Idol Worship: The Madonna Videos That Definitely Made Me Gay

Welcome to Idol Worship, a biweekly devotional to whoever the fuck I’m into. This is a no-holds-barred lovefest for my favorite celebrities, rebels and biker chicks; women qualify for this column simply by changing my life and/or moving me deeply. This week I’m going to ‘fess up and show you the Madonna videos that made me gay. I’m really hoping you understand.

Header by Rory Midhani

It’s weird how long Madonna has been around, especially because she symbolizes something entirely different for me than she does for so many other people / potentially every other person in the world. By the time I came crying into the world in 1990 she’d already authored a sex-themed photo book, introduced the issues of teen pregnancy and virginity into our national discourse, and established herself as a first-name celebrity. She was a gay icon, a fiery and ballsy female entertainer, and a pop music staple. When I was growing up she reminded me of the Spice Girls, of all five of them wrapped up into one person and all grown up. She was proof that girl power wasn’t going to die and that powerful women didn’t have to stand down and be upstaged by any man.

I didn’t know yet that she would eventually become someone I found irreverently beautiful, strangely attractive and almost unbeatable in the world of 5-minute sex-selling shorts.

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I listened to the radio and memorized songs from casette tape recordings of static as a kid, but my love of music was tempered by my mother’s extreme fear of pop culture in the home. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV, I had to buy clean records, and I wasn’t allowed to dance like Britney Spears. I never saw PG-13 films or snuck into an R-rated one, far too naïve and innocent to even realize I was missing out on so much. I lived in a void that seems now even larger than it did then, now that I’m connected on so many devices and constantly receiving some sort of message. Back then I read leftover issues of People at lunch counters while my mom and I got breakfast and listening along on the radio without asking a lot of questions. I never thought much about fame or celebrities and only knew the faces of musicians that were part of a troupe, like the Backstreet Boys or S Club 7.

When I was 10, though, I got a television in my own room for the first time: a 13-inch monstrosity that I made face my bed and my mom couldn’t see. And sometime after that – sometime soon – I was getting ready for school and something happened: suddenly, I was watching a Madonna music video. And I really, really, really wanted to watch it for the rest of all time in complete and total isolation from every other human or sentient being on the planet.

It was Die Another Daya music video starring Madonna as some batshit insane criminal who was fighting herself, her enemies, and her tormentors all at once. She looked exhausted, driven, battered, crazy. She was wearing a slinky tank top with the bra straps out and she kept laying her body on top of a table. Other characters, men, were yelling at her and kept slamming her body into an electric chair, and she would respond by raising her pelvis a little and singing.

I had never really seen Madonna — it was prior to the age of the Internet in my own life, YouTube either didn’t exist or was incredibly less popular, and I’d been living in the age of the radio. I even watched VHS tapes and listened to cassettes, still. I was completely and totally taken aback by the video, by Madonna’s insistent strangeness and her provocative style, by how attractive it was for one woman to be so fucked up and different.

After that I watched MTV every morning, and VH1, and MTV2, but didn’t really care about anything I saw (except Remix to Ignition — I am human, after all) unless it was the video for Die Another Day.

Years later I’d forgotten about the whole incident, despite listening to the song and thinking about the video so many times I had memorized the lyrics and the movements. By this time I wanted to be famous and VH1’s CelebReality was my favorite thing on TV. I spent my free time in a disc chair I bought for my room, watching Vanilla Ice fight with his washed-up peers on Surreal Life and cheering on Flava Flav and Brigitte Nielsen in Strange Love. I was a pop culture maven in the making listening exclusively to Top 40 in my spare time using a big black boombox. I was 14.

When Madonna released the album Confessions on the Dance Floor in 2005 everyone kept saying, “oh my fucking god Madonna’s body HAVE YOU SEEN IT?!” People were having a serious coronary over the topic, as if the goddamn woman had taken that potion from the 90’s film where the two women try to kill each other but they’re both immortal and fall down the stairs. I was curious as to what people considered so impressive. I was ready to be cynical, jaded, apathetic, and over it. I loaded up the music video on the PowerMac G5 I used every day in my art class.

It was the beginning of a new obsession. Just like the last.

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Hung UpA six-minute video that featured Madonna doing all sorts of things- dancing at the barre, dancing alone, dancing with others, dancing in the middle of the room, walking to the club, hanging out with racial and ethnic minorities, and, most importantly, air-humping a large boombox in slow motion.

