Jinkx Monsoon, Seattle’s premier Jewish narcoleptic drag queen, lit up the gay internet last month with her uproarious — yet somehow reverent — impersonation of Judy Garland. I insist you watch it right now:
Every gay man I know, except my brother-in-law1, is still talking about it. The Complimentary Spouse and I text each other lines from the performance several times a day.
Jinkx’s performance got me thinking: Why did Judy Garland become such a huge gay icon? And why is she still one today, 53 years after her death?
First, she starred in the Wizard of Oz, an allegory for running away from your drab life in the closet to a fabulous, colorful place filled with campy characters. For decades, calling someone a “Friend of Dorothy” was a clandestine way of saying they were gay.
Second, she showed amazing strength despite her struggles. The late Bob Smith, a gay comedian, compared the tragedies of Elvis and Judy in his book “Openly Bob”:
Elvis had a drinking problem.Bob Smith
Judy could drink Elvis under the table.
Elvis gained more weight.
Judy lost more weight.
Elvis was addicted to painkillers.
No pill could stop Judy’s pain!
Third, according to gay film scholar Richard Dyer, she had “a characteristically gay way of handling the values, images and products of the dominant culture through irony, exaggeration, trivialization, theatricalization and an ambivalent making fun of and out of the serious and respectable.”
Finally, she welcomed and was grateful for her gay fans. She stood up for them, once telling a reporter: “I’ve been treated brutally by the press, but I’ll be damned if I’ll have my audience mistreated.”
Is it any surprise that Judy’s legend lives on to this day?
1 He doesn’t watch Drag Race. He is a bad gay.