June 19, 2011

Role Models

There were two female characters in Superman II and Superman III that were huge influences on me as a child and something that I find very curious as they proved to be an integral part in the development of my personality and in who I am now. Don't panic, this isn't going to be some weepy, "when-I-knew-I-was-gay" essay. However, I do find it interesting that even at such a young age, I had already developed the tastes, style (or lack there-of), sense of humor and obsessions that I have today.

The patented "Annie Ross Eyebrow Arch"
Let's go back to 1983 when I saw Superman III in the theater. I recall being particularly intrigued with the character played by Annie Ross, Vera Webster (Robert Vaughn's evil, possibly lesbian sister). I was nine when this movie came out and even then I was interested and fascinated in this sort of mannish, extreme woman. She had a bitchy, mean quality that I really liked, not to mention a fun hairstyle, arched eyebrows and a general nastiness towards everything that I found quite compelling. I wanted to be just like her. I remember re-enacting scenes with my friends in my backyard. We'd be playing Superman and I'd say, "Oh, I wanna be Vera." They'd shrug and not really understand, but at least I got to turn into a robot.

One of my prized possessions: An Annie Ross/Superman III trading card
The same goes for Sarah Douglas as Ursa in Superman II. So sleek, vicious and boyish. I can remember styling my hair like hers, donning my mother's boots and stomping around the house with my hands on my hips, daring anyone to cross my path. Usually, it was the family cat, Duchess, who I would banish to the Forbidden Zone with a quick glance of my eyes (which emitted imaginary red laser beams). Or I'd throw couch cushions across the room as if they were light as a feather. Take that Superman! 

Sarah Douglas in Superman II
Other major and similar influences on me in my childhood were Mariangela Melato in the Flash Gordon (1980) movie (who was very much along the line of the svelte, tight-leather wearing Sarah Douglas), The Baroness from "G.I. Joe" and Evil-Lyn from the "He-Man" cartoons. They were all totally bitchin'. Literally. What is it about little gay boys identifying with the villains? And why is it always the female ones? I think between all of these characters, I learned how to curl my lip up into an intimidating sneer and arch an eyebrow at anything that annoyed me. During the late 80s/early 90s, as I grew older and my movie watching habits began to evolve, I slowly began discovering I had a mad infatuation with the additional and increasingly extreme female characters in the films I was watching. People like Shirley Stoler (from The Honeymoon Killers, Seven Beauties and "Pee Wee's Playhouse"), Nancy Parsons (The Porky's movies, Motel Hell), Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul, Deathrace 2000), Pat Ast (Reform School Girls, Andy Warhol's Heat), Susan Tyrrell (Cry-Baby, Forbidden Zone) and many more. They all usually played prison matrons, prostitutes, drunks, landladies, judges or gym teachers. What was this attraction to scary, larger than life women?

Mariangela Melato in Flash Gordon
Now, here is what I find interesting - I grew up with no gay influences whatsoever. I had no gay family members, friends, neighbors or classmates. How then was I able to become interested in things that, ultimately, were also influences on scores of other gay children around the world? How did I know that Divine was a huge gay idol? Or my obsession with Andy Warhol, John Waters, Joe Dallesandro, etc. I never knew that they were actually gay icons. What is this common gay link? Why do we all seem to appreciate the same type of characters, stories, styles, music and, most of all, humor? I can only guess that it is because we want to be like these people. I know that I've always wanted to be like Divine (I still do!). These characters were strong, confident, visually impressive and they took any disadvantages they may have had and turned them into an advantage. These characters also kicked ass when they needed to. These were all attributes I so desperately wanted to have growing up and throughout high school. 

Thank God for all of these wonderful people that have inspired me. Who knows what I would have turned out like. I'd probably like sports and sell carpet for a living. 

Not that there's anything wrong with that.