Is Madonna still the ultimate gay icon?
Madonna turns 53 this weekend. Is she virgin on the obsolete?
Gay icons don't come much bigger than Madonna. 'She is a timeless force of nature who has challenged sexism, ageism and homophobia. The older she gets, the more powerful she becomes', asserts Kurt Hoffman, who is organising the third annual Madonna Odyssey party this weekend, in honour of the star's fifty-third birthday.
Often referred to as 'Our Glorious Leader', Madge is part of our subculture's rich history of diva worship. She has referenced every sacred monster from Dietrich to Monroe, revelled in upfront, often transgressive sexuality and demonstrated a highly developed sense of camp. No wonder we loved her.
While some claimed that there was something calculated about her flirtation with lesbianism and Sandra Bernard, her lack of inhibition helped inspire a generation of gay men and women to live on their own terms.
But there comes a point at which provocation becomes predictable. Many felt that she reached this point with the release of her 1992 coffee table book 'Sex'. Her detractors said that she'd gone too far. Even some of her supporters doubted her sincerity. In the years that followed, questions of integrity and desperation gathered momentum as she flitted from one market to another, morphing from 'love technician' to earth mother to rap artist to crotch-grabbing divorced mother of four.
Many of her loyal gay fans looked on incredulously when she started to champion artists likes Eminem, who has been accused of homophobia. Frankly, we expected better from the woman we'd supported for so long.
Since the release of Madonna's last mediocre album 'Hard Candy' three years ago, others have been vying for her crown. One-time wannabe Lady Gaga has fulfilled her own dream of megastardom while standing up for gay rights in a far more consistent way than Madge ever has. 'Our Glorious Leader' may have recently spoken out about same-sex marriage in New York, but this came long after Gaga, who was also instrumental in the 'It Gets Better' campaign aimed at LGBT youth.
Yet in the career of a woman who has so often defied convention, there is one thing we can be certain of - Madonna is not about to surrender her gays to some whippersnapper while she skulks off to don Norma Desmond's tatty turban. Faced with the threat of a younger usurper, she is now back in the studio recording a new album.
So will gay fans go on justifying their love of their idol? Or is her reign coming to an end? 'No way!' exclaims Hoffman. 'Gaga has a long way to go before she can match Madonna, and there's enough dancefloor time to love them both.'
Time is one thing that Madonna has never wasted. It's also something she is acutely conscious of. She isn't one to give up without a fight. This is, after all, a woman whose last concert recording ended with the song 'Give it to Me', where she warned us that she can 'go on and on and on.'
The question is, how long will we go on listening?