I was body-conscious and awkward. Madonna, however, was “perfect”: famous in her 40’s with no sign of slowing down and a body like a – well. Is there a word for Adonis when you’re talking about a chick? Completely flawless, hair in place and skinny jeans on in an imaginary club where she ruled as unofficial crowd leader. I watched and rewatched the video, because of her confidence, because of her rock-hard real body, because of her sex appeal that I was curious about and absolutely baffled about replicating. I was 14, sitting in my mom’s room listening to the dial-up connection croak beepbeepburrrrplebeepboopberrrrrrr over and over and over again while the video loaded up for 25 minutes just to play once. It seemed strange, but I stopped myself from admitting it was at all.

In 2009, though, it became a little strange.

I was 18, a freshman in college. I had somehow, probably at the prompting of Josh, gone to YouTube to dig up an old Madonna video from the 90’s: Don’t Tell MeI remembered the song vaguely from the radio, which proved promising. I love every song I vaguely remember hearing in my mother’s car, the lost soundtracks of my childhood that I still work to collect. And it all started innocently enough — the cowboys and their gratuitous masculinity were mostly a joke and Madonna’s dancing was, at best, sort of cute. It was kind of strange compared to the Madonna videos I’d been so, erm, interested in as a, um, little girl.

But then all of a sudden Madonna was pouring sand over her body and running her hands up her thighs so I downloaded the video illegally, put it on my iPod touch, and watched it every day on the way to work.

That was the last straw.

It was only weeks until I finally gave in, taking what would go down in history as my first step toward lesbianism and what would be chronicled in 2009 as “this time I got really drunk.” It still took time — months and days and tons of YouTube views — to realize what had been going on this whole time. And it’s not so much that I credited these videos, years later as I was finally and actually coming to terms with my sexuality, with really making me gay. But they stood out, and it’s funnier that way. I spent a lot of time at 20 wondering where my head had been for two decades and why I’d been so incapable of simply realizing my extreme rates of homosexuality for such an unusually long period of time, and when I searched back into my subconscious I found Madonna, clad in denim with her knees in the sand.

I’d like to think she’s probably proud of that, right?

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Carmen is the Feminism and Straddleverse Editor at Autostraddle, meaning she helps expand your mind and your queer girl clique. She's mother to the most adorable dog on Earth and hates paying more than one dollar for a good slice of pizza. At times, she self-identifies as "the baddest bitch." You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr because it makes her feel good about herself when people do.

Carmen has written 586 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    okay let’s talk for a hot second about the die another day sequence from the james bond movie of the same name which ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT QUESTION MADE ME REALIZE I WAS GAY

    curvy jiggling lady parts made from fire and ice NAKED and dancing over a hokey torture scene

    i cannot tell you how many times i pressed rewind on that VHS

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    also I really like this ‘ I spent a lot of time at 20 wondering where my head had been for two decades and why I’d been so incapable of simply realizing my extreme rates of homosexuality for such an unusually long period of time, and when I searched back into my subconscious I found Madonna, clad in denim with her knees in the sand.’ and the fact that eli is up there in the graphic with you

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    Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I came out as “gay for Madonna” years before I came out as gay… even to myself.

    Performances like as Lo Que Siente La Mujer (What it feels like for a girl) from the drowned world tour got me through some really rough times. If you haven’t seen it, and you’re like me, these 8 minutes will probably change your life:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCZXk9EZoSo

    I also once wrote a paper for a Gender Studies class analyzing Madonna as a ‘femme’ icon. If I had been my own professor, I would have given myself a gAy+ grade…

  4. Thumb up 5

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    I grew up in the nineties but I don’t think I had the same reaction to Madonna (maybe because I never had a TV in my room and we didn’t get cable until I was 14), but this post has got me analysing the way I reacted to various artists, especially Christina Aguilera.
    I’m still in the ‘I might be straight, but just think women are really attractive’ stage, but when I see posts like this I know I’m kidding myself.

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    “It still took time — months and days and tons of YouTube views — to realize what had been going on this whole time.” Ha, yes. This is me exactly, with many female artists including Madonna. I used to worry that I couldn’t be a ‘real lesbian’ because I didn’t realize I liked girls until 14/15…then I remembered how much time I spent staring at music videos and pictures of female artists.

