On Sunday we were visited by many fabulous contributors to the My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them anthology, as well as their invoked muses. It was a great reading–R. J. Gibson shared his thoughts on Annie Lennox, John Dimes wrote about what’s compelling about Björk, Allen Smith reminisced about Jessica Lange, Bill Fogle riffed on Julia Child, and editor Michael Montlack explained his fascination with Stevie Nicks.
I was reminded of the story told to me by a guy I’d dated in college. In high school, he snuck into the stacks of his library where he wouldn’t be disturbed and then, one by one, tore out every picture of Madonna in every magazine in the rack.
Afterward, Beau and I went grocery shopping (the mundane reality of my life: literature! followed by groceries/laundry) but stopped off for a diet-busting juicy cheeseburger at Five Guys. We tried to figure out who our divas would be.
“Well, now, mine would be Gwen,” he said. Naturally, he means Stefani, she of the L.A.M.B. label and genre-blurring dance cuts. We both love No Doubt. I nodded. One of our earliest dates was going to see Gwen on her Sweet Escape tour. My favorite part: in the car, jiggling through the pot-holed parking lot, listening to Gwen, I said something off-handedly (and probably unintentionally) funny. He laughed generously and then burst, “Oh my God, I love you.” He meant it like, “I love you like you’re my cousin,” but he was horrified at having let the l-word slip, covered his mouth, and turned red.
I thought back. “Mine would be Sharon Stone,” I said, remembering my obsession with Basic Instinct in the 90s. And then I remembered what had papered my locker in high school:
Brenda Walsh, aka Shannen Doherty
I was so known for my obsession with Shannen Doherty, in fact, that one day a girl in my school who had flipped through a recent copy of YM and torn out a full-bleed portrait of her and given it to me. “For your collection,” she said, peering at me through her inch-thick glasses. She pressed it onto my chest and then turned and walked away. I added it to the growing collage of Brendas.
I don’t remember particularly enjoying Beverly Hills, 90210, so I’m not even sure where it came from. But I remember rooting for Brenda when I watched. She was whiny and a little frumpy, frequently irrational and often full of gunpowder looking for a fuse.
That she was also a trainwreck in real life only fueled my love for her. She was impulsive! She married a Hamilton! She behaved poorly at work! I longed and longed to be bad like Brenda. One day I skipped choir and went to Burger King in the next town over. It felt good to be bad, I thought. Back at school, the Vice Principal confusedly called me to her office. “You were unexcused from choir today,” she said. “Yeah, I skipped,” I said, almost proudly. She reluctantly handed me a detention notice. “Mr. Fraaza will see you after school.”
I took the notice home and pinned it on my bulletin board. Wow! I was bad. I’d broken a rule. I wasn’t where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there! Brenda would have understood. Then my mom grounded me for getting a detention. She held the slip in face. “This is not a trophy!” she said, her voice shrill. I shifted my weight awkwardly from one foot to another. Brenda never got grounded.
Shannen probably permanently secured my love when she told the producers of Charmed, “Why don’t we lose the tit shots of Alyssa Milano, or else I’ll walk?” And they were like, “No thanks,” and then her character died a sudden death that really ruined the entire arc of the series, and plus created a casting circumstance that resulted in a secret fourth sister (???) in the guise of Rose McGowan. A poor substitute!