Sir Ian McKellen - brilliant actor, gay man.
Sir John Gielgud - brilliant actor, gay man (deceased).
Agnes Moorehead - brilliant actor. Rumored to be bisexual (deceased).
Paul Lynde - comedic actor, gay man (deceased).
B.D. Wong - brilliant actor, gay man.
Bruce Vilanch - comedian, writer, actor, gay man.
Tennessee Williams - amazing playwright, gay man (deceased).
Charles Nelson Reilly - actor, director, acting coach, gay man.
Mae West - actor, playwright, self-made sex symbol, cinematic libertine, friend of gays (deceased).
Sophie Tucker - actor, singer, Jewish activist (deceased).
Bea Arthur - brilliant actor, strong personality, friend of gays.
Ethel Merman - actor, singer, friend of gays (deceased).
Harvey Fierstein - fabulous playwright, actor, drag performer, AIDS activist, gay activist, gay man.
Charles Ludlam - playwright, actor, director, gender bender, gay man (deceased).
The list could go on and on. Who are these people? They are Queer (in one way or another) artists who have inspired me. They are people who made me want to create. They are people who demonstrated the power of living passionately. They are people who make the complexity of being human seem to make a bit more sense. They are people who seem(ed) to be powerfully alive. They are people who made me want to touch whatever in me might be creative and powerfully alive. They are people who said with their lives that people like me were somehow special, somehow capable, somehow a gift to the world. They affirmed me, through art, in ways that religion, family, and politics never did. They added joy to my life and I suspect to the lives of others. Some may not even realize how they were comforted, encouraged, or inspired by one or more of these deities in my personal pantheon (or by other luminaries like them).
My heroes are often unsung. Some people think Sophie Tucker is a Bette Midler creation (Bette, by the way, should be added to the list; Cher, too). Mae West is sometimes reduced to an oversexed caricature. Ethel Merman is an often badly imitated drag like persona. Paul Lynde is simply remembered as "Uncle Arthur" or as the "center square." Charles Nelson Reilly is often thought to be dead. Far too few people even know who Charles Ludlam was. But these artists, and all who are named above, and others not named in this blog are more than punchlines or camp characters to me. They are people who spoke out for gay people, or who embraced gay people, or who came out as gay people, or who used their own gay realities to inspire and energize their work. They each were angels bringing me good news of the gift gay people are to the world. They each spoke to my soul and became role models for me.
The creative geniuses I have named, many of whom are/were gay, remain my heroes. They don't have to be yours, but I hope you have some. I hope you have that person who was full of life and creativity and passion and courage who drew your attention to him/her. And as you were focusing on that hero's life, I hope that heroic soul somehow said to you, "You are special. You are an amazing gift. There is something that is yours to be, have, or do, and the world is waiting for you to claim it." If you have such a hero, then you know that you are a person of sacred value, and that's the most amazing gift of all.
The gods of my Olympus may seem strange, but they are powerful to me. I'm grateful to them and pay homage to them even still. Thank you queer deities for illumining my path.