My Father and Mother grew up going to the movies. During their childhood, our little town, Sturgis, Kentucky was booming. I look at old photos from that era and the town looks so regal. Dad would talk about going "uptown" to see the movies. His sister, my Aunt Louise, was an usherette at the theater, and I think she could get her family in at a discount. So Dad saw a lot of movies.
By the time I came along the movie theaters uptown were long gone. We had TV, or the Broadview Drive In.
So whenever an old movie would come on TV, Dad would encourage us to watch it. I remember someone like Cary Grant or Grace Kelly would appear on the screen and he would say "Now that kid, that is a star."
I watched these movies in awe. Although just a little boy, I was mesmerized by the clothes, how they spoke, and how they carried themselves.
I fondly recall going to Aunt Louise's house for family dinners. She let all the kid cousins go into the attic where she kept a wardrobe full of her old clothes from her "dancing" days. We would dress up in fedoras, stoles and an assortment of amazing accessories. I felt like a character from All About Eve.
I loved this "old movie" idea of elegance. But sometimes it is not easy to strive for elegance when you are a boy growing up in the South in the 1970s.
My parents never discouraged my natural proclivity for dressing nice, or even my love of all things domestic. When I asked Santa for an ironing board or a rainbow colored tea set- he delivered.
It wasn't til I went to Kindergarten that I realized how different I might be. I distinctly remember Mom walking me into the open multi-purpose room. The boys were running around like animals! They were throwing balls, knocking over blocks, and making machine gun noises. I was terrified.
My Aunt Velma was a teacher there, and she ushered me over to a smaller room that was full of girls cooking away at a small play kitchen. I felt at home.
I don't think it was until I went to 1st grade that I remember a boy calling me a "Sissy". It hurt my feelings, but not enough for me to stop wearing my fake fur jacket to school.
The word Sissy could be sneered through dirty teeth at me, but the pronunciation alone did not pack a punch. Plus, to me, Sissy was a word for Sister, and also charming characters I had seen on television. I revered women and didn't think it was an insult to be compared to grace, strength and beauty.
It wasn't until jr and high school did a word hit me like a sharp punch to the gut. Faggot.
Faggot still makes me bristle.
After I left high school and went to college, I discovered other young men and women who appreciated the fantasy of glamour and fashion as much as I did. It was the mid 80s and gender bending was becoming part of pop culture.
Enter Madonna. She captured my imagination with her early tunes, but for me, Vogue became an anthem for my formative years as a young adult.
Ronald Reagan's administration had idly sat back and watched as over 20,000 American citizens perish before he addressed the growing epidemic. The lyrics of Vogue touched a nerve for me regarding the health crisis in America, and Madonna and her dancers provided a defiant attitude against the conservative set.
(click the title to see the original video)
Look around everywhere you turn is heartache
It's everywhere that you go (look around)
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know (life that you know)
When all else fails and you long to be
Something better than you are today
I know a place where you can get away
It's called a dance floor, and here's what it's for, so
Come on, vogue
Let your body move to the music (move to the music)
Hey, hey, hey
Come on, vogue
Let your body go with the flow (go with the flow)
You know you can do it
All you need is your own imagination
So use it that's what it's for (that's what it's for)
Go inside, for your finest inspiration
Your dreams will open the door (open up the door)
It makes no difference if you're black or white
If you're a boy or a girl
If the music's pumping it will give you new life
You're a superstar, yes, that's what you are, you know it
Beauty's where you find it
Not just where you bump and grind it
Soul is in the musical
That's where I feel so beautiful
Magical, life's a ball
So get up on the dance floor
Come on let's Vogue.
The video reminded me of the old movies I watched with my parents. Except, these weren't movie stars. They were dancers of different shapes, colors, and sizes. Also, the men and women had an androgynous quality. A beautiful mix of feminine and masculine.
Over the years Madonna has re-invented her performance of Vogue. She has done everything from a Marie Antoinette theme, Thai influences, and even an Egyptian extravaganza for the Super Bowl. All the while, the through line of this song, no matter how performed, is to celebrate your own personal stardom.
There are a couple of videos that stick out in my mind of young men, who were inspired by Madonna's Vogue, to let their star shine. I see these as expressions of pure joy and not as a target for ridicule.
One is of this 9 year old boy.
The other is this young man and his Madonna themed Bar Mitzvah.
(To hear Shaun's story on how posting this video on Youtube changed his life go to the Moth.)
Vogueing actually came from the ballroom days in the tradition of Paris is Burning. Rupaul came up through the club kid circuit in New York during the 80s, and his style is definitely influenced by those experiences. Ru says, "You are born naked, and the rest is drag."
I admire the drag queens. They were the pioneers in the Gay Rights Movement in America.
Rupaul also says, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?" I love how Ru tries to be a positive influence on so many folks that have been disenfranchised. He encourages them to find their own power in what the society at large may have once frowned upon. For example, being a Sissy.
Rupaul's latest song is titled, "Sissy that Walk". Here are the lyrics to the chorus.
And if I fly, or if I fall,
Least I can say I gave it all,
And if I fly, or if I fall,
I'm on my way, I'm on my way
Fly, fly, fly!
And so on this celebration of the Pride Movement in America, I want to remember those who have fallen, and those who are flying. Thanks to Madonna and Rupaul for encouraging their fans to live their life proudly and to the fullest.
And to Mom and Dad thanks for letting me be a Sissy.
Now Sissy that walk!