Divas have long been associated with gay pop culture, and the more dramatic they are, the better. The rise of reality television and memes have ushered in a hilarious new phase of gay culture which perpetuates this reverence for divas both grand and small. Liam Arne takes a leap down into this rabbit hole below!
In mainstream gay culture, we frequently see a great emphasis placed upon the role of media—particularly television—in the construction of our communal identity and sense of humor. How do gay meme pages like Superficial and Best of Grindr know exactly how Mariah Carey memes of her trademark above-it-all nonchalance will ignite a cackle among a gaggle of gays? Or that any image of infamous modern-day divas like Kim Kardashian or Tiffany “New York” Pollard overreacting will send us into a tizzy of “omg same,” “I’m dead,” and “yas kween!” commentary?
This reverie in women’s drama, especially by stars, has accompanied gay culture throughout the 20th century into the present. The feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Cher’s dramatic costume changes and diva nature, Diana Ross’s spectacular outbursts and craving for the spotlight, and Madonna’s overt sexuality have all captured the gay imagination again and again. Today, we have The Real Housewives franchise to get our daily fill of unreasonable drama and pettiness.
What is it about these fiery and childish behaviors that strike a chord within our community? What makes us as gay men value conflicts between women or incredible expressions of entitlement from female performers?
This penchant for watching (but rarely participating in) such passionate fights between women demonstrates to me a few things about the collective gay male experience that proves fascinating to see played out before us.
Every time I watch grown women brawl on Bad Girls Club, something inside me viscerally responds with shouts of exaltation and encouragement and shrieks of excitement and joy because as a queer person, I am vulnerable to fights I can never start. I can never express my disfavor in such bombastic methods because conflict could end with me being serious injured or killed if tensions escalate and a group of men decide to end a perceived nuisance.
Most women face a similar fearful dynamic, but this scarily real issue raised conditions that women could often only fight each other and that men could never seek physical conflict with women for their own safety. These reassurances are essential to women’s survival and must be respected, but gay femme men get caught in a grey area in which there is no fair way to communicate such disagreements—except in passive aggression or bitchy reads.
In the constructed realm of reality television, we see who we wish we could be and how we could react in these violent and petty displays. Pettiness has always been a somewhat safe way to communicate frustration as a femme person, no matter their body.
Our obsession with camp and drama coincides with this dynamic. The audacity of women to demand the fabulous attention and rewards they deserve is incredibly attractive to gay audiences. We want this attention and glamour for ourselves but cannot risk our safety to demonstrate those desires out loud, so we rely on our favorite empowered women to do it for all of us.
Every outfit and video Lady Gaga produces results in gay screams around the world because she exemplifies this boldness to be her, to be creative, to express yourself. Her queenly attitude inspires young gay men everywhere to cast off their fear and be who they are because if she can be carried in an egg to an awards show, then he can make it through the school day even as homophobic words and actions pelt his skin.
Drag queens interweave the caustic commentary and high-level glamourous creativity that gay culture thrives upon and reality television makes more accessible at every hour of the day. Watching the wild performances and staged drama of RuPaul’s Drag Race represents meta-level portrayals of these internal dialogues of femmes who refuse to be caged through the safe distance of a television screen.
These representations matter because gay men need that strength to persevere and aspire to be a bad bitch one day soon.