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      “I didn’t realize I liked girls until 14/15″… are those numbers inversed? Do you mean 41/51?
      :P

      I came out at 21 and felt like I was ages late in realizing. Since then I’ve met loads of people who figured it out even later. I’m just curious, did you know people who were out or had at least figured it out sooner?

      Also, how did anyone figure out their sexuality pre-youtube?

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        I figured it out later – I was 33. Married to a man. I kept falling in love with women. I thought it meant having to work on the marriage, which I tried. I saw men and women after the divorce, then found a woman who was my partner for 3 years. There is just nothing else that could compare. Looking back it’s as clear as day, the art I stared at most in museums, etc. :) I thought it was just the stuff I liked. But actually realizing what was going on, and why – how I wish I realized sooner, that clarity came sooner.

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    Growing up a Madonna-obsessed 80’s kid, she was definitely integral to my understanding of queer sexuality. Stealing my older sister’s True Blue cassette and listening to it on repeat until it got eaten by the Walkman.

    Her mix of femininity and strength, the men’s suits, alt-lifestyle haircuts, bowler hats, leather and lace. Her muscles, plus tits & ass, plus that goddamn endearing gap between her teeth, plus the cheekbones! Waiting to see what outrageous thing she would do next to top herself, her music videos a major event…Like a Prayer being covered and critiqued (and subsequently banned) on the evening news. Her every move, style, haircut, romantic exploit analyzed, critiqued, copied, revered by girls from ages 5 to 55.

    Coming home and watching the Blonde Ambition tour every day after school in the 8th grade, knowing every dance move and word of stage banter by heart, and the subsequent dreams I had of showering with her that should have told me everything I needed to know about my sexuality.

    The scar on my ass from the incident involving an 8-year old me practicing her Like a Virgin dance moves, that will always be with me.

    The Open Your Heart video, the Cherish video, the Vogue video, the Express Yourself video, the Human Nature video…back when videos still mattered.

    Who’s that Girl, Desperately Seeking Susan, a League of Their Own (which could be a whole other “things that made me gay” topic of conversation unto itself).

    All of the beautiful queer boys and girls from Truth or Dare and the Sex Book, and her bold and frank and no-holds-barred discussion of sexuality and pleasure that was scandalous at the time and unheard of for women in general. Her bff friendship with Sandra Bernhardt. Finally being gifted my own copy of the Sex Book, by my first girlfriend in my early 20s.

    Ray of Light coming out in college exactly when I was coming out and falling in love for the first time with my StraightBestFriend(tm), and ALL OF THE FEELINGS associated therein, reigniting my obsession with Madonna.

    You guys don’t even know…she was the pop culture icon, music icon, style icon, feminist icon, and queer icon of my generation. There would be no Britney, Christina, Miley, Katy, or Gaga if Madonna hadn’t paved the way. And even Gaga hasn’t reached the level of notoriety and influence that Madonna had at her artistic peak (and she was arguably at her peak for like 20 years). It’s been sort of sad to watch her lack of grace in later years, but I guess all of that would be difficult to let go of and move on from. So I choose to look back on her past achievements and how my own coming of age was so integrally wrapped up in each stage of her career and politely ignore what she’s been getting up these days.

    Do yourselves a favor and google image search: “Madonna Herb Ritts”
    Also: YouTube any of the above mentioned videos.

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      YES YES YES ALL OF THIS.

      I distinctly remember the first time I ever saw a Madonna video. I was 5 or 6 years old and staying the night with my cousin, who was 9 or 10. We were watching “Friday Night Videos” on whatever network it was that tried to jump on the popularity of MTV/music videos by devoting a show to them on Friday nights. The video was “Material Girl” and something about the song and the woman in the pink dress just mesmerized me.

      After that I somehow got my parents to buy me all of her records. I’d sit in the basement playing Like A Virgin over and over again until I’d memorized the lyrics; Desperately Seeking Susan was my favorite movie for a long time, and I actually convinced my parents to take me to see Who’s That Girl in the movie theater when it came out (I was 7). I had a tape with “Madonna Videos” written on it in my elementary-school printing (it was a copy of the Virgin Tour that we’d made from a video store rental) which I played endlessly. I didn’t really understand probably most of what I was hearing or seeing when it came to Madonna, but that didn’t matter. Something about her just pulled me in and made me want to listen. Or maybe I was getting the message, in some way, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

      I only vaguely remember the controversy over the Like A Prayer video (we didn’t have cable when I was a kid) but I clearly remember how my cassette tape smelled like incense from the day I bought it in 1989 all the way up until maybe 8 years ago when cassette tapes had become so obsolete that I finally let it go during a move.

