Queer Judy: Garland and The Gay Thing

Chris Colfer Judy

Judy Garland goes with gay men like… Oh I don’t know – ruby slippers go with rainbows.

Judy as Beloved Camp Icon is almost as integral to her Legend, personae and stardom as Tragic Judy is – and, of course, they are intertwined.

Queer Judy is a central theme in For The Love Of Judy, but I’ve been putting off writing about it. Oh I’ve addressed aspects in some blog articles, and I post a lot about it on facebook and twitter. But as the subject of a whole blog post, I’ve been reluctant. And this is because there is so much that I could write about it. I could do a whole book (and, heck, maybe one day I will. I’ll add it to the list). But, you know, I am writing a show and making a film about it, so this will be addressed!

For now, I thought I’d jot down some of the key elements I am ruminating on the topic – so’s you know what I’m thinking, but also, because I would love people to get in touch and give me their take on it, especially queer Judy fans. Then you might become part of the film! How fabulous!

Oh and actually, as it’s all part of the context of queer, I’m interested in what straight Judy fans think about this too. Don’t be shy, one and all! (mewsetteentertainment at gmail dot com, or fb, tweet me)

So. Judy and Gay Men.

I began the article with this, but I’m going to question the hell of it. I opened with ‘Judy and Gay Men’ because that is the almost universal correlation. And I opened with it because I want to put it out there and then dismantle it. It may be because of the kind of things I read and am interested in that this always comes up, but actually Googling almost anything about Judy results in loads of hits about Judy’s appeal to gay men. Rarely – if ever, actually – do you get Judy and LGBT or Judy and gay people (but then, does anybody ever use the term ‘gay people’?!). Not once have I found, ‘Judy and lesbians/gay women’, in terms of appeal and fandom. I don’t doubt something is out there – it must be, surely? – but if it is, then it must be pages down the Google list. So why is this?

Is it because:

a) The majority of Judy’s fan base has been and still is predominantly gay men?

b) Or, to put it another way, is the majority of Judy’s queer fan base, gay men?

Or, is it because:

c) Gay men have been the most vocal about it, writing about it, displaying their love, and so Judy and Gay Men as a fandom/stereotype/trope/thing has become the predominant discourse, thus overshadowing any other discussions?

I can’t help but wonder when I see piece after piece about Judy and gay men – does anyone who writes this stuff even consider that lesbians love Judy too? I’m not even going to say ‘some’ lesbians because this isn’t about quantities, it’s about consideration and marginalisation. If the queer Judy fan base is predominantly gay men, then that still doesn’t explain why gay women’s fandom is ignored.

I will argue that one of the biggest aspects of this issue is that while women can be camp icons, gay women themselves are very rarely seen as camp or enjoying camp in the same way as gay men. Camp lesbians don’t appear to exist in the consciousness, but we’re here and queer too goddamit!  I’ll dissect the hell out it, don’t worry.

But we can’t just stop there. Because I’m writing in a binary here. The reason for that is it’s there in the conundrum. By constantly addressing ‘gay men and Judy Garland’, those writing about it are presenting half the binary. It excludes the other half – lesbians.

dorothys

So, the trope also excludes everyone else who falls outside of the binary: the rest of the vast gender and queer spectrum Oz Rainbow. What about queer folks who aren’t cis, who are trans*, or who don’t ID as male or female, or have a neutral or other approach to gender?

Oh, let’s toss in that most controversial of queer species. Can we assume that the discourse always talks about homo gay men? Oysh, throw us bisexuals into the mix and everybody’s heads will be spinning. Or maybe more appropriately bobbing on their springy necks like the Hammer Heads in the Wizard of Oz books.

hammerheads

So, the questions I will be exploring in For The Love Of Judy are:

i) Are gay (homo) men the predominant faction of Judy’s (queer) fan base? Or do they just dominate the discourse?

ii) What about the lesbian/gay/bi women Judy Fans? Why are we ignored?

iii) What do lez Judy fans think about all of this?

iv) What do queer fans who aren’t included in the stupid binary think about all of this?

v) And what about the straight fans?

Other Queer Judy Topics will be:

❤ Judy and Lesbians: Yes, you will get hits on Google if you search ‘Judy Garland Lesbians’ – but it’s all about whether she ‘was a lesbian’ or rather, if she had encounters with lesbians. We’ll talk about  the ‘Judy as a part-time lez’ theory.

❤ … Judy’s opinions and stories about gay men and lesbians (or ‘gentlemen who have problems’ and ‘dykes’ as she liked to call us). Cuz all of that is fascinating too, part of the queer exploration of FTLOJ, and quite simply, hilarious and slightly insulting most of the time. So – really very Judy!

