Madonna. As the artist often considered the greatest gay icon of all time unleashes the 13th chapter in her world-dominating saga with new album Rebel Heart
, we thought we'd ask just what she means to gay men today.
As the new generation of artists like Britney and Gaga corner the gay-friendly market, it's easy for the young among us to overlook the bond Madonna forged with the LGBT community, right from the very start of her career.
Madonna's impact on the gay community runs so much deeper than the hot dancing boys in the Girl Gone Wild
and a willingness to prioritise Armani capes over her own personal safety - though they certainly help.
But while much is made of Madonna's impact on the gay community, equally it was the impact of gay men on Madonna that turned her into the subversive, fiercely independent artist of the past 30-odd years. As well as her gay younger brother, Christopher Ciccone, Madge has often noted the lasting impression that her dance teacher Christopher Flynn left on her as a young artist still finding her way: the first man who inspired her and encouraged her pursue her professional career, introducing her to the world of gay disco and 'fuck you' freedom of '80s queer culture along the way.
As well as the obvious diva worship that any bleach blonde female with a string of electro-pop hits was bound to inspire, Madonna's affinity with the gay community has always extended to the political, even at a time when that kind of outspoken support could risk a career. Madonna's rise in the mid-80s came as the horror of the AIDs crisis truly began to emerge, a conservative forces and the politics of fear began to dominate the cultural landscape. A disease to which she lost many friends, her willingness to use her position as a force for change was no more apparent than when she included an AIDS awareness leaflet in the sleeve of 1989's Like a Prayer
album, where she called on the world to treat those suffering with "compassion and support, not violence and bigotry".
Even today, she puts her money where her mouth is when it comes to the gay community: just last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened her with jail for 'promoting gay behaviour' when her MDNA tour visited the country.
When we asked readers to tell us what Madonna meant to them, the response was overwhelming: the biggest response we've ever had in fact, and from all corners of the world. Perhaps it helped that we put the call out just hours before the infamous BRITs fall, which seemed to make many a gay man reflect on their lifelong love of the Queen of Pop.
It's easy to pay lip service to Madonna's enduring popularity among gay men, but the responses we received show so many men have a personal affinity with Ms Ciccone that runs much deeper than just her music. Men who have grown up throughout her thirty-year career and found her sound-tracking their lives, loves and losses. The uniting thread that stands out among all the stories is her tenacity, individuality and unwillingness to apologise.
Here are a selection of your most inspiring, touching, funny and frank stories about what Madonna means to you:
"I heard Holiday
on the radio as a 9-year-old and instantly found a connection, but it was seeing her choreographed sleekness in the flesh which had me star-struck: Her midriff, that mole, bangles, belts, crucifixes and 3/4 length cycling shorts, she just had it! I copied her tightly choreographed routines and danced within an inch of my life – not only did I out myself as a number one fan, but I also outed myself a bona-fide gay-boy right there and then! My mother looked on in wonder, my father walked out of the room, and my grandmother gave me a leather footstool to stand on! The rest as they say is history, for both of us."
"When I was very young, I always knew I was different from everyone else, that I was that weird kid (still am!) and I knew that I was gay (still am!) Madonna was one of the few mainstream artists that made feel like it was okay to be different, to be weird, to be sexual, to be gay, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's human nature. She pretty much helped my mom raise me without even knowing it. I will be a true fan 'til the end of my days. She saved my life, she is my hero."
"What Madonna means to me is so hard to describe. She was like an older sister maybe, with the amount of influence she has had on me in my life. From the very beginning, when she was rolling around on the ground in her neon mesh, showing her (gasp!) belly button in Lucky Star
, she has had my admiration. I was very dissatisfied with attending Catholic school at that time and she was exactly the salvation my soul needed. She made it okay to go against the grain, to want love, to be sexy AND smart, to be sassy, to be a complicated, fucked up, funny, brilliant human. I watched her go through her sexual prime just a few years before I hit mine. She was panned by the critics during this time: it was the era of Sex
, Bedtime Stories
and Body of Evidence
, and her response to all the criticisms was 'Fuck you, I’m not sorry'. She was crucified on the altar of public opinion and she LIVED. That made me a little less uncomfortable in my own human condition. She has given me the fight to keep going when all I wanted to do was curl up and give up. Thank god she’s still going."
"To be honest I wasn't too interested until 1990, but the reason for my discovery was quite profound. At the time I was being abused by a friend of the family. It had been going on for years and I was suicidal. He once took me to a shop in Newcastle and told me to get some CDs. I didn't want anything but after threats I picked up the whole ‘M’ section. They sat in my room untouched until one day I decided to rifle through them and stumbled on The Immaculate Collection
;, can honestly say it was an instant feeling of change, I listened and listened until I knew word for word every single song. I then started backtracking and within months had every single and picture disc she’d ever released.
At the time I was using her music as an escape from the pain I was going through. This progressed until I eventually plucked up the courage to tell the police and he was arrested and jailed. If it wasn't for listening to Madonna and her positive attitude I would not be here today. So many of her songs are so important to me, but Oh, Father
hits home in a different way because it’s become my anthem for this chapter in my life. 25 years later and I’m as much of a fan now as I ever was. I use her music in so many areas of my life to get me through the good and bad times. It’s amazing to think that Madonna’s had such an influence of me but has no idea."