      After Like A Prayer and The Immaculate Collection I got into New Kids on the Block (like every other 10-year-old girl in 1990) and I kind of lost interest in Madonna, which was probably a good thing because that’s when she did Erotica and the Girlie Show and the Sex Book and I don’t think my parents (liberal as they were) would’ve bought any of those things for their 10-12-year-old daughter. I “re-discovered” her when I was in high school and she did Evita, and stayed a fan again after that. I saw her live for the first time on the Drowned World tour in 2001 and it was pretty much a religious experience.

      Anywho, my point is, Madonna was a part of so much of my early childhood that I’m sure she influenced me in ways I don’t even realize. Although I’m pretty sure my affinity for a woman in a nice men’s suit stems from her “Express Yourself” video. ;)

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    Being as I was a wee girl in the 80’s, I have to say that Cyndi Lauper was my first lady crush, but Madonna was the first lady to give me “sexy feelings”. Though at the time, of course, I did not know why.

    And good gravy have I watched the “Don’t Tell Me” video more times than I can count.

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    You know, despite having a gay male best friend of almost ten years obsessed with Madonna and hearing alll of her songs, I think that juuuust now seeing these videos for the first time I developed a lesbian crush on her. yep.

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    Hey y’all! What about Music? Acid Rock. Do you like to Boogie Woogie? Great video in the limo. I wish I was in that limo. That looks like fun, with all those legs up in my face and stu.

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    I don’t know if you meant to time it perfectly or not, but there was like 5 documentaries about Madonna on tonight. It was kind of one of those real life meets Autostraddle deja vu moments -ish. I don’t understand how almost every article on this site seems to show up at JUST the right timing, but it’s kinda awesome, and magic.

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    This is awesome! I’m a life-long Madonna fan who knew I was gay when Madonna burst onto the scene in 1982/83. She was the answer to my prayers and has been my idol for 30 years. Her strength of mind, creativity, ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude, sexiness and that body! , draws you in until it’s impossible to leave. She has got me through when all else failed! How many times have I thought “What would Madonna do?” and have always find an answer. She is my inspiration! Thank you for this article and all these great comments. We are never alone. As a footnote let me draw your attention to a small book called “I Dream of Madonna: Women’s Dreams of the Goddess of Pop” by K. Turner (1993 when M was at the height of her Sex Bk/ Girlie Show phase). You can pick up a copy on Amazon for a few pence, a great little read. Btw, did she or didn’t she? (and I don’t mean kiss Britney). Of course she did, ask Jenny Shimizu amongst others!!!

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    Great video and even moreso since she was 4/5 mths pregnant with Rocco, hence the long coat! Note how often she pulls it across her tum and how many shots are half-frame! She’s glowing!!

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    Real talk: I have always strongly disliked Madonna.

    (please don’t hurt me)

    I was a 90s child as well and the first time I encountered her was that Hung Up video. At the time, the idea of anyone (let alone a middle-aged woman) dancing around in a disgusting pink leotard with weird half-leg stockings in strappy pink high heels, showing off their bum creases was sort of repulsive to me. Then she did stuff with Britney and it was clear (to my young self) that Britney was way cooler so I just dismissed Madonna as a bit of a loser has-been.

    But then I realised she was a gay icon, and I realised I was gay, and I just watched those videos.
    And now I’m feeling conflicted.

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      The only celebrity dream I ever had involved me sitting at a table at some swank Hollywood dinner party. Madonna was sitting at the other end of the room abd she called me over to tell me that she thought I was alright.

      The mothership was calling me home.

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    My first Madonna tape was Erotica, bought by my unaware dad when I was 14. I was made fun of for listening to a woman who was openly bisexual — at least, she was at the time. But the music spoke to me and my feelings of being an outsider, and had some extremely sexy songs on it that I fell in love with. On that tape, Madonna told me it was okay to be myself and to give no fucks.

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    My intro to Madonna was when I was 11 years old with the Ray of Light album (on cassette). That album is a part of me. SO MANY FEELINGS ABOUT THAT ALBUM.

    Also, staring at Madonna’s bra-less boobs every time the Ray of Light video was on TV :)

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