Tag Archives: Boy George

Pride 2015: Loving my gays

25 Jun

gay prideI have known and loved gay men ever since I can remember. A man my father worked with when I was a wee child was gay – this was in the early `70s when being gay was still hush-hush and freshly decriminalized in Canada – but I had no conception of sexuality. Sid was flaming and living a lie, married to a woman. As a kid, I could neither put my finger on what it was about Sid that I was sensitive to, nor did I have the language to describe my perception of him, but there was something extra special about Sid: he had a lisp, a limp wrist, and he loved martinis.

What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.  – Tennessee Williams

In high school, I made friends with Jay, a fun, gentle gay man who I am still friends with. Jay was just Jay and his sexuality was not an issue – in our social group at least. Trying to deal with high school in the 1980s when homophobia was rampant and homosexuality very misunderstood, I was grateful for people who broke the rules and weren’t afraid to be themselves.  Jay was one of these; he was just himself and we couldn’t understand why people made such a big deal out of his sexuality – especially at a time when the people who teased him wore horrible mullets and listened to crappy bands like REO Speedwagon!

He took me into the clandestine gay bar in our small prairie city, a place very close to one of the larger and popular hetero bars. It was a secret place – we had to be signed in by members of the club and buzzed in through the locked door. At that time, being gay and being a gay ally was dangerous, so precautions had to be taken. But it was a wonderful time; Jay told me about his exploits with older men who recognized his state of being even before he did. It was a time of discovery about ourselves and our tastes; our rebellion, our character, and our desire to be ourselves. Through Jay, I learned to have fun and be true to myself no matter what people said about me.

Before you criticize queens, fairies or someone who acts ‘too queer’, consider where we’d be without them. -Ken Hanes, The Gay Guy`s Guide to Life

My first job out of high school was at a Canadian department store where I worked in the menswear department. This is where I met Greg. He was always neat, tidy, and smelled good. Greg was older than me and lived with his boyfriend in a gorgeous apartment in an old building with white pillars in the front. They introduced me to lots of older professional gay men who immediately accepted me for who I was, and I was completely taken by their open minds, their zest for life, sense of fun, and of course, their good taste.

Life can throw tough circumstances at us, but when you’ve got a life-long friend – especially a gay one – you know that you’ve been blessed. Greg and I have been through good times and bad together, still going strong 30 years later. He’s easy to talk to and laugh with; we have common loves like clothing and design. We don’t live in the same city any more, but no matter how much time has passed since we’ve been in contact, we always pick up where we left off. Greg taught me that no matter what a person’s sexual identity, we share the same joy, fear, and pain because we’re all human.

There’s this illusion that homosexuals have sex and heterosexuals fall in love. That’s completely untrue. Everybody wants to be loved. -Boy George

I spent ten wonderful years volunteering at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT). I was the first woman in the history of the agency to volunteer for the gay men’s outreach program, where I handed out countless packs of condoms and lube to guys in gay bars and talked about safer sex and social issues. In the beginning, some bars didn`t welcome women but I went in anyway and did my job with the objective of preventing transmission of HIV and STIs, and ultimately saving lives.  I also coordinated the route on several AIDS Walks for ACT to raise money for services for positive men in the community. My time with ACT gave some of my most fun and fulfilling moments, and I gained a deep understanding about the gay experience, gay politics, sexual health, and stigma; being open-minded, how to listen, and how not to judge.

I have no idea why gay men love me, but I would have to assume it’s because they know how much I love the gays! Everyone needs a good gay man in their life. – Chelsea Handler

The bond between gay men and hetero women is a natural match; most of my friends are gay men. I’ve met many fantastic gay men and made friends with some of the more amazing ones who have completely enriched my life. If you ask me, gay men are perfect beings created from the best elements of the masculine and the feminine and the more they are recognized and empowered, the better world it will be. I am very fortunate to know so many gays and I couldn’t imagine my life without them – love you all, darlings – Happy Pride! XOXO

PS – I’m taking July off writing – enjoy the summer!

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Liberace!

20 Jun

My grandmother loved Liberace. liberace1

He was on TV a lot when I was a kid in the 70s, and every time he was on a variety show,  she would sit glued to the set.

She loved his sparkling costumes, the jewelry, the furs, and of course, his ivory-tinkling (he was an extremely talented pianist).  I don’t remember her talking about him so I never got to find out what it was about this rouged and sequined piano player that drew her attention so much.

But when I was in high school, I had a grand-daughterly deja vu with a flamboyant musician myself, so I understood where she was coming from.

I immediately fell in love when I heard Culture Club’s Time (Clock of the Heart) on the radio in 1981, and for the next few years, I had Boy George’s face plastered all over my bedroom walls. There was something about him that I was hopelessly drawn to – his individuality, his creativity, and the courage to be himself. But surely, I was attracted to him, he was a man after all… but something was amiss.

My love of Boy George confused me, just like my grandmother’s attraction to Liberace – we both had rigid gender roles stuffed down our throats, and any behaviour that strayed from what was “normal” for men and for women was suspect – illegal, in fact, during my grandmother’s era – but these were entertainers and they were allowed to be a little “eccentric”.

Though publicly closeted, Liberace was the first gay man to have his own TV show, he starred in movies, he was raking in $50,000 a week at the Riviera in Las Vegas, and he sold millions and millions of records. Women adored him.

He wore outrageous costumes for a man a the time – hell, even for a woman at the time – and I wonder if his female fan following had to do with a mutual love of glitz and girlish glamour.

Liberace red cape

The American Fashion Foundation called him the best-dressed man in show business back in the day,  and apparently, our  Mr. Showmanship  modeled himself after 19th century Bavarian King Ludwig II,  a suspected gay man and patron of Wagner. To me, Liberace was more like a fabulous, flamboyant papal drag queen complete with dainty gold slippers and flowing robes.

Liberace’s tremendous wealth enabled him to surround himself in homes decorated in Rococo style, high-end cars, and custom-made pianos. He wore the most elaborate, heavily sequined, plumed, and embroidered costumes, encrusted with diamond buttons and pounds of Swarovski rhinestones. Even his shoes were custom-made to match his outfits.

Detail of a Liberace costume – hand-sewn sequins and beading

He was a costume designer’s dream and commissioned a new wardrobe every year. In a 1982 interview, Michael Travis, Liberace’s costume designer during the late 70s and early 80s,  said of Liberace, “There’s nothing he will not do. He’s very flexible.”

The article describes Liberace’s most expensive outfit ever – a $300,000, 137-pound shimmering fox fur with a 16-foot train worn over a bejeweled tuxedo valued at $50,000.

“Every time he plays to a new audience he wants to see what he can shock them with,” Travis said.

And shock he did, much to the delight of his femme-heavy fan base.

Cape inspired by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus?

People don’t realize how Liberace inspired many entertainers of our modern era. I can see how he may have inspired Prince who liked to wear ruffled shirts under sequined satin suits and heeled boots. Rob Lowe, who plays Dr. Jack  Startz,  Liberace’s plastic surgeon, in the 2013 HBO special, Behind the Candelabra, says of Liberace,  “He invented bling. Like the rappers of today wouldn’t be wearing or doing anything of what they’re doing without Liberace first.”

He was a true original and fantastically talented man who sadly denied his sexuality to his grave. It is through him that my grandmother’s gaydar found its glow, and I am pleased to have inherited it.

Happy Pride 2013!

Liberace links:

This short TIME video will make you smile.

Interview with Behind the Candelabra costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick.

Take a virtual tour of the (now closed) Liberace museum in Las Vegas. 

Learn about the sets, props, and costumes from the 2013 HBO special, Behind the Candelabra, in this video.

Freddie Mercury

30 Jun

Freddie Mercury, Queen singer and world-wide inspiration

To honour Pride Week, I’m inspired by one of the most famous and flamboyant men in rock and roll history, a man with one of the most powerful singing voices the world has ever heard, a man loved by heterosexual hooligans, glam boys, and everyday people: Freddie Mercury.

The man was incredible, absolutely brilliant in every way. He had the type of genius that isn’t meant to survive for long in this world… instead to burn brightly for a short, intense time and then fade to the black behind the curtains with a flourish, leaving the rest of us to spend our lives playing catch up, trying our best to understand what we’ve just seen and heard, and to cherish it forever.

– Random fan comment on a Queen video on YouTube

Gender roles

Freddie Mercury broke the rules. He took the rigid concepts of gender and not only bent them, but transcended them.

I recognize Freddie’s contribution to the world on levels beyond musical appreciation – I am no stranger to gender-bending. It all started with my high school obsession with Boy George (Freddie himself saw the Culture Club singer’s talent), then in university, I had a kick-ass feminist Dramaturgy professor in Theatre school who got me to think outside of assigned gender roles and introduced her classes to performances where men played women and women played male roles, playfully confusing our understanding of conformed gender. Donating time at the AIDS Committee of Toronto for years as the first woman to volunteer in the gay men’s outreach program and sitting in on all kinds of in-service workshops and presentations, I am well-acquainted with sexuality, gender, and the socialization of both. I see humans as incredibly complex beings and to force us into pre-assigned gender pigeonholes seems unfair, unless of course those gender restrictions are natural for that person.

I understand that between the socially accepted extremes of sexuality and gender is a vast ocean representing anything and everything in between. This was initially observed by Alfred Kinsey who devised the Kinsey Scale in 1948 “in order to account for research findings that showed people did not fit into neat and exclusive heterosexual or homosexual categories.”

The LGBT community does not fit into these prescribed gender roles and I interpret the queer community as people who are natural being whoever they are and whoever they want to be. It’s about being authentic and there is a great freedom in this.

Glam

Gender-bending was part of the fun of  the Glam Rock movement that took the UK by storm in the early 1970s, lead by the super sexy and super androgynous Marc Bolen of T. Rex. David Bowie, Gary Glitter, Alice Cooper, and Sweet among others followed in shocking suit wearing make-up, long hair, outrageous glitzy costumes, and platform boots. While Bolen was a huge figure who I believe to be the godfather of Glam, the man who fronted Queen took Glam, performance, and popular music to new heights previously unseen.

Of Glam, Freddie Mercury said in 1973, “We’re confident people will take to us, because although the camp image has already been established by people like Bowie and Bolan, we are taking it to another level. The concept of Queen is to be regal and majestic. Glamour is part of us and we want to be dandy. We want to shock and be outrageous instantly.”

Mercury was special. In the beginning, he experimented with bi-sexuality before fully embracing his homosexuality. “I’m as gay as a daffodil, my dear!” he once said. Freddie sang with an amazingly powerful voice with an astonishing range, wrote classic generational anthems, and rocked and inspired millions of people. Sadly, he was also one of the first famous people that AIDS took from us.

The Mercury image

You may not know this, but Freddie was born Farrokh Bulsara, to Persian parents in Zanzibar, attended an English boarding school near Bombay, and settled in the UK in 1964. He was a part of a post-psychedelic 60s movement that spotlighted sexual and gender experimentation and changed rock music forever. Glam inspired the New Romantics of the early 80s and the androgynous metal hair bands of the mid-80s, all the way up to modern acts like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Adam Lambert.

Freddie predicted his legendary status and thought of himself as a “musical prostitute”. He was a star, he knew it, and he worked it: “I do deliver sex appeal. It’s part of modern rock. I sell sex appeal with my body movements on stage.”

His costumes, part of his onstage persona, were specially designed for him by Zandra Rhodes and later by Diana Moseley (she did the yellow military jacket he wore at Live Aid in 1985). From tight sequined or harlequin jumpsuits to macho leather jackets, and from dreamy floating caftans to regal ermine-trimmed capes, Freddie said, “I dress to kill, but tastefully.”

While viewing some Queen videos online, I was struck by this comment: “Freddie Mercury may be the only person with 6 glasses of beer on top of a piano, [in] a Superman shirt and tight white pants allowed to sing that way. Thanks Freddie.”

The Mercury legacy

Freddie Mercury moved many of us for all sorts of reasons. I’ve been overdosing on Queen music and Queen videos because I love their music and find Freddie’s voice incredible. I also like his flamboyant image and fun attitude. But what did he do for other people? I asked some friends what Freddie meant to them:

“Freddie was a man comfortable in his own skin and that comfort continues to inspire other men to seek and hold their own confidence in their dress and their attitude. I love Madonna but he was the original “Express Yourself””.       – Shaun Proulx of Shaun Proulx Media

“I think my impression of him now is mostly fantasy. He is wilder, crazier and gayer in my mind’s eye than he could possibly have been in real life. There are some lyrics or bits of live performance that steal you away from the purity of my original listens to the records, but if I go back to my young mind where gay and straight didn’t exist, I can hear Queen the way I like to hear them: without subtext, back story or bias – lovely.”  – Mark Wigmore, CBC RADIO 2 DRIVE

“A musical genius with a lust for life; I would have loved to shop with him!”      – Mary

“As a singer, he was phenomenal, and Queen was HUGE in the 70s. However, as a little Catholic boy coming to terms with his sexuality, there was something a little too ‘out there’, even if I wasn’t sure yet what that was. By the time the cringe-inducing “We Are the Champions” became a hetero anthem for athletes a few years later, my sense of irony was highly developed…. I still can’t listen to that song without gagging, and hearing slamming locker doors.” – John

“Freddie Mercury made the flamboyant, colourful and over-the-top performer seem cool and more importantly, macho.” – Tony

“Freddie Mercury was to my mind one of the gay world’s pioneers. He broke the hard ground of suspicion and intolerance and won acclaim and respect. I am saddened and frustrated by the fact he, and others like him, can’t see today what good he has done in winning us more acceptance. Ironically, I suppose, his loss has been our gain.” – Barry

“He was the showstopper, no question. He was easily one of the greatest performers ever. Performing was his gift–along with that superb voice! And truthfully, we all knew he was a gender-bender; that is one reason why I became more and more open to lifestyles like his. It made me realize connecting with both sides of our sexuality can produce great talent–the fruits of which will remain unforgettable.” – Tim

Freddie in 2012

Freddie lives on! Superimpose the Borat moustache onto Freddie’s face and see what you come up with – a Freddie Mercury biopic starts shooting this year, starring Sasha Baron-Cohen.

Also, check out Youtube for various documentaries on Freddie Mercury with interviews from his close friends, family, and lovers, to get to know him better.

For Pride or any time, get out your Queen albums and celebrate Freddie, one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century!

Let me welcome you ladies and gentlemen
I would like to say hello
Are you ready for some entertainment?
Are you ready for a show?
Gonna rock gonna roll you
Get you dancing in the aisles
Jazz and a razzmatazz you
With a little bit of style
C’mon let me entertain you
Let me entertain you let me entertain you

– Freddie Mercury