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Public talk: Wilde’s Heirs: Queer Icons, Queer Culture, and the Nation in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

Public talk in the framework of the International Day Against Homophobia on 17 May

Tuesday, 16 May 2023
15:15 - 16:30



Wilde’s Heirs: Queer Icons, Queer Culture, and the Nation in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries constitutes a critical historical investigation of ‘queer icons’ in the arts and popular culture; ‘queer’ meaning same-sex desiring and/or overtly gender nonconforming. Although this abstract employs the term queer as shorthand, the presentation will take care to use culturally and historically specific labels concerning gender and sexual identities where appropriate.

Drawing partially from historian Geoffrey Cubitt’s (2000) definition of heroes, I define a queer icon as a cultural figure who has not only achieved fame among queer observers, but a figure whom queer observers have endowed with an extraordinary, symbolic significance marked by collective emotional investment. The presentation examines an international cohort of well-known figures who are seen as queer icons today, such as musician Little Richard, Turkish singers Zeki Müren and Bülent Ersoy, Japanese actor Akihiro Miwa, Finnish artist Tom of Finland, and Chinese dancer Jin Xing. A critical commonality among the queer icons investigated in Wilde’s Heirs is that, like Anglo-Irish writer Oscar Wilde in the British context, they have all been embraced as nationally significant figures. This process has occurred in spite of – or sometimes because of – their gender and/or sexual nonconformity. For example, Müren received a state funeral, Finnish postage stamps have honoured Tom of Finland, and Miwa has featured in a Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare anti-tobacco campaign.

Drawing from these case studies, Wilde’s Heirs addresses the following questions: what makes someone a queer icon in the first place?; have queer icons who have achieved national acclaim done so because of or in spite of their sexual and gender identities?; and when queer icons have achieved national acclaim, has that helped the wider queer community?

Jacob Bloomfield (Postdoctoral Fellow / Literature)

Jacob Bloomfield is a Zukunftskolleg Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Konstanz and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kent. His research is situated primarily in the fields of cultural history, the history of sexuality, and gender history. Jacob is the author of Drag: A British History (University of California Press, 2023). His second monograph will be about the historical reception to, and cultural impact of, musician Little Richard.