Biology 101: Anatomy Of A Gay Anthem

Morning class, settle down please. I assume you’ve done the assigned reading, or assigned watching I should say: episodes 1-3 of It’s A Sin. I definitely see plenty of red-rimmed eyes. Alicia, did you watch it? We’re going to continue with our topic of gay anthems and today’s lesson also includes a dissection. No Dean, there isn’t going to be any blood so you can open your eyes. We’re going to get a close look at these anthems, compare them and take some notes. Everything’s ready on your desks; if you grab a lab coat and goggles from the back, I’ll go over some preliminary details.

Late Saturday night I was trying to catch these anthems. They’re mostly active on weekend nights and up into the early hours, making lots of noise. Sometimes it’s a mating call, a cry to companions or trying to keep unwanted predators away. Either way it’s as melodious as bird song. Hey—you two. Pay attention.

We should be grateful that I’m able to teach you about gay anthems today. Previously, it would’ve been against the law. Did anyone manage to ask their parents about Section 28 like I asked you to? Lydia? Yes, exactly—from 1988, teachers were legally forbidden from teaching or even talking about anything ‘gay’, anything that “promoted that kind of lifestyle”. And that was repealed in what year Tom? Try a bit earlier? Yes, 2003—some of you weren’t even born then! Thankfully, now we have a more inclusive and open curriculum.

The specimens I have for you are mostly from the family Primadonna Majoris, or Grand Diva in English. If you have a look, you can see their distinct colourful markings. If you look at Lily’s you can see the anthem’s yellow markings on their head, very much like a builder’s hard hat. Some naturalists have compared them to actors’ costumes, fit for strutting around a stage. If you look up at the board for me, most anthems keep their markings as they age remaining, well, shiny and new. Many anthems have an outstanding level of longevity, heard for decades after their first release.

Right, let’s open them up. We should be able to see the heart and inner themes of the anthems, and compare them. Start with a small cut—Amanda, there’s no need for screaming —and follow it all the way down. What’s the first thing you notice? Yes, the throat—very important. The vocal cords are incredibly strong, capable of producing whistle tones and final belts. If you look just there—no, where I’m pointing Joe, you can see some anthems are adapted for effortless key changes. Not all anthems have this ability. Make sure you’re taking notes.

Let’s have a look at the insides of yours Amanda, see if we can find the theme. Yep, looks like this one is all about self-acceptance, singing loud the melodies of freedom and shaking off the shackles of self-hate. This one is an older anthem, an I-Am-What-I-Am anthem, part of the Broadway subspecies. Now, if we compare it to the modern Gaga anthem—which is not to be confused with the popular Madonna anthems—you can spot some differences, mostly due to their environments. The older anthem is still popular, but with more euphemism, the drag element played for laughs; it was first spotted in 1983, the same year AIDs was first described as the ‘gay plague’. The anthem may have longevity, but thankfully that term doesn’t. While the Gaga anthem is much more explicit in its inclusivity, it’s not the only Gaga anthem. Most of the modern anthems can be more open, this anthem was born this way in 2011, three years before gay marriage passed in England. You can make some notes on how these anthems have changed with the times.

Another popular breed is the queer love song. Now Mollie, yours is much older than Tony’s, all the way from 1978, before even I was born! It’s a classic Village People dance anthem, saturated with references to gay cruising and hook ups, a more hidden underground love. Like the older self-acceptance anthem, the Village People anthem plays with innuendo and euphemism, like a secret code you have to unpick. Only those in the know would be able to see through this lyrical camouflage. After all, this anthem was first sighted the same year Harvey Milk was assassinated. Tony’s—please stop waving that scalpel around Alex—is a specific Gaga-Grande hybrid, a modern upbeat dance track. If you pull this bit back carefully to expose the heart, you can see the heart itself is slightly damaged—broken hearts can often make for the best anthems, melding love lost with love found. This one is about getting through the rain, fighting through trauma and pain to find love, that buried treasure. This was the most recently discovered anthem, spotted just last year; in fact, it was the same year gay marriage was legalised in Northern Ireland, and the United States had their first openly gay cabinet nominee.

We’ve got time to look at one final specimen…alright Lily, let’s have a look at yours. Oh, you’ve an oldie but a goodie here. Check the vocal cords and the heart. Little bit of drug damage. Any guesses on the theme? It’s an anthem of a desire to be elsewhere—more specifically a Garland anthem. There are several popular Garland anthems, but this is one with the brightest longest lasting markings. This one always makes me cry; no, I won’t sing it for you, it’ll just set me off.

You should be finishing up your notes now. This will also be on the exam so I hope you’ve learnt a lot from gay anthems. It might be missing from your textbooks, but I want to remind you: these anthems are vitally important to the ecosystem. They have inspired, entertained, coddled broken hearts and healed broken spirits. Officially they’re gay anthems, Primadonna Majoris, but their calls are more than songs—they are lifelines. Out now, c’mon—you don’t want to be late for your next class.

Words by James Reynolds


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