Bill Hulseman
12 min readJun 24, 2022
Madonna, photographed by David La Chappelle

diva | noun; late 19th century origin, via Italian from latin, literally ‘goddess’

  • a famous female opera singer
  • a famous female singer of popular music
  • a self-important person who is temperamental and difficult to please (typically used of a woman)

Thanks, Oxford, but you missed an essential piece of the definition.

  • a performer who inspires, comforts, advocates for, and motivates gay men

When Beyoncé dropped her latest single to coincide with the summer solstice, she not only (rather poetically) reclaimed the crown for song-of-the-summer. By developing a song with explicit roots in Black and queer cultures, heavily sampling queer bounce icon Big Freedia, and releasing the single at the height of Pride festivities, she reinforced her status among the great — and I don’t use this word lightly — divas.

The title is thrown around quite a bit — overused, even. The gays anointed various divas over the generations. They didn’t earn the title for their talent or sheer celebrity. Somehow, they channeled into their performances all the words and emotions and desires that their gay audiences couldn’t express, and a kind of empathetic loyalty emerged. The gays remained devoted fans, bought their records, and showed up to their concerts. When they recognized that loyalty, the true divas reciprocated by advocating for queer people and rights, which, in the mid-20th century could’ve included just being seen and photographed with queer people, and continuing to funnel their unrequited passions and deep angers into their art.

Marlene Dietrich. Lena Horne. Judy Garland. Ella Fitzgerald. Barbra Streisand. Cher. Dolly Parton. Angela Lansbury. Bette Midler. Liza Minnelli (not Lisa Manulli). Diana Ross. Freddy Mercury. Patti LaBelle. Madonna. Bernadette Peters. Cyndi Lauper. Prince. Whitney Houston. Kylie Minogue. Gloria Estefan. Robyn. Elton John. Janet Jackson. Mariah Carey. Celine Dion. Audra McDonald. J Lo. Selena. Britney Spears. Lady Gaga. Beyoncé. Katy Perry…the list goes on. It also varies from culture to culture, from subculture to subculture. Actually, there’s no official list. There certainly isn’t unity of opinion about who qualifies and their relative status to each other. I was once in a bar with two friends, each of whom is a smart, engaging…