"I discovered Madonna in the year after both my Nana and Dad died just 2 months apart when I was 12. I had already realised I wasn't like other boys, yet her heaving bosom in the Like a Prayer
video enthralled me. She was a strong iconic figure who'd dealt with the loss of a parent, and Promise To Try
from Like a Prayer
spoke directly to me. It is, to this day, my favourite Madonna song ever. Poignant, sad, yet with the will to carry on..."
- Donald, Glasgow
"Madonna has been a massive part of my life since I was six years old, through good and bad times. When I lost my husband to cancer a few years ago, the power and words of Promise to Try
from the Like a Prayer
album gave me profound inner strength: that I was not alone in my grief and my questions and that the fears, doubts, anger, hope and faith I held were a shared experience with everyone who has lost someone so close to them. The beauty and honesty of her vocals moved me and still do. It was a contrast to Like a Virgin
, which had been played at our civil partnership a month earlier – very apt pre-honeymoon!"
"I first saw Madonna on Top of the Pops
during her first performance in 1983. I was 12 and my sister and I used to video the performances. We taped it we did and my mind was blown. Before school the next day I watched it over and over, about 10 times. I just could not get enough: Her look, her attitude, the tune, her dancing, her brother looking so hot dancing beside her... Uh-mazing!
She has a few seminal moments that have really stood out since: At the end of Blonde Ambition – which I saw at Wembley – she said "Never doubt your family is your friend and NEVER doubt yourselves!" As a 19 year old unsure of myself and my sexuality (I was petrified to come out) that spoke volumes to me. Cut to ‘91 when she exclaimed she had a hard on whilst watching Slam and Gabriel French kiss in In Bed With Madonna
, and then in ‘92 when she was promoting Sex
she said 'Every man should have another man’s tongue in his mouth', I was ready to come out – if being gay was cool with her it was cool with me!
I'm now married to the most amazing man and happier than I could have ever dreamed I would be when I was 19. The courage I got from Madonna played such a part in that."
"I’ve long been a fan of her work but I’ve really felt for her over this latest album release – being snubbed by Radio 1 and the sniping by some very callous people over social media the BRITs. Radio 1 might try and suggest that Madonna is no longer relevant to their demographic but when I hear a song like Joan of Arc
I realise how wrong they are, especially when I think of my teenage nephew under pressure to get the GCSE grades and college place expected of him. We all have times when we "can’t be a super hero right now’" and need to be given a break as we are only human. As tough as we might want to be, "even hearts made of steel can break down". Her attitude still rings true all these years later.
There has always been a beauty in Madonna’s work and a relevance to me personally at the time it was released into the world. Most significantly was the release of Like a Prayer
when my parents broke up. I travelled to central London to buy my copy as I wanted to get out the house. I took my purchase and sat on a bench in Hyde Park for what seemed like hours. Eventually I reluctantly made my way home to suburbia and played the album. On hearing the track Oh Father
I did cry my eyes out. I realised that, though I blamed my father for his betrayal that there was more to it. I had to admit that "maybe someday, when I look back I’ll be able to say, you didn’t mean to be cruel, somebody hurt you too". That took some years for me to truly admit but it did eventually happen."
- Dan, Brighton
"The first time I bought a Madonna record was in 1985. I liked Material Girl
but fell in love with Crazy For You
. At 9 years old I had found my idol. I treasured that 7", until I got the Like a Virgin
album for my birthday in August and her first album a month later. I must have been the happiest 10-year old (gay) boy in the universe.
Madonna has done one important thing for me over the years: she thought me a lot about artists and artistic movements. Whether it was the dance scene, new DJs, painters, actors, there’s always been something or someone I haven't known of before. The first time was with the amazing Tamara De Lempicka paintings in Open Your Heart
, but later I found out much more during interviews, videos and performances about The Nightporter
(film), Edward Hopper (painter), Pablo Neruda (poet), William Orbit (producer), and Kalakan Basque Tad Trio (group). She’s opened new doors and worlds for me. Thanks for that Ms. Ciccone!"
"Madge has been a huge influence in the my gay life. The first time I heard her was back in 1986 when I was nine years old. I remember watching her perform Las Isla Bonita
on some music show, and to this day I know that was the time when I knew I was gay. I was stunned by the music and mostly by the video - which I saw in black and white cause we did not have colour. I fell in love with her. The next day I asked my mom to give me money to buy Madonna's vinyl and cassette, not knowing that she had released two albums already. Later that day I persuaded my parents to buy a colour TV so I could see her in full, and my long and full of love journey with Madonna began."
- Bransilav, Serbia
"I was always aware of Madonna but really became a fan at college during the Music
era. When I was getting to grips with being gay I fell for this guy on my college course: I used to go home and listen to Open Your Heart
and the words had such meaning. It turned out he wasn't gay, and when that became apparent, I went through a very melodramatic period of playing You'll See
There is a Madonna song for every mood and the woman is an inspiration. She has done so much for gay rights and I think the younger gay generation today don't appreciate. It upsets me to see younger gay guys dismissing her when she has spent the past 30 years fighting for the rights they enjoy today. She fought for gay rights at a time when, due to the HIV crisis of the 80's and other struggles, it was very unpopular to do so. Being gay maybe "trendy" now but it certainly wasn't back then... it took balls.
Madonna has been everything to me and I am sure she will continue to push boundaries and keep people talking. Madonna has never been universally liked and for me that is the attraction. Sure Kylie is nice, Britney is sweet and Gaga is quirky... but Madonna doesn't give a fuck and has built a career that others could only dream of. There will never be another one like her!"