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Seeking Divas

Seeking Divas


Haven't we had enough of ditsy disappointments masquerading as divas?

Here's how the ad should read: "GAY COMMUNITY DESPERATELY SEEKS DIVA. Seeking genuinely inspiring performer with loads of raw talent and a real pedigree for turning tragedy into triumph. No perky D-list actresses or strung-out heiresses need apply."

The "diva drought" first became apparent to me this year as I sat in the opening night screening at Outfest, Los Angeles's gay film festival, listening in mild shock as Tori Spelling told a string of off-color jokes implying most of the attendees planned on having sex with each other in the bathroom--or right there in their seats if they were content to stop at oral. Those of us who were there to see the beautifully wrought drama Save Me or cheer on director Bill Condon as he was honored with an Outfest Achievement Award were at a loss for words. (How the numerous lesbians in attendance felt about Miss Spelling's monologue is fodder for another column.) How can it be that the minority that rioted in the streets in large part over the death of Judy Garland is now content to get giggly and grateful when a pretty young actress, reminiscent of one of the popular girls in high school, makes seemingly urbane jokes at our expense?

Don't get me wrong. Miss Spelling has had some good turns in her gay-friendly career, most notably her portrayal of a wildly self-obsessed aspiring actress in the gay indie film Trick. That said, we shouldn't underestimate our power as an audience for pop culture, and we shouldn't pretend that we are shallow and easily satisfied just because we think it will ingratiate us to straight celebrities who have deigned to show us their approval. It's fine to have fading pop stars perform at our clubs every now and then, but the stages of our pride festivals are becoming way stations for every has-been female vocalist looking to make a comeback. Their ill-advised single typically has a name that seeks some new combination of the words higher, joy, heaven, your arms, sweat, and swimming pool, and they usually open their act with some patronizing comment about how we gays have always stuck by them, even though most of the crowd doesn't have a clue who they are.

Paris Hilton's appointment as grand marshal of the 2005 Los Angeles LGBT Pride Parade in West Hollywood was an insult to anyone who has so much as distributed a pamphlet on behalf of gay rights. Gays responded quickly and resoundingly, and since then Hilton has failed to find the kind of loyal gay following that might have insulated her image during her criminal travails. (Indeed, when a squadron of news helicopters parked themselves in the sky over West Hollywood at the crack of dawn on the day she refused to return to prison, it seemed entirely possible that a mob of gay men would tear her limb from limb--myself included.) I bring up Paris Hilton because she's a great example of what a diva is not--an absurdly privileged young woman who has downright solicited all the negative attention she can get, as if she is convinced that each brick thrown at her by the media will cover her expansive shallowness with layers of permanent celebrity. Perhaps she could have groomed herself as more of a gay diva by showing an emotion besides wounded pride or by struggling through a personal tragedy created by something besides her avarice, but instead she chose to turn herself into stroke material for frat boys, a fickle bunch once they start drinking and hardly the kind of guys you can count on to keep you out of jail.

Regardless, too many gay men are content to leer at the exploits of Hilton and her ilk rather than seek out a new generation of genuinely talented women whose struggles dramatize and illuminate the emotional turmoil that many gay men feel defines their own lives. This is what a true diva is, and we owe it to society not to give up any ground when it comes to this definition. We belong at the leading edge of pop culture. We have no business comforting the losers in back.

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Christopher Rice