Gay Icon: Cher

The phrase ‘gay icon’ gets thrown around so easily nowadays with so many pop princesses on the scene, but Cher is a tried and tested icon of all icons.

Early Life

A fundamental aspect in crafting a gay icon is that person being an outcast, and ever since she was a little girl this is something befitting of Cher, a quality that has never wavered. As young as ten years-old, she produced a performance of the musical Oklahoma! for her fifth grade class where she organised a group of girls, directing and choreographing their dance routines. Unable to convince boys to participate, she acted out the male roles herself and sang their songs.

Descending from Cherokee ancestry, and styling herself from movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn, she was a bit of an oddball in comparison to her class mates but she was always determined to stand out. With her signature deep voice, she would put on performances for her school peer at lunch time, and would find ways to wow them such as wearing a midriff-baring top – a daring stunt in the 60’s.

It was in her childhood that Cher met her first gay individuals, she was nine years old, and her mother had two hairdresser friends who would visit.  A young girl, Cher believed ‘gay’ to be code for fun, and would watch the mens camp festivities in awe asking her mom, “why are these guys so much more fun than the rest of your friends?”

Despite not seeing herself as beautiful or talented she was creative and confident – determined to be famous. At 16 she skipped town to L.A. to chase the dream, dancing in clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip while auditioning, and networking with performers, managers, and agents.

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Success

Cher’s initial success came from teaming up with her once husband Sonny Bono. Together the pair took over the charts, and kick started their own fashion trends by dressing vastly differently from the popular fads at the time. Everywhere girls began wearing striped ruffles, flat ironing their hair and dying it black.

Despite their vast successes together, the couple divorced publicly in 1974 where the truth about Sonny’s mistreatment of Cher came to light. He had been swindling her out of her rightful share of the earnings, and would often chastise and control her.

Following the divorce Cher won a Golden Globe, and launched her own critically and commercially successful variety show, while Sonny struggled in his career. The success she saw achieved without the aid of her husbands guidance was an inspiring and empowering sight to behold in the 70’s and made her gay fan base support her more.

Her ability to do it all has kept her audience in awe, cheering her on with admiration and support. She has transformed through every genre of music, won prestigious awards for her movie career, dominated on television, and took her tours around the world to entertain her fans.

Her Oscar-nominated role in Silkwood as a lesbian woman was critically acclaimed, and strengthened her bond with the LGBT community as a brave decision, and delicately handled without stereotype in the times of 1983.

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Resurgence

Such a staple of our society, we often forget the decline of Cher’s popularity, but it was not until her comeback in 1998 that she seemed to have reworked herself as an icon, ready to roll.

The nineties was where she truly embraced her role as a gay icon. She appeared in Will & Grace first being mistaken for a drag queen, and then as gay character Jack’s interpretation of God.

From here onward she catered more so to her gay audiences, as she explains that they were the ones who were by her side, and supporting her career when nobody else was. Her shows were all high camp, her music was dancier and more fun, and she spent a lot of time visiting the gay scene to play her tracks.

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Music

Cher has mastered various musical styles through her extended career including folk rock, pop rock, power ballads, disco, new wave music, rock music, punk rock, arena rock, and hip hop. The central themes to much of her music have always been heartbreak, independence, and the self-empowerment of women.

Uplifting anthems like these have always had their place in gay culture, so Cher’s back catalogue always strikes a chord with LGBT audiences. As always with pop divas, Cher followed her sick dance beats with campy visuals such as the uber-gay ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’.

Similarly, her hit ‘Believe’ runs in the same vein as anthems ‘I Will Survive’, becoming a staple of gay tunes. The contrast between its romantic sentiment, and trashy Eurodance backing track with shamelessly autotuned vocals is in equal parts empowering, and ridiculous.

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Style

Before Lady Gaga’s head-turning theatrics gave us our life, it was Cher who was the original style icon, known for her outrageous outfits, and unique fashion sense. From the very beginning, she went against the grain of trends and crafted her own looks. She started the dreaded bell-bottom craze of the 70’s, and was always on every magazine following award shows.

