In a recent interview, Taika Waititi declared himself a gay icon. It’s a bold statement and one that wasn’t taken lightly by Twitter. But do they protest too much? Let’s discuss what a gay icon is, and if Taika has the right to self-declare.
Personally speaking, all the backlash against Taika Waititi for his gay icon comment is rather baffling. Sure, declaring yourself as something like this can come off as rude. I get that. That’s valid. This is usually something bestowed upon someone by the community. However, as someone who once declared himself to be God, it’s kind of to be expected with Taika. He has a level of sarcasm and self-aggrandizement that doesn’t always vibe with everyone and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean he’s exactly wrong with his statement.
I get why someone would be put off. But I also know that some people just don’t like Taika personally and this is just another straw on the camel’s back. But his statement brings up a bigger question of what is a gay icon and who gets to be called one or call themselves one? So let’s dig and look at what a gay icon actually is, and in the process figure out of Taika Waititi fits the definition. If you get to the end of this and still want to hate him for whatever reason, that’s your prerogative.
What even is a “gay icon?”
The definition of a “gay icon” has been discussed at length for decades. In general, it’s someone who has been embraced by many members of the LGBTQ+ community. And that’s it. There is no other requirement. Sometimes the way the celebrity is perceived, often as a fellow “outsider” or for their camp styles, is part of the definition, but these are also rather loose requirements. Perceptions of people are inherently subjective.
Just so that you don’t think I’m editorializing about how simple this definition is, I’m pulling the descriptions from three different sources to show that, though the wording may differ slightly, they all pretty much say the same thing.
“A gay icon is a public figure who is embraced by many within lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.” –Definitions.net
“A public figure said to be particularly admired by homosexual people, especially for showing spirit, fortitude, flamboyance, or a disregard of convention.” –Lexico
“A celebrity who is much admired by gay men and/or lesbians.” – Wiktionary
This has been a long-established definition of the phrase. There have been academic papers written on this topic for a long time. I graduated college in 2008 and at that time was studying the work of people who came decades before me. This is far from a new concept. If we want to redefine the phrase for whatever reason, that can be a discussion, but as of now, this is what the phrase means.
Does a gay icon have to be gay?
No. One of the biggest gay icons of all time, Judy Garland, was presumed straight. Many others, such as Kate Bush, Janet Jackson, and Princess Diana are also all presumed straight. Their own sexuality has absolutely no bearing on their status as a gay icon.
Of course, it’s possible some of these weren’t actually straight, but based on available information they were. Coming out is a complicated thing, though, so I will admit it’s possible that they could just be closeted. Either way, these presumed straight celebrities have held the title of “gay icon” and prove that being gay themselves isn’t a requirement.
Taika Waititi is straight, and therefore cannot be a queer icon.
Just like I referenced above, straight people absolutely can be queer icons. A lot are, actually. They’ve become relatable for members of the LGBTQ+ community for other reasons, such as their camp or outsider status.
And just to get this out of the way, I find the assumption that someone who has had opposite-sex partners must be straight rather biphobic. One’s current partner does not define their sexuality, nor does their sexual history. Perhaps we should start assuming everyone with an opposite-sex partner is bisexual instead. It might fix some of this startling biphobic conversation that pops up when things like this happen.
As a note, we do not speculate about the sexualities of celebrities around here. Taika Waititi can claim whatever he wants, whenever he wants and it’s not my place to make an assumption one way or another. Besides jokingly saying I’m going to assume everyone is bi until proven otherwise, I’m not speculating one way or another. I am merely pointing out the inherent biphobia in this specific argument.
I’m gay and I hate Taika Waititi.
Good for you!
Thankfully, not every single queer person had to agree for someone to have the title of “gay icon.” We don’t send out polls and demand a vote on these sorts of things. Someone just has to be loved by a significant portion of the LGBTQ+ community and given the title by them for it to be so. There are gay icons out there that I absolutely despise, but that changes nothing about their status as an icon.
But Taika Waititi gave himself that title!
In that particular interview, he did. I’ve been calling him a gay icon for years, though. Mainly since I found out about his desire to show Valkyrie as bisexual. The style of the film also had a level of camp that resonated with my own queer experience. Many others felt the same at the time, and even more do so now. This feeling has grown for a lot of us since he directed the first two episodes and starred in Our Flag Means Death, and new queer fans are discovering him now as well.
It’s hard to gauge exactly how big this contingent of the LGTBQ+ community is. It’s at least in the thousands judging by the size of some of the predominantly queer social media groups out there. Regardless, there’s no minimum size of a fanbase to be declared a gay icon. There just has to be one that exists. In this case, this queer fanbase clearly exists. You may not be part of it, but it’s there.
But he hasn’t done anything for the community.
That is not a requirement, per the definition. You can have your disagreements with how an icon supports the community, but that doesn’t take away their status as an icon.
Also, I very much disagree with that statement. He’s been a solid ally for many years. From simply posting funny supportive things on Instagram to playing a heartfelt queer character on Our Flag Means Death, I feel the love and support from him all the time. Maybe these things don’t matter to some, but feeling loved and supported by a creator I admire is certainly important to me. It’s important to a lot of us.
I just hate Taika Waititi.
That’s fine. You do you. I’m not going to convince you to like the guy. But perhaps don’t misappropriate a term loaded with very real meaning in your attempts to drag him.
So, is Taika Waititi a gay icon?
Per the most common definition, yes. Yes, he is. He has a significant fanbase of queer fans. That’s the most basic definition and he meets it. His often camp or camp-adjacent style and boldly quirky personality even check off a few boxes on the more complex definitions that are floating around there.
Taika Waititi is a gay icon.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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