Gay icon  

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A gay icon is a public figure (historical or current) who is embraced by many within lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. Dykon, a portmanteau of the words "dyke" and "icon", has recently entered common lexicon to describe figures particularly iconic to lesbians.

Qualities of a gay icon often include glamour, flamboyance, strength through adversity, and androgyny in presentation. Such icons can be of any sexual orientation or gender; if LGBT, they can be out or not. Although most gay icons have given their support to LGBT social movements, some have expressed opposition, advocating against a perceived "homosexual agenda".

Historical icons are typically elevated to such status because their sexual orientation remains a topic of debate among historians. Modern gay icons, who are predominantly female entertainers, commonly garner a large following within LGBT communities over the course of their careers. The majority of gay icons fall into one of two categories: They are either tragic, sometimes martyred figures or prominent pop culture idols.

Historical examples

The earliest gay icon was Saint Sebastian. The combination of his strong, shirtless physique, the symbolism of the arrows penetrating his body, and the look on his face of rapturous pain have intrigued artists both gay and straight for centuries, and began the first explicitly gay cult in the 19th century. Richard A. Kaye wrote, "contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case." Due to Saint Sebastian's status as gay icon, Tennessee Williams chose to use that name for the martyred character Sebastian in his play, Suddenly, Last Summer. The name was also used by Oscar Wilde—as Sebastian Melmoth—when in exile after his release from prison, as is Little Britain character Sebastian, tortured in his unreturned love for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Wilde—Irish author, humorist and "dandy"—was about as "out of the closet" as was possible for the late 1800s, and is himself considered to be a gay icon.

Marie Antoinette was an early lesbian icon. Rumors about her relationships with women had been circulated in pornographic detail by anti-royalist pamphlets before the French Revolution. In Victorian England, biographers who idealized the Ancien Régime made a point of denying the rumors, but at the same time romanticized Marie Antoinette's "sisterly" friendship with the Princesse de Lamballe as—in the words of an 1858 biography—one of the "rare and great loves that Providence unites in death." By the end of the 19th century she was a cult icon of "sapphism;" her execution, seen as tragic martyrdom, may have added to her appeal. Allusions to her appear in early 20th century lesbian literature, most notably Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, where the gay playwright Jonathan Brockett describes Marie Antoinette and de Lamballe as "poor souls... sick to death of the subterfuge and pretenses." She had crossover appeal as a gay icon as well, at least for Jean Genet, who was fascinated by her story. He included a reenactment of her execution in his 1947 play The Maids.

List of gay icons

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Gay icon" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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