It was a total pleasure this afternoon to be part of a reading at the CUNY Graduate Center to celebrate Michael Montlack's anthology MY DIVA, a collection of essays by gay male writers about female figures who've possessed their imaginations. Wayne Koestenbaum read an essay on Anna Moffo, Michael himself a piece on Stevie Nicks, Jason Schniederman read a kind of cautionary meditation on Liza Minelli, and Richard Tayson celebrated an early infatuation with Helen Reddy (who, it turns out, is now a hypnotherapist in Australia). Alfred Corn read a poem in which Billie Holiday figured, and yours truly read a piece about Grace Paley. I'd been feeling that the diva as glamorous and glittery figure had been pretty well explored, in her role as a mirror of gay men's longings for beauty, power and authority. What about other kinds of female figures who might embody different aspects of our interiority? So I decided to see if I could tap into my inner grandmotherly upper West Side Jewish anti-nuke activist. Anyway, the reading and conversation after were welcoming and lively.
One aspect of the conversation I liked was the acknowledgement of the big range of ways in which men think about "divas" -- as "role models," as objects of curatorial interest, as obsessive touchstones, as icons of eros, as emblems of courage, or mirrors of vulnerability and shame.