he was a true minimalist who went on to influence a new generation of liberals (aka millennials).
Marlene Dietrich: Speak Up, But In Style
During the golden epoch of the 1930s, there was little to no conversation revolving around LGBTQA+ community. With sexism at its peak, gender roles that are confining, and cross-dressing unequivocally considered a crime, this was a dark era. Amidst all the glitz and glamour of flapper girls, German-American actress Marlene Dietrich and singer chose to suit up(a real queen if you ask me). Her elaborate sixty-year career showcased her apathy for gender norms that led her to sport everything from a tuxedo to a top hat, play vamps in movies as opposed to the conventional damsel in distress, and date both men and women, gaining the reputation of being a femme fatale and smashing heteronormativity with flair.
Self-expression comes with its effects. For David Bowie, it came with the title of being an outsider (he adorned it like a crown!). It was Bowie before Gaga, who celebrated being a social pariah. His sexual ambiguousness was rooted in his psychedelic style staples and versatile almost other-worldly makeup looks. Unlike his contemporaries, Bowie wasn’t contained by societal expectations and positively sparked conversations around the community, even coming out as a queer in 1970 while being married to a woman. Much like Bowie, Elton John’s style was effervescent. From colourful jumpsuits to opulent jewellery and funky sunglasses, it was all drama.(Low-key want to put all of them in a museum). His exotic taste continues to inspire catwalks and celebrities alike.
British boy band Queen
The yearning to be accepted by the world establishes a figurative dungeon for those trying to embrace their true identities. “Break Free” by British boy band Queen relays exactly that and triumphs as a queer anthem. Remarkably, the music video features the band members dressed in drag- with the lead vocalist, Freddie carrying the bearded queen look. ( Conchita Wurst comes second in the line). Freddie’s grandiose demeanour was always accompanied by skintight-colored leather pants, plush metals, and over-the-top theatrical stage performances.
Speaking of pride anthems, icon, ally, and champion, Cher has always served the crème de la crème of pride party playlists. Her recent alliance with Donatella Versace on a limited line, titled “Chersace”, to raise funds for gender-diverse youth and their communities truly makes her the Ultimate ally.
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The desire to be seen, heard, and understood unifies the endeavours of these artists and exclaims “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” loud and clear.