Catching Up To The Queer Icons


Indian mythology is replete with characters and deities who do not conform to the accepted gender norms of the society. They are hailed in high regard and even worshipped as God. However, in real life, members of the LGBTQ community have a tough time, except for the ramp where queer fashion is going from strength to strength. Divya Beri highlights the Indian queer icons overshadowed by those from abroad.

Illustration by/ Anoushka Seth

For many decades now, members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community have largely been represented in pop culture and fashion, but does that make a human a popular queer icon and an eminent public figure? The queer icons – whether it is Freddie Mercury or Ellen DeGeneres to Karan Johar or Manvendra Singh Gohil, the first openly gay prince in the world – are admired since years. Some of the leading LGBTQ members are striking models, while others are gay designers who fight for gay rights and same-sex marriage. Designers, models and actors and actresses who are hailed as queer icons have had a fruitful career, the work in support of the community and have a large fanbase. Some of them are not necessarily a part of the LGBTQ community – even heterosexual or cisgender allies who completely support the cause of equality for the community and social movements that dissect homophobia/transphobia are equally iconic.

Fashion influenced by the splash of queer hasn’t been able to normalize and popularize itself to the fullest in India yet. It was not until the mid-2000s that the style of queer community made an impact on the runway and adopted by homegrown creators in their own creations and styles. Manish Arora, the renowned designer, established his eponymous label in 1997 and has since put forward his psychedelic aesthetics highlighted by neons and eccentric patterns. His designs are layered with queer undertones and that is what has made him a popular queer icon of India. Rohit Bal's 2003 Lakme Fashion Week Show had male models walking in skirts donning vermillion and nose rings – their masculine juxtaposed with their female side, yet again brought a splatter of queer to the runway. Prateik Babbar was seen bending gender norms by strutting the runway as a drag queen for Chola, who presented their gender-neutral collection at Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive ‘18. He was accompanied by the popular performer and make-up artist from the LGBTQ community, Jason Arland, brandishing a sheer, artistically-layered and frilled ensemble paired with sharp boots that brought up the quirky queer quotient.

Fashion with queer undertones should not be just a trend; it is a social unrest, a grounded challenge to freely perceive and present one’s personality, without being cut off by the society’s harsh knife of normalcy and stereotypes. While talking about queer icons, we must include the beloved and famous comedian, Ellen Degeneres. Her marriage to Portia de Rossi was controversial but also showed the world that the USA had started to accept same-sex marriage in 2008. She has effectively changed pop culture and became a face for the queer community. Alexander McQueen, a phenomenal fashion designer, was another such renowned queer icon was who was openly gay and described his coming out story as “straight from my mother’s womb on to the 96


gay parade”. He was extremely rebellious and that showed in his collections as a designer throughout his life. He considered himself to be an ’anarchist’ and did not believe in religion or the fact that another individual would control someone else. His views and creative outlook flourished in designs and stood out from the other designers due to the eclectic mix of craftsmanship, aesthetics, strong silhouettes and avant-garde style. Another fashion and queer icon, Karl Lagerfeld, was straightforwardly gay and represented the top fashion houses in his lifetime, including Chanel, Fendi, Chloe and many more. He propagated gay marriage throughout the years and made quite a mark for the representation and rights of the LGBTQ community.

Indian folklore is loaded with queer characters, even if they are not addressed directly as one. Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘Shikandi’ throws light on an Indian folk character who bends the rigid lines of gender and sexuality. The irony is that Indian philosophy, on one hand, celebrates such gender-fluid characters but the society ambushes such people with rigidity. Queer fashion goes all the way back to history, culture and foundations. Be it the Ardhanareshwar, the androgynous form of Hindu deities, the masculine feminity in Kali or the feminine characteristics in the Hindu God, Krishna, all point towards the influence of queer culture in Indian mythology.

The queer icons have been and are still trying to make a difference for themselves and the community they belong to. In their own respective ways, they try to talk sense into individuals so they acknowledge queer sensibilities. The community is being upheld and not dismissed, like they have been for decades past, and there has been a lot of progress over the years. People are being mindful and sensitive of the community even though acceptance is still missing in many parts of the world. The LGBTQ community and the freedom of expression and sexuality that they stand for, is what makes them icons as they are the face of the community to the society.

Shift Roshini R