I didn’t comment, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this.
I didn’t comment not because I didn’t recognize my young queer self, but because the women to whom I was (and am) attracted are never celebrities: They are simply not visible in pop culture. The butch/genderqueer individuals who make my heart beat faster could not be found on the television screen or in films or even on stage. As I got older and into punk rock, there was some visibility, but before that? Nothing.
In fact, I think this is one of the reasons why I dated men for so long, despite knowing that I was queer: It was difficult to follow through on my hypothetical queerness when I was not attracted to Angelina Jolie or Lucy Lawless or Ani DiFranco or whomever else I heard the gay girls were into. I like ’em butchy, and that’s a tall order for a young person.
Luckily, I was growing up mostly in Toronto, which is how I knew that I wasn’t straight: Even though the women I liked were rarely on teevee, I frequently saw them walking down the street, working in all sorts of professions, and generally being present. They were always older than me, and looked better in men’s clothing than any boy my age, and I’d see them and think, WOW.
Them I’d go back to fucking my boyfriend or whatever, trying not to dwell on the thoughts and feelings that had been brought up by the encounter.
I’m not saying it was harder than what was experienced by my peers who prefer femmes, just… Different.
I didn’t really recognize myself in a queer community until I was 17 years old and read Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, which is a history of the lesbian culture in Buffalo, NY, in the 1930s-60s. It was a big moment for me, because though the butch/femme roles were presented as a coping mechanism in a homophobic society, I still saw myself validated. Not necessarily as a femme, which is a moniker that I’ve only come to adopt in the past year or so, but definitely as an appreciator of masculine women.
Soon after, I read Rubyfruit Jungle for the first time, and that didn’t help my confusion: The protagonist frequently expresses much distain for her female lovers who maintain their relationships with boyfriends for the sake of appearances, and I wondered, Am I doing that?
I spent a lot if time feeling bad, especially when I was single and secretly in love with a (non-butchy but out queer) friend. I don’t regret the way things went, but of course it’s always easier to see these things in retrospect: It made sense for me to be too scared to come out.
So my celebrity crushes? Well, the closest thing I can think of is when I was slightly obsessed with Amelia Earhart, at the age of 13. Mae Callen summarized the appeal quite well in her tributes, here and here. At the time, I was reading biographies constantly, looking for heroes, which meant that my love for AE had the main hallmarks of my future celeb crushes: I didn’t want to get with her so much as I wanted to BE her. Other people in this category include Diana Rigg in the 1965-68 seasons of the Avengers, and Pam Grier.
Other than that, I can’t say that pop culture has much room for the folks whom I consider to be crush-worthy. That’s a shame, because I know I’m not the only one who finds them to be sexy as all get out. But really, their invisibility is only a facet of the homophobia and strict gender rules that curtail so much of our lives: It’s another side of the same story in which I’m told I don’t look gay. The nature of celebrity reinforces ideas of who we should be, what we should look like, who we should love, and what our standards should be for beauty, of which gender is an extension. In a way, this is part of my attraction to butches/gendequeers: By simply existing and looking jaw-droppingly dapper in her grey wool suit, my lover is a walking/talking/thinking/feeling act of resistance, and I am dead proud to hold her hand as we walk down the street. She’s more crushable to me than any celebrity ever could be.
With huge thanks to Miz Moffat for getting me thinking!