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How Not to Become a Gay Icon

Shortly after graduating college, I found myself in an “identity crisis.”  I realized that I had spent the last four years of my life writing analytical essays about “thingness” or whatever other words I could add -ness to the end of, and over-using the word “utterly” to make myself sound scholarly. Well, turned out my studies were utterly useless, the job market was utter shit, and I was an utterly broke and utterly depressed wreck.  My life was like that movie Tiny Furniture, except I wished that my mom had a swanky TriBeCa loft that I could steal wine from when she wasn’t home, and my sex life wasn’t even active enough for doggy-style drain piping (um, you’ll have to see the movie for that one). Instead, I was in San Francisco, struggling to get by, and  immediately surrounded by men who would have liked me better if I had a wee-wee.  So, in an effort to expand my social circle, get free drinks, and (so I thought at the time) achieve my true calling in this world, I did what any lonely and depressed weirdo with a love of glitter eyeshadow would do:  I attempted to become a Gay Icon.

What do I mean by “Gay Icon,” you ask?  I mean a Gaga, a Liza, or a Babs.  A Cher, or– for the eccentric types– a Tilda.  I mean a sassy, typically unconventionally attractive, talented diva that is adored by homosexual men far-and-wide.  The only problem was that I can sing and act about as well as I can grow a wee-wee, which is to say: not at all.  So I had to rely on my wit alone, which I guess made me more like a less-obnoxious Kathy Griffin than anything.  But instead of taking to the stage (the idea of displaying my oily T-zone to a “live studio audience” was enough to send me into a fit of the shakies/mad face-scrubbing rage), I pursued the title of “Funny Lady Gay Icon” the way I knew best: I  threw on my wackiest ensembles, frequented the gay bars, and bestowed my humorous anecdotes upon smaller, less anxiety-inducing groups.

Before I tell you how my brush with gay iconicity both began and ended (spolier alert: like a hormonally-charged junior prom date, it burned hot and fast, and ended in vomiting), lemme shout something from the rooftops: anyone attempting to be  Gay Icon should steer clear of fag haggery.  Fag hags are called “hags” for a reason– much like their cousins, spinsters, fag hags are sad and desperate, and use gay men as boyfriend substitutes/ego boosters who assure them that no, those tube socks don’t make their calves look chunky.  And while I was sad (that I could no longer use “utterly” without sounding like an ass), and desperate (for a job that didn’t make my soul sore), and without a boyfriend (seemed like the all of the guys  I knew in SF were gay or 42, and I already had too many daddy issues to be dating someone closeted or with crow’s feet), I wasn’t looking for reassurance in the form of a  badly stereotyped wrist-flicking shopping buddy.  I was just looking to let loose and freely express myself after years of forced scholarliness, and the gay bars of San Francisco seemed like the most logical place to let my freak flag fly.

But the pressures of being a gay icon proved to be harder to handle than I thought.  In the beginning, being a wannabe Queen of the Castro seemed easy enough: I joined my friends at gay happy hours, told jokes, dazzled with over-the-top ensembles, guzzled free and cheap beverages, and met lots of new people. I was hangin’ ten on the rainbow pipeline, and– cowabunga, dude!– it felt awesome.  That is, until I sucked down too many free G&Ts one night, and mid-sentence during a sassy tale, threw up on someone’s expensive shoes.  The barf kept coming, and wouldn’t stop– certainly freaky, but not exactly the type of freakiness I’d hoped to exhibit.  A security guard kicked me out of the bar, and my best friend put me in a cab to his apartment where he remarked that he “could feel the vomit splashing all over his ankles.”  My memory of the rest of that night is spotty, but I do remember falling in my friend’s shower, and (lowest point of my entire life) throwing up on his bed.  The next morning, when I awoke at his apartment with no non-barf-encrusted clothes to wear to work, I was confronted with the tough choice between the only two lady outfits in his closet: his Tina Turner Halloween costume, and his Madame Zapple drag outfit.  I went with Madame Zapple, and ended up completing my work day in a shiny, hot pink dress with billowy sleeves that “hid [my friend’s] big arms.”  Funny thing is, about six people told me how nice I looked that day.  Not so funny thing is, my best friend also worked with me, and passed me a note later that day that read, “Do you remember kissing me profusely last night?”

So, living the life of a Gay Icon turned out to be too much for a nerd like me.  Fame (even F-list fame) takes a toll on people, and all divas have their hot mess moments, but I didn’t want to become the name on everybody’s lips for all of the wrong reasons.  I’m glad that I broke free from my post-grad funk and let my freak flag fly, but I’m not so sure that the guy whose shoes I ruined was as happy about my freak flaggin’.  That being said, I will offer this advice to any potential Gay-Icons-in-the-Making: wear as much glitter eyeshadow as possible, dance, and enjoy those amazing 2-for-1 drink specials (nothing beats happy hour in the Castro), but don’t get so wrapped up in the glory of Gay Iconicity that you turn into a barfer in the billowing sleeves of a drag queen.  The hot mess-ness of that display is utterly repulsive.

Photo credit: Classic TV Beauties

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About the author

Carrie Laven - Pretty Penniless

Carrie Laven is a natural-born storyteller from California, but she lives in New York now. She likes dogs, nail art, and Mexican food, but mostly she likes scoring sweet deals at thrift stores. She tends to have a flair for the dramatic.