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|Dolly: “Of course I believe in gay marriage. Why shouldn’t they have to suffer just like us straight couples do? (Photo courtesy The Fox) |
|Not so 'Backwoods Barbie' |
Dolly may be country, but she also supports gay marriage
|By ROB BECK |
APR. 25, 2008
“I'm just a Backwoods Barbie in a pushup bra and heels/I might look artificial, but where it counts I’m real/And I’m all dolled up and hopin’ for a chance to prove my worth.”
With lyrics like these from the title track of her latest album, “Backwoods Barbie,” it’s no surprise that living country legend Dolly Parton strikes a chord with gay and lesbian fans. Throughout her career, spanning 40-plus years of big hair, bigger boobs, and enough makeup to paint the faces of Mt. Rushmore twice over, Parton easily earns her place among other gay icons of the era.
Still, it isn’t just the diva factor that will have gay fans out in droves when Parton performs at the Fox Theatre on April 29. Country music may be known for its redneck roots, but Parton is outspoken in her support for gay marriage and her work on a transgender movie, and even jokes about the lesbian rumors that have surrounded her for years.
“Sometimes because I love all people I do get a lot of flack from the Bible Belt,” Parton told freelance journalist Lawrence Ferber in a 2005 interview that appeared in several publications. “So be it. I have many, many gay and lesbian friends, many people I’ve worked with through the years, many people in my own family. So I’m certainly not going to sit in a seat of judgment, nor am I the kind of person who’s not going to say what I think and feel. I’ll pay the consequences.”
Proving the adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Wild Mustang hosts a Dolly Look-Alike contest for Atlanta fans on April 26, with the winner scoring two tickets to see the real deal onstage.
Given Parton’s popularity, contest host Bubba D. Licious, aka Jim Marks, expects to see a sea of Dollys come contest night.
“I would imagine that quite a few of the drag queens and non-regular drag queens would do anything for a couple of tickets worth several hundred dollars to see Dolly,” Marks says.
It won’t be the first time Parton’s influence on drag is made obvious. Both Marks and fellow Atlanta drag performer Kitty LeClaw, aka Blake’s general manager David Stark, cite Parton as influences in the creation of their drag personas.
“Dolly definitely had an influence on the development of the Kitty LeClaw character,” Stark says. “She’s an entertainer, and I’ve always admired and enjoyed her work.”
Marks isn’t surprised drag queens relate to Parton either, given that the singer herself so resembles a drag performer.
“She once said that if she hadn’t been born a woman, she’d probably have been a drag queen,” Marks says. “She is as a female performer as close to drag queen as you can be.”
IT’S NOT JUST DRAG QUEENS who adore Parton, who has amassed a loyal following of gay and lesbian fans over the years. Much as with the drag contingent, part of the appeal may certainly be the singer’s over-the-top personality and appearance.
“What wouldn’t draw gay fans to Dolly?” asks Jay Dempsey, a gay man in Atlanta. “My God, there’s the big hair, the chest, the wardrobe, the makeup that says, ‘only Tammy Faye wore more.’ Dolly just has that ‘it’ factor, and she also seems to have a genuinely friendly personality that makes you just want to hang out with her.”
A big part of Parton’s appeal is also her self-professed affinity for her gay fans that goes beyond mere tolerance. Parton talked to USA Today following her nomination for an Academy Award for the song “Travelin’ Thru” from the movie “Transamerica.”
“Some things are strange to me, some things are odd, but I don’t condemn," she said at the time. "If you can accept me, I can accept you.”
Dempsey says Parton is courageous.
“Dolly is one of the brave artists that has stood up for us, despite what criticisms it may have brought her,” he says.
And stood up she has. In 2004, a Tennessee gay organization began promoting Gay Day at Dollywood, urging gay men and lesbians to attend Parton’s Pigeon Forge amusement park on a certain day.
The park asked the group to remove the name Dollywood from the event, prompting the organizing group to rename itself Out in the Park, but Dollywood did not discourage the event, nor did it cower to anti-gay protesters who gathered outside the park.
“We’re a place of business, and all people are welcome,” Parton said in the Ferber interview. “But the gays need to help me, too, because you have no idea what I put up with by accepting and loving everybody. I do get crucified in many ways. In fact, I have rounds with my business people as well as the park. I say, ‘What would you have me do? Am I going to say they’re not welcome here?’ Of course not, because they are. It’s just one of those things, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Parton also took heat in 2006 over her involvement in “Transamerica,” telling USA Today, “Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats. Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can’t be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy. One thing about this movie is that I think art can change minds. It’s all right to be who you are.”
Still, Parton doesn’t seem to regret the uneasy balancing act between her gay fans and her more conservative fans, telling Ferber that if it comes down to losing Dollywood or other business ventures as a result of her tolerance of all people, so be it.
“If that’s the way it should go down, I would give up the park before I would say anybody’s not welcome — certainly not because of sexual orientation or color or any of that,” she said. “You’ll always be welcome in my heart and home.”
PARTON ALSO EXCITED lesbian fans with the possibility that she may secretly be among their ranks, when she made a teasing remark in 2007 about how her mind wanders during sex with her husband, Carl Dean.
“When I have sex with my husband these days, I fantasize I am with someone like Keith Urban or a petite, hot young woman,” Parton told a European magazine, Star Pulse reported.
Those comments only added fuel to the fire of long-running rumors that Parton has been involved in a lesbian relationship with Judy Ogle, her friend since childhood.
“I’ve never really had a desire to be with a woman, and that’s the honest truth,” Dolly told Ferber in response to the Ogle rumors. “I love them all. I think women are beautiful. I have five sisters. I’m close to women and know them inside out, but I’m a guy’s gal.”
Despite facing fire from anti-gay groups, Parton has managed to thrive in the entertainment industry, building one of the most successful and long-lasting careers in country music. Stark has his theory on why she’s been able to maintain that balance for so long.
“She’s the type of woman who’s gotten so far that she says what’s on her mind, and she follows on what she believes in and doesn’t look back,” he says. “I don’t think she’s as concerned about what people may think or say about her. If she believes in something or that what she’s doing is right, she’s going to follow that course.”
Perhaps it’s just the lovable way she peppers her comments with down home charm and humor that allows her more conservative fans to forgive some of her views.
“Of course I believe in gay marriage. Why shouldn’t they have to suffer just like us straight couples do? But I am for everybody,” Parton said in the Ferber interview. "I believe everybody has the right to be who they are, do what they do, and have all the rights they can have. If you’re going to live as a family and be a family, you should have the same rights as everybody else.”