Why We Love Divas...Let Us Count the Ways

Maybe it started with Greta Garbo. Quentin Crisp was a huge fan.


If you're older than I am -- admit it or not, some of you are -- perhaps Judy Garland is your goddess. Guys around my age love Streisand, Midler, Joan Collins, Madonna. And if you're younger than I am, maybe its Beyoncé or Lady Gaga.

The list of divas who have won the love, respect and support of gay men grows longer all the time. Even the butchest gay man can turn nelly over Liza Minnelli. So if it's not a generational thing, what is it about strong female entertainers that speaks to most gay men?

Writer David Elijah Nahmod claims that Cher "tells me that it's OK to be who I am."

Mitchell Troy loves Bette Davis because "She did things her way. She never minced words. If she liked you, she liked you. If she didn't, you knew it! She had a huge career and an interesting life."

Many of our divas stand the test of time. For example, Garland is still #1 diva for many, including twenty-something actor Charles William Romaine. "She basically invented the multi-hyphenate career and set the standard for other performers. Her music and movies continue to attract new audiences. As Frank Sinatra famously said, 'The rest of us will be forgotten. Never Judy.'"

Tallulah Bankhead is Jerry Linkhart's diva-of-choice. Why? "While President Truman was visiting her suite, she had a call to nature. She insisted on leaving the door open while peeing so she wouldn't miss anything! Plus, she slept with both Hattie McDaniel and Billie Holiday!"

Some of our divas are less obvious. Johnny Kat of San Francisco cites Cass Elliot as his favorite. "When she sang 'Different is hard, different is lonely, different is trouble for you only. Different is heartache, different is pain. But I'd rather be different than be the same," she was speaking directly to me," says Kat.

Television supplied many women-to-worship for younger gay generations. Some grew up idolizing fictional television divas Lucy Ricardo, Samantha and Endora of Bewitched; or Jeannie of I Dream of Jeannie. For me, it watching The Bionic Woman played by Lindsay Wagner and Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman. Younger generations have embraced Alexis Carrington, Zena the Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Valerie Cherish.

It's often been speculated that Golden Girls was really about gay men, played by women. The same has been said for Absolutely Fabulous and Sex and the City. Maybe, as some believe, older gay men prefer their stories be told with women in our roles; perhaps it's easier to digest than a "mirror image" of ourselves?

Then again, perhaps it's the "survivor" we recognize and identify with. Many of our favorite divas have taken hit after hit, only to bounce back, bigger and better than ever. Gay men certainly take their share of hard knocks in life -- maybe we identify with their resilience?

Or perhaps it's because our divas have supported us, even before it was acceptable to do so publicly. Joan Crawford had a long friendship with gay actor-turned-designer William Hayes. Tallulah is quoted as saying "There's a bit of the homosexual in all of us, don't you know."

Recently, Dolly Parton took her country-western fans to task for judging gays. Lisa Kudrow stated in a recent interview that she felt gay men were "superior" beings.

And of course, Elizabeth Taylor out-diva'd them all. Always a advocate of the gay community ("there would be no Hollywood without gays"), she came out swinging against AIDS before any of her contemporaries. Sharon Stone carries on in her stead.

But I think the answer goes even deeper.

Whether fictional or real life, there are two things all these women had or have in common: extraordinary talent and incredible strength.

Back in my 20s, I asked my then-shrink. Why would I, a gay man and a non-violent pacifist, grow up worshiping ass-kickers like Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman? I wasn't a woman trapped in a man's body -- so why did these two role models strike such a chord with me when I was a kid?

His reply was so quick and simple, I was ashamed I'd never thought of it before.

"As a kid, you were seeking strong role models, Leon," he explained "who were still capable of compassion and fear. So you identified with Jamie Somers, who felt fear but did it anyway, and Diana Prince, who was a warrior who fought to establish peace. Male heroes are macho, and macho comes attached with homophobic bullshit. Being gay, you wanted heroes without all the macho bullshit attached."

It made sense to me, and still does. Whether their gifts are witchcraft, super-human strength, a great singing voice, stinging wit or a constitution strong enough to endure multiple divorces or numerous overdoses, all of our heroines are capable and strong. And none of them -- from Bette and Tallulah to Cher and Buffy -- come with any "macho homophobic bullshit attached."

So who's your diva of choice and why?
Leon Acord is the writer and star of the gay web series Old Dogs & New Tricks, currently in its diva-heavy third season with guest stars Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest), Mo Gaffney (Absolutely Fabulous) & Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows)!

(public domain movie still// Wikimedia Commons)