The adage goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and for our generation, growing up somewhere on the LGBTIQ spectrummeant a distinct lack of visible queer icons…but we know them when we see them.
For me, that meant looking to films, TV, and music videos. Remember the way Private Vasquez drags Hudson in Aliens? (“Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” “No, have you?”) I most definitely remember. That’s peak butch trash talk. Or, do you remember the way Ciara dresses (androgynously as hell) and dances (the machismo!) in the video “Ride?” Come on.
The way Courtney Love and Amanda de Cadenet held hands all night at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in ’95, wearing matching dresses and tiaras? I didn’t have the words, but I knew how it felt to see; like femme visibility.
Queer culture is everywhere; proudly on display, or hidden in plain sight—continually dipped into by the mainstream for inspiration when it comes to the “latest” trends.
These sightings—all diverse expressions of identity—had one thing in common; they were a portal into an out, proud future, where girlbosses could be gaybosses without fear or judgement. And of course, queer iconsdidn’t have to be queer themselves to inspire young LGBTIQ peopleto be their own queer selves.
Think Murphy Brown, Miranda Priestley, Xena Warrior Princess—all strong, confident women that made so many little girls feel like, in the future, they could be (and date) similar.
So, in honor of Pride Month,we asked five accomplished and formidable queer women to share who they looked up to while growing up—ahead, the cultural icons who helped these power players embrace their own identities.
Robyn Exton, founder of HER
“My queer-spiration would have to be Rizzo fromGrease. Not only was she sexually empowered, but she commands every room she walks into and never cares what other people think of her. Plus, who doesn’t love that dreamy alto voice?”
Gloria Noto, makeup artist and founder of NOTO Botanics
“I think my queer-spiration would be Pee Wee Herman. Seeing him in that suit, with those platforms, dancing on the bar—it resonated with me in a huge way. And of course, I’d sayShanefromThe L Wordback when I was a baby lez. I wanted to be and do that whole situation. Leigh Boweryand Divinewere also huge makeup influences, and anything John Waters and Ru Paul.”
Sarah Hymanson, chef and co-founder of Kismet and Madcapra
“The first person that comes to mind is Madonna. I’ve always been very strong and visibly muscular (though still feminine), which as a young adolescent made me feel uncomfortable. I guess I felt embarrassed by my [physical] strength—as I felt so socially weak (and queer).
As a teenager, and when I was coming out, I felt unsure of how to present my strength/power and articulate my version of femininity. I was very into fashion at the time and it was empowering to see Madonna’s various versions of strong femme articulated and widely accepted. I was like, “Oh, that’s totally hot and feels like me!”
Tania Safi, video producer and LGBTIQ influencer
“I was in love with Brody Dallefrom The Distillers as a teen and found out that her name was inspired by actor Beatrice Dalle fromBetty Blue. That film taught me all about love and the language you can only have with someone once you’ve found it.
Although it’s not a queer love story, it concreted my love for women and the challenges we face when it comes to relationships, mental health and what society expects of us. Forever indebted to Brody and Beatrice, my BBs.”
Chelsea Fairless, designer, consultant, co-founder of @EveryOutfitOnSATC
“I was inspired by Sandra Bernhard when I was growing up because there weren’t really any out femme women in show business at the time. And she gavezerofucks about what anyone thought of her, which I always really admired. The bitchiness, the glamour, and the unapologetic queerness was—and still is—completely fabulous.”