❤ Judy and her queer dad, many queer boyfriends, husbands and friends… and the queer bf/husbands/friends/fans of her daughter, Liza Minnelli

❤ Judy and Camp (enter the god that is Richard Dyer…)

❤ Tragic Judy as Camp and Queer

❤ Camp and queer women – oh that’s a whole film right there!

❤ How Judy is ‘queered’ by all of this…

So you see, all of this is MUCH too big for a lil ole blog post – you’ll just HAVE to come and see the theatre show and watch the film, won’t you?

Corinna Tomrley 2014

Queer Family: Judy, Liza, Peter Allen, Vincente Minnelli on Liza & Peter's wedding day, 1967
Queer Family: Judy, Liza, Peter Allen, Vincente Minnelli on Liza & Peter’s wedding day, 1967
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6 thoughts on “Queer Judy: Garland and The Gay Thing

  1. Sorry to buck the trend here I’m straight and I love Judy ,my father was a musician who played in London in the 60s in London ( talk of the town and Judys last performance At the palladium ) so I share an affinity with her plus I luv her anyway …..xxx

    1. Hi Dave – Oh I know there are TONS of straight Judy fans out there! That’s incredible that your father got to work with her. Wow! You must have some great stories of his time as a jobbing musician? Love it.

  2. Hi! GREAT article! Where can I find more of your excellent, well stated opinions on this pertinent matter? This topic has been pushed away far too long, partly, I believe, because gay women have flown further under the radar (rainbow? :o)), especially during the peak Judy years. Women at a Judy concert couldn’t scream “we love you” quite as loudly as the “fellas” without causing a bit of a stir. I have given this topic a lot of thought but haven’t really come up with many conclusions, which is why I Googled “gay women loving Judy Garland” and found your article. Your statements, though about Judy, really apply to a larger issue that has existed in the gay world for far too long.(that discussion is for another day)!! I don’t know exactly how to phrase this but I wonder, historically, was/is there more acceptance of gay men being gay when they are loving Judy, Liza, Cher, etc…? Similar to “camp” humor being acceptable to straight people that are otherwise intolerant. We know that her concerts were a refuge for so many men of the day, a safe place for them to cry, cheer and love out loud (without being raided). They were paying homage to a woman, but a woman who embodied their/our struggle. Seems odd when you really think about it; It’s not just men loving men, but men loving CERTAIN women that can stereotype them as gay!! Does that make any sense?? (I am having trouble finding a male equivalent for gay women…any suggestions?) I’m so sorry if anything I am saying seems offensive or confusing, but I am having trouble at the moment putting my thoughts together (illness). Basically I just wanted to say I am very much in agreement with your statements and want to hear more! Thanks!

    1. Thank so MUCH for saying this! I totally agree with everything you are saying, and I get every thought!

      To answer your first question I write for Ethel Mermaids (mermaniablog.com) Loverboy (loverboymagazine.com) and Civilian (civilianglobal.com).

      I’m winding up this Judy project now because I’ve been at it for over two years, but I do so want to explore this point more thoroughly – just have to find the right vehicle. I’d still love to do a documentary where I talk with other queer people about their love of Judy and what it is about her that attracts us – especially queer women as we’re under the radar where divas are concerned. It will happen one day – a film or a book or at least another in depth article!

      Regarding the straight acceptance (or that horrible word, ‘tolerance’) of queer culture when it’s camp and therefore somehow lighter, maybe? Less overtly sexual? I think this is very complex but there’s obviously something there. The same way that there’s a huge straight/mainstream audience for uber camp yet ‘risqué’ people like Lily Savage, Julian Clary, Kenneth Williams etc. The caricature almost makes them acceptable. They are being laughed at, laughed with and allowing the straights into a secret world all at the same time.
      The stereotype of the gay male Judy/diva fan is also complex but yes, as you say, related to this. It’s interesting because we’re now in an era where there’s a split – fans of Judy are seen as old school and there’s also a lot of gay men who are questioning if she’s even relevant to contemporary gay men any more (and I’m very deliberately saying gay men because that’s who they mean). I guess the contemporary equivalent are women like Kylie, Madonna, Britney, Gaga et al. It’s a stereotype, a cliché and yet… and yet… one other those has is grounded in truth. Are we drawn to these women because we’re supposed to be or because there’s something connecting between divas and gay?

      But, of course, when you start bringing women and people of other genders into the question it muddies it…

      It’s a fascinating question. I don’t know if it’s one that’s even possible to properly answer. But it’s most definitely worth contemplating and exploring.

      Once again thank you SO much for your response to this article. And thank you for googling the term! I’m shocked of the lack of material out there on the topic. Every time I posted something on here it felt like shooting into the dark. I know that reading a huge schlew of words online is an effort and I massively appreciate everyone who takes the time to do so. To then respond… it’s a wonderful thing and I can’t express my appreciation for that and for the opportunity to have this dialogue with you.

      Corinna x

      (ps – apologies for the gap in responding. Life gets in the way! )

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