Her looks were fearless, and as odd as they may have been, they were beautifully crafted and worn with such ease that you could not fault her. The constant style evolutions she could achieve in such a short period, swapping out wigs, headpieces, and dramatic outfits is what made her popular in the drag circles as she truly was a walking drag queen.

Known for their fashion forwardness, seeing Cher so bravely execute her own stunning pieces, has been an inspiration in gay men in fashion. While many fight for the spotlight nowadays in having the most controversial, show-stopping outfit, in Cher’s day she was indisputable as being ‘that bitch’.

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Politics

For as long as she has been in the spotlight, Cher has had a vocal opinion on politics. While she has always been supportive of the LGBT community, it was after her daughter Chastity transitioned to her male self, Chad, that Cher became a dedicated activist in the community.

Being a proud mother to a child who came out as gay when they were just 17, and then as transgender many years later is something that strengthened the LGBT communities bond with Cher for many years after. Though she admits she found it hard to begin with, she supported Chaz’s life and helped him under gender reassignment surgery.

Beginning with her keynote speech at the 1997 national Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) convention, she has not slowed down attending pride festivals, rallies, and marches. Not only did she defend and support the LGBT community, but she also acted as a role model to parents with children in the community.

In 1998 Cher was honoured with a GLAAD Media Award (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for her work in the community, she has received many other awards of recognition such as the Attitude Award in 2013, and has been referenced in endless books and media as one of the top icons of our time.

In 2013, she rejected an invitation to perform at the Sochi Winter Olympics to support her gay fans in Russia with the controversial anti-gay legislation introduced earlier that year.

23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards Presented By Ketel One And Wells Fargo - Backstage

Drag Icon

Everything about Cher makes her great source material for a drag act. In terms of celebrity impersonation, she is the staple by which all other acts follow. Her fiery attitude, her epic social media comebacks, her iconic looks, and her signature voice is everything anybody would want to impersonate.

Cher has so many markings in her mannerisms, and such distinct looks that she has garnered over the past 5 decades that makes her easily noticeable on even the least experienced of drag queens, and slap on one of her tracks and the crowd will be happy regardless. She is definitely a safe choice.

Inspiring thousands of wannabe impersonators over the years, there is one that stands heels and shoulders above the rest. The very convincing, dedicated, and seasoned Chad Michaels. A dead ringer, with the Cher seal of approval he went on to win RuPauls Drag Race All Stars, and gag the audience with his pitch perfect performance.

Way back when in the later seventies, Cher would use drag queens in her own tour during her costume changes to entertain the audience. She featured Kenny Sacha and J.C. Gaynor who imitated Bette Midler and Diana Ross, in full drag lip syncing to their greatest hits.

Thomas Rogers of Salon magazine commented that “drag queens imitate women like Judy Garland, Dolly Parton, and Cher because they overcame insult and hardship on their path to success, and because their narratives mirror the pain that many gay men suffer on their way out of the closet.”

Above all of this, being Cher for a little while is just fun! She’s hilarious, kooky, and doesn’t take anything too seriously. So who wouldn’t wanna be in her heels for just a few hours?

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Legacy

One of the forefront females in music, Cher was an original icon. Her style has been adapted by subsequent gay icon, female singers such as Cyndi Lauper, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, and Madonna.

Known as the ‘Goddess of Pop’ she combines showmanship with deep musicality to make valid statements in a wide variety of trend-driven idioms. She effortlessly makes iconic moments with her charismatic stage presence which lead to her strong LGBT support among her fan base.

Her longevity is a testament to her gay audience, who almost single-handedly keep her career rolling. What other lady in their sixties can hit the top 5 on the charts with a dance track? Her every move is an drenched in homosexuality from film choice Burlesque to wearing

Alec Mapa of The Advocate elaborates: “While the rest of us were sleeping, Cher’s been out there for the last four decades living out every single one of our childhood fantasies … Cher embodies an unapologetic freedom and fearlessness that some of us can only aspire to.”

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