definitive & highly subjective list of queer ICONS for pride month!!!
women who like women who are icons
when i was 11 and my mom told me what “gay” meant, she defined it in male terms. i didn’t realize women could be romantic with each other until years later, and didn’t have a female queer icon until i was in my 20s. and this isn’t because they didn’t exist; it’s because their queerness was hidden from me.
historically, female sexuality — homo or otherwise — has existed in the shadows. men can proudly parade their sexuality in the public sphere, whereas women are conditioned to keep ours confined to the marital bedroom, where the goal is to facilitate the male orgasm. i knew georgia o’keefe painted lots of “flowers” and i knew marie antoinette said “let them eat cake,” but i didn’t know those flowers were vaginas or that marie was eating a lot more than cake.
in my formative years, there was a single lesbian archetype: ellen degeneres, the inoffensive butch who wore suits and appealed to the masses. unless she was playing a fish, ellen was not something i wanted to be.
as a forever fangirl, my lack of lesbian icons presented a gaping hole. how was i supposed to accept myself without glamorous, unknowable lesbians on which to project? thankfully, we’ve since entered what i call the “delevingne era,” defined by rampant and unapologetic public lezzing and lesbian narratives swarming the internet. this is something to celebrate.
you will never catch me wearing any kind of rainbow flag (unless it’s mariah merch), but i am always here to hype the fabulous iconic women who fill me with PRIDE. ok, leggo…
according to merriam webster, sapphic can mean: “of or relating to the greek lyric poet sappho;” or “LESBIAN.” while i reject the notion of static sexual identity, i LOVE the word lesbian. and that’s because unlike most other words commonly used to denote homosexuality, “lesbian” lacks pejorative origins. the modern slang meaning of “faggot” developed from its literal meaning of “bundle of sticks,” suggesting that homosexuals should be burned at the stake. “queer” initially dismissed same-sex romance as “strange” or “peculiar”; “gay” trivialized it as “frivolous” or “showy.” but “lesbian” derives from “lesbos,” a greek island on which sappho wrote passionate poetry to her female lovers around 600 b.c. and seriously, is there a more iconic origin story?
2. marie antoinette
everyone knows marie antoinette as the notorious french monarch, or at least as kirsten dunst in a sea of florals in sofia coppola’s rendering. lesser known is her sapphic past. according to wikipedia, “marie antoinette was an early lesbian icon.” rumors about her homosexual relationships circulated in pornographic pamphlets prior to the french revolution. by the end of the 19th century, she was a “cult icon of ‘sapphism.’” that her life ended at the guillotine only heightened her appeal; the gays love a martyr.
3. georgia o’keefe
painter georgia o’keefe married a man mostly for business purposes. alfred stieglitz was an art promoter who put o’keefe’s erotic flora on the map. their marriage was open, and they both slept with other women. at least once they shared a lover: rebecca strand, wife of photographer paul strand. o’keefe rejected monogamy and enjoyed trysts with couples, whom she courted at “all-night bohemian parties.” when she wasn’t diving head-first into married vaginas, she was painting them.
4. susan sontag
the documentary regarding susan sontag deems susie among “the most photographed women of her generation,” surprising given her watershed book of analysis on photography indicted the practice (and forever changed the way i look at instagram). susie also dated the photographer annie leibovitz. their relationship was nothing if not iconic (minus all the tragedy). as stated in the documentary, “susan sontag lived in, i think 410 w. 24th and annie leibovitz lived in the tower here 465. so they could see each other from their penthouses” (emphasis added)(!!!).
5. gia carangi
late 70s/early 80s fashion model gia carangi has been credited with being the very first supermodel. she was a lesbian. i feel personally attacked that i didn’t know she exited until i was 28 and netflix recommended me her biopic, gia. in one scene, angelina jolie leans over to kiss her lover and says, “i don’t think a woman is really a woman…unless she’s a blonde, you know.” i mean………
6. missy elliott
“he watching my body like he watching scandal,” missy spits on the bridge of her 2017 single “i’m better,” “but i’m just here with my girlsssss.” while missy has never officially come out, her music is replete with reference to lady-loving. every early stan knows how much missy loved aaliyah, to whom she croons with an unmatched air of romance in the 1997 single “best friend.” most queer women are familiar with this dynamic.
7. carol aird
so what if she’s fictional! carol embraces everything worth celebrating about queerness: she’s icy, she’s intimidating, she’s impeccably dressed, and she’s utterly impervious to her rich husband. carol is drawn to shopgirl therese (rooney mara) not because she’s young and fine-featured, but because she’s STRANGE. “flung out of space,” carol calls therese over a lunch of poached eggs and martinis. during their first date, therese says she’s been told she should be “more interested in humans.” therese is talking about photography, but carol responds (with the sexiest expression to grace the silver screen): “and how’s that going?” the moment encapsulates the nuanced subtext lesbian icons do best.
8. kristen stewart
i‘ll admit i hesitated to include k stew on this list. i composed and deleted a few sentences trying to articulate my hesitation with her, after which it became crystal clear that i’m just envious. of her bone structure. of her perfect smoky eye. of the fact that she consistently rules cannes. but mostly of how much female attention she gets. so when you ask me what i think of k stew and i say, with forced indifference, “she’s fine,” you‘ll know the truth.
9. melissa broder
melissa broder once tweeted, “i’m bisexual but i sexually identify as impending doom.” the iconic chronicler of existential dread has a husband, le sigh, but she’s dated women and written extensively about her lust for the “zaftig female body.” melissa wrote in her essay collection so sad today that while she feels safest from a place of “very thin,” she thinks its “sexy as fuck” when a woman accepts her biggest self. i can’t relate at all…
10. alia shawkat
not to be hyperbolic, but alia’s transition from the precocious youngest cast-member on cult darling arrested development to hollywood’s go-to queer is maeby the best thing that’s ever happened to me. first, she played ilana glazer’s lover on broad city; then, sarah’s on transparent. just when i can’t be more obsessed, she makes duckbutter, a film about two women who “meet at a club and get to know each other by having sex every hour on the hour.” AND THEN, she shuts down jason bateman’s casual misogyny in front of the new york fucking times. where would we be without this freckled angel???