Madonna is undeniably an icon. Despite starting her career in the 1980s, she is still a prominent public figure. Her vast media presence even to this day includes such websites as Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, IMDb, and even madonna.com. Her 2003 VMA performance with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, 1984 song “Like A Virgin,” and “Vogue” dance style are just a few of Madonna’s lasting cultural impressions. Madonna is more than just the “Queen of Pop”; she is an idol to the queer community. She has used her years as an actress, singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, businesswoman, and author as a platform for her to advocate for the gay community.
Coming in at #3 in advocate.com‘s “10 Times Madonna Put the ‘Homo’ In Homoerotic” is Sex. This 1992 coffee-table book caused an uproar, prompting her then-boyfriend Vanilla Ice to break up with her, despite appearing in the book himself. Additional celebrities featured include Naomi Campbell, Joey Stefano, and Isabella Rossellini. Photographed by Steven Meisel Studios and published by Warner Books, Sex is a spiral-bound book with a metal cover, released to stores with a Mylar cover to prevent non-buyers’ prying eyes. Despite the bans and bad press, the book sold 150,000 copies its first day and eventually cracked the New York Times bestseller list.
The first page advocates for safe sex, stating, “If I were to make my dreams real, I would certainly use condoms. Safe sex saves lives. Pass it on.” Specifically citing AIDS as the impetus behind this, Madonna brings a queer issue to the forefront. This is a responsible message whose LGBT+ positive tone persists throughout the book. In addition to heterosexual sex acts, the book contains depictions of many controversial sexualities (including but not limited to: BDSM, male homosexuality, female homosexuality, bestiality, sex with a minor, sex in public, group sex, childhood sexuality, interracial sex, and masturbation). Chapter 9 of Gayle Rubin’s From Gender to Sexuality explores the history behind the aversion to these expressions of sexuality, and it calls into question the established norms of sexuality via the “charmed circle.” Madonna’s Sex completely ignores Victorian tradition and provides the entire sexual community with soft-core porn for thought.
The images are powerful not only by their content but also by their reality. Madonna and/or her character in the book, Dita, writes,
“Everyone has their sexuality. It’s how you treat people in everyday life that counts, not what turns you on in your fantasy… A movie like In the Realm of the Senses turns me on because it’s real… I wouldn’t want to watch anyone get hurt, male or female. But generally I don’t think pornography degrades women.”
The use of “their” as a singular/gender-neutral pronoun may be alluding to acceptance of the trans community, although admittedly it may just be loose grammar. The idea that fantasy should not define you and that your attitudes toward people should is important to queer culture. The real emotions and feelings behind Madonna/Dita’s fantasies are crucial to book’s message; this is not fake. Interior: Leather Bar publicizes gay male sexuality by showing a real gay couple acting out a staged sex scene. Although staged, the intimacy is real, which norms the otherwise “deviant” activity of homosexuality. By incorporating true longing, intimacy, and fantasy into Sex, Madonna norms many controversial sexualities.