real life

"These are the famous women who helped me come out of the closet."

Mother Madonna, when you call my name it’s like a little prayer.

You could say my sister “turned” me gay by making us listen to a Madonna cassette tape of The Immaculate Collection on family road trips. But let’s be real, my sister – and Madonna – didn’t “turn” me into anything, they just brought out what was naturally there.

It’s pretty much folklore now that gay men look up to – and worship with every fibre of their being – famous women from a young age. Judy Garland! Cher! Bette Midler! Madonna! Beyonce!

famous women who helped me come out of the closet
"These strong women overcame some sort of public battle and set an example for their peers."

These women have inspired more than a few drag queens in their time. But I'm talking about the special relationship a gay man has with his female idols - the strong women who overcame some sort of public battle and set an example for their peers.

Personally, I saw the following women as beacons who made my lonely little world of "who the hell am I, I'm a boy growing up in '90s Australia who doesn't like sports" conundrum just a little easier to endure.

Madonna

Let's start with the obvious. The outspoken, sexually provocative, take-me-or-leave-me ultimate sass queen is clearly an inspiration for many a queer soul yearning to be so bold.

My first Madonna memory was at four or five years old, sitting in the family car (a sepia-toned Nissan) on road trips listening to my sister's cassette of The Immaculate Collection. Mum and Dad would always fast forward through 'Justify My Love' – the “naughty” song with the heavy breathing – which naturally made me even more curious.

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famous women who helped me come out of the closet
"Mother Madonna, when you call my name it's like a little prayer." (Image: Facebook)

I didn't know it at the time, but those feelings of being open about love and self-expression in songs like ‘Open Your Heart’, ‘Express Yourself’ and ‘Vogue’, actually had a subliminal message I'd need in my life 10 or so years later.

Flash forward to 1998, deep in Sydney's northern 'burbs. I bought the cassette tape for Ray of Light. I was 12, finally at an age where I was figuring out that this bold, boundary-pushing woman had things to say that I connected with.

There was no turning back now, zephyr in the sky at night...

Kylie Minogue

In late 2001, Kylie released Fever. You know the album with Can't Get You Out of My Head (known shorthand to us fanboys as CGYOOMH) on it.

As a 16-year-old doing high school musicals and finally starting to feel comfortable in my skin, this album was an invitation to dance, be free, embrace love at first sight (still my favourite Kylie song), and of course, pretend you're Kylie in that incredible white jumpsuit from the CGYOOMH video.

"While other guys at school were still into Red Hot Chilli Peppers, I secretly listened to Kylie on my Discman." (Image: Parlophone)
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While other guys at school were still into Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Foo Fighters, I secretly listened to Kylie on my Discman (look it up, pre-iPod, pre-iPhone, pre-iTunes babies). She provided an escape, and she also represented a relatable person who had changed the narrative of what people thought of her.

Daggy Charlene from Neighbours transformed into a seductive chanteuse with indie cred (Nick Cave, Impossible Princess) and one hell of an “I’M BAAAACK” comeback (One word: HOTPANTS). Thank you, Kylie, for always reminding me that a comeback is just one gold lame hotpant-spin around the corner.

Years later, as an entertainment reporter, I got to interview Kylie in person. I didn’t tell her how much her music helped me during those coming out years – I was trying be professional. But I hope she knows now.

*SIDE NOTE: A few years after Fever, I had an ex who named his cat Fever.

Christina Aguilera

Xtina's 'Dirrty' and 'Beautiful' sum up my coming out experience as a perfect duality. The first was a brash destruction of the former ‘Genie in a Bottle’ singer’s girl-next-door persona – a declaration of independence, an uncompromising, Madonna-esque liberation. The latter was her "big message song" that uniqueness is what makes a person beautiful.

"Christina's message was that uniqueness is what makes a person beautiful." (Image: Youtube)
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The video clip broke ground for showing a gay couple kissing - KISSING - and of course this was censored across most TV channels (Ten's Video Hits was one). This was pre-Brokeback Mountain, pre-Glee, pre-anything where a gay couple kissing wasn’t somehow a shocking thing.

During this time, I met a group of LGBTI-questioning teens at a youth group held by NSW health body ACON, facilitated by a youth worker. We came from all different parts of Sydney, but we all were obsessed with Xtina, debating our favourite tracks on Stripped, and finding our own ways to feel “dirty” and “beautiful”.

Jennifer Aniston

Now this one's a little awkward. I spent my early teens trying to be straight, like every young future gay does. Despite buying every issue of Smash Hits, TV Hits, Big Hit, and even the imported UK mags for Top of The Pops and Smash Hits, I still convinced myself that my pop culture obsession was just as "straight" as liking sport.

But I had to keep a lot of that in the closet to avoid teasing. I took measures to ensure I felt "straight" enough - I made sure the posters on my wall reflected that.

Straight guys like Jennifer Aniston, yeah? (Image: Facebook)
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The two main posters were telling: Jennifer Aniston in a small white midriff flashing an amazing tan. And Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic era, smoldering in black and white.

When friends came over, I remember one asking "why do you have a guy on your wall?", and I was like "he's a great actor". SEE HOW MUCH I KNEW THEN?!

But Jen, being smart, funny and beautiful on my '90s/early '00s addiction Friends, made for a great girl crush and I still love her today.

Ariel from The Little Mermaid

Do I need to even go down this path? What young gayboy didn't want to swoosh his billowing red mane in the wind while perched on a rock in a seashell bikini?

When you finally realise your potential as a Disney princess. (Image: Supplied)

But let's get real, Ariel's desire to become part of Eric's world was a total coming out story. It highlighted the pitfalls of doing something against family tradition, and eventually finding love and acceptance for following your heart.

Okay, it’s kinda sexist that she’s willing to give up her voice and fabulous mermaid tail to try bag a man. But like me and my Smash Hits magazines and Madonna cassette tapes, she was a hoarder with her own secret cave of human treasures. It was meant to be, right?

Which famous women played a part in your coming out story?

Follow Adam on Twitter: @TheAdamBub.

Tags: celebrity , iwd2017 , lgbtqi , women
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