Why our favourite celebrities should love us back.
By VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH
Why our favourite celebrities should love us back. BY VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH
In June, I sat with several million others and watched the Tony Awards. Mikell Kober, a lesbian acquaintance of mine and a theater geek, was in the process of producing a new play, Frankenstein Upstairs (about a lesbian couple living below some intriguing goingson), so I was immersed in theatre at the time. Tony night is so magical. That it happens during Pride month just makes it that much more meaningful. I haven’t lived in New York but something about Tony night makes everyone feel this close to Broadway.
On Broadway, everyone is gay. So on Tony night, it was the overwhelming queerness that got to me—seeing so many gay and lesbian actors, playwrights and producers in a love-fest with their straight allies. It felt like we—queer Americans—were not just part of the larger
society, but were society.
I cried during several of the speeches— notably, when out gay African American actor Billy Porter, who portrayed Lola in Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots, won the Tony for best actor in a musical. Porter gave one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard about love, acceptance and the importance of embracing the queers in your family. Lauper herself, the first woman to win a Tony for best musical score and a longtime LGBT rights activist, gave a feminist and pro-queer speech for the ages.
Kinky Boots producer Suzanne Mackie finished out the night, asserting that this was a play about making the world a better place.
So for me, this year’s Tony night was everything we, the queer audience, want from the celebrities we idolise. They embraced us, they told us they got it, they told us we mattered.
WHY CAN’T IT ALWAYS BE LIKE THAT?
Celebrity is the great cult, in which everyone but the most elitist among us are members. I too have a fondness for some of the glitterati. I have long been a fan of Cyndi Lauper, who, when asked about why she’s such a strong supporter of LGBT rights, said simply, “I’m friend and family, so…I live among my people.” (Lauper’s sister is a lesbian.)
MY PEOPLE. SWEET.
And of course it’s difficult to imagine anyone but the right-wing fringe group One Million Moms not loving Ellen DeGeneres. She’s a celebrity who always seems to live up to our expectations—just look at her support for all things queer and her outspokenness about bullying.
Rosie O’Donnell has a few crazy ideas, such as her 9/11 conspiracy theories, but she’s a tireless voice, not just for LGBT causes, but for kids and parents. Even when she’s acting a little nuts, she’s so open and honest that it’s hard not to love her.
Wanda Sykes talks about being a momm just like other women celebrities do. That she’s an African American lesbian legally married to a French woman never seems to be an issue. She talks to male talk show hosts about their wives, and they talk to her about hers.
It’s fabulous. But it happens because she makes it happen.
Celebrity isn’t all warm fuzziness, however. The celebrities who run in and out of the closet make us feel bad about ourselves because they can’t accept their true sexuality. I don’t care that Anne Heche was a lesbian for five minutes 20 years ago, or that Gillian Anderson had a lesbian affair in high-school.
I don’t need to hear anything else about Queen Latifah, Robin Roberts, Janelle Monáe or any of the other women who are rumoured to be closet cases but apparently just can’t bring themselves to open that door. I can no longer even talk about Lindsay Lohan.
Nor do I need to hear about the straight actors and musicians who have a lesbian following but really don’t care about us. Many women stars play to the lesbian crowd and then get incensed when we think they are one of us. I may still love their music, but I’m over
Sarah McLachlan and Ani DiFranco. Michelle Shocked’s recent homophobic tirade and Lauryn Hill’s new anti-gay hit knocked the both of them off my playlist for good.
I took some heat back in January when I wrote a column about how tiresome I find Jodie Foster, and how she’s a terrible role model for young lesbians—or queers of any age. Heretical, I know. “But we love Jodie.”
Really? Why? Do you love her refusal to acknowledge anything or anyone queer? Do you love her best friend, the homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic wife-abuser Mel Gibson, who is rumoured to be the father of her children?
Do you like her support for convicted childrapist Roman Polanski? Because I don’t love any of that. And when I hear yet another rambling, self-serving speech in which she plays games about being a lesbian, I want to just shake her and tell her to stop manipulating her queer audience.
But that’s the thing about celebrity—these people aren’t our friends. They’re stars. They’re an elite class. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do, because they have more money than God and just as much access.
So why do we give them such power over us? Why do we spend so much time paying attention to what they say and do—or won’t say and won’t do?
I’ve been privileged to have some exchanges with Roseanne Barr on Twitter. I admit I was pretty thrilled that she noticed me, and was talking to me and favouriting my tweets. I was impressed that she’d read my recent writings on rape, which admittedly have gone viral, but still—she’s Roseanne Barr!
I’ve been watching Roseanne for what seems like my whole adult life. She’s funny, smart and politically astute. I love it that she doesn’t give a fuck what people think or say about her. I love it that she ran for president.
That she has thousands of followers and responded to me was exciting. I had a fan-girl moment. But why was I swooning over her and telling my friends about it? Why was I so thrilled that this famous woman was reaching out to me?
Because, like everyone else, I’m drawn to celebrity. And when celebrities turn out to be people who don’t care if they are talking to someone in their own super-famous sphere or someone way lower on the pole of fame, that validates my fan-ish love for them.
Likewise, the cringe-worthy speech Foster gave at the Golden Globes does the opposite: makes me feel like the fan-girl love and support is misguided and misplaced.
But how fair is that? Jodie Foster is, after all, just another 50-year-old lesbian with issues.
Don’t we all know plenty of real-life women like her? Do I find her tiresome precisely because I know so many women like her—women who are still mostly in the closet, even though everyone knows they’re gay and they’re old enough that they really shouldn’t care about such things? I expect more from celebrities than I do from the lesbian down the block. I expect them to be out, to be activists, to be role models. I expect them to give some of their big bucks to queer causes. I expect them to reach out to queer kids and feed them the “it gets better” line, even though I find it incredibly deceptive.
When I think back on the magic of Tony night, what I recall is feeling one with the celebrities. Feeling like I could have been Billy Porter, or been friends with Cyndi Lauper. The way they and the other stars spoke that night made me feel included and embraced, loved and accepted.
That’s what I want from my celebrities. But I also want to see that in my celebrities: I want to know that they aren’t self-loathing queers or closet homophobes, but that they accept themselves for who they are and accept us—their audience—for who we are.
What I want is for every night to be Tony night, where everyone acts like queer is just part of our world—and should be.
Like Lauper, they should think of me as their people. Otherwise, they don’t deserve my fan-girl moments. Or yours.
Follow Victoria A. Brownworth on Twitter: @